Build Up The Church
1 Corinthians 14:1-40,
Key Verse: 14:12
“So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.”
In the key verse Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to excel in the gifts that build up the church. That exhortation is at the heart of the Lord’s desire. The church is the bride of the Lord. The day is coming when the church will be wedded to the Lord Jesus, as the Bible tells us. On that day, heavens and earth will rejoice at the perfect union with the Lord and his bride— the church. In a sense, our lives as Christians who are part of the church— is a period of preparation for that great and glorious day. The Holy Spirit is preparing us to be the best of brides. He gives us gifts so that we might help the church be the most suitable bride for the Lord Jesus. In that sense we can understand Paul’s words: “Excel in gifts that build up the church.” The Corinthian Christians were not viewing their own gifts in that light— as gifts that build up the church. They were using the gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit for their own advantage, and in that way dividing and breaking up the church. As is they were not fit to be a bride. A selfish and self-serving bride is not the kind of bride the Lord would have.
Listen to the words of the unselfish bride as John the Baptist testified about his role in serving the Bridegroom Jesus.
“To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:27-36) In attending the bridegroom, John the Baptist was ready to surrender all things— his popularity, his success, ministry, and even his own life for the sake of the Bridegroom who alone is worthy.
We cannot just be a selfish and self-serving born again Christian indifferent and unengaged in God’s heart’s desire to prepare us to be the best of brides to our Lord Jesus. God the Father loves his Son and would do all things in order to honor Him. So must the Christian who has tasted of the Lord’s grace and mercy. The Corinthian Christians who were dividing the church based on greater or lesser gifts didn’t know how much divisiveness hurts the cause of Christ and the will of God. Unity and love and forgiveness and selfless acts of charity and service and such build up the church. In these chapters Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that love must be the motivation behind every gift. In this passage he tells them again to follow the way of love, and he urges them to desire the gifts that build up the church, especially the gift of prophesy.
Look at verse 1. “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” Every Bible believing Christian knows the importance of Love in the Christian life and in the church. Love is like the blood that flows in the body and gives health and life to it. If Love is poisoned or corrupted or watered down the body suffers, as it would if blood is not healthy. Love is healthy when it is rooted and anchored in the Lord. If we have healthy love, a Christian can endure anything. More than that, a Christian can use whatever gifts the Lord has given him or her to serve the Lord and others. So Paul tells us to follow the way of love. If there is one thing that every Christian should follow, it’s the way of love.
There is another exhortation here. “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts” because spiritual gifts equip the Christian man or woman to better pave the way of love. And in eagerly desiring the spiritual gifts, Paul advises that the gift of prophesy be desired more than any other gift. That is very interesting that Paul who explained so well about the importance of every gift, big or small, should focus their hearts on desiring that one gift— the gift of prophesy. And he almost spends the whole chapter explaining why.
What is the gift of prophecy? The meaning of the Hebrew word for prophet is closely related to a spokesman. A prophet is God’s spokesman. In the Old Testament a prophet delivered God’s message to the people, and his word could become Scripture. There is Isaiah and Jeremiah, the famous prophets of old. In the New Testament, the gift of prophecy took a different turn. Hebrews 1:1 tells us that God no longer speaks to us primarily through prophets as he once did, but through his Son Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit makes Christ Jesus known to us (Jn 16:14). In a sense, then, the person with the gift of prophecy is the one who makes Christ Jesus known to others through the Word of God. To prophesy then, is to reveal who Christ Jesus is and what he does— not from his head, but through the Word of God— through the Bible. Some think that prophecy is telling the future. That’s just a small part of prophesy, and that must also be in accordance with the Bible truth. But the real work of the prophesy is to reveal Christ Jesus through God’s word. The world has countless such wonderful prophets who reveal Jesus to the world in a unique and fruitful way.
Verse 1 amazingly testifies to two most important aspects of Christian life and the church. Christian life and the church must have two things at the core— the love of God— and the Word of God. With the love of God, there is health and prosperity for the Christian and the church. With the word of God there is also health and prosperity for the Christian and the church. If either of these is missing, for example, the word of God given but without love, the Christian and the church are unhealthy. But when the word of God is given from the depth of one’s love for Jesus, and for the one it is ministering to, there is health and prosperity in the church and in the lives of its members. Verses 2-25 explain why we should eagerly desire the gift of prophecy, which is the word of God, rather than the gift of tongues.
The gift of tongues, as it stands alone, a gift of speaking a language no one understands— not even to the speaker— that gift Paul tells us edifies the individual. On the other hand, the gift of prophecy edifies the church (2-5). One who speaks in tongues speaks to God from his spirit in a language that others cannot understand (2). This gift builds up one’s personal relationship with God. However, those who prophesy share the word of God with others, in the language that they understand, for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (3). Paul says that: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church” (4). So Paul encouraged them to prophesy in the church so that the whole church could be built up (5).
After Jesus ascended into heaven, 120 disciples gathered together and prayed with each other until the love of God consumed their hearts. They had become a family of believers each equipped and rooted in the love of our Lord Jesus. They had also been waiting for God to fulfill his promise to send them the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit came upon them on Pentecost, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. These tongues were languages men could understand. Later on in the book of Acts Peter preached the gospel in Cornelius’ house and those who accepted the message received the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues and praise God. Some people claim that one who receives the Holy Spirit must also speak in tongues. But that is not true. What is true however, is that all those who received the Holy Spirit praise and worship God in love, and spread the Gospel wherever they are. Wherever Paul preached the word of God, people were changed. Lives were transformed. Suffering families were healed and blessed and brought together in a miraculous way. In our midst as well, there has always been the work of the Holy Spirit done through the living and active word of God. Where there is the word of God, also grievances were forgiven. Broken spirits are mended and become well. Always where there is true love— and the word of God is spoken and prophesied, there is a marvelous work of the Holy Spirit. Those who do not submit to the loving touch of the Lord and his word with their pettiness and hardness of heart, only grieve the Holy Spirit and resist his work in their hearts and lives.
Those who have received the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from prophesy and prophesying, because the prophesy and prophesying are at the heart of the love of God and the word of God. So for this reason, we study the word of God, share the word of God and pray based on one word of God. The Holy Spirit works through that. When we have difficulties and struggles, we come to the word of God and the word of God heals and blesses us. When we have grievances against one another, it is the word of God and the love of God that compels us to put aside our own hurts and shine with a spirit of forgiveness and love. Mostly the word of God draws us near to God who sheds his grace upon us. Such gifts as love and prophesy must be our hearts’ desire. The word of God and the love of God may be all that we need to serve our generation.
There is something else about the gift of prophesy. While people do not understand different tongues, they certainly understand prophecy. (6-19). Verse 6. “Now, brothers, 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?” Here is something else we come to understand about the gift of prophecy— the word of God. It is useful to the church because it speaks to the hearts of men and women and brings about a change in their inner person. But, Paul says that if he were to speak in some foreign tongue, who would understand, whose heart would be touched! Even if we were greatly gifted in speaking the word of God, if we speak English to a strictly Chinese community, what good is that! All sorts of languages have meaning. But if we do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, we are foreigners. Paul’s point is that it is important to speak in a language others understand. Coupled with the language of love, an intelligible message can reach the hardest of hearts.
In verses 13-19, Paul talks about why we should pray or sing in the church with our spirit and also with our mind. When we use both our spirit and mind, then people may understand what we are praying and singing and saying and actually respond!” In this way we can edify the church. Paul could speak in tongues more than all of them. But look at what he said in verse 19. “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
Paul also mentions the danger of speaking in a tongue that no one understands. While they edify the speaker’s spirit, it drives the unbeliever away. On the other hand, prophecy draws unbelievers to God (20-25). In verse 20 Paul talks about the importance of having an adult attitude rather than a childish one— the wisdom on how to use one’s gifts. Wise people know what to say, and what not to say, in the church. Wise people do not blurt out strange words that hurt others and draw them away from God. It takes maturity and wisdom to know how to speak in a way that strengthens, encourages and comforts others. But those who are self-centered easily hurt and destroy others’ faith because they insist on saying what they want without any regard for others. It is far better to give our hearts to prophecy— to the word of God— as the best expression of Christian maturity and adulthood. Unbelievers do not come to church for entertainment. They come to church with heavy burdens of sin and hard life problems. They come because their souls long for the peace that can only come from hearing the life giving the word of God. As Jesus tells us people come because they are weary and heavy laden. They come not knowing that what they are looking for is in fact the Lord Jesus and his salvation. And when they come, they don’t need to witness competitions and struggles and conflicts and such, for they see those things every day in the world. They need to hear something they can understand and weigh in their own hearts. They need to hear the message of the forgiveness of sins. They need to hear about Jesus. And if they have the privilege to hear the words of prophecy— the Gospel message— they can turn their hearts to God in repentance and in faith in the Lord Jesus. What happens there is what should always happen in the church— the body of Christ. Conviction of sin, comfort for those who would lean on Jesus, and troubled hearts no longer troubled but blessed by God. That is the essence of the gift of prophesy— the word of God— which Paul was urging the Corinthian Christians to take to heart.
When we read verses 26-40 we have to try understand what Paul is saying in the context of the Corinthian church. In Verse 26 Paul says. “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” The Corinthians followed a worship program suited for their context. Each nation is different, and each culture must discover their own appropriate worship program. At the time Paul wrote this, the program was simply hymns, words of instruction, revelation, tongues and interpretation. The Bible had not been completed. So they needed revelation. Now that we have the Bible, we have the complete word of God which he has given us. With it, we must worship and spread the Gospel he has given us to spread. And all must be done for the strengthening of the church (26b). He tells us that the church should have no room for chaos and disorderly conduct. It must be orderly, as Paul tells us in verse 33 God himself is: “For God is not a God of disorder but a God of peace as in all the congregations of the saints.” God is pleased by worship that is orderly and peaceful in nature.
The teaching in verses 34-35 should be understood in the context of the Corinthian church. We do not know exactly what were the circumstances in which Paul commanded that women not speak in the church. But it is obvious that whatever the case may have been, such a thing promoted disorder and broke the peace. In history women who spoke up for the truth, and taught the Gospel truth, and encouraged through the word of God, were women of legend. The Christian church could not survive if not for such women. Paul may have been very specific in advising the women of the church in Corinth to remain quiet for the survival of the church at that time. Paul also commands us all to accept his words in these chapters as the Lord’s command and not to ignore them. Ignoring prophesy and the word of God is a serious thing. It is sin because the word of God is the word of life and the word of love. We must make every effort not to ignore the word of God. As it speaks to our hearts, we must respond with faith and acceptance.
Two things are needed for us to be a healthy Christians and to have a healthy church— To follow the way of love— And to desire the gift of prophecy— which is the word of God. Love and the word of God must be at the heart of our lives and ministy. May God give them to you in abundance.