Study Notes for I Corinthians 14:1-19 (click here for Study Sheet)

Paul prefaces this discussion of the verbal gifts of the Spirit by establishing the bedrock of Christian practice: "Follow the way of love" Satan creates deceptions for every gift of God; practicing spiritual gifts without love is practicing them without the presence of God.

It is significant that Paul grounds prophecy and the gift of tongues in love. James, who wrote his epistle to early Jewish Christians about 10 years before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, said this: "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." (James 3:9,10)


Prophecy and Tongues

Paul makes such a distinction between the gifts of prophecy and tongues that we should define both so their differences and similarities are clear. In the New Testament, the gift of prophecy is available to the whole church. Some members apparently receive special, concentrated gifts of prophecy, but Paul says he wants all believers-including women (1 Cor. 11:5)-to desire the gift of prophecy..

Even in the Old Testament the gift of prophecy was available to all of God's people. Numbers 11:24-30 tells the story of two men who were not recognized as prophets upon whom the Spirit rested, and they began to prophesy in camp. Joshua, who was jealous for Moses' authority, complained to Moses.

Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" (Nu. 11:29)

In the OT, however, the gift of prophecy came from the Holy Spirit resting ON people (see passage above). In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit INDWELLS people. The gift of prophecy comes from the same source, God, but the gift of the Spirit is part of being born from above-the continuous Presence of God-not just of an outside Power that comes upon someone and then moves off.

NT prophets will be true to the scriptures. They will not present new doctrines. Jesus himself revealed all we need to know about the Father, about the New Covenant, about salvation. In him was the fullness of truth.

New Testament prophets will be people who speak God's thoughts and ideas for believers. Sometimes they may foretell certain future events, as did Agabus when he prophesied Paul's death. (Acts 21:11) Sometimes they will reveal God's will in a situation, as happened when God impressed the believers to set aside Barnabas and Saul for missionary work. (Acts 13:1-3) Sometimes NT prophets will publicly reveal spiritual truth, as when Paul exposed the demonic control and immediate judgment of blindness on the sorcerer Elymas. (Acts 13:9-11) True prophetic revelations always reveal God's will or knowledge in order to help other believers have insight, make decisions, or handle situations in a Godly manner.

Tongues is an interesting and symbolic gift. In this chapter it seems clear that there are two kinds of manifestations of tongues. One is the gift of languages which enables a believer to preach the gospel in foreign languages they don't know in order to teach people. The other manifestation seems to be "angelic tongues" (1 Cor. 13:1) or prayer language. This form of tongues seems not to be a recognizable language but is rather an outpouring of worship to God which comes from a person's spirit, the part of him/her that knows God personally, and which has nothing to do with cognitively forming words or thoughts. (v. 2, 14)


Tongues and The Word

"In the beginning was the Word," John says in John 1:1-2, "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning."

Creation began with a word from The Word. God spoke, and the world became our home. God spoke, and life was born. "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men." (John 1:3,4)

The Word is life and light. The Word is seminal. Part of our being created in the image of God is the ability he created into us to speak and reason meaningfully and symbolically. God gave us words as part of our inheritance that separates us from animals. Language is part of the image of God in us. Language is what enables us to praise God, declare truth, and build community.

Language, on the other hand, is what Satan perverts when he wants to confuse, deceive, and breed hostility.

Throughout the Old Testament foreign tongues were a symbol of God's judgment. At Babel, when the descendants of the flood survivors should have awakened to the fact that God does not allow sin and arrogance to continue unpunished forever, their arrogance propelled them to try to immortalize themselves. They began building a city and a "tower that reaches to the heavens" God saw their complete corruption and said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." (Gen. 11:6,7)

God's judgment on the people at Babel resulted in their language fracturing. No longer could they understand or work together. Schisms and distrust arose. Each language group had its own set of technological and cultural knowledge, and they couldn't share this information with each other any more. They became enemies, and their focus went from collusion to self-protection.

The Word brings life, light, and wholeness. The absence of word, or the judgment of The Word, results in disintegration and deconstruction.

Throughout Israel's history God would send prophets to foretell his people's exile into nations whose languages they would not understand. (Deut. 28:49; Is. 28:10,11) God's judgment on his people who refused to heed The Word was exile into nations where they were foreigners who could not understand the language. They were sentenced to an existence where relationships were split apart; their wholeness as a nation was consumed by foreign cultures.

These exiles into Gentile nations underscored to the Israelites that they were a people apart. The foreigners were the enemy. They were pagans and worshiped strange gods. Being immersed in foreign cultures often brought Israel to their knees, begging God for forgiveness and restoration.


The Word Returns

Pentecost returned The Word to God's people. After millennia of exile, competing empires, and distrust not only among the pagan nations but among the tribes of Israel, the Living God took residence in His new temple: the hearts of His followers. The first work of the indwelling Word was to restore the communication lost at Babel. The believers in the upper room were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to proclaim the gospel of the crucified and risen Messiah in every language represented in Jerusalem that day. Jews from the scattered tribes had come to Jerusalem for the feasts of Passover and Pentecost, and on that day history changed forever.

As the disciples declared the gospel in languages they did not know, every Jew who was interested heard the truth in his or her own language. They had come to Israel as observant Jews; at the end of the day of Pentecost, 3,000 Jews returned to their scattered homes no longer Old Covenant Jews but converted Christians. They returned to their Jewish communities with the life-changing news: the Messiah had come!

Pentecost was the beginning of the church. God had originally confounded words at Babel because the people's hearts were evil; they communicated only to perpetuate evil. The Word returned to humanity at Pentecost because now there was truth to proclaim, and there were now people whose hearts were softened and submissive to God and would be obedient to The Word. Jesus had dealt with the barrier of sin at the cross, and people could once again be connected to God by his indwelling Spirit and live in constant communion and rest.

The effects of Pentecost did not end with 3,000 converted Jews. In the succeeding days, Peter and the other apostles marveled as they witnessed Gentiles hearing the gospel and receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. (Acts 10:34, 44-48; 11:11-18) This was the mystery hidden for generations; God had made the Jews and Gentiles one! These Gentiles, the nations who had oppressed and persecuted Israel for centuries, these Gentiles whose languages the Jews could not understand, were now filled with the same Word the believing Jews received! They were all speaking the same language of the Spirit, the Living Word! The Holy Spirit had transcended ethnic boundaries and had extended the kingdom to all people. Communication and fellowship, lost since Babel, was restored to the world.

The Word, God Himself, lives in his people. The Word is what brings the deep and inexplicable fellowship to groups of believers. This fellowship is not based upon cultural similarities, ethnic, financial, or political agreement, or doctrinal adherence. This fellowship is the result of the Spirit of God inhabiting each believer. Each born-again Christian can recognize the presence of the Spirit in another, and it is this presence of God in the hearts of believers that results in the bonds of love, fellowship, and support that mark God's people.


Purpose of Tongues

Paul admits in this passage that he speaks in tongues "more than all of you." He also says, "If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful." It seems clear that there is a gift of tongues that is a private, spiritual form of praise between a believer and God. It seems not to be emanating from a person's mind or to be based on conscious thought but is, rather, an overflow of praise from a person's spirit, the part of him or her that knows and communicates with God. It comes from the awakened part of a person that understands spiritual things.

Speaking in private tongues of praise is a good thing, according to Paul, but it is inappropriate in public worship unless someone is present who can interpret the utterance. The gift of tongues, whether it is a discernable language or spiritual praise, is for the building up of the body of Christ. If a person speaks in tongues publicly, s/he must either interpret the message or be sure someone is present who can.

"He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself," Paul says, "but he who prophesies edifies the church.He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified." (v. 4, 5)

The gifts of tongues and prophecy are both gifts from the Trinity. They differ, however, in a specific way. The gift of prophecy is God impressing a person with His thoughts and commissioning that person to tell the message to fellow believers. The gift of spiritual tongues, on the other hand, emanates from a person's own spirit in worship, and is directed to God. As such it does not edify anyone except the person uttering the praise.

When an interpreter is present, however, the gift of tongues resembles prophecy. God reveals to a third party what another person's message means, and the interpreter shares the message with the congregation.

"If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified." (v. 16-17)


Proclamation of Truth

While spiritual gifts include all types of functions, they all share an underlying meaning: proclaiming the truth about Jesus. Many of these gifts include the use of sanctified words-the natural outgrowth of the presence of The Word in people. These gifts of Word include prophecy, tongues, encouragement, teaching, evangelism, pastoring, knowledge, wisdom, mentoring, interpreting, administration, hospitality-the list is nearly endless. Even gifts of healing and miracles are forms of proclaiming the truth.

Jesus sent his Spirit to restore The Word to his people. He actually lives in us through his Spirit and nurtures individual relationships with each of us. He reveals to us his thoughts, his motives, his desires for us, his love for us-he continually teaches us truth. As we trust him and allow his presence and his love to change us, we begin to function in unity with him. We proclaim the truth. We perform his will. We love each other for him. And as we submit to his Spirit, we become one with him and one with each other in whom we also recognize his Spirit.

Jesus asks us to trust him. He asks us to let go of our fear and cynicism and to allow his living Word to heal our hearts and memories.

We bring the presence of The Word to the world. We have the amazing privilege of ministering to each other for him. The presence of the Spirit in us is two-fold: it is to enable us to speak The Word of truth to a needy world, and it is to build up the body of Christ. Through our mouths The Word speaks; through our hands The Word ministers.

The Word in us has made us new creations. He has brought our spirits to life with the presence of His Spirit, and now we walk in light. Now we can embrace reality. Now we can speak truth.

Now we are one with God-our Father, our Savior, our Comforter-and through Him we are one with each other.

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