Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 14.
I must have looked at the schedule of dates, chapters, and writers nearly five times just to make sure that my day to write and topic was 1 Corinthians 14 on speaking in tongues. Yes..the schedule was the same the fifth time I checked as it was the first! Thankfully, a few weeks ago my brother in Christ, David LaFrance told me about Pastor John MacArthur’s Grace to You app which has sermons on every chapter in the Bible, and it had 4 on this chapter alone. In listening to a few, I didn’t feel quite as inept and nervous to write on it, not only because of John’s teaching and clarification, but also because John said this chapter was without a doubt the hardest to understand in 1 Corinthians and maybe the Bible. He also said he has read close to 50 books on this chapter and the topic of speaking in tongues and no two authors fully agreed on everything. That was my sigh of relief you just heard that I don’t need to get everything just right, and I just needed to pray for guidance and attempt to do my best.
John gives some great context in that the Corinthians were seeking a state of ecstasy, not only in their own homes and personal time with God, but also while in the church and around others. They were looking for an out of body type experience. It is also important as we read this to understand that John states the word “prophesy” was not used to describe predicting the future until the Middle Ages. In fact, merriam-webster.com defines prophesy as “to give instruction in a religious matter.” It also gives the word preach as a synonym. This is what Paul was referring to. John also states that the purpose of the church is to edify people about God. Merriam-Webster.com defines edify as “to instruct or improve…” If we understand these two definitions, then we can more clearly understand in 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 what Paul is saying in that preaching and using your spiritual gifts within the church is to help others more clearly understand and to glorify God is what is important. Being in your own state of ecstasy by speaking in a tongue no one can understand is not right because it helps only yourself. In fact, John MacArthur goes as far as to say that if you use a spiritual gift only for yourself it is a sin and you are prostituting that gift given by God. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 that especially within the church, it is much better to preach because you are helping others.
Some may ask about Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came and many spoke in tongues. John clarifies this is different because when the Holy Spirit truly comes like in Acts 2, everyone understands each other and the different tongues/languages which are being spoken. In this instance, God is being glorified and edification occurs because everyone understands each other. In Corinth, each individual was speaking a tongue/language which no one else could understand in public in the church. John MacArthur also interprets what Paul is saying to be the singular word for tongue which is also translated as gibberish. No one can understand gibberish, except for the one speaking it, so it is not used to help others better understand God.
So, how can we put this into context within our world and lives today? As I mentioned in our introduction to 1 Corinthians two weeks ago, not too much has changed. We still live in a society seeking ecstasy and personal experience. We are encouraged by others, advertisements, and entertainment sources to do whatever feels good to you, and it is all about you. I could just say one word that sums this up..selfie. However, I will say two words that amplifies even more the gravity and depth of our self-centered nature and the all about me world we live in…selfie-stick.
Paul tells us here in 1 Corinthians 5,12, and 26 that it’s not about you. The purpose of the gifts God gives us is to build up the church and the purpose of the church is to bring beauty to her bridegroom, Jesus. Just a few days ago we studied 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says, “So whether you eat or dink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And then in 1 Corinthians 10:33, “just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they might be saved.”
Let me use on example of the gift of athletic abilities and sport. I have heard many Christians even criticize Tim Tebow for his outspokenness about his faith, thanking God in interviews after victories, and for “tebowing” after a touchdown. I once read a book where Bobby Knight was quoted as saying he didn’t have his teams pray before games because God didn’t want his team to win more than the other team, and God was not going to parachute down and make a basket for them when they needed it. I think many Christians take this posture and for example, think it’s wrong to mix sport and faith. They think athletic gifts are just athletic gifts and not for God’s glory and that when Tebow thanks God after winning a game that he’s saying God wanted him and his team to win more than the other team. I didn’t used to like it when athletes thanked God after victories as well. However, I missed the point. Tim is not saying God wanted his team to win more. What Tim is saying is that it’s not about him. God gave Tim the gift of athletic ability in order to glorify him and not only is Tim thanking him for these gifts, but most importantly, he’s actually using these gifts to glorify God, spread the Gospel, and model the love of Christ so others can see and will be drawn to Christ’s love by what he does both on and off the field.
Just like speaking in a tongue (gibberish), what good is the gift of athletic ability if you are only using it to benefit yourself and for your own selfish desires and not to bring glory to God and bless others? I’m very passionate about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The FCA’s vision is “to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.” Tim embodies this. He is impacting others for Christ through sport and the athletic abilites God his given him just as God is instructing us to do in 1 Corinthians 10 and 1 Corinthians 14.
Let’s learn from this and ask ourselves today the following questions. How can we use the gifts God has given us (and he’s given us all gifts) to glorify him? How can we spread the Gospel as Jesus instructed us in Matthew 28:19? How can we help others know him and his saving grace on the cross wherever he has placed us whether that be in our home, neighborhood, athletic field/court, and yes, even our workplace? How can we make wherever we are a mission field for him and his glory?