Is God Among You? -- Part Two


Is God Among You?
1 Corinthians 14:1-40
Theme: Propriety in worship.
This week’s lessons remind us that in church we should strive to benefit others, not ourselves.
In the midst of these three chapters that lay down the principles we covered yesterday, we find 1 Corinthians 13, the great chapter on love. In times past when I looked at these chapters and tried to analyze them, I found the content of chapter 13 positioned between chapters 12 and 14 to be somewhat of a digression. I did not understand how it fit into the sequence of what he is talking about. I think I do understand that a little better now. What Paul says in chapter 13 is, most certainly, the prelude to what he says in chapter 14.
In chapter 14 Paul contrasts prophecy, by which he means speaking in an articulate and understandable way, with speaking in tongues, by which he refers to speaking in a language no one understands. He wants to encourage the Corinthians to desire to prophesy rather than to speak in tongues. He wrote chapter 13 in preparation for that. His point is that everything you do should be characterized by love, and that means love for others, not love in the abstract, but love for God and love for the Christian community expressed in what you do. If you are really characterized by that love for other people, then you will not to do anything in the Christian assembly that is not beneficial for all therein. It is on the basis of that that he lays down the principles that we find in chapter 14.
In verses 1 and 2 of chapter 14, Paul contrasts prophecy with speaking in tongues; in other words, he is contrasting that which is understandable with that which is not. We are somewhat misled at this point because in the English language, prophecy has taken on connotations of foretelling almost exclusively. A prophet is now seen solely as one who looks into the future and who can tell you what is going to happen. In the Bible the prophets were capable of doing that, and quite often in their prophecies we do have statements concerning things that are going to come in the future. But in biblical terminology, prophecy is a much broader term.
The word prophecy is not so much about foretelling as it is about forth telling. The closest parallel in contemporary experience to prophecy is preaching. Preaching is somewhat different from teaching. Teaching is to take a passage and explain what it means.
I have sat in universities under some magnificent teachers. I have sat under men who were able to take works of theology, even biblical texts, and teach them in a very clear and accurate way, and yet they would not call themselves Christians. One of the best teachers at Harvard University was a man who had the ability to teach about the Puritans and Puritan theology. He used to teach about Jonathan Edwards. After he had explained the essence of Jonathan Edwards’s teaching, he would actually read portions of Edwards’s sermons so effectively and so clearly that at the end of the class, those who were there listening to him would stand up and applaud the professor. And yet, he did not believe what Edwards was teaching. He was simply teaching it accurately. That is what teaching is. But prophecy is more than that.
Prophecy is based upon teaching, but it takes teaching and applies it to the hearers in such a way that it says, "Listen, if you will hear the Holy Spirit and believe these things, your life is going to be different and these are the areas in which it is going to be different." Paul says that if you are thinking about doing good, as you should if you are a Christian, then when you compare the gift of being able to preach, or prophesy, with the gift of speaking in tongues, you really have no choice. You must desire the gift of prophecy to be able to communicate and apply the Word of God clearly.
Study Questions
  • Read 1 Corinthians 13. How does this chapter apply to what Paul says concerning spiritual gifts?
  • What is prophecy?
  • What is the difference between preaching and teaching?
Are you still unsure of what spiritual gift or gifts God has given you to serve his Church? Seek wise counsel. Ask your spouse or a close friend to help you identify your spiritual gift so that you can cultivate it in Christ’s service.