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Spiritual Gifts and Discipleship

I Cor. 14:1 Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. 2 For the person who speaks in another language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks mysteries in the Spirit. 3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. 4 The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but he who prophesies builds up the church. 5 I wish all of you spoke in other languages, but even more that you prophesied. The person who prophesies is greater than the person who speaks in languages, unless he interprets so that the church may be built up.

The text: partially unpacked
1. At first glance this chapter is about speaking in unlearned languages (unknown tongues). Not surprising since “language” shows up three times in today’s text and repeatedly throughout chapter 14.

2. But chapter 14 is not a lecture on tongues. Like all of I Corinthians, it is about building up the church, and that means strengthening disciples. Chapter 14 is a discussion of how disciples of Christ give their lives to ministry within the church for the glory of God. Tongues happens to be the presenting issue at Corinth. It could just as easily have been anything that was being abused, anything that was being used for self glory. Like all of I Corinthians, chapter 14 is about discerning the living Christ in the body of Christ!

3. Two more things quickly, before we apply this text to our lives.
a. “Languages” When the King James Version of the Bible was translated 400 years ago tongues meant what languages means today—French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, etc..

i. Unfortunately, the KJV of the Bible makes it appear that Paul is talking about “unknown” tongues. If you look at the KJV, however, you will see that “unknown” is invariably in italics. That is because “unknown” is not found in the original language of the New Testament. Rather, It was supplied by the translators because they thought it helped in understanding the passage.

But there is a difference between using unknown to mean a language you don’t know vs. a language nobody knows. The KJV translators had the first meaning in mind, whereas a lot of people in the 21st century have the second meaning in mind.

ii. There is a miracle associated with languages in the New Testament, but it has nothing to do with unknown languages. Instead, the New Testament miracle is about unlearned languages. Three times I’ve been to parts of the world where they speak Russian, and I assure you that if I suddenly started speaking fluent Russian that would be a miracle. That is exactly what the New Testament means by “languages” or “tongues.” As we will see in a couple of weeks, the Biblical miracle is exclusively about unlearned languages.

b. “Prophecy” There is no mystery whatsoever as to what Paul means by “prophecy” in this text. He defines it for us in verse 3: “The person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation.” From the context we can learn two more things about prophecy.

i. Prophecy occurs in an understood language. At Hawkwood that language is English. Where a person speaks in a language that is not commonly understood that speech does not become prophecy—it cannot edify, encourage or console—until it is translated into the common language.

ii. Prophecy means speaking God’s revealed truth. While the Bible was being written God raised up prophets and apostles to speak and record His revealed will. Today the gift of prophecy is exercised when anyone is inspired by the Spirit to speak Bible truth to someone else. This can be done in any setting, at home in a family Bible study, or at mealtimes, over the phone, face to face, in a small group, on a bus, etc. The possibilities are endless. Also, the gift of prophecy may be exercised under many other titles: preaching, evangelizing, teaching, exhorting, proclaiming, encouraging, admonishing, instructing, reminding, rebuking, etc.

Application

1. Discipleship is not discipleship unless it is other oriented.
2. Discipleship takes place in a context of spiritual dialogue.
3. Disciple making is every Disciple’s responsibility.

1. Discipleship is not discipleship unless it is oriented toward others. You are not a disciple unless your life is focussed on serving others in Jesus’ name.
a. The foundational phrase for this entire chapter is other oriented.
i. Notice the thrust of today’s entire passage.

“Pursue love.” (v. 1)
“above all, that you may prophesy.” (V.1)

ii. Do you see the contrast between tongues and prophecy? Specifically the person who emphasizes languages loves himself by limiting his spiritual life to a private connection with God. The person who learns to employ the Word of God in ministry loves others. How? By using Scripture to build them up, to encourage them and console them.

“The person who speaks in another language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him.” (V.2)

“But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. (V. 3)

iii. Paul continues to contrast languages with prophecy, and in every case, prophecy is shown to be the thing that is needed, and wanted.

“The person who speaks in another language builds himself up (this is a reference to pride and conceit, not a good thing), but he who prophesies builds up the church.” (V.4)

This is always Christ’s goal, to build up the church in love (“Upon this rock I will build my church,” Jesus said in Matt. 16:18, and he used the exact same word Paul uses in our text).

Eph. 4: 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.

We enter into the heart of Christ, the work of Christ, the end goal of Christ, when we join Him in building up His bride—to make His bride more beautiful, to help Christ in the work of “making her splendiferous, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). This is the greatest work anybody can ever be involved in. This is the only eternal work we can do today! This is the work Christ had in mind when He promised that on the judgment day some would hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!” (Matt. 25:21).

iv. Finally, Paul suggests it would be a good thing if everyone could speak in multiple languages so that languages would cease to be an issue.

“I wish that all of you spoke in other languages, but even more that you prophesied. The person who prophesies is greater that the person who speaks in languages, unless he interprets so that the church may be built up” (V.5).

(1) What do star athletes get paid? Last year the Toronto Blue Jays paid Jose Bautista $18 million for one season. Why? Because only a handful of men in all the world can hit home runs like him. But what if everyone in the world could hit 50 home runs a year like Bautista? How much would he be worth then? Pretty much nothing.

(2) Paul is essentially saying that if possible he would de-value tongues so people would stop focussing on who can speak the most languages and concentrate on what really matters—prophecy—building up the church by using the word of God to build up the spiritual lives of the members.

(3) Two more things regarding the comparison between languages and prophecy.
(a) Notice that languages only rises to the level of prophecy when they are translated. Only when the language makes sense in the ears of the hearer is it of any value.

(b) To go back to my baseball illustration, let me ask you a question? Why is the ability to hit 50 home runs a year worth $18 million. Does it cure cancer? Does it end world hunger? Does it somehow lead to world peace? Of course not. On no practical level does that kind of athletic skill change anyone’s life: not even the athlete’s own life.

(i) But there are skills that are never worth nothing. A doctor is always worth something. The same with a nurse, or an electrician, or a plumber, a baker, a carpenter, a farmer, and many others.

(ii) No matter how awful the economy, or even if economies ceased to exist, there would always be a place for these skills, and they would always be valued.

(iii) The same is true when comparing languages and prophecy. “Languages … will cease,” Paul says back in 13:5, but in 13:13 he says love is eternal, and in 14:1 he strongly implies that prophecy (“the gift of speaking what God has revealed”) is the first way we minister God’s love to others.

2. Discipleship takes place in a context of spiritual dialogue.
a. We see a reference to dialogue in today’s text.

I Cor. 14:3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation.

b. Remember, this statement applies to all Christians (the command in v.1 applies to all Christians.)

i. Disciples seek to build up one another in their understanding of God, Who He is, How He fills us with His Spirit, how His Spirit is released in us as we step forward in lives of faith, and faithfulness.

ii. Disciples encourage one another, but they do it primarily through the Scriptures.

Romans 15: 4 For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.

iii. Disciples remind one another of the comfort (consolation) of the Scriptures.

Psalm 119:81 I long for Your salvation; I put my hope in Your word. 82 My eyes grow weary looking for what You have promised; I ask, “When will You comfort me?” 83 Though I have become like a wineskin dried by smoke, I do not forget Your statutes.

3. Disciple making is every Disciple’s responsibility.
I just want to remind you here of what David said as he passed the responsibility for building the temple to Solomon. “The task is great because the temple will not be for man but for the Lord God.” …. Now who will volunteer to consecrate himself to the Lord today?” (I Chron. 29:1,5)

Conclusion:

Do you see that the people of God, the body of Christ, the church of the living God, is built up by the shared Word of God? Are you doing your part? Are you proclaiming God’s truth? Do you frequently remind yourself and others of God’s promises? Do you use the Scriptures to describe and encourage a godly standard of living? Are you quick to encourage others on the basis of God’s faithfulness to keep His Word? This is the beginning, and the main part of discipleship.