Sermon on 1 Corinthians 14.1-5 preached 7/18/21 at HBC.
Paul emphasized diversity in Chapter 12 because the Corinthians coveted certain gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. Many different gifts are given for the church to work together effectively. We must have diversity for the sake of unity. Chapter 13 emphasized the need for love. A person might be very gifted and “spiritual” but without love, it is nothing. Now, Paul takes the general statements in Chapter 12 and narrows his focus on speaking in tongues here in Chapter 14. If we look at a broad skeleton outline of Chapter 14, here is what we find:
- Prophecy is superior to speaking in tongues (14.1-5).
- Speaking in tongues is vapid without understanding (14.6-19).
- Speaking in tongues is sign for unbelievers (14.20-25).
- Speaking in tongues must lead to edification and order in the church (14.26-40).
Paul begins with a summary of Chapters 12 and 13:
1 Corinthians 14:1 (NKJV)
1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
Remember how he closed Chapter 12:
1 Corinthians 12:31 (NKJV)
31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
Pursue love because it is the more excellent way. Still, desire the best gifts, desire spiritual gifts. Among the best gifts is the gift of prophecy. Why is Paul telling them to desire to prophesy above all gifts, particularly speaking in tongues?
1 Corinthians 14:2 (NKJV)
2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.
Those speaking in a tongue do not speak to men but to God. Why? No one understands him. Now, we must understand what characterized speaking in tongues for the Corinthians during the first century. Whatever is happening in our text seems to be different from what happened when Peter preached on Pentecost in Acts 2. Why different? Here, an interpreter was needed. There was no interpreter in Acts 2. Peter preached and everyone heard him in their own language. This is the miracle of Acts 2.
However, here a person speaks in a tongue, and it is not directed to men but to God. That is, no one understands what the person speaking is actually saying except for God. Even the person speaking doesn’t understand. He speaks mysteries in the spirit. Perhaps this eludes to a heavenly language. This may be why Paul distinguished between the tongues of men and of angels (13.1). If this were an angelic language, no person on earth would understand it. Therefore, an interpretation would be needed.
This is why Paul elevates the gift of prophecy over speaking in tongues in the next three verses:
1 Corinthians 14:3–5 (NKJV)
3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
- Prophecy edifies believers.
- Prophecy exhorts believers.
- Prophecy comforts believers.
Those who prophesy edify the church. However, those who speak in tongues edify themselves (4). Still, Paul doesn’t denigrate speaking in tongues. He simply puts the gift in its place. Those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues. The exception is when the speaking in tongues is interpreted and intelligible. This excludes the senseless rambling we hear in some movements today.
Why is prophecy greater? It is greater because it communicated new revelation from the mind of God to the minds of believers in the first century. While the active work of prophesying edified, exhorted, and comforted believers in the first century (individuals did not have completed Bibles), it does not take place today. Yet, we are edified, exhorted, and comforted by prophecy now revealed to us not by the direct agency of man but by the work of the Holy Spirit. He illumines and ignites the words of God in our spirits.
The Revealed Word of God Edifies
Explanation: The word edify means to build up. One man wrote, “The church is not a gallery where we exhibit the finest of Christians. No, it is a school where we educate and encourage imperfect Christians.” We do this with the revealed Word of God. Verse 3 states that prophecy is for edification. Verse 4 says that prophecies edified the first century church. The only way that the church is edified through speaking in tongues is when an interpreter is present (v. 5). Paul will say that if the Corinthians are eager for spiritual gifts, then it should be for the edification of the church so that it might excel (v. 12). If speaking in tongues is uninterpreted, the experience may lead the gifted tongue-speaker to give thanks, but the others who don’t understand aren’t edified (v. 17). Paul’s dual emphasis in this chapter is clearly stated in v. 26: “Let all things be done for edification.” And also in v. 40: “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Yet, we must remember that revelation at the knowledge level makes believers arrogant (8.1); love edifies. The apostles and prophets of the first century along with the evangelists, pastors, and teachers of the 21st century are themselves gifted to the Church by the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4.11). Why? All these men are charged with edifying the Church with the revealed Word of God. This is their primary duty. Why is preaching the revealed words of God so important? The answer is that God’s words will equip all the saints of God for the work of ministry. God’s words will also edify the body of Christ (Ep 4.12). This will continue so that the Church will grow and mature into the fullness of Christ (v. 13). It protects the Church from novelty, trickery, cunning craftiness, and deceitful plotting of false teachers (v. 14). We must speak the truth of God’s revealed words in love to truly edify the Church (v. 15). The objective is to mature in all ways so that we are conformed to Christ and glorify Him as the head of the Church. We are the body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share. This causes growth of the Church for the edifying of itself in love (v. 16). The revealed Word of God edifies as an anchoring authority.
Illustration: When geese migrate, they can be seen flying in a V-shaped formation. While to us on the ground it is a thing of beauty, to the geese it is an essential for survival. If you watch them, you will observe that at certain intervals, relative to the strength of the head wind, the lead bird—who was doing the most work by breaking the force of wind—will drop off and fly at the end of the formation.
The reason for this is that the V-formation is much more efficient than flying loose; up to 60 percent less work is required! It has been discovered that the flapping wings create an uplift of air, an effect that is greater at the rear of the formation. So, the geese take turns “uplifting” one another. By cooperating—working together—the geese can achieve long migrations that would otherwise be exceedingly difficult for the strongest and deadly for the others.
Application: Likewise, when we as believers in Christ actively uplift one another through prayer, sharing material means, and heart-to-heart friendship and caring, we can go further into godliness than if we attempt our pilgrimage alone. We receive our uplift from the revealed words of God.
If you remain unskilled in the use of God’s revealed words, you are building your house on the sand. If you are in a weakened state, you will turn aside from the Word of God to the ways of the world. People are pulling you and tempting you to leave your only hope. Be built up in the Word of God. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. Go on the offensive by arming yourself with it. When the world attacks you with bad reasoning and false teaching, when you are lured by contemporary philosophy or intellectual arrogance, when modern day Pharisees appeal to the pride of self-righteous moralism, strike back with “Thus says the LORD!” Determine to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The revealed Word of God edifies as an anchoring authority.
The Revealed Word of God Exhorts
Explanation: Secondly, “He who prophesies [in the first century] speaks exhortation” to people of the 21st century (v. 3). When Paul preached the gospel during his missionary journeys, he would return to newly converted believers and strengthen their souls by exhorting them to continue in the faith (Acts 14.22). Even though we have many members in one body as a church, all of us don’t have the same function. Our gifts differ according to the grace God gives each of us. So, we must use what we have. Some people have the gift of exhortation (Romans 12.8). They must use this gift to strengthen the souls of believers around them. Think of exhortation as strengthening people with words of hope from the Word of God.
Illustration: One caution here. This doesn’t mean that my exhortations will always succeed in the short-term. However, ultimately, they will. They will lead people either to repentance or judgment. [Copernicus illustration is adapted from Spurgeon’s illustration collection] Copernicus kept bucking against the authority of the scientific world by declaring the truth that the earth and the other planets of our solar system revolve around the sun. One argument brought against him involved Venus. Venus would have to present the same phases as the moon if she revolved around the sun. Copernicus could not see those phases. No one could. Still, he stuck to his guns. He couldn’t reply to his opponents but believed an answer would be found one day. Copernicus died with his views unproven.
Then came Galileo with his telescope. He looked at Venus and demonstrated that she did pass through exactly the same changes as the moon. So, wisdom is justified by her children. Are you a child of wisdom? The truth and authority of God’s Word will prevail. It might not be today or tomorrow, but faith will be made sight and hope will be realized. I exhort you with hope and faith today. I do so from the revealed, authoritative anchor of God’s Word.
Application: Good exhorters bring hope into the darkest days of the lives of believers. When we bring hope to believers in the church, we dispel unbelief. Remember that it is possible that an evil heart of unbelief resides in someone’s heart today. They are about to depart from the living God. How do we stop them? “Exhort one another daily [give hope through God’s revealed Word], while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrew 3.13). This is why we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We must exhort one another as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10.25). The revealed Word of God brings hope. We must know it and use it as a gift of exhortation to bring hope to one another. It keeps us from departing in unbelief. It is an anchoring authority.
Truth may not prevail in our culture today or even tomorrow. However, be assured. Truth wins. People all over are denying the authority behind God’s Word. They claim it is irrelevant. They twist and pervert it to their own ends. They even say that God’s Word is hurtful to certain segments of our society. You might feel backed into a corner with no answer for your critics. Don’t trouble yourself about it. Don’t be anxious. You don’t have to answer a fool according to his folly. Wait for the truth to prevail.
Transition: The revealed Word of God is an authority that edifies and exhorts. Third,…
The Revealed Word of God Comforts
Explanation: Comfort carries the idea of encouragement. Paul will say in v. 31 of this chapter: “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” Encourage mean to pour courage within. This week, I thought about Joshua’s long day. This was a day when God made the sun stand still and the moon in the valley of Ajalon. God did something that could not be done. He made the sun stand still for an entire day so that Joshua could win the battle. Joshua had a penchant toward fear. God encouraged Him. I faced something beyond me this week, but God reminded me that it was not beyond Him. This brought real courage when I was afraid. The revealed Word of God comforted me and provided for me an anchoring authority.
Paul tells us to comfort the fainthearted and uphold the weak (1 Thessalonians 5.14). He will say to these same Corinthian believers in his second preserved epistle:
2 Corinthians 1:3–7 (NKJV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. 7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.
Illustration: I had Stage IV Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2010. My life could have ended in my mid-40s. It didn’t, but I suffered from the disease. I still suffer from it in some ways. But suffering helps me to identify with Christ. It also intensified and sweetened the revealed words of God in ways that are indescribable and so comforting. God’s presence was so real and special to me.
God comforted me by lighting up and energizing His Word. My illness drove me to pray like I never have. It motivated others to go to the throne of grace for me. It brought me back to a place of unreserved obedience and humility. It developed patience and endurance in me. It matured me. It heightened my desire for Heaven. It gave me opportunity to witness to others. Ultimately, my cancer glorified God. It even gives me the ability to empathize with and comfort others who are going through the same trial.
Application: We might feel like we are constantly taking one step forward to only be knocked back two. Actually, we are pressing on. We are not going back. Every trial, temptation, and soul-crushing adversity is part of the sufferings of Christ. They abound in us so that we might experience comfort from God and then bring comfort to others. The revealed Word of God is an anchoring authority because it comforts us. It pours courage within our fearful, unbelieving spirits. This brings comfort.
Conclusion: I hope you leave this morning anchored to the authority of God’s revealed Word. The prophecies of the 1st Century inform the proclamation and preaching of the 21st Century. I am here for you. I am here to edify, exhort, and comfort you. May God help you to glorify Him and be here for one another.
 Michael P. Green, ed., Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 Sermon Illustrations Arranged by Topic and Indexed Exhaustively, Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989).