Saturday, July 26, 2014

Build Up Your Neighbor

Scriptural Reading: 1 Corinthians 14:13-26
Devotional Reading: Titus 3:8-14

There are times when Christians quibble over the least little thing rather than see the spiritual implications of a matter. We become pre-occupied with methods rather than the spiritual realities. For example, does the Bible say we should drink fermented or unfermented wine? Does it indicate that we should drink grape juice? No, in fact the Bible states at 1 Cor 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the LORD’s death till He comes.” (NKJV) The spiritual aspect is emphasized. Christians stumble over minor matters and remain angry for a lifetime, ignoring the spiritual basics and possibly losing their eternal soul. We are to build and encourage our neighbors, not drag them through the wringer. In teaching his protégé Titus, the Apostle Paul declared that we were all sinners saved by the love and mercy of God, through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit that He poured abundantly on us through our Savior. Because of His Resurrection story we have the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7) Therefore, Paul warned the Corinthian believers not to stumble at Titus 3:9-11. “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” (NKJV)

In the early Corinthian church various spiritual gifts were given, but all believers did not receive the same gifts. The Holy Spirit issued gifts as He willed to the glory of God and the diverse gifts came together to unify all work for one LORD. Unfortunately, some believers received certain gifts, such as tongues, and used them unwisely. No one understood their foreign language. It appeared they exalted themselves above all other believers and were filled with pride. This caused anger, strife, and jealousy in the church. So the Apostle Paul began to teach on the various spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the church and one body in Christ in Chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians. In Chapter 13 he noted that it did not matter what spiritual gift the believer had been given, it had to be exercised in love. As compared between the three principal graces of faith, hope, and love, Paul declares love to be the chief grace, wherein the other two are the means because there will be a time they shall no longer exist. But our “…God is love”. (1 John 4:8 NKJV)

Therefore, Paul opens Chapter 14 with an exhortation to the Corinthian believers to follow after love in whatever they do. It is a grace meant to build up versus tear down. He does not tear them down for being zealous in their desire to have spiritual gifts. Paul simply explains what is more advantageous to the church. On the one hand, the believer who spoke in tongues had a one-on-one conversation with God. The variety of ways of communication may be limitless as between them. His language was a mystery to the listener and does not edify the church. Paul preferred the gift of prophesy because the speaker would receive the message from God and communicate it to the listeners. He edified the church and comforted the believers. The purpose of speaking publicly in the church should be to edify the congregation. This is not done by the person who speaks in tongues, unless there is an interpreter. If not speaking for public edification in the church, there is no profit toward the work for one LORD. Words without meaning cannot convey a notion to the public mind. (1 Cor 14:1-6)

Having established his point Paul now applies his point at 1 Corinthians 14:12-13, “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” (NKJV) Paul did not discourage the believers from speaking in their gift. Instead he encouraged them to pray for an interpretation of the message to enlighten the listeners and build the church community. This would take away the mysteriousness and entertainment of their gift. The church must understand it that it might me edified.

Whether a believer was speaking, praying, or singing in a foreign language, both his spirit and his mind had to be involved with the understanding to allow others to understand. Paul explained at 1 Corinthians 14:14-15, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (NKJV) Paul enforces his advice with the proper reason that, if prayed in an unknown tongue, his spirit might pray, but he would not be understood, nor therefore would others join with him in his devotions. He would have zeal as the spirit rejoices, but his understanding is unfruitful. Paul did not forbid the believers from praying or singing in their foreign language. However, he encouraged them to speak, pray and sing in the language understood by the entire congregation so everyone could be a part of the devotion and the church would be edified.

How will the listeners understand the message? Paul states at 1 Corinthians 14:16-17, in enforcing his argument, “Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.” (NKJV) Have you ever been in the company of a believer who gives praise to God all day long? Imagine if that person gives such great praise, but you did not understand a word of it. You will be uninformed and unable to say “Amen” to anything stated since that believer spoke without allowing his fruit from God to have an understanding. We say “Amen” aloud during the devotion, sermons, and prayer. It is not good to say “Amen” to what is actually a performance for those who were not edified.

The Apostle further enforced his argument that tongues must be understood in his strong declaration at 1 Corinthians 14:18-19. He states, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, that ten thousand words in a tongue.” (NKJV) Remember Paul’s preference for use of spiritual gifts between tongues and prophesying is the latter. His argument as to his knowledge of foreign languages was not one for boasting. Paul was not only a learned man of many languages, but he was a spiritual man of spiritual languages. He did not place himself upon a pedestal in order to cause another to be envious and/or stumble. Paul explained that it was of a greater treasure that he teaches others with his understanding in speaking five words. He did not want a situation where they did not understand him but listened as he spoke ten thousand words in a tongue. Such would lead to puffed up pride and possibly cause someone to stumble. Paul’s life goal was to save souls, not block souls.

Paul had presented his preference for prophesying. Nevertheless, he did not discourage the spiritual gift of tongues and encouraged interpretation and understanding. Not only should the speaker of tongues pray for understanding, but the tongues must be understood by others. Now Paul transitions to another thought process concerning the spiritual gift of tongues. For the remainder of this lesson we shall review his discussion as to how this spiritual gift is a sign to unbelievers.

Children prefer amusement over usefulness, flashy things to stable ones. Paul warns the Corinthian believers against immaturity in verse 20, “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.” (NKJV) Don’t be like a child and be so amused with the spiritual gifts of tongues. Children are struck with the outward show and do not investigate the inward appearance. Christians should have wisdom and knowledge. They should not be unskilled in the Word of righteousness (Heb 5:13), although he should be unskilled in the art of mischief.

Tongues were also used as a token of judgment from God. The Apostle wrote at verse 21, “In the law it is written, ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” (NKJV) In the Old Testament, the law, examples where tongues were also considered of judgment from God are Deut 28:45-51 and Isaiah 28:11-12. In the Deuteronomy passage, the prophet Moses tells the children of Israel they will be cursed and overtaken by a powerful nation that speaks in another tongue should they disobey the voice of God. In the Isaiah passage God is using Assyrian invaders against his holy people. He had repeatedly sent his holy prophets to call Israel back to obedience. Their messages fell on a deaf ear. Israel was placed under the judgment of tongues from another nation. As the unbelievers watched the scene unfold, this judgment became a sign for the unbelievers. It is sad to see when your nation has been given over to a curse because of divine displeasure. Paul indicated such at 1 Corinthians 14:22, “Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.” (NKJV) The spiritual gift of tongues is a sign for the unbeliever who rejects God, intended to convict and convert the infidel. But after they become Christians they are to mature in their own language. Since God intended tongues to be as a sign for the unbeliever, freely using it around believers thwarts His purpose unless there is an interpreter or understanding. It would be better if the spiritual gift of prophesy were present for the believers. It is not a sign for the unbeliever, but for them who believe in Christ Jesus.

The Apostle made yet another point for the superiority of prophesies over tongues at 1 Corinthians 14:23-25. The verses read, “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.” (NKJV) If strangers came into the church and all the Christians began to speak in tongues, without interpretation, at one time, there would be complete confusion. The visiting strangers, whether uninformed or unbelievers, would believe all saints were mental cases. This is a bad reflection on Jesus Christ. It is a disgrace and makes Christianity appear ridiculous to the heathen. In verse 22 above the unbelievers rejected God and the tongues were a sign as God’s judgment. It was intended to convict them to help grow the church during Israel’s disobedience. In these verses the unbelievers have come to church willing to hear the Word of God. However, they are hindered and not helped by the foreign languages and confusion. “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (1 Cor 14:33 NKJV) In comparison, if the same visitors had come in to the church where the Christians are prophesying, their hearts would feel pricked as they would hear and understand God’s Word. They would be convinced and convicted as their understanding is increased. They are now able to confess their guilt and pay homage to God because the secrets of their hearts have been touched.

Paul blamed the Corinthian believers for introducing disorder into their church due to their spiritual gifts. He stated at 1 Corinthians 14:26, “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” (NKJV) Just because a thing is sensational or spectacular does not mean it should have a place in the church. Unless it edifies those listening, it has no place in the church. There must be spiritual growth. It must be decent and in order. (1 Cor 14:40)

Written by Deborah C Davis

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