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Lowell Brueckner

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1 Corinthians 14


Chapter 14

The gifts of prophecy and tongues

1.      Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
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.
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.

We have already begun to look at the conclusion in verse 1 that Paul gives to his teaching in chapters 12 and 13. We will note again, that there is no hint of the spiritual gifts ceasing or of love replacing the gifts. He clearly states his doctrine and he does so imperatively. Chapter 13 leaves no option, concerning the necessity of God’s love being manifested in the church. The command that he gives is to pursue it. As to spiritual gifts, the same imperative is applied and done so forcefully, seen by use of the Greek word desire. Strong’s definition is: have warmth of feeling for or against – affect, covet earnestly, have desire, move with envy, be jealous over, be zealous. The translation commonly into English is desire earnestly. To be so adamant concerning that which, according to the cessationists, will no longer be necessary within a few years, because they would have the complete canon of the New Testament, seems to me to be totally unreasonable.

We have also briefly commented on Paul’s special emphasis concerning prophesy, which will be the main subject in the following chapter. Prophecy certainly is to be given preference, because of its importance towards the edification of the church. There is a comparison throughout the chapter between prophecy and tongues.

There are different opinions, as to what exactly the gift of tongues entails. Some seem to think that, although the gift was obviously supernatural in the book of Acts, today the ability of learning foreign languages is as close as Christians can come to the New Testament gift. This viewpoint is held by the same ones, who see the gifts of God given to people through the genes of their parents and little more. We need to surrender those natural talents to Christ, but they are not spiritual gifts.

More worthy of consideration is the opinion that the gift of tongues are supernatural manifestations of human languages, as was certainly the case on the day of Pentecost. They might add that the gift is given, in order to preach the gospel to unbelievers. However, the audience on that day, were all Jews who, obeying the Old Testament command, had come from all nations to Jerusalem for the feast. They all spoke Hebrew. (I think it is a wonderful thing to consider that God gave the command to come to Jerusalem three time a year, and it was carried out by faithful Jews for many centuries. The real and final purpose was to assure that this crowd would be present, when the Feast of Pentecost reached its fulfillment after the death and resurrection of Christ.)

Some would say that the miracle on that day was in the hearing, more than in the speaking. I would only add that the utterance began before any outsiders were there to hear them and that the comments, concerning the content, was not that they were preaching the gospel in tongues. They were “speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Ac.2:11). Their “own tongues” were second languages that the Jews had learned in the foreign countries, in which they lived and in some cases, where they were born. In the two other instances, mentioned in the book of Acts, no unbelieving audience is present to which to preach. In Caesarea, believing Jews were present and they marveled, not at the content of the message, but at the fact that Gentiles were speaking in tongues. In Ephesus, no mention is made of anyone present, except for Paul, when twelve spoke in tongues and prophesied. 

That fact would lend to Paul’s first proposition in verse 2 that the one who speaks in tongues does not speak basically to men but to God for, he adds, no one understands him… that is, normally there is no need for men to understand him. That would lead us to think that the manifestation on the Day of Pentecost was unique, in that aspect, from the other occasions, when believers spoke in tongues. Would anyone deny the Giver of the gifts the right to use them, as He sees fit? I believe, that among these people from all over the known world, 3,000 became believers and returned to their nations as witnesses for Christ, and even were used in starting indigenous churches. The church in Rome may have begun in this way. 

My dad and I were traveling together and we stopped to visit a pastor friend. His church was holding special meetings and the speaker, a Cherokee Native, was staying at his home. The pastor asked him to share his testimony with us. He gave us a violent account of heroin addiction and an occasion, when he beat his wife, killing her unborn baby. His wife was a Christian and he found her praying for him beside the sofa. He was unable to cope with his guilt after that incident and therefore attempted suicide. He cut his wrists, lost consciousness, but woke up in a hospital. Conscious of the seriousness of his condition, he was humbled and began to attend church with his wife. After one meeting, the pastor asked him, if he would mind if the congregation would pray for him. He agreed and everyone gathered around him. During their prayer, he heard someone praising God in beautiful, perfect Cherokee. This surprised him, because in the small meeting, he hadn´t noticed another Cherokee present. Turning his head in the direction of the voice, he saw that the speaker was a white woman. It startled him to the point that he ran from the church. Shortly afterwards, however, he surrendered to Christ and became a preacher.

What I just related is an exceptional case. However, if in tongues, a person speaks to God, generally, then we are talking about prayer.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book on the spiritual gifts, believes that Paul is writing about ecstatic utterance here. No one, but God has to understand him, because he is speaking to Him in prayer mysteries that no one else needs to understand. These tongues come out of a believer’s prayer life and are for the purpose of prayer. In Romans 8:26, Paul teaches that (and I like the Amplified Bible’s rendering), “we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.” Unquestionably, the Holy Spirit is deeply involved in this kind of prayer and we must give Him room to take us beyond our weaknesses.

In verse 4, Paul shows us more concerning the use of tongues. He says that in speaking in tongues, that person edifies himself. Paul does not criticize this practice because, individually, we need edification. Jude writes in verse 20, “You, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit…” The Greek word edify in 1 Corinthians 14:4, and build up in Jude 20 are derived from the same root and mean exactly the same thing. 

Since we learn in 12:7 that the manifestation of spiritual gifts are for the common good, then it goes without saying that prophecy, which builds up the church, is of more value than tongues, which edifies the individual. In verse 3, Paul teaches the three basic purposes of this gift: 1) edification, 2) exhortation and 3) consolation (comfort). Also, we must take into account, what is not its purpose. Prophecy should not be directive; that is, it should not command someone to take a step in a certain direction. There are horror stories about people, following the word of “prophets”, speaking in the name of the Lord, whose lives were practically ruined. Be careful! Prophecy should not bring a fear of consequences, if it is not heeded. Notice that the three purposes mentioned do not include fear. This gift never supersedes the authority of the written Word of God.

I wish you all spoke with tongues, but rather prophesied

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.
6.      But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?
7.      Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?
8.      For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?
9.      So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
10.  There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.
11.  Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.
12.  Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.
13.  Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
14.  For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
15.  What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.
16.  Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?
17.  For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.
18.  I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;
19.  yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20.  Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature
21.  In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear me,” says the Lord.
22.  Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.
23.  Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
24.  But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.
25.  And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

Paul has nothing negative to say about the gift of tongues itself. In verse 5, he states, “I wish you all spoke with tongues” and in verse 39, “Do not forbid to speak with tongues.” My uncle was a staunch member of the same Baptist church from the time he was converted until he died, and more than once, heard from the pulpit that the gift of tongues had ceased. However, my uncle had his own Bible and studied it in his own personal devotions. Concerning the issue of tongues, he simply stated, “Tongues is in the Bible.” Would to God, all His people would remember that indisputable fact! Because of the abuse of tongues in our times, as it was abused in Corinth, some have treated that, which is a gift of God, as a plague. That is a veritable shame!

I hope we can now begin to cover more ground quickly, as we study various facts, concerning these two gifts. The next principle shows that the one who prophecies is of greater use than the one who speaks in tongues, unless (and we must not ignore the word unless) he interprets. Notice the word is interpret, not translate, and that interpretation is a spiritual gift, not a natural ability (12:10). When a tongue is interpreted, the church receives edification, and that puts these two gifts, working simultaneously, on the same level as prophecy.

Tongues, by itself, is of no profit in the church (6), therefore it goes against the general principle in 12:7, for which the gifts are given… to be profitable for all. Even inanimate things, Paul teaches, such as flutes, harps and trumpets, are used to give meaning to certain situations (7). This can be a matter of life and death in battle (8), where trumpets were used to signal the soldiers.

Not only is a speaker to say things that the rest can understand, but they should be easy to understand (9). The purpose of language, anywhere in the world, is for communication (10), not just for an individual to be heard. Communication cannot happen, until the language barrier is broken down (11). These are all examples, from verses 7 to 11, practiced in natural life on earth.

Now Paul makes the application: All the above is certainly true, regarding the edification of the church (12). For that reason, from the time of the Reformers to the present, people have been translating the Bible, as accurately, yet as simply, as possible, to communicate and edify the people of God. Make sure that your zeal, has a practical purpose, the apostle instructs.

See Paul’s wisdom in dealing with the zealous tongues-speakers: He urges them forward to spiritual progress in God. Pray to receive the gift of interpretation; prayer denotes that it can only be given by God (13). Paul now writes in the first person and in the statement takes us back to verse 2: “No one understands him.” I am always agitated by men’s attempts to turn and twist a text, in order to make it say what they want it to say. Paul simply states, I don’t understand what I am saying, when I speak in tongues, because I am giving utterance, according to the inner groanings of the Holy Spirit (14). As always is the case with this gift, I speak, says Paul, as the Spirit gives utterance (Ac.2:4).

That fact fits perfectly into all that the Bible teaches on this subject. Paul brings this thought to conclusion: I will continue to pray with the spirit, but I will also pray with understanding. The same principle applies to music (15). Suppose the Spirit is urging you to express your gratefulness to the Lord, and you do so in tongues in a public meeting. How can anyone give his confirmation to your expression, by saying amen, since he does not understand you? (16) You know what you are sensing, but the other receives nothing from it (17). 

We must put verse 18 into the context of all that we are studying. If we conclude that Paul knew more languages than anyone in Corinth, we have learned nothing about the supernatural ‘nature’ of spiritual gifts. It means this: Paul had the spiritual gift of tongues and prayed often, using this gift more, he reasoned, than any one in Corinth. But he did not use this gift in public meetings! A simple statement in the common language, is worth more than a discourse in tongues (19). Be innocent, he urges, as far as evil practices are concerned, but don’t de ignorant in your understanding (20)… “I do not want you to be ignorant” (12:1).

Paul now speaks from the Micra, precisely from the prophet Isaiah, who is referring to the Babylonian captivity. He expresses another principle, which is true in the Old and New Testament (Is.28:11,12). The people would not listen to God, when He spoke through the prophets in Hebrew, offering them rest and refreshment, so He will turn them over, in judgment, to a people, whom they will not understand at all. Paul talked of turning some over to Satan and, in so doing, he was practicing the same principle. This judgment was a sign for unbelieving Israel, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Moses: “The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar… a nation whose language you will not understand” (Dt.28:49). It was a sign of confusion and of judgment, because God knew, at this stage, not even this judgment would profit Israel.

However, obedient believers and sinners, who are honestly seeking God, profit from the gift of prophecy (22). On the other hand, if in public meetings, everyone is speaking in tongues, it will be interpreted by the visitor as confusion: “These people are out of their minds!” Believe me, that is not the goal (23). The next two verses should give us, in the 21st Century church, plenty of sober thought. 

If all prophesy, and an unbeliever or a believer enters, who is not informed, as to spiritual gifts, there will be a positive reaction. He will be convinced of the spiritual reality among them. He will be convicted, that is, judged guilty, but with benign intentions. The truth about himself, the personal secrets of his heart will be revealed. It will so powerfully affect him that he will prostrate upon his face and will instantly become a worshipper of God. He will know His presence in that place! I think that that is a wonderful Scripture and one that I covet to take place among us today. Many examples could be given, but I will simply mention that in the time of Wesley and Whitefield, it was common for sinners to fall upon their faces and arise from the earth, new creatures in Christ Jesus (24, 25).

We do not see it very often in our days, and because that is true, some dishonesty might arise, to excuse our lack of the reality of God among us. Some would say that prophesy is inspired preaching. I am bothered by an attempt to change Bible vocabulary, making it say something, with which we are more familiar, rather than accepting the biblical terminology. May God deliver us from that proud attitude. May we much rather confess our lack and turn to Him, humbly seeking His presence among us.

No, prophecy is not preaching; prophecy is inspired prophesy, just as Paul taught. Prophecy is a direct word from God to the listener, revealing supernaturally the things that have taken place in his heart, of which no one else, but God, knows. He will know that God is in that place and will bow low before Him, even to the point of prostration.

New Testament order

26.  How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
27.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.
28.  But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
29.  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
30.  But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.
31.  For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
32.  And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
33.  For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
34.  Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.
35.  And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
36.  Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached.
37.  If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.
38.  But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
39.  Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.
40.  Let all things be done decently and in order.

As you read this chapter, particularly verse 26, how do you compare the New Testament meetings with our meetings today? Can any honest person help but think that we are missing something? There were multiple ministries in the early church and, I remind you lest we forget, that they were a work of the trinity (12:4-6). I have been in meetings, where “body ministry” occurred and I was not overly impressed.  

Listen, brothers, we cannot make these things happen and there is no use in trying. It must be a genuine work of God, but, what we can do, is long for it and pray. Leonard Ravenhill preached that we must be reduced to prayer, that is, come to a place, where there is no other answer for us. The motivation must remain constant; right now, as best we can, we must pursue it. I am talking about the edification of the church and the manifestation of the love of God for one another.

Concerning tongues, Paul set up limitations, and they are to be observed, then and now. There were to be, at the most three, who could speak in tongues, one at a time, and there was to be an interpretation. If no one had the gift of interpretation, there was to be no utterance of tongues in the church, to avoid the situation, described in verse 23. The Pentecostals developed a doctrine to bypass this command, but there is no Scripture to be found to support it, therefore I seriously question its validity (27, 28).  

In one meeting also, prophecies are limited to two or three, and this must be accompanied by judgment. I would suppose that the gift of discernment of spirits could be employed for that purpose. The church had to keep in mind also the purpose of prophecy. Is it for edification, exhortation and comfort? While it penetrates deeply, revealing the secrets of the heart, does it then try to direct someone, or various people, in a certain way? Especially the prophecy should be judged, to see if it is delving into people’s privacy, personal decisions, or monetary issues. Room was given to a spontaneous moving of the Spirit at any moment and whatever was occurring before that, had to immediately desist. However, this situation must also be done in good order and certainly not rudely (30). Paul taught the Thessalonians: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do no despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Th.5:19-21).

No tongues-speaker or prophet can ever say, “The Holy Spirit took control of me and I couldn’t help myself.” The Holy Spirit doesn’t do that, although another spirit might. The Holy Spirit moves in an orderly fashion and, as we have learned concerning the love of God, He is not rude or selfish. Paul is insisting on order, as opposed to confusion, in the church (31, 32). God will work to maintain order in His church everywhere (33).

Verse 34-35 does not contradict 11:5 or the prophecy of Joel 2:28 and 29, quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost.  Women pray and prophesy; Philip had four daughters, who prophesied (Ac.21:9). Therefore Paul must have a special situation in mind, which the Corinthians also understood. If you say that Paul taught that women should always keep absolutely quiet in the meetings at all times, I will not hesitate to contradict you and I’ll do it biblically.

Biblical Christianity is not at all like Islam in its treatment of women. It offers equality of the sexes and wonderful liberty for women. I suppose half the members of the church are women and each of them are part of the body and have a function. Some of the greatest missionaries have been women and we can read their biographies today. Did you hear about the wife, who died shortly after giving birth in Africa, who won one little boy to the Lord? Her husband didn’t win anybody, in fact he became a drunk, but a generation later, that one little boy had grown up and become a leader of thousands of Christians. Have you ever heard of Corrie Ten Boom or of Christine and Peggy Smith of the Hebrides revival? I won’t take this any farther now, but I certainly could.

I wonder, if we should ask Europeans and their descendants in North America the same question that Paul asked the Corinthians. Are you the authors of Scripture and the founders of Christianity (v.36)? The correct answer is “no”! The word came to you from the Middle East and has Jewish roots (Ro.11:17-18, 25-26). Our Lord, according to the flesh, was a Jew, son of David, who danced before the Lord, without offending Jewish culture. Every one of us, who are Gentiles have been grafted into an olive tree, which is native to the Jews. I think we have learned to judge things according to European style and culture. I heard a missionary to New Guinea say that it wouldn´t be wise to give testimony to the church in the USA, where he is a member, of the moving of the Holy Spirit among the natives in his mission field, for fear of causing a doctrinal scandal.  Isn´t that a shame?

Let´s remember, according to verse 37, that the one who is writing this chapter is an apostle, chosen and taught by God to give us an inerrant word. This is not the founder or president of our denomination. He is not the chairman of a committee that decides our program, our rules and how we are to live and act. I really don´t care, who is the latest popular pastor and most read author. Those people are not going to stand with us before the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Paul gives an ultimatum in verse 38. Okay, if you are determined that you are going to walk in your ignorant opinions and the prideful hardness of your heart, well then, help yourself! Paul and the Bible give you that option. But if you are hungry for God and it is your longing to be like Jesus, then I´ll join you and we’ll humble ourselves and read the Bible on our knees. We will beg for the Holy Spirit to give us understanding and pray that He will move once more upon this earth.

I think we have covered verse 39, as much as I know how. I remind you that Paul gives us an imperative to earnestly desire to prophesy, which is a supernatural gift from heaven. He also commands not to forbid speaking in tongues. He was not a cessationist. Who are you going to follow? Then he concludes with the universal need that all things in the church be done, as they are done in heaven, decently and in order. That means there should not be confusion, but it doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be movement. It doesn’t mean that the sinner should not weep in anguish for his sins or that the believer should not shout or even leap for joy, because his sins are forgiven. It does mean that all things should be done for the glory of God and nothing should bring shame to His name.


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