Studies in First Corinthiansby Bob Burridge ©2018
Lesson 41: 1 Corinthians 14:1-33 (ESV)
Prophetic Words From God
In the years leading up to when Jesus lived here on Earth, many Jews had moved to Corinth. Though it was a very pagan city, it was an important shipping center for the Roman Empire. That meant very profitable business opportunities. As Jewish families settled there they formed small synagogues to keep up their religion and traditions.
Paul came there less than 20 years after the death of Jesus, and explained what their Messiah had done. Many of the Jews believed, and formed New Synagogues, assemblies called Churches “ekklesiai” (εκκλεσιαι). To their amazement, many of the pagan Gentiles in Corinth also believed the gospel and joined with them.
This was a time of transition for God’s people. There were dramatic changes being made.
Sabbath Worship was very different for the Jews, considering all these changes.
1. Jesus completed what the Old Testament feasts, diets, rituals, and sacrifices stood for. The old outward ceremonial forms were now fulfilled, and were no longer binding.
2. The Gentile believers who joined the new Synagogues grew to large numbers. Greek became the language of worship replacing the Hebrew and Aramaic.
3. The Jews had fixed the Sabbath to Saturdays to agree with the Roman calendars. But by doing that, they had abandoned the calendar God gave through Moses. To correct that error, and to remember the day of the Savior’s resurrection, the Christian Sabbath was fixed to the Roman Sundays.
All this made worship seem very different for the Jews there.
Also, after over 400 years since the last Prophet, God was again revealing new things to his people. The synagogues often had hand made copies of the Old Testament scrolls, but they were very rare and valuable treasures not available to the people on their own. The promises of the Old Testament Prophets and the Law were not well known by the average Jew.
A few New Testament writings existed but most of it hadn’t been written yet. In worship they read copies of the sayings of Jesus, and copies of the early letters written by the Apostles. To help the new churches understand the changes, God gifted some believers to deliver special prophetic messages. Corinth was specially blessed since the Apostle Paul lived there for a while.
To authenticate these new messages and letters, God gave supernatural gifts and signs to the transitional church. Sometimes there were physical miracles that proved God’s authority in what the Apostles taught. God was speaking then through the Apostles, the newly given New Testament books, and sometimes — God would speak specially through believers in the churches using them as prophets.
In our last study we saw how God announced
the transition from Old Judaism with the gift of tongues.
Moses and the Prophets warned that God would judge apostate Israel by using Gentiles who spoke other languages.
On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church, God made his people speak miraculously in languages that were foreign to them. Peter explained in Acts 2 that this was the sign of judgment spoken of in the Old Testament. It was the end of the old Judaism and the beginning of a church that included all nations.
Since speaking in tongues was predicted as a sign of judgment on Israel in Deuteronomy 28:49 and Isaiah 28:11, it had a prophetic meaning that needed to be explained when it occurred. It’s meaning had to be interpreted. We saw in the last study that this is what it means there about tongues needing to have an “interpreter” each time. Translations weren’t given at Pentecost, or any other place in the New Testament where tongues occurred. The word means to interpret or to explain, which is different than translating.
When this letter came it had been 6 years since Paul’s visit to the city. God’s special gifts were being abused.
The immature had become enamored with the gifts of speaking tongues and prophesy.
Tongues was a prophetic sign of the judgment it represented. It wasn’t meant to communicate new information.
Prophesy was God directly communicating his truths, principles, warnings, and encouragements to the church.
While tongues served that prophetic message, prophesy was the most useful to them. The content of the unknown languages couldn’t be understood by those hearing it. Only God would know the content. The people needed only to understand the prophetic reason for it.
Follow that thought through this passage in chapter 14 …
1. Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
2. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God;
for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.
3. On the other hand, the one who prophesies
speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
4. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.
5. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.
The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues,
unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
6. Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you
unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?
7. If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes,
how will anyone know what is played?
8. And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?
9. So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible,
how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.
10. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning,
11. but if I do not know the meaning of the language,
I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.
12. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
13. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret.
14. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.
15. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit,
but I will sing with my mind also.
16. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen”
to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?
17. For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.
18. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.
19. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others,
than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20. Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
Tongues were a sign of judgment and transition about the apostate Jews, so Paul quoted from Isaiah 28:11.
21. In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.”
22. Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers,
while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.
23. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter,
will they not say that you are out of your minds?
24. But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,
25. the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face,
he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
Tongues was never intended to be for everyone.
In both the Old and New Testaments the sign of tongues was always directed to God’s covenant people,
never to those outside of the covenant.
In the Old Testament tongues were a warning to the unfaithful in God’s Covenant Nation. In the New Testament it was also a message of encouragement to the faithful believers in the covenant. It assured them that the new age of promise had come, and God’s people would now include the Gentiles.
At Pentecost it told the Jews that the warning Moses gave about judgment was about to fall on the apostate nation. And it showed that the kingdom would soon expand to include people from all nations.
When Peter came to Caesarea he spoke to the Roman Centurion Cornelius. His message that God’s Covenant would now include Gentiles was accompanied by Gentiles speaking in tongues. Acts 10:45-46, “And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. …”
When Peter spoke to those baptized only by John’s baptism, Acts 19:5-6 tells us, “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
In Corinth, it would have had the same meanings it has in the rest of the Bible: judgment to the unfaithful Jewish nation, and hope for the new form of the church including non-Jews.
Recently some teach that tongues is a private prayer language
that special spiritual Christians can use today.
This idea is totally alien to the New Testament. The main passage used to support this is Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
But the groanings of the Spirit that are too deep for words are not tongues. The word “groaning” is the Greek word “stenazo” (στεναζω) from the word “steno-o” (στενοω). It means a restriction of some passage that makes it a struggle to get through. The medical term “stenosis” is a restriction due to a thickening of a passage way in the body. It’s often a stiffening of the heart valves or arteries. It makes it difficult for the blood to pass through. he struggle to pump blood makes the heart strain and work harder. Here it means the anguish of a struggling soul, an inward sighing, due to our yet imperfect hearts. It has nothing to do with vocal sounds or moanings. The word doesn’t mean that.
The prayers of all believers should always be “in the Spirit” enabled by his upholding grace. Its not a sound. It’s an agony anticipating our yet to be fulfilled promised redemption. Romans 8:23, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
The idea of prayer in a spirit language is totally foreign to this chapter.
Here in 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 it mentions praying in other languages, in a tongue. But Paul is not speaking of the practice of having a private prayer language. At Pentecost the tongues were words spoken to the glorify of God, not to men. The sign was for the church to show an end of the Jewish era. But the content of the tongues was spoken to God, the words spoken were not the prophetic message.
Private prayer languages have nothing to do with the message of Isaiah 28 which Paul quotes in 14:21. There’s another possible meaning of Paul’s praying in foreign languages. In his missionary work among the foreign speaking Gentiles he would pray in Greek during worship, instead of praying in Hebrew or Aramaic. This was also an indication that the era of Old Judaism had ended forever.
There’s no mention anywhere in the Bible of a continuing supernatural prayer language for believers. The modern practice is closer to the psychological effect we often see among pagan religions.
By confusing the biblical teaching and its meaning, Satan gets our eyes off the real message of God and tears at the foundation of truth.
There were also serious abuses
of the gift of prophesy in Corinth
26. What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
27. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.
28. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.
29. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.
30. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.
31. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,
32. 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,
39. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
40. But all things should be done decently and in order.
God intended to speak through people at special times to explain his unfolding plan. But some in Corinth became fascinated with the idea of supernaturally speaking for God. Soon it became disorderly with many people wanting to get to prophesy during worship. It was getting out of hand. So here God limited them to no more than three prophets speaking one at a time, and everyone should test what they say. We are always to be skeptics as Christians. Only what fits consistently with what God has said in his word should be accepted.
Since tongues had just a narrow purpose only showing God’s expansion of the church, Prophesy was superior. Prophesy actually communicated information, warnings, and comfort. Those who listened could understand in their own language. It’s possible, that those speaking out were merely quoting the prophetic words found in the inspired books.
Today the transition period is over.
We still have the prophetic word in the Bible.
The temporary gifts of the early church would be inappropriate for now. The biblical purpose for tongues no longer applies. The need for continuing new prophesy ended when the New Testament was completed. Speaking in tongues or receiving new words of prophesy can’t be legitimate gifts from God today.
Peter was an eye-witnesses of the Gospel, and of the glory of Christ. In 2 Peter 1:19 he wrote, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”
We have a more sure prophetic word in our Bibles than Peter had through his own experiences. We can be mistaken about what our eyes see or ears hear or what our soul feels. But God gives us a more solid foundation on which to base our beliefs and practices. We have this more sure prophetic word, preserved in the infallible, inerrant Scriptures.
When we act as God’s prophets today, we aren’t receiving new revelation. We are spreading God’s prophetic word from the Bible. We do this when we evangelize those who don’t yet know Christ, when we teach Bible lessons, and when we encourage one another with thoughts and corrections from God’s written word.
Satan continues his attacks and will never give up until the final Judgment Day. Sometimes it’s an open attack by obvious enemies of God’s Kingdom. But more often its a covert attack by confusing the church from within. When we look for God’s word in places outside the Bible, we’re vulnerable to misinformation and lies. When we imagine gifts God hasn’t given we become spiritually proud and divide the church.
There’s always an abundance of ideas being offered to our eager minds. We need to test everything we hear and think by God’s completed word in the Bible. If we’re not satisfied with what he tells us there, we have already fallen into grievous sin. Most often the modern fascination with continuing prophesy and tongues speaking is little more than a wreckless pursuit of what God has not revealed. It also exposes a pride that assumes we deserve to know all we want to know, and that we’re so important we have a right to always be informed directly by God.
It’s dangerous and sinful to abdicate our duty to patiently and carefully use God’s word. We should never look to supernatural sources of information other than the Bible itself.
Today we have a great advantage in owning copies of the completed Bible. But if we fail to know it well, to think on what it means, apply it to our own lives, and bring it to our loved ones and friends, then we leave ourselves and those we love defenseless against the greatest enemy ever. But when we know that word and learn to love it, we have the greatest comfort and foundation for truth ever given.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)