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Pursuing the Greater Gifts- I Cor. 14

Updated: 5 days ago

(In the beginning of my sermon I explained why especially with this chapter we need to be “…humble, contrite of spirit, and tremble at His word.” (Isa. 66:2). Many have been ignorant of, misunderstood these principles or explained them away, and the damage to the church’s edification has been significant.

 I prayed in the beginning and then read the whole chapter – making a few comments along the way. Then I preached with minimal notes. So I’m trying to remember at least some of what I said. I will probably post at least one more time on this chapter from things I said and things I feel strongly about. The link if you want to watch it is here: )

1 “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.  2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.

 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.

 4 One who aspeaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.

 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.

 6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?

 7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?

 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?

 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.

 10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning.

 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.

 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.

 13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.

 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

 15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.

 16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?

 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.

 18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all;

 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.

20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.

21 In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. 26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; 28 but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? 37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. 38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”


The ultimate objective or concern for I Cor. 14 is the edification or the building up and strengthening of the body of Christ as seen in the following verses – vs. 3,4,5,12,17,26


When Jesus said as quoted in Matthew 16:18, “…I will build My church and the gates of hell will not stand against it” - The Greek word translated “build” in this verse is the same Greek word or root word for all of the 6 references in I Cor. 14 "edify", "edifies" or "edification".


Because God is so committed to this happening, and is so concerned that His church grows and gets built up and strengthened and purified when we gather – He has specific things He wants to say to us. He has things He wants to say to us as a whole as a people - such as Jesus did to the seven churches in Revelation chps. 2,3. And He has various things He wants to say to various individuals. He might have things He wants to say to a married couple or to the married couples gathered, etc.


Think about this….. The Psalmist declared, “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done, And Your thoughts toward Us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, They would be too numerous to count.” Psalm 40:5


God’s thoughts toward each of us are too numerous to count. But how is He going to communicate those to us?  Well He speaks some of these thoughts directly to us. But other thoughts He chooses to communicate through His church. And one of the reasons He does that is so we will see our need for one another, “…not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the manner of some…..” (Hebrews 10:25). Our God has interesting methods or means to help us be united and interdependent with one another – knowing that we will always lean in our flesh towards independence and self sufficiency.


One of the ways He communicates His thoughts about us to us is through prepared sermons or teachings. I thank God for what I’ve learned from Him through this means. But ther reality is much of the church solely relies on this means of hearing from God.


But God knows on a given Sunday morning or Saturday evening or Wednesday evening – whenever and wherever His people gather – especially when the whole congregation gathers at one time – there will be very different needs; there will be significant age disparities; there will be significant backgrounds and varying levels of knowledge of Scripture and theology. Only God fully sees and knows this. And beyond all of that God knows there are some people in our gatherings who do not yet know Him or who are not yet born again by the Spirit of God. God knows that among the believers present – some have learned to appreciate and exercise all of His spiritual gifts; and some have not. And since the church is His church and His idea, His initiative;  and since the sheep are His sheep, He has specific things He wants to communicate about His initiative – His plans and purposes for us as individuals, families and as a church family, not to mention His thoughts and intentions about our neighbors and cities and nations, etc.


Listen, there is no way a prepared sermon or teaching can accomplish or be an adequate vehicle for all of that. I don’t care if you have the best preacher on the planet with the most thorough preparation – only so many of God’s thoughts can be communicated through that one means. So in His goodness and wisdom God created specific gifts that would supplement prepared teachings or sermons. Or in the absence of prepared teachings or sermons, these gifts would be one of the primary ways or means God uses to speak to His people.

One of the primary purposes of I Cor. Ch. 14 is that we understand, appreciate the value of and use these gifts – specifically the gift of prophecy and the gift of speaking in a tongue and having it interpreted, not to mention exercising our private prayer language or tongue.


That’s why three times we have been similarly exhorted:


I Cor. 12:31” But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.”

I Cor. 14:1 “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.”

I Cor. 14:39 “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.”


"The greatest of these is indeed love" as ch. 13:13 states, but it is not the “allest”. Some say “we just need to love….”.  Some say "Jesus was all about love" and if we just love God and people the gifts don't really matter.

But in Ephesians 4:7,8, Paul says Jesus is the great giver of gifts. “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.

So if Christ is the giver of gifts and He had Paul write two long chapters about them in I Corinthians, and one short reminder chapter in between about the importance of love in the pursuit and exercise of these gifts, then maybe one of the practical ways we can love each other, and love the giver of gifts is by desiring and exercising His gifts – especially the greater ones.


So what are the greater ones?  Well one of them may surprise you. I was told for years one of the greater gifts as I’ve come to know them is actually the least of the gifts, which the Bible never says.

The greater ones as we will see in chapter 14 are prophecy and interpreted tongues in a close second. Three times we are commanded to earnestly desire  and pursue them.


So why have many members of Christ’s church for many years not earnestly desired these two gifts that Paul speaks of in ch. 12 and then especially in ch. 14? Well there are a number of reasons for this. I want to touch on at least three of them, all of which I have personally been impacted by.


Here is the first one: False teaching has hindered our obedience to the commands I started off with this morning in at least three ways. First we’ve been told by a variety of teachers and preachers out there over the centuries that the so called charismatic gifts (tongues, healing, prophecy, etc) ceased when the apostles died off and the scriptures were completed. We call this doctrine or theory the cessation of gifts. I believe it is a doctrine of demons, (see I Timothy 4:1), because it makes claims that scripture does not make, and it has greatly hindered the maturing of the body of Christ. I Cor. 13:8-10 states that prophecy, tongues and knowledge gifts will cease but not until the Lord returns (“the perfect”;)  and Ephesians 4:11-13 make clear all the gifts and offices will be around until the all the members of the body of Christ reach full maturity, which no one I know or know of would say has happened yet.


In my first 19 years in the church back in Knoxville, TN I rarely heard discussion about these gifts. I don’t remember them being preached against. I just don’t remember them being mentioned. And I rarely ever missed a sermon from middle school until I left for San Jose.


When I moved to San Jose just before my 20th Birthday on my own and got involved with a Bible church and the Navigators ministry at San Jose State Univ. – I was taught these gifts are no longer given and should be avoided at all costs – especially tongues and healing, and prophecy – which is something God reveals to you about someone else or a message God speaks to you in the moment aside from scripture, but not in conflict with any scripture. The leader of our Navigator ministry was especially against these things and I remember him giving me a little booklet written by Theodore Epp, which again taught these gifts were no longer given and people who claimed they were should be avoided at all costs. I was fine with this teaching at that time in my life, especially after having had two bad or negative experiences with a tongues speaker and a large Pentecostal church I had to attend to hear a Christian singer in concert that I wanted to hear.


Then I went off to Dallas Seminary wherein I took five years to finish a four year Masters degree in Theology. Dallas Seminary at that time was one of the major proponents of this false doctrine or teaching. And the two churches we were involved with, heavily influenced by Dallas Seminary in those five years also taught these things.


The second way false teaching has hindered our obedience to the commands at the end of ch. 12 and throughout ch. 14 is through an unbiblical restriction of how tongues can work and a redefinition of prophecy as basically and merely preaching the scriptures. Indeed there are guidelines in ch. 14 re: these gifts that we must observe and obey. But teachers and authors have gone way beyond these guidelines to where the average believer would conclude we should not mess with tongues, and prophecy is no different from proclaiming the truths of scripture.

I’ll never forget when Anne and I were missionaries in Hong Kong, someone there invited the then president of Dallas Seminary to come and speak to a gathering of missionaries and Chinese pastors. We had a question and answer time at the end of his sharing and someone asked him about the – what was called at that time – Third Wave or Signs and Wonders/Charismatic movement. In his answer he said that Paul gives very specific guidelines in I Cor. 14 for how these gifts should be used. And he supposed if a church were to completely follow those guidelines, these gifts might be given/used. But "no one follows them" he claimed.    I had lived in Dallas six years before coming to Hong Kong and was an integral part of the Dallas Seminary community. I can promise you this man had very likely never attended even one charismatic or Pentecostal church. The same would be true of most of the other professors. So if there are roughly 350,000 Christian churches in the U.S. and let’s say 100,000 of them are charismatic/Pentecostal, how in the world could such a statement be made by someone who has most likely never attended one and who knows very few people who have ever attended one?

Now this man in many ways was a humble man who loved God and His word and His church. But this was not one of his better moments.


The third way false teaching has hindered our pursuit of these gifts and our obedience to the commands and concerns in these chapters is that the charismatic gifts like prophecy, tongues, healing, etc. are divisive and cause strife in the body of Christ. Indeed these teachers say this is why the church in Corinth was so divisive and immature. But is that really the case?  After I had ministered here (Los Osos) for about nine months back in 1994 I decided to preach through the whole book of I Corinthians. We covered every paragraph in significant depth. What we learned is the major sins of the church in Corinth that Paul rebuked them for were: 1. Following men instead of following Christ and finding our identity and worth in who we followed;  2. Arrogance and pride; fleshly wisdom and wordliness; 3. sexual immorality and not repenting of it and making light of it; 4. taking each other to court in front of unbelievers; 5. causing other members of the body to stumble by eating foods used to worship idols  and being a stumbling block to other members in general by demanding our rights; 6. idolatry; 7. selfishness, 8. gluttony and drunkenness at their communion feasts. Never once were they rebuked for pursuing spiritual gifts. They were corrected or instructed in the way they used their tongue gifts, which we will see in I Cor. 14 along with how prophecy should be exercised and judged


The proper exercise and pursuit of all the spiritual gifts for the right reasons and motives and with the right attitudes will do nothing but build up and edify the church. It certainly has been a means of edification for our church and many others that I am personally aware of.


Not only has false teaching hindered our pursuit of exercise of these most important gifts, but so also has bad and unhealthy experiences. I alluded earlier to two I had in those early years in San Jose that helped me embrace the false doctrine of cessation of the gifts. I’ve heard stories of people being in churches where pastors misused these gifts to control people. We’ve had a number of people worship with us here at The Well over these 30+ years that were in unhealthy Pentecostal or charismatic churches in their childhood or earlier years that soured them on the gifts of tongues or healing or prophecy. But over time they were able to work through those issues and embrace all of God’s truth.  We’ve also had many come to us over these 30 + years who came from churches where the charismatic gifts were spoken against and who over time overcame these things and were able to come into the fullness of the Holy Spirit and all of His gifts. (To be continued)

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