Call to Worship December 6 2020
|Expository Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 14|
In succinct, but measured, previous comments the “gift of tongues” as noted in I Corinthians 14 has been biblically defined. The scripture revealed that this was a gift in which known intelligible foreign languages were used in specific situations for the revelation of the New Covenant to be brought forth to its intended hearers. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the gift was becoming less useful and necessary as the word was going out to different regions around the Mediterranean Sea. If speaking in known foreign languages was better than the use of the “gift of tongues,” what purpose did the gift serve? Tongues had been used for a sign to unbelievers (vs. 22).
Verses 22-26 explains the main difference and uses of “tongues” and “prophesy.” The covenant of God was in a transitional phase of the New Covenant. Christ had completed all His first-coming work on earth. The gospel was going out into the whole of the world for the calling of God’s people from all tribes, tongues, and nations. Tongues was a type of prophecy gift to have the gospel proclaimed to unbelievers. So the “gift of tongues” was used as a signpost for unbelievers to take notice that God was working. They were hearing a non-native speaker, who spoke in his native tongue, tell them of Jesus the Christ and they heard it in their own known language. This would certainly catch the attention of the Jews at Pentecost and Gentiles as the message of Christ first went out into the world.
Prophecy was different from tongues and used for those who had already believed for their further instruction and edification (vs. 22). Those who believed had understood the message of Christ in repentance and faith. They needed to hear further wisdom to be edified in the faith. They did not need the signpost of tongues to further witness to them in their belief. Furthermore, the message of Christ was more prevalent in the known languages of its hearers when Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. Therefore, the use of tongues to prophesy of the message of Christ was becoming less necessary. So, prophecy was more edifying in front of a gathering that predominantly spoke a specific language or dialect. This meant that most of those hearing the prophecy heard in their language. Why speak in tongues, especially when Paul commanded the need for an interpreter, when you could speak prophesy in the predominant language of the church? Speaking in a foreign language would make no sense if almost no one in the church knew what was being said. Paul contended that even unbelievers would question their mental stability. Also it would promote confusion and not edification of the body of Christ. Once again Paul is calling out the Corinthians for their disorderly behavior and self-centeredness (vs. 23-26).
Since the gifts of tongues and prophecy concerned the actual revelation of God, order was to be preserved in the church (vs. 27-31). Even when tongues did occur Paul gave rules to regulate its use. No more than three persons could speak in a tongue. They must speak one at a time and there must be an interpreter. The one speaking with the gift must give way to new revelation and be seated if a new revelation is given by someone else. But every revelation through tongues or prophecy was to be appropriately judged. Paul stated, “…and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:32-33 NAU). Therefore, all new prophecy was new revelation and must be judged by the word of the Old Testament prophets. If the tongue or prophecy was not in accordance with the recognized scriptural word of the prophets and did not come true in time, then the prophet and the message was deemed false.
Furthermore, the women were instructed not to speak, teach, or lead in any way in the worship of the church gathered (vs. 34). Also, if they desired to ask a question, they needed to ask it at home to their own husbands. According to Paul all of this was in accordance with the Law of submission from the created order and the roles given by God to women (vs. 34-35). This meant whatever the proper authority was in the lady’s life she needed to submit to that biblical authority and not speak during the worship and teaching of the church. However she could and should communicate and ask questions at home. This is also an implicit command to husbands and fathers. They are to communicate with their wives regarding the truth of God’s word. This working relationship will guard and nourish the whole family. All of these regulations prescribed to the church the importance of order and God glorifying purpose in worship. God is not a God of chaos; therefore His churches must be ordered in worship and family life. These would be marking identifications of the people of God throughout the ages and especially in the New Covenant.
As the gospel spread throughout Asia Minor to North Africa and Eastern Europe, the good news would be translated into the foremost language of the day, which was Greek. No reason to major on the minor when speaking plainly in a language everyone could understand would edify the people. So, tongues was a fading and dim gift, which eventually was phased out altogether. It was no longer necessary as New Covenant scripture was being given to the church by the apostles. The Old Testament had formally been translated into Greek, and New Covenant scripture was being written in Greek. This meant tongues was no longer needed for revelation of the message of Christ and His connection to and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
This led to the eventual phasing out of the gift of prophecy as well. Prophecy had always been about revelation, which God had spoken to His prophet or mouth piece (Exod. 4:10-17 & 7:1-2). The prophet would speak to the people and it would be judged according to God’s revelation of the past. Also, if the prophet or “seer” had event and truth claims for the future then the people must see those claims proven true (1 Sam. 9:9, Isa. 30:9-10, Num. 12:1-8, Deut. 13:1-5, 18:15-22). As Jesus had fulfilled the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17, Luke 24:27&44), upon completion of a new covenant scripture, new revelation was no longer necessary. The only prophetic word necessary was and is the word of God’s prophets inscribed in scripture. The New Testament fills that final prophetic word. The only fulfillment left is the final coming of Christ. We need no new revelations for knowledge, no new prophets and seers to speak, and no gift of tongues for a sign or to hear the news. We only need the Old and New Testament scripture given to us by God. It must be translated into various languages and preached across the world. The word of God is plain and gives us everything we need for salvation, growth in grace and perseverance to the end. Soli Deo Gloria!
(Note: If you desire to read more about the spiritual gifts the article below is a good starting place. [https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/spirit-of-light/ ] If you desire more details about the gifts themselves from the context of I Corinthians, read Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Verse by Verse Study of 1 Corinthians 12-14 by Robert L. Thomas and Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 20, Baker Books 1999, pg. 395-474. Also, to read a solid biblical understanding of why certain gifts ceased during the time of and at the end of the early church period into the modern day church, read To Be Continued: Are the Miraculous Gifts for Today?, by Samuel E. Waldron, The Final Word, by O. Palmer Robertson. These books were all contributing works to the articles in the last month, 11/8/20 to 12/6/20.)