1 Corinthians 14
CHAPTER 13 BEING a parenthesis, showing the surpassing excellence of divine love, the first verse of 1 Cor. 14 is connected with the last verse of 1 Cor. 12. Love is to be pursued as the thing of all importance, for where it is, spiritual gifts may safely be desired. Where love reigns, they will be desired not for personal advancement or distinction, but for the profit and blessing of all. Hence the gift of prophecy is given the first place. It is amongst the best gifts which may be coveted earnestly.
The Apostle at once proceeds to contrast the gift of prophecy with the gift of tongues, which evidently had great attractions in the estimation of the Corinthian believers, being so obviously supernatural in its origin. He does not cast any doubt upon this particular spiritual manifestation. The "tongues" to which he alluded, were the genuine manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit, and under the control of the speaker. The Apostle spoke with tongues himself in larger measure than any of the Corinthians, but he did so in a controlled and restrained way. Verses 6, 15, 18, and 19 show this. The point is, that even when the gift of tongues is at its best, it is of less profit than the gift of prophecy.
When the Corinthian saints came together in assembly before the Lord, He was to be their Director in all things, and all their activities were to be in the energy of the Spirit of God. This chapter furnishes us with many directions from the Lord-directions of a general character, which are binding at all times. Whether on a given occasion this or that brother should take any audible part, and if they should, what part, is a matter which must be settled in reference to the Lord's will when the occasion comes. But when they do take part, they must do so in subjection to the general instructions given by the Lord in this chapter, acting as men of a sound mind enlightened by the word of the Lord. It may be remembered how Paul speaks to Timothy of God having given us the spirit "of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." This is exemplified in the chapter before us. 1 Cor. 12 shows us the Spirit of power in the assembly; 1 Cor. 13 the spirit of love; 1 Cor. 14 the spirit of a sound mind.
Spiritual activities in the assembly may be Godward or manward. Activities Godward are mentioned in verses 14 to 17-praying, singing, giving of thanks. But in the main the chapter is concerned with what is manward-prophecy, tongues, doctrine, interpretation. These gifts are to be exercised for the benefit of others, and the test the Apostle applies is that of general edification. If the exercise of the gift edifies it is of profit. If it does not edify it is to no profit.
According to verse 3 the end to be attained is threefold. The simple meaning of edification is building up. The foundation is laid when the Gospel is received; but upon the foundation an immense deal has to be built up, so that edification may rightly continue throughout a long Christian life. Exhortation, or encouragement, follows. We pass through a hostile world, subject to all kinds of adverse influences. Hence we continually need what will stir us up to spiritual vigour. Then thirdly, comfort, or consolation is a continuous need in the assembly; for there are always those present who are face to face with sorrow and trouble and disappointment, and who need that which will lift them above their sorrows. We might summarize this threefold end as, building up, stirring up, and lifting up. Prophecy leads to the attainment of these three things.
Prophecy is not only the foretelling of future events. It includes the forth-telling of God's mind and message. In the apostolic days, before the written New Testament Scriptures were in circulation, there was prophecy of an inspired sort, such as is claimed by the Apostle Paul for himself and others in 1 Cor. 2: 13. We have not that today, nor do we need it, having the inspired Scriptures in our hands. Prophecy of an uninspired sort we may still have, for we may still find men gifted of God to open up to us, from the inspired Scriptures, the mind of God and His message for any given moment, and when we find it we do well to be very thankful for it. Such ministry of the Word of God does indeed build up, and stir up, and lift up.
As to the gift of tongues; its exercise is not forbidden, but it is definitely and strictly regulated in this chapter. The regulations laid down are of much importance. They make it certain that this gift if present, and exercised, shall be used for profit. Further, we have no hesitation in saying that when and where the gift is claimed, and yet those exercising it systematically ignore these divinely given regulations, a doubt is at once raised in any sound mind as to the genuineness of the alleged gift.
Even apart from this, however, these regulations are full of profit for us, for what is laid down must obviously apply in other directions also. For an instance of what we mean take verses 6 to 9. The immediate point of these verses is that mere vocal sounds are of no value. What is uttered by the voice must have some meaning to those who listen. It must be intelligible. Is that only of importance in connection with the gift of tongues? By no means. It applies universally. In our meetings it will not be enough that the speaker talks in English, for he may be enticed into a display of his learning by using hosts of long words of uncommon use, which leave the minds of his learners a complete blank as to his meaning. Or he may speak with such rapidity, or with such mystic obscurity, as to be unintelligible. In all such cases people merely "speak into the air," and there is no profit.
We might wonder at Paul writing as he does in verses 14 and 15, did we not know what sometimes takes place even in our day. It is not God's way that even the speaker himself should be ignorant of the meaning of the words he has just uttered. He is to utter words, whether in speaking to others. or in prayer, or in song, which he himself understands and which are understandable to others.
If anyone address himself to God in the assembly, whether in prayer or thanksgiving he must remember that he does so as giving expression to the desires or the praises of the assembly. He is not speaking merely on his own behalf. Consequently he must carry the assembly with him; and they, understanding and following his utterances, ratify them before God and make them their own by saying "Amen" (signifying "So be it") at the end. They cannot intelligibly and honestly say "Amen" at the end if they are quite unaware of what it is all about. Far better is it to speak but five words profitable for instruction, than ten thousand words that mean nothing to the hearers.
Take note that verse 16 supposes that each in the assembly, even the unlearned and insignificant, do say "Amen." They say it, and not merely think it. If our experience be any guide, a very small percentage in the assembly say "Amen" today. Test what we say in an average prayer meeting. If a brother in prayer really voices our desires let us ratify what he has uttered with a good distinct "Amen." If he has not, honesty compels us to refrain from saying it. If the earnest, fervent outpouring of our desires were ratified by all of us in the utterance of a hearty "Amen" at the close, and the wearisome parade of information, and discussion of doctrines with God, which sometimes is inflicted on us at great length as a substitute for prayer, were ended in a rather chilling silence, the offender might possibly be awakened to what he is doing. When however every prayer finishes in silence save for a few feeble "Amens,' no such discrimination can be felt, and one begins to fear that all may be formalism and with little or no meaning or depth. Let us think on these things and cultivate reality.
Also we are to cultivate understanding in the things of God, while retaining a child-like spirit in other regards, as verse 20 tells us. When tongues are misused, as indicated in verse 23, it only shows a complete lack of mature sense. Children might act in that foolish way, just as they love to show off their new clothes. But the believer is to act as having the understanding of a man, not a child. The prophetic ministry of the Word of God brings the soul into the very presence of God. And the power of such ministry may be felt even by an unbeliever who happens to be present.
It is not enough that there should be prophecy. The gift must be exercised according to God's order, which is laid down in verses 29 to 33. The Corinthians were highly gifted, and the tendency in their assemblies was evidently to have a great excess of talking. Verse 26 shows this. Each was eager to exercise his gift and get it in evidence. Confusion, disorder, tumult, was the result. God was not the Author of this.
So definite instructions were laid down. Speaking in tongues was not forbidden, but it is strictly regulated in verses 27 and 28; and if no interpreter is present it is forbidden. Prophecy too is regulated. Two or three speakers in any given meeting are enough. How wise is this regulation! The Lord knows the receptive capacity of the average believer. If two speak at considerable length it is enough. If more brevity marks the speakers, three may find an opportunity. Then it is enough. Someone may ignore this ruling and insist on giving us his word, but we are wearied and end by retaining less than if we had heard only three.
Note that the others who listen are to "judge." That is, even in days when inspired utterances by direct revelation (see verse 30) were given in the assembly, those who listened were to do so with discernment. They were not to receive without testing what they heard. They were never to adopt the attitude of:-"Oh, everything that dear brother A-says must be right!" Such an attitude is a direct incitement to the devil to pervert the ideas of brother A-and so encompass the fall of many. It is a disaster for brother A-as well as his admirers. There is liberty for all the prophets to prophecy, though not of course on any one occasion. If on any given occasion a prophet may have something to say and yet no opportunity occurs, he must restrain himself and wait on God till the opportunity comes. He himself is to be master of his own spirit and not mastered by it.
Verses 34 and 35 deal with the silence of women in the assembly. The instruction is very plain and the word used for "speak" is the ordinary word and does not mean "chatter" as some have made out. This regulation cuts across the spirit of the age, without a doubt. But if that be a reason for ignoring Scripture, there will not be much Scripture left that is not ignored.
The Spirit of God foreknew how these regulations would be ignored or challenged. Some at Corinth evidently were inclined in that direction. Hence verses 36 and 37. The Word of God came out through the Lord Himself and His apostles and not through the Corinthians. It came to them. They might fancy themselves as spiritual people. If they really were spiritual they would prove it by discerning that these rules laid down by Paul were not just his notions, but the commandments of the Lord through him. The test of our spirituality today is just the same.
Take note that the Word of God does not come out through the church. It comes to the church. The crowning pretension of the great Romish system is that "the church"-and by that they mean the Romish authorities-is the teaching body. We need not here concern ourselves with their claim to be "the church," for it is evident from this passage that the Apostles are the fountains, whence have flowed the pure waters of the Word, and we have them today in their inspired writings-the New Testament Scriptures. The church is not "the teaching body" it is "the taught body." The Word of God comes to it, and its duty is to bow to the Word of God.
1 Corinthians 14.(Hamilton Smith)
In chapter 14 we have the unfolding of God's order for the exercise of gifts in the assembly. Gifts, as we have learnt, have been distributed by the Spirit to every man to profit withal (1 Cor. 12: 7). It is not enough, however, to have received a gift; if it is to profit others, its use must be divinely regulated. In this chapter the assembly is contemplated as come together in one place (verses 23, 26, 28, 33, 34, 35); and we are instructed how the gifts are to be exercised on such occasions according to the order of God.
There are two ways in which God's order can be set aside: first, by the allowance of man's disorder, and, secondly, by the adoption of man's order. The Corinthian believers had evidently set aside God's order by the allowance of gross disorder. There had even been drunkenness at the Lord's Supper. Moreover, it would seem that the sign gifts, given by the Holy Spirit, were being used without reference to the Lord's will, and were made a means of exalting the believers and ministering to their own vanity.
In Christendom today we may seldom see such violent outrages upon ordinary decency as were exhibited at Corinth. Nevertheless, on every hand we see assemblies of professing Christians conducted on principles entirely contrary to the plain directions of God's word. With Christendom today it is not so much human disorder, as at Corinth, but rather human order that has set aside divine order. Human order is equally serious, if not more so than human disorder, for gross conduct will offend even the natural conscience and call for correction, whereas human order may quiet the conscience and be allowed without its evil being detected.
To appreciate the seriousness of this evil, we must remember that, very early in the church's history, the great distinguishing truths of the dispensation were given up by the professing mass. The presence of Christ in glory as the Head of His church, the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth, and the formation and calling of the church, are great truths that were almost entirely lost soon after the decease of the apostles. Christianity became leavened with Judaism, with the result that sincere but ignorant men attempted to maintain order by setting up a priestly class as distinguished from the laity after the pattern of the Jewish priesthood. Human order, by means of clerisy, was adopted and still prevails in all the great religious sects of Christendom.
The seriousness of adopting this human order lies in the fact that it ignores the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit. We are so slow to accept the fact that the great cardinal truth of the present moment is that we are living in the time when a divine Person - the Holy Spirit - is present upon earth on behalf of the interests of Christ, to comfort, to teach, to guide, to shew us all things, and to lead us in the exercise of gift and prayer (John 14: 16-26; John 16: 13-15; 1 Cor. 12: 3; Jude 20). If, however, in the apprehension of the body of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we have separated from every man-made system which, in practice, denies these great truths, we may ask, does Scripture afford any light as to the way believers should act when come together for the ministry of the word?
The fourteenth chapter of this Epistle clearly shows that God has given us very explicit directions for the exercise of ministry in the assemblies of His people when gathered together. That the principles laid down in this chapter cannot be carried out in the religious systems of Christendom only condemns these systems and makes manifest how far they have departed from God's order. If, however, our eyes have been opened to the evil of these systems, and we stand aloof from them, we shall find ourselves in a position in which it is possible, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to act according to God's order.
In the exercise of gifts by the Holy Spirit three great principles are asserted in this chapter:
First, we are to follow after love (verse 1).
Secondly, the gifts are to be used for edification (verses 2-25).
Thirdly, the gifts are to be exercised according to divine order (verses 26-40).
1. Love the motive in the use of gifts.
(V. 1). The maintenance of love, edification and divine order in the assembly entirely depends upon the free action of the Holy Spirit. Already the apostle has insisted upon the rights of the Holy Spirit in the assembly (1 Cor. 12: 4-13) and has unfolded to us the blessed qualities of love (1 Cor. 13). He now commences this fresh portion, which speaks of the exercise of gifts, with the exhortation, "Follow after love".
Had love been in exercise in the assembly at Corinth, it would have escaped many grave disorders, even if uninstructed in God's order. Love, as the apostle has shewn, leads to the renunciation of self. Hence the exhortation to follow love precedes the exhortation to desire spiritual gifts and the instruction as to their use. Love will keep the motive pure, both in the desire for a spiritual gift as well as in the use of the gift. Love thinks not of self but of the good of others. Lacking in love the believers at Corinth had been using the sign gifts of healing and tongues to exalt themselves. To meet this tendency the apostle exhorts them to seek rather to prophesy.
2. Edification the great end in the use of gifts.
(Vv. 2-4). The exhortation to covet the gift of prophecy leads the apostle to show that the great end of the exercise of gift is edification. Throughout his instruction he keeps this before us. In verse 3 he speaks of "edification, and encouragement, and consolation"; in verse 5 he writes, "that the assembly may receive edification"; in verse 12, "that ye may abound for the edification of the assembly"; and in verse 26, "Let all things be done unto edifying" (N.Tn.).
He that speaks in an unknown tongue may speak to God of mysteries, but if "no man understands" there is no edification. Unless there be an interpreter, both "love" and "edification" would exclude the use of tongues. In contrast to tongues, the one that prophesieth speaks unto men to edification, encouragement and comfort. This is hardly a definition of prophecy, but rather the result of prophesying. Thinking of Old Testament prophets, we may be inclined to limit prophecy to foretelling future events. This, however, was a limited part of the prophet's work, even in Old Testament days. His great mission was to apply the word of God to the conscience and heart for edification. This still applies as the service of the prophet in Christian times; and in this sense the gift abides. From the place that the apostle gives the gift in this passage, we may gather that it is the greatest of all gifts that remains to the church, and the one to be most desired.
(Vv. 5, 6). Tongues had, indeed, their place; but the apostle asks, what profit would it be to speak with tongues without an interpreter? If the assembly is to be edified, it can only be through one speaking in revelation, or in knowledge, or in prophecy, or in teaching. In the days of the apostle there were still those who spoke by revelation. Now that the word of God is complete we have the gift of revelation preserved in Scripture. Knowledge would imply imparting to believers that which has already been revealed. Prophesying is rather the application of the truth to the conscience, while doctrine, or teaching, is instruction in a particular truth.
(Vv. 7-11). Furthermore, for edification it is not only necessary to impart the knowledge, to apply the word by prophecy to the conscience, and to teach particular truths, but to do so in "words easy to be understood". Obscurity is not spirituality. If there were no "distinction in the sounds", music would convey no melodious meaning. If the sound is "uncertain", the trumpet will produce no effect upon the hearers. So ministry may be put forth in such a confused way that it conveys no meaning, or it may be expressed with such uncertainty that it has no effect upon the hearers. If ministry is to edify, it must be set forth in words "easy to be understood" and with the certainty of the oracles of God. Every voice in nature has a special significance, and so words have a special meaning. If we use words which convey no meaning to the hearers, we practically become barbarians speaking in some strange jargon.
(V. 12). If, then, we are zealous of spiritual gifts, let it not be that we may exalt ourselves, and excel above our brethren, but that we may excel to the edifying of the assembly. Nothing that sets aside this great principle of edification can be of the Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is unhindered there love prevails, and where love prevails every utterance will be for edification.
(Vv. 13-17). These utterances may take other forms than the exercise of distinct gifts. It may be for this reason that in the first verse we are exhorted to desire "spiritual manifestations", rather than "spiritual gifts", as in our translation. Room is thus left for every form of utterance under the leading of the Spirit. In these verses we read of praying, singing and giving of thanks, forms of ministry which are never called gifts. But, whatever the form of utterance, edification is to be kept in view. If the Holy Spirit presides, and love prevails in the assembly, every utterance will be in a form that those who are unlearned will be able to follow intelligently and add their Amen. Fellowship, of which the Amen is the outward expression, will thus be maintained.
(Vv. 18-20). In condemning the abuse of tongues, the apostle was not moved by jealousy, for he himself spoke with tongues more than they all; but he used the gift in the right place, before the right audience, and for a right purpose. In the assembly five words with the understanding, that others might be taught, were better than "ten thousand words in an unknown tongue". In their fondness for the use of tongues, the Corinthians were acting as children, who delight in anything that makes a show. The apostle exhorts them, and ourselves, not to be children in understanding, but to be innocent as a babe of all malice. We have the flesh in us and it can, but for the grace of God, use prayer or ministry to work off a bit of malice against a brother. But, as one has said, this is a form of spiritual wickedness in high places. Let us, then, seek to follow love and edification.
(Vv. 21-25). The apostle gives a free quotation from Isaiah 28: 11, 12 to show that, in the day of Israel's failure, when the prophets had erred, God spake to them in the tongues of foreigners, as a sign of the unbelief of those who would not hear the plain word of God. So the exercise of the gift of tongues at the introduction of Christianity was a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers, and left the hearer without excuse.
In contrast to tongues, the gift of prophecy serves not only for the unbeliever but for the believer. When the saints are come together in one place, the exercise of tongues without an interpreter would lead an unbeliever, or an unlearned person, to conclude that the assembly was mad. Prophesying, on the other hand, would convict the conscience of an unbeliever, make manifest the secrets of his heart, and convince him of being in the presence of God.
3. Divine order to be maintained in the exercise of gifts.
(V. 26). In view of his instructions for the maintenance of divine order when come together in assembly, the apostle enquires how these believers at Corinth were acting. He had been giving full liberty to pray, to sing, to bless, to give thanks, and to prophesy, provided all was carried out in a spirit of love and edification. They were taking full advantage of their liberty, for "every one" was ready to take part. Nevertheless, they had abused their liberty by not acting "decently and in order". The liberty of the Spirit had been turned into licence for the flesh. To correct this abuse does not suggest that one-man ministry should take the place of the liberty that belongs to every man. Christendom has done this and lost the liberty in seeking to correct the abuse. The apostle says, "Let all things be done unto edifying", and in order that this may be so, he presents God's order, thus maintaining full liberty for ministry while guarding it from abuse.
(Vv. 27, 28). First, he deals with tongues. If any man speak in a tongue, let it be "by two, or at the most by three", and that in regular course, and let one interpret. If there be no interpreter the exercise of this gift is not permitted.
(Vv. 29-31). If the prophets speak, it must also be only two or three, while others judge. Speakers and hearers have their responsibility. The hearers are to judge if what is said is of the Spirit. Each speaker is to leave room for another to whom a word may be given, for all may prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and be comforted. Clearly, then, anything in the nature of one-man ministry in an assembly meeting is out of order.
(Vv. 32, 33). Moreover, the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, a statement that excludes all idea of being moved by an uncontrollable impulse. With men speaking under the power of demons it would be otherwise, resulting in unholy excitement and confusion. God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace. Any scene of confusion in the assemblies of God's people is clearly not of God.
(Vv. 34, 35). The liberty of all to prophesy one by one in the assembly does not apply to women. They are to keep silence in the assemblies. Their capability, or otherwise, is not in question. Silence in public on the part of women is according to creation order as well as the law. The woman's sphere of liberty is in the home. To speak in public is to cover herself with shame.
(Vv. 36-38). The apostle's directions are closed with a definite claim that they are the commandments of the Lord, and, as such, have all the authority of the word of God that comes, not only to the assembly at Corinth, but to all the assemblies of God's people. To neglect the directions of the apostle is to refuse the universal application of the word of God to the church. The place of the church is to be subject to the word of God, remembering that the word of God comes to, and not from, the church. The assembly, as such, is taught; it cannot teach. The spirituality of any man will be seen by the acknowledgment that the things Paul has written are the commandments of the Lord. To disregard these directions is to ignore the direct commands of the Lord. As this is so, the apostle is very short and decisive with any who refuses subjection. With such he will not argue. He merely says, "If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant".
(Vv. 39, 40). The apostle sums up his instructions by again urging them to desire to prophesy, but not to forbid to speak with tongues, but, "Let all things be done decently and in order". Whatever form spiritual manifestations may take in the assembly, let all who take part ask themselves, "Will it be in love, will it be for edification, will it be according to divine order?". Let us then remember the three great exhortations of the chapter:
(1) "Follow after love" (verse 1).
(2) "Let all things be done unto edifying" (verse 26).
(3) "Let all things be done decently and in order" (verse 40).