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Doctrine of the Holy Spirit - The Work of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Part 4) Print E-mail
Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

I.  Introduction:

 Tonight we will finish up our look at what the Bible has to say concerning the work of the Spirit.  Specifically, we will be concluding our discussion of 1 Corinthians 12-14.  We will take a break in this series during the month of June for ‘Church in the Park.’  When we come back in July, I want to attempt to draw out some implications for our lives and for the life of our Church from the passages that we have looked at concerning the work of the Spirit.  Our doctrine should always inform our living.  Thus, we want to make the necessary connections between what the Bible teaches about the Spirit’s work and how that impacts our lives as individuals and as a community of faith.  But tonight we simply want to consider 1 Corinthians 14:20-40.

II.  The Passage:

 A. v. 20-25 In these verses Paul is still comparing the gift of tongues with the gift of prophecy (something he will continue to do throughout the rest of chapter 14).  After his lengthy discussion of the importance of intelligibility for edification in verses 1-19, he begins here by admonishing them to be mature in their thinking.  One implication from this command is that an overemphasis on particular gifts (as the Corinthians were apparently doing with tongues), or even the gifts in general, can actually reveal spiritual immaturity.  F. F. Bruce comments: “Overconcentration on glossolalia is a mark of immaturity.” 1  Spiritual maturity is not measured by what gifts a person has, but rather in how they faithfully exercise that gift for the edification of the Body.  After his exhortation for them to be mature, he quotes from Isaiah 28:11-12 and applies it to the gift of tongues.  What point is Paul making here?  Let me outline the view of Carson and others.  In the Isaiah passage, tongues are sign of God’s judgment to unbelieving Israel.  Thus, the reference to strange lips and a foreign tongue points to the Assyrians and their capture of Israel.  They should have listened to the prophets and believed, but they refused and so God spoke judgment to them through the Assyrians.  Paul is then making the point that tongues are at times a sign of judgment to unbelievers and prophecy is a sign for believers.  He then goes on in verses 23-25 to point out that due to their unintelligibility, tongues will only lead unbelievers to conclude that Christians are out of (their) minds.  Just as it did in the days of the Assyrian invasion, tongues will only be a sign of judgment.  But prophecy, which is intelligible, will help unbelievers to see their need for God and His mercy and can ultimately lead to repentance.  Even though it is intended for believers (v. 22), when unbelievers overhear prophecy they are pointed to their need of forgiveness and grace.  Thus, once again, Paul favors prophecy due to its intelligibility.

 B. v. 26-33a In this paragraph Paul gives some practical commands concerning the use of the gifts in corporate worship.  He continues to specifically deal with tongues (v. 27-28) and prophecy (v. 29-32).  Before looking at his practical instructions, let me just note the emphasis that Paul places on participation in corporate worship.  This is an idea that I fear we have lost in our corporate gatherings.  You do not get the picture here that one person (the pastor or prophet or some other leader) was the only person who came prepared to exercise their gifts in worship.  Rather, even though Paul does put some restrictions on certain gifts and who can exercise those gifts (see v. 33b-35), he seems to be expecting and encouraging corporate participation.  Granted the participation is to be orderly for the purpose of edification, but all are to be involved nonetheless.  Thus, corporate worship is not something we watch or observe, but something we participate in.  Let’s look now at Paul’s practical instructions.

 First, the overriding principle, which I have already mentioned, is that corporate worship is to be done for edification.  After the list of several gifts that might be exercised, Paul exhorts: Let all things be done for building up.  Thus, we do need to be considerate with our longing to exercise ‘our gift.’  People have left churches because they felt like their gift was being neglected in the corporate gathering of the Church.  Now in some cases this may in fact be a legitimate concern, but at other times, it possibly reveals a lack of concern for the building up of others.  We have to begin with love for one another, which will lead us to using our gifts for the edification of the Church.

 Second, tongues is limited to two or three at the most and must be accompanied with interpretation.  Paul makes this clear in verses 27-28.  Thus, services where multiple people are speaking in tongues all at once without interpretation contradict Paul’s instructions here.  Paul has stated clearly his preference to prophecy due to its intelligibility and here offers further restrictions on the gift of tongues in the corporate gathering.  Yet, and this needs to be noted, he does not forbid the practice and goes on to command them not to forbid it (see 14:39).

 Third, prophecy is likewise limited to two or three and must be evaluated by the others who are present.  Look at verses 29-32.  Paul once again calls for order for the sake of edification.  Each of the prophets are to take their turn so that all may learn and all be encouraged.  Some might object: ‘But we are not in control of the gifts, so how can we put these limits on their practice?’  Paul answers this objection in verse 32: the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.  Thus, the gifts of prophecy and tongues are not gifts that cause the recipients to lose control of themselves.  Otherwise, Paul’s restrictions could not be followed.  Rather, these gifts are in at least one sense subject to the control of the one exercising the gift.  The idea of loosing all control of yourself in corporate worship is not supported.  After the prophets speak, what they say is to be tested by those gathered.  This seems to assume that not everything that is said will always be valid.  As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5, we are to test everything and hold fast what is good (v. 21). 
 All of this order rests on the fact that God is not a God of confusion but of peace.  Corporate worship is not to be frenzied chaos.  It is to be orderly and edifying.  However, this phrase does not mean that all tongues speaking or prophesying should cease.  Likewise, it does not mean that we have to always follow the bulletin.  Paul is not ruling out all spontaneity, for even it can be orderly.  Rather, he is ruling out chaotic behavior that leads only to confusion.

 C. v. 33b-40 A couple of things need to be pointed out from these verses.  First, we need to try and understand the restriction that Paul is putting on women in corporate worship.  Is Paul saying that under no conditions is a woman to speak in the gathered assembly of the Church?  If we conclude that he is, then we have to do something with 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul speaks of a woman praying and prophesying in Church.  Thus, it seems unlikely that he is forbidding a woman to ever speak in Church.  Rather, when you consider the context, it seems more likely that he is forbidding women to speak during the judgment of a prophecy.3   This fits the context here and is in line with Paul’s restriction of women teaching and exercising authority over men (see 1 Timothy 2:12ff), while not contradicting what he says in 1 Corinthians 11.  Second, Paul warns against failing to follow his instructions here.  Any teaching that contradicts Paul is not recognized because what Paul writes is a command of the Lord.  We must submit our practices of the gifts to Paul’s instructions here, lest we disobey the commands of the Lord.  As we have noted before, he closes with a final exhortation to earnestly desire to prophesy, while adding and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  This is what we have seen throughout these chapters and serve as a fitting conclusion.  Likewise, he once again speaks of the importance of doing all things decently and in order, seemingly that all may be edified and built up. 

III.  Conclusion:

 Carson closes his chapter on these verses with a discussion about corporate worship practices and how these verses apply. 4  He notes that some see in these verses a contradiction to what we would call a normal service: singing, praying, preaching (while others listen).  Yet, Carson notes that Paul is not describing everything that was going on (or should be going on) in the corporate gatherings of the Church.  In context, he is still dealing with the issue of spiritual gifts and their function in the assembly.  Thus, contrary to what some may see, Paul is not forbidding teaching or preaching or other formal aspects of corporate worship.  But Carson does note: “I suspect that there is biblical warrant for thinking, on somewhat more remote grounds, that there were aspects of corporate worship characterized by a great deal of spontaneity, Spirit-led sharing, mutual edification, and the like, and other aspects characterized by solemnity, formal reading, and explication of the Scriptures already given, enunciation of apostolic truth, and corporate prayers and singing. 

So far as our practices today are concerned, this means we should give more thought to developing in our own contexts both trends found in the biblical evidence.  Even if we cannot satisfy both emphases in every service, the least we must do is develop structures in which both emphases are worked out in proper proportion in the total life of the church.”5   I think this conclusion is helpful and will hopefully get us started in thinking about how the doctrine of the Spirit, and specifically His work in our lives, will impact us as a community of believers.  Amen.

1  Quoted in D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987), p. 108.
2  Ibid., p. 108-117
3  Ibid., p.121-31.
4  Ibid., p. 135-36.
5  Ibid., p. 136.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 14 July 2009 )

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