For an introduction to this series, click here.
I may end up dividing this into two, because there is so much here. Yep, I knew I would.
This chapter deals with the facts of life as a Christian in the era of spiritual gifts: "Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up." (14:1-5)
Those who try to practice the spiritual gifts today always exalt the gift of tongues as the greatest, but Paul said it was more important to edify the church than to speak in an unknown language.
"Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church." (14:6-12)
Paul was more concerned with edifying and helping the church grow than he was with their pride at being able to exercise spiritual gifts:
"For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say 'Amen' to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." (14:14-19)
The person speaking the tongue did not know what they were saying, and it was foolishness for a guest who came in to the church. The church in Corinth was apparently proud of the fact that they were exercising these gifts, and practiced them for the greater part of their service. So most of their meetings was just people jabbering in an unknown language. Now Paul does not dispute the legitimacy of their speaking, but points out that it would be better for everyone if they spoke words that would build up the church.
Finally, Paul gives the reason for spiritual gifts:
"Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, 'By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.' Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." (14:20-25, ESV)
Notice he begins this passage with a reference to chapter 13 about being children in their thinking. But this passage blows away those who teach that tongues are meant for today. They were meant primarily as a sign for the Jews that the church was a legitimate work of God. Look at every time tongues are mentioned in the book of Acts. There is the day of Pentecost, when the 120 spoke in tongues, and then in every other situation it was a group of people who had never heard the Gospel yet responding to the truth and manifesting their salvation with the gift of tongues.
Tongues were a fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah 28:11-12. If you read that prophecy in context, it doesn't seem to be talking about the church. It seems to be talking about foreign powers that will invade Israel. This is an example of the Apostles spiritualizing an Old Testament prophecy and applying it to a New Testament situation. This is a practice the Apostles do quite a bit. Now it is wrong for us to do that. We are to look at the context and determine what the passage means. But the Apostles had a special dispensation from God and a special place of authority in the church, so they could do that.
I recently heard a "sermon" in which the preacher went on and on about the symbolism in the story of David and Goliath. He talked about how David went down into the water and came up and killed Goliath and said that was like Jesus dying and then being raised to life and conquering Satan. Unless some kind of symbolism is explained in the New Testament, and there are plenty of examples, we should not be making that kind of extrapolation. It stops becoming honest interpretation and starts becoming adding our own ideas to the text. I am even uncomfortable with those who compare Joseph to Jesus. There are many things that seem uncanny in parallel, but nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus compared to Joseph, so I feel (and this is just my opinion, but I think I can back it from Scripture) that to state as a fact that Joseph is a type of Christ is an example of shoddy interpretation of Scripture.
I know that is a long way from the text of our chapter, but oh well. Get your own blog!