1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 95
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998|
|We’re going to be looking at verses 1-3, and we’re going to be talking about the problem at Corinth. “What is the Problem in Corinth?” We live in a day and a time today much like the time the Corinthians lived in during the writing of this epistle. It’s a time when ability, performance, and experience seem to dominate our spiritual vocabulary. It’s not very different.|
1 Corinthians 14:1-3
What Is the Problem in Corinth?
Many of you did not think you would live long enough to see 1 Corinthians 14. But we made it. We’re going to be looking at verses 1-3, and we’re going to be talking about the problem at Corinth. “What is the Problem in Corinth?” We live in a day and a time today much like the time the Corinthians lived in during the writing of this epistle. It’s a time when ability, performance, and experience seem to dominate our spiritual vocabulary. It’s not very different.
I subscribe to a little magazine called The Spirit of Revival. It’s a very solid magazine about what true revival is and the brokenness and repentance that comes in people’s hearts when God truly has moved upon. Nancy DeMoss wrote a beautiful article that talked about the discernment we need in these days to what real revival is. Just because somebody says it’s revival doesn’t mean it’s revival. I so agree with something she said. She said, “We’re using and throwing around terms today that are so flippant that we are about to lose the seriousness of their meaning.”
That’s exactly the way it was in the day of Corinth. If someone could stand up and preach with the greatest eloquence and could woo and awe the crowd, they said, “This person has got to be a spiritual person.” If a person had great intellectual knowledge far surpassing others and his peers, they would say, “This person has got to be gifted of God.” And if a person could speak in other languages other than his own, he had to be in touch with God. Perhaps they were. But perhaps they weren’t. What the apostle Paul is trying to show is all of these things are wonderful but they’re nothing if a person’s life is not absolutely surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ.
When you’re surrendered to Him, there is one thing that you cannot fake that comes out of your life and that’s the love of God Himself. The fruit of His Spirit is love. Paul has beautifully changed the subject of chapter 12, being the gifts, to chapter 13, being the Giver. He circled that truth many times in chapter 12 but it’s very clear in chapter 13. In fact, he says in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” In other words, if I had the greatest gift of being able to speak with the languages of men and of angels and if there’s not that love present, I’m not nothing more than an irritating noise. No matter how eloquent I am, no matter how gifted people think I am, if that love is not there, then whatever is being said is not coming from a surrendered life.
Verse 2 says, “And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” And then he says, “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor [certainly this must be spiritual], and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” It may profit them; they’re fed. It may profit someone else, but it doesn’t profit me, not here. But one day when I stand before God and the rewards are passed out, I find out it’s nothing more than pure flesh. If it’s a surrender to Christ, it will have His mark on it and that mark will be an indescribable love that only He can produce in you and me.
That love is His love, His very own love. Galatians 5:22 says the fruit of His Spirit working in us is this love. You see, flesh can fake all of the gifts. It can fake it all. It can have enough knowledge to where a person could be eloquent in speaking, etc., but it cannot fake the fruit. The fruit has got to be wrapped around it or it’s nothing more than educated flesh. This love that we have never fails. I love the way Paul ends chapter 13. In verse 8 he says, “Love never fails.” He uses the term of a ship that gets off course and is shipwrecked. Paul is saying a word of encouragement, in my understanding of this, a word of encouragement to the Corinthians who are upside down. He’s saying, as he said to the Philippian church, “What God started in you, He’s going to continue and He’s going to get you to that day. You’re going to arrive. And in the meantime you’re supposed to be maturing.”
He uses his own life in verse 11. He says, “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” The more you grow in knowledge of Christ, the more you love Him and the more you put away fleshly matters and childish things. It’s a continual progression. But he says that one day we’re going to see Him face to face; and when we see Him face to face, we’re going to know just as we have been known. That doesn’t mean we’re going to know everything God knows. What it means is we have already been fully known and fully loved by God. He knows everything about me and, thank God, He fully loves me in spite of me. He knows me, yet He loves me. I know Him to a degree; I love Him to a degree. Hopefully the degree of my love and understanding of Him today is more than it was last week because that’s a maturing process of a believer. But oh, one day I’m going to get to see Him face to face just like you’re going to see Him face to face. When I see Him, I’m going to come into a full understanding of who He is and when I fully understand Him, then I’m going to fully love Him and my will and His will will be one forever. That’s what we’ve got to look forward to.
The apostle Paul seems to be saying to the Corinthian church, “You’re going to get there. God’s love never fails. If it’s His love in you, you didn’t do anything to get it. He loved you before you were ever born. He’s going to get you all the way through. But in the mean time grow up, Corinthians. Grow up. Enjoy the process. It’s going to be a lot of pain in your life if you’re not willing to surrender to Him. The mark of your surrender is that love which cannot be manufactured or duplicated by anyone’s fleshly efforts.” That’s the mark of a surrendered believer.
With those words we come out of chapter 13 and into chapter 14. You know they didn’t have chapters and verses. We see chapters 12 through 14 as a unit. If you don’t see it as a unit, then you’re going to miss a lot of things that Paul is saying. You’ve got to see the flow here. He comes into chapter 14 and begins immediately to talk about love one more time. He’s going to talk about the problem that’s going on in Corinth. He’s going to deal with it. The problem is speaking in a tongue, which was gibberish, babbling, a language that was nonsense. Nobody could understand it. Nobody had ever spoken it and they thought it was something that was produced by the Holy Spirit of God. That was the problem of Corinth. We going to have to do some backtracking here because I said it’s a unit. You’ve got to tie it in together.
Look back at 12:2. He’s already alluded to this. It should not be a surprise to anybody. He brings it up in chapter 12, drops it, goes through chapter 12 and now he picks it up full force in chapter 14. He says, “You know that when you were pagans [pagans meaning back when you did not know Christ], you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led.” Paul singles out one pagan influence in their life before they became a believer. Why did he single out only one?
Let’s find what other influences were there in their life. Why didn’t he pick out some of these? He only chooses one and there’s a reason he only chooses one in chapter 12. Back in 6:9 you see what they came out of. You can see what influenced them. You can see what bound them back in those days. It says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Look at verse 11. “And such were some of you.” In other words, this was the influence they had had before. What a list of things that had influenced them in their pagan past: immorality, covetousness, thievery, drunkenness, and so on. One out of a list of many was the sin of idolatry. That was an influence on their past. In 12:2 he singles out that one area and brings it forth and calls attention to it. Why did he do that? At this particular point, as we looked at when we were going through chapter 12 you’ve got to factor in history and culture. It’s amazing to me how we do that in Daniel 11. You couldn’t interpret Daniel 11 without history. You could not do it. You can’t go to Revelation and look at the first three chapters there and really get the full understanding of those letters to those churches unless you knew something about the culture and history of those areas.
Think about the church of Laodicea, the lukewarm church. If you go there, you’ll find Hierapolis on top of the mountain. There’s hot springs with the water running down to the city. By the time it got there it was lukewarm. On the other side was Colossae, the cold springs were there. By the time it got there the water was warm. You find out why certain things were said because you know the history, you know the culture of the area and so forth. But when you come to 1 Corinthians 12, it’s amazing how many people want to throw history and culture right out the door. I’ll tell you why people don’t want to look at it. Because it pops their little bubble. It immediately pops their emotions because it doesn’t say what they think it says when you read into it, the history, the culture of that area.
What was going on in Corinth that was not going on in Athens? What was going on in Corinth that was not going on in Ephesus or in Philippi or in Thessalonica? What was going on at Corinth? Thirty miles from the city of Corinth was a city called Delphi, but there in Delphi was the Oracle of Delphi. It influenced Corinth more than any one city in all the continent of Greece. This was why Paul had to deal with it there. He didn’t deal with it in the other epistles he wrote because it wasn’t anything like it was here at Corinth.
The Oracle was a self-proclaimed, woman prophetess who worked out of the temple of Apollo. Apollo was the main temple of Corinth just like it was the main temple of Delphi. In that temple they would go in to what they called the inner sanctum, of course, in a pagan sense. They’d have a tripod. Here was a woman who would come in and sit cross-legged after taking herbs and certain spices that would put her into an emotional trance, just like going on drugs. She would get into this emotional frenzy and begin to speak gibberish. She would begin to babble a language that had never been spoken before. It was nothing more than just pure nonsense. She had people sitting around her and while she was in this emotional, ecstatic state they would begin to write down what she was saying, although nobody had ever heard what she was saying. So they must have had the gift of interpretation because she had the gift of speaking in another language.
People would line up for miles. You study your history. At the time this was written they had to have three of them because they couldn’t handle the crowd. They worked in shifts. They’d have people lined up for miles and miles, precious poor people.
The passive voice is used here saying, “You were led astray.” In other words, you didn’t know what was going on. Something was luring you because over here at Delphi you could actually get in touch with all the divine messages the gods would give to you. They’d write on a little slate their problems and their questions. Can you imagine the pitiful sight of people thinking that they’re actually going to hear from God? If their number was called, they would take this slate with the problem on it and this lady would look at it and then she would get in this trance and begin to speak. They’d write down this nonsense on this slate and bring it back to this person. This person was so warmed because it felt like they had been in touch with the divine. They’d take this little message and they’d walk away and say, “Oh, I’m so glad.” Then they would read it and say, “Huh?” It just didn’t mean anything. But, oh, they had been in touch with the divine.
That’s what was going on in Corinth, when this was written 30 miles down the road. You take that piece of the puzzle out and you’ve got a complicated three chapters. You put that piece in here, friend, and you’ve got a very understandable three chapters. It wasn’t too much different than it is today, is it? We talked about this when we got into chapter 12.
People still read their horoscopes. Why do they get into it? The same reason these people went to these oracles in that day. It’s the same thing as people calling the psychic hotline. Do you realize right now that’s one of the most lucrative businesses in American and around the world, people calling to get a message of the divine for the future? We said it earlier and I’m going to say it again. If it’s a psychic hotline, why in the world don’t they call me? Why do I have to call them? Evidently, the same gibberish and babbling that went on in this pagan cult because of the flesh mind set of Corinth had snuck it’s way back into the church and they thought when a person spoke that way they had to be influenced by the Holy Spirit of God.
Paul in chapter 14 is going to isolate that problem and deal with it head on. Those who were doing it thought they actually were being spiritual, that they were actually in touch with the Holy Spirit of God. So it begins. Verse 1 of chapter 14 continues the same thoughts that just flow right out of chapter 13.
He starts off and says, “Pursue love.” The word “pursue” is the word meaning to pursue intentionally. It means to put it in your focus, be absorbed with it, be overwhelmed with it. It’s like a hound dog on a trail. They get on a trail. They’re pursuing something. There’s an intensity to it. You ask any hunter who’s been hunting with a dog. They know, friend. They know. That dog is not backing off until he finds what he’s looking for. That’s the word “pursue.”
Did you know that same word is translated “persecute?” Do you realize that wherever you walk is the light of God because you once were darkness but have been made light? That darkness is going to follow you everywhere you go until the day Jesus comes. Why in the world do you think it’s strange when you run into all kinds of problems and conflicts with darkness? It’s the same word.
The apostle Paul starts off with an imperative. He said, “Pursue love.” We know from chapter 13 we can’t pursue love without pursuing Christ, who is the embodiment of that love. What he’s saying is, “You attach yourself to Christ.” You can’t pursue love. Unless you’re pursuing Him, unless you’re living surrendered to Him, there’s no way that love is even going to be in your life. So you begin by pursuing it. Make it the focus of your life. You pursue Christ. Get off this gift thing and get on the Giver. Pursue Him and then His love will be produced in you. That’s the only way you can pursue love. This love can in no way be manufactured or duplicated by the flesh.
Then Paul says, “desire earnestly spiritual gifts.” If you have a good translation, the words “gifts” there is in italics, because that word is not in the original text, and you need to understand that. That was written in by a translator. The word there is pneumatikos. It refers to that which pertains to the spiritual, not to the flesh. It’s in the plural, so there are many things that pertain to the spiritual. He says, “yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts.” The same word is used in Romans 7:14 when Paul said that the law is spiritual, the essence of which is spiritual. You desire those things that have the essence of spiritual and eternal value.
He turns around and says “desire earnestly.” The word “desire earnestly” is zeloo. It’s one word. It is a word used of a pot about to boil over. We get the word “zealous” from it. A lot of words come out of that. That’s why it’s translated “desire earnestly.” Have you ever watched a pot begin to boil? Something’s going to happen. Something starts stirring inside that thing. There’s an intensity that you need to deal with.
When you get on this thing, “desire earnestly,” that’s something that’s boiling inside. There’s a zeal there. Paul makes certain the Corinthians believers know they’re to begin by pursuing love which means they’re to begin by pursuing Christ. Don’t pursue the gift, pursue the Giver. He’s echoed this from chapter 12. It’s a focus through chapter 13 and now he comes back to it in chapter 14. Once you have that intense desire for Christ, you begin to intensely desire the spiritual things of this world. It’s funny in His presence how the things of this world grow strangely dim. You just want the things of the Spirit. You want things that are eternal and the essence is purely of God.
Paul goes on to say, “but especially that you may prophesy.” Man, the word there means more even to a greater degree that you might prophesy. You know the meaning of the word “prophesy.” We’ve already discussed that in the last two chapters. The words means to tell forth the Word of God. Folks, listen to me. This is the ultimate release in expression of love that God produces in you—wanting to share God’s Word with somebody else. When you begin to desire spiritual things, God’s going to put people on your heart and you’re going to want to share God’s Word with you, whether to lead them to salvation, whether to help equip them and grow them in their faith. It doesn’t mean from the pulpit. It just simply means from whatever pulpit God creates in your life. Maybe it’s at work. Maybe it’s across the desk. Maybe it’s over the phone. But God’s Word is so alive in you and spiritual things have become your earnest desire and you want to share the Word of God with others. Paul says that’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s all about.
I see a beautiful progression here. You seek Christ which is in turn seeking His love. His love in you will cause you to desire spiritual things. You begin to desire spiritual things, and the next things that happens in that progression, even to a greater degree, you begin to desire to be a part of God’s getting His Word to other people. Now, why would Paul bring this up at this juncture in 1 Corinthians 12-14? Why would he even bring that out? Why would he say when you desire Christ and you pursue the Giver and not the gift, God begins to bear His fruit in you and you begin to see the needs of others? You want the spiritual things in life because they’re eternal and you begin to seek that outlet of sharing the Word of God with others. Why would he bring that up at this time?
The problem of Corinth is identified
Well, look at verse 2, and he begins to explain it. “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.” There are two things that we’re going to look at. First of all, the problem of Corinth is clearly identified. Paul wastes no time. In verse 2 he says, “For one who speaks in a tongue.” That is singular. It’s used six times that way in chapter 14. I want you to know when you see that it refers to gibberish. It refers to a babbling. If you want to call it a language, it’s one nobody can understand it. When it’s used in the singular, it refers to gibberish. When it’s used in the plural, that refers to a known, understandable language. Paul said, “I speak in tongues [or languages], more than you do. I wish you did that.” But when it refers to them, he uses “a tongue.” That’s gibberish that nobody understands. This tongue, this gibberish, that they were speaking, meant nothing to anyone else in the body of Christ. Whereas if you’re seeking Christ, and His love is produced in you and you want to share the Word of God with others, it means something to them. But speaking in this unknown language, this gibberish, means absolutely nothing to the body of Christ.
In fact, it violated the very purpose of gifts as stated in 12:7. Let’s make sure we tie these together now. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit [Why? What does he say?] for the common good.” In the Greek that means for the profiting of everyone. Everyone’s to benefit of anything God chooses to manifest in His people. So it’s for the benefit of others, not the benefit of us that God give what He gives.
Paul told us in 12:3 that when the Holy Spirit speaks, He will always speak in a language that is understandable. I want to make sure we understand this. This is the gridwork that we laid earlier. “Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says;” English has one word for “speak” and one word for “say.” Then you go into a language like Greek where they have several words for a word. That makes it difficult. It makes somebody think, “Good night, how are we supposed to know that?” I don’t know, but let me just tell you that there are two words here and Paul is saying something very specific.
He says “that no one speaking,” that is the word laleo. In its root form it means to make any kind of noise. In this context it means to speak. So Paul is saying if anybody speaks or makes any kind of noise under the influence of the Holy Spirit of God. Then he changes the word. He says “says;” that’s lego. That’s the verb form of logos. What am I saying? Any time you see the word laleo, it’s sort of iffy as to what it means because all it means is to make a noise. The context will determine. But when you see the word lego or logos, that refers to the intelligent, understandable communicable word of God. When God speaks, He wants man to understand. So if somebody is speaking making any kind of noise under the influence of the Holy Spirit of God, he has to say whatever he says in a language that is understood, a language that one can communicate with.
That’s why in 14:13 he said, “Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue [singular] pray that he may interpret.” He better pray because he has not got a clue what he’s saying. It’s clear that when God says something He wants it to be understandable.
Look at verse 14. He explains it even further. “For if I pray in a tongue [singular], my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.” Fruitful there is used in a metaphoric way. It’s a word picture. In other words, it doesn’t yield the fruit of understanding. When you speak, what is the fruit of speaking? People understand. It says when this person speaks by his own spirit, not by the Holy Spirit, but by his own spirit, nobody can understand. It doesn’t yield the fruit of understanding. Look at verse 19 of chapter 14 when it’s used in the singular: “however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue [gibberish that nobody can understand].”
What is he saying? What good is it to the body of Christ if somebody speaks in a gibberish and a babbling that nobody can understand? Paul said, “I’d rather have five words of something that people can understand than ten thousand words in a tongue that nobody has ever heard or will ever understand.”
Then Paul lays the most stringent of boundaries. It’s almost humorous how hypothetical of a case he builds. Look in 14:27. This is really impossible because when somebody is speaking in a gibberish, there is no interpretation. But Paul, being the great theologian he was, look at what he says. Verse 27 reads, “If anyone speaks in a tongue [singular], it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and let one interpret [or translate].” Friend, they had interpreters or translators at the Oracles of Delphi. They thought they were saying what they were saying. Paul says, “If you’re going to push me on this thing, then, buddy, you better know and know for sure what you said. Because if it’s of God, God will not speak unless people can understand.” The problem with Corinth was not speaking in other languages. The problem with Corinth was speaking in a gibberish, in a babbling, however you want to qualify it, that no one, even the person speaking it, understood.
In the six times that it’s used in the singular in chapter 14, not one of them is a good time, not one of them. Look back in 1 Corinthians 14:2. “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.” Now again, here’s further proof this is gibberish. He says, “for no one understands.” The word for “understands” there is the word akouo. You say, “Aha, I got you. It doesn’t mean understand. It means nobody hears him. He’s just in his prayer closet and nobody can hear him.” No, no. You can’t do that. Akouo means to hear with understanding. So whether you put him in his prayer closet or whether you put him wherever, it’s got to be hearing with understanding. How do you know that? Jesus said, “Do you have ears? Do you hear?” He didn’t mean “Can you hear the sound of My voice?” He meant “Do you understand what I’m saying?” That’s what the word akouo means, to hear with understanding.
Paul says he’s not speaking to men. He’s speaking to God. That’s the only assumption Paul could make. I can’t blame him. Who else are you going to speak to? I guess it would have to be God because nobody’s going to understand what you’re saying if you’re speaking in gibberish. My problem is I don’t believe God understands it either. But he says that it must be to God. It can’t be to men. But then this becomes the basis of his point. He speaks mysteries.
He says, “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.” That little word “but” is not really rendered well. It’s an adversative here. What that means is indeed nobody understands him. He speaks mysteries. That’s what it should be reading like instead of “but he speaks mysteries,” as if it’s a good thing. Indeed he doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.
The word “mystery” is the word musterion, which means something that cannot be understood. “Indeed,” Paul says, “he must be speaking to God.” If he’s speaking to anybody, he must be speaking to God because he hasn’t got a clue what he’s saying and nobody else does either.
The term “in his spirit” has to be carefully noted there. It means his own personal spirit, not the spirit of God, not in the Spirit, but in his spirit. First Corinthians 14:14 documents that. He says, “For if I pray in a tongue [singular], my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.” It’s my spirit, not the spirit. This doesn’t have anything to do with the Holy Spirit of God. This is the problem of Corinth that’s now identified. It’s speaking in a gibberish that even the one speaking does not understand.
Now, by implication what he’s saying is the person who’s speaking in this gibberish and only edifying himself is a person who’s not seeking after Christ, not seeking after the love of God, has no one on his mind but himself and has no usefulness in the body whatsoever. They were not desiring spiritual matters. They were singling out an emotional experience. What they were doing meant absolutely nothing to the brethren in the body of Christ. Paul wanted them to understand that the man who seeks Christ, if he seeks Christ, is pursuing love because God will produce that love in him. And when He produces that love in him, he’ll seek after spiritual things, outlets to which this love can be manifested. One of the greatest ways above everything else is when you share the word of God to others. This man edifies others, exhorts others, and consoles others. He doesn’t live his life to edify himself. He lives his life to edify others. So we have the problem of Corinth identified.
The solution for Corinth clarified
But then, secondly we want to look at the solution for Corinth clarified. He’s got a solution for them. It’s very clear. He covers it all right at the first and then begins to develop it as he gets deeper into the chapter. Verses 3-4 say, “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.” I don’t see how anybody can miss this.
He’s saying that when God’s love is working in the heart of a man, that man never seeks to edify himself in anything. He always seeks to edify others. God Himself will edify the man. He doesn’t have to seek for that. God will take care of that. The whole motivation of his life changes. If the believers in Corinth would just change their direction and seek the Giver, they’d find a whole new ministry God could have for them.
“But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” Now prophesying, telling forth the Word of God, does three things in the lives of others. This is the fruit of God’s love working through the person who’s pursuing Christ. The word “edifies” is the word that means to build a house. That’s pretty self-explanatory. You want something constructive in somebody else’s life? You love God and you share God’s Word with them and God’s word will first of all lay a foundation which nobody can lay. It has to be Jesus. The Word of God gives the gospel very clearly. But not only that, it enables people to build on that foundation just like you’d build a house. The foundation first, and then it builds up. So a person who’s living to see others edified and shares the word with them, they’re seeing other people’s lives being put together and the foundation laid, which is Christ, and building upon that foundation.
But not only that, it also exhorts. I love this word. It’s the word paraklesis. It’s the same word attributed to the Holy Spirit of God. I love this. It means to come alongside somebody else for the purpose of helping them. Para means in close proximity with somebody. So the very heartbeat of the one seeking Christ pursues love and becomes a vessel that this love can be released. The very heartbeat is that that person edifies, but that person also wants to come alongside somebody else. Whether it be in the pulpit ministry or wherever it is, you want to have the word of God on your lips because it’s in your heart and it’s in your mind and you want to share it with somebody else. It not only edifies, it exhorts. People are benefiting from it.
Then it also consoles. That’s the word paramuthia. This takes it another step. Muthos means to instruct, to instruct alongside. It doesn’t just come alongside but it takes the word of God and instructs people and helps them to confront their problems and helps them to find answers that they’re looking for. This is the heartbeat of a person who’s pursuing love.
I love Proverbs 15:23. It says, “A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word!” When a person filled up with God, filled with the Spirit of God comes alongside you and God working in that person gives a timely word right from the Word of God and it edifies you, exhorts you, and comforts you and consoles you, that’s what ministry is. That’s received ministry. You’re not achieving anything. God’s just doing it through you. To the degree your measure of surrender is there God does the ministry through your life. The whole body benefits.
Now, look at the contrast. “But one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies [or tells forth the word of God] edifies the church.” The man who pursues Christ and His love edifies others. But the man who pursues his flesh, pursues the gift, edifies only himself. The one who speaks in a gibberish he doesn’t even understand is not useful to God and is not useful to the body and doesn’t even understand what he’s doing. He’s seeking an emotional experience, and that emotional experience is nothing more than a nursery experience. Paul says to put away childish things and grow up and pursue the Giver of all gifts.
If we’re going to hang on to these silly emotional experiences that only edify us, we have missed the whole point of being saved. That’s what Paul is saying. It says it in the earlier chapters. He says, “I’ve got some hard things to say to you but I’m not saying this to shame you. I’m saying this as a father who loves his children would tell his children. I’m just trying to throw up a flare. Pay attention to it.” You’re not going to go anywhere in spiritual growth in your life until you get so attached to Jesus that the gifts mean absolutely nothing unless He’s doing them in your life. Unless you have other people in your focus, friend, you are a self-centered, fleshly-minded Corinthian and you need to change your way of living. This is where evangelism comes from. This is where missions comes from.
I’ve seen it over and over again in Scripture. If you’re not pursuing Christ, if you’re not pursuing His love, you can’t go out and have a burden for lost people. God in you puts the burden for lost people and all of a sudden spiritual things become important to you, not fleshly things, not tangible material things. The outlet you want to release that way comes when you can share the Word of God with somebody else. Whether it be to evangelize or whether it be to equip or encourage or to console, God puts this on your heart. It will kill evangelism if you start chasing after these personal emotional experiences. It will kill it.
All of our strengths, all of our gifts are for the purpose of edifying, exhorting, and consoling others. Friend, if you’re defending your experience, I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. I’m sorry to do that. But if I can wake you up and get your feet back on the ground so that you can walk and be a vessel usable to the body then thank God. If you hate me for the rest of your life, fine. But if God can speak and we can hear it, we will never be the same.
The problem of Corinth is identified, a tongue. You can’t get around it. Paul said it makes no sense. Nobody understands, mysteries. But the solution to Corinth is clearly clarified, pursue love. Pursue that which edifies and exhorts and consoles others.