From our Pastor: November 2015

“Eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

Rev. Dr. Avedis Boynerian

Prophecy is the human report of a divine revelation. Prophecy is the speaking forth in merely human words something God has spontaneously brought to mind.

The spiritual gift of prophecy is so controversial and divisive. The reason we do not ignore it and move on to something more helpful, something that won’t threaten people or make them feel uncomfortable is found in Paul’s command: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (14:1). This is command, not merely a statement of fact. Earlier Paul said, “earnestly desire” the higher gifts (12:31).

The Corinthians were not, in fact, seeking the greater/higher gifts. That was precisely their problem. They were placing far more emphasis on the gift of tongues, making it a mark of spirituality. Paul attempts to encourage them to seek prophecy because it is the greater gift insofar as it edifies others.
Paul encourages the pursuit of prophecy, given its capacity to edify others in building up the church (14:3-5).

To use modern language, “Paul wants them to want it really bad!”
To a church with great character and in need of power, this exhortation makes sense. But Corinth was a church with great power and little character!
The members were guilty of abusing spiritual gifts.
Too much power is never the problem, but too little maturity is.

Spiritual gifts were not the cause of their troubles: immaturity was. Let us never forget that spiritual gifts were God’s idea. He thought them up. He gave them to the church. They are his ordained means for edifying the body and consoling the weak and encouraging those in despair. Spiritual gifts were formed and shaped by God.

Some have pointed out, correctly, that the exhortation to "earnestly desire" spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1) is in the plural. The verb is plural because Paul is writing to everyone in the church at Corinth, each of whom is responsible for individually responding to an exhortation that has validity for the entire church. In other words, what is the corporate church if not a collection of individuals on each of whom the obligation falls? The plural of this exhortation simply indicates that all believers in Corinth are to heed the apostolic admonition. It is a duty common to everyone. That includes us as well.

American author Edward Everet Hale said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
The members of the church in Corinth were fascinated with spiritual gifts. After telling them to “desire the greater gifts” (12:31), the apostle Paul described to them “the most excellent way”—agape love (13:1-13). He then weighed the relative virtues and values of two spiritual gifts—one the Corinthians had over-valued and one that they did not value enough. Paul saw that it is necessary that deals with this problem.

He begins by saying that prophecy is better than tongues (14:1-5). “Follow the way of love, he writes, “and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” The point is that the Corinthians should value it more highly because as he explains: “Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” Paul’s point is this: When people speak in tongues, they cannot be understood. What good does that do?

Paul answers. He says, “Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves.” There is a private benefit. “But the one who prophesies edifies the church.” He contrasts the two: prophecy helps other people, but tongues do not. If believers love others and want to help others, they should value prophecy over tongues. Prophecy strengthens, encourages and comforts people. It builds them up in the faith and teaches them. Tongues are good, but prophesying is much better. “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues…so that the church may be edified.” The entire worship service should focus on edification: “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (14:26).

A clear message (verses 6-12)
 “If I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?” Tongues would not be understood, but prophecy is given in language that people understand.
“In the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?”
If no one understands the words, they might as well all be the same syllable: “da-da-da-da-da-da.” It might inspire the speaker, but it doesn’t do anything for anyone else. Paul wants them to speak words that can be understood.
“There are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. So it is with you.”
The much-vaunted gift of tongues wasn’t doing the Corinthian church any good. It had become a point of rivalry, pride and division. It was not helping the people join together as the family of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit.
It’s good to desire spiritual gifts, Paul concludes, but for the good of the church, believers need to focus on a different gift: “Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” Seek to be a person who helps others understand the words of God.