1 Corinthians 14:13-25
February 3, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 17:10 in the audio file.
Or, The Best Five Word Review
People have been reviewing churches for over two-thousand years. Church reviews have recently received more exposure thanks to the Internet. Our church, for example, has four Google reviews, three by current members. A year ago a gentleman posted that TEC is a “Very Spirit filled Church. Excellent place to worship the Lord.” I don’t remember meeting him, and I don’t think I know him, but that’s a decent review. All four of our Google reviews have five of five stars. (Then I found an old TEC Facebook page where one woman posted that she’d give a zero rating if possible, and another woman commented that “it’s pretty obvious that this church answers to their Dark Lord, Satan!” Those are less favorable).
But those who attend church services always come away thinking something, negative, positive, or indifferent, which is probably a species of negative. Paul has been writing about the congregation’s worship in 1 Corinthians and in chapter 14 verses 13-25 he explains the effects we should be looking for, and the effects we should be seeking to avoid. Fellow believers should understand and be edified by what’s happening, not feel like they are on the outside (verses 1-12). Outsiders, even unbelievers, should not think we’re out of our minds, but instead what they hear should convict them of sin. The best five word (not five star) review we could hear is: “God is really among you” (verse 26).
Paul is going to continue contrasting tongues with prophecy, and he will again emphasize the importance of intelligibility in worship (verses 13-19) and then clarify how the purpose of tongues does not benefit the purpose of worship for the elect (verses 20-25).
The Corinthians valued the spiritual gift of tongues above all else. They valued it above other gifts, apparently they valued it above love. Paul told them that if they really wanted to see the Spirit manifested among them that they should “strive to excel in building up the church” (verse 12), and that required clarity in communication not personal shows of supposed spiritual power.
In this paragraph he continues to persuade them to think about what good tongues did in a corporate setting. He was trying to get into their minds that tongues doesn’t do much building of the body at all.
At its best tongues should never be by itself. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. The goal of each member should be the building up of the entire body, and building up depends on understanding, “so” interpretation must take place because tongues does not have built in understanding. Even in this case, though, if this one could interpret, why not just start with the known language?
Paul makes himself a hypothetical example. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 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. The clear distinction is between the spirit and the mind or “understanding” (NIV). What is not clear is what he means by spirit. He must be referring to the part of a person that can be alive to God. Our spirits are dead before Christ, and then He gives us spiritual life. At least hypothetically a person could try to do spiritual apart from doing rational; free your mind, or try to be free from your mind. But this kind of praying is unfruitful to the mind, and there’s a question if it’s really fruitful to anything, even to the spirit.
Paul says that whether he prays or sings, both of which are acts of worship, he will do both with my mind also. The Christian life, the worshipping life, is not a mindless, irrational, spontaneous, emotionally driven life.
The reason why the mind is crucial gets hit back into their court. 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? When someone speaks in the congregation he ought to be speaking clearly enough that he can say, “Can I get an amen?!” Here there is perhaps praying or singing of “blessing God” (εὐλογῇς). The person in the position of an outsider probably refers to a person who’s not usually present, “one who is not knowledgeable about some particular group’s experience” (BAGD), they are “not members of an association” (Garland). This outsider (ἰδιώτης) is mentioned again in verse 23 as different from “unbelievers,” so this is a visitor or maybe a new covert coming to church. They ought to be able to understand and affirm what you’re so grateful for. If they can understand it, chances are good that your fellow members are also being edified by it. But if you can’t get an amen, then that’s your fault, not theirs.
In verse 17 Paul may be speaking tongue in cheek. For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. Let’s say that a Christian in Corinth actually could pray out of their mind and somehow it actually grow from the soil of thanks (but how would they know?). It’s hard to believe, but go with it. You’re really ecstatically thankful, and you’re still doing no good: the other person is not being built up, and that has been the whole point of the last two and a half chapters.
Paul is not speaking from an outsider’s perspective. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. He doesn’t have tongue envy. What he does have is experience with actual tongues-talking (though it’s not once described anywhere in the New Testament), and with all of his experience he’s able to make a clear conclusion: Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. This isn’t the five word review, but it shows the power of even a short sentence that can be understood. The ten thousand is an exaggerated number in Greek, and it does imply words not babel. It could have been the McDonald’s of tongues, billions served, and it wouldn’t actually be of service.
This paragraph explains a lot, and it’s a lot to explain. He starts by telling them to use their heads like adults. Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. Kids do what’s good for them, they have to be taught and trained to think about obeying and also serving others. At least some of the Corinthians were more like kids; Paul wrote earlier that he could not address them as “spiritual people” but “as infants” (3:1). He adds that being infants in evil is more than good, not that they wouldn’t know about evil, but that they wouldn’t be professionals in doing it. In their heads they should grow up toward the proper goal, the τέλειος.
In a previous generation God’s people mocked God’s clear word to them as childish and faced His judgment for it. In the law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Paul references (it’s not an exact quotation) Isaiah 28:11-12. In context (Isaiah 28), some of the political and religious leaders of Judah were in process of scorning the basic teaching of the LORD as something for simpletons. They, of course, were much more sophisticated. So the LORD told them that He would make them like children, unable to understand even the simplest sounds of another language. The Assyrians soon invaded and defeated and took captive Judah. The Jews couldn’t understand the speech of their enemies, and even with the prophecy fulfilled in their hearing they doubled-down in disbelief.
Paul makes similar application for Corinth. Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers. And this changes the tongues-talking game, right? Tongues does not build up believers, it alienates fellow believers, and the reason is: it isn’t for believers! The gift of tongues was not meant for the church. At Pentecost when the apostles spoke in tongues in Jerusalem, God’s people, the Jews, heard strange languages (though some heard in their own language), and it should have tipped them off that judgment was coming. It did within their generation at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Paul brings prophecy back into the discussion. Tongues isn’t for believers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. In a couple verses he’ll say that prophecy can, by God’s grace, cause unbelievers to become believers, but it is a sign that God is speaking to His people for their consolation (see verse 3).
Verses 23-25 describe the expectations we should have for congregational worship.
First he explains how to get a negative review that is our fault. 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? The question answers itself. The spiritual gift that the Corinthians considered to be the consummate gift turns out to be something that causes others to say that they are crazy, and probably never return. As Euripides wrote in the The Bacchae about worship that is out of control nuts, so here. The effect on some in Jerusalem at the first tongues was, “They are filled with new wine“ (Acts 2:13). Tongues are powerful, but not to cause belief, it’s powerful for judicial hardening of unbelief.
On the other hand, if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 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. Wow.
Three things about this are not expectable, but possible. The review at the end is desirable, and something that we can’t control but we can pursue.
Paul isn’t saying that we should expect that all prophesy, his point is that the entire congregation is worshipping in the spirit and in mind according to God’s Word. It is also not necessarily something to pursue that church is for an outsider or an unbeliever. Worship can have evangelistic effect, as here, but worship is thanks and praise and edification of the Building. We are also not promised that every unbeliever will react like this, but it is how we should pray that God would work in an unbeliever.
Our worship of God should be obviously about God. God is holy, God is light, God is truth. We are all sinners in front of the righteous God, believers believe that we have God’s own righteousness in Christ that enables us to stand before His throne of grace. Unbelievers are confronted with God, with the cross, and with the condition of their hearts.
When the truth of God’s Word is revealed, hearts are revealed. This happens not just by the mouths of those prophesying, or in our case preaching, but by the whole body’s singing and praying and talking. The unbeliever is convicted by all. He is called to account by all, not because he has to answer us, but because our worship causes him to reckon that he must give account to God as we are (see Hebrews 4:12-13). And the secrets of his heart are disclosed, his motives are unboxed, not on the screen for all to watch, but by the Spirit to himself. He realizes that he is a sinner in need of mercy.
His response before God is humility, he is falling on his face to worship God. He bows in humble adoration. “To those who are called…Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).
And here is his review of the church: God is really among you. It’s the best five word review a church could get (though it is six words in Greek).
Tongues aren’t necessary after the destruction of Jerusalem. They are a sign that confirms unbelief, so those who wish for the gift of tongues to miraculously evangelize hard to reach people groups haven’t read the purpose of them.
I still don’t think that prophecy is for today either, but there is application for the preaching of the Word.
Spiritual worship will be understandable. Spiritual worship will edify the body, and it will expose the hearts of those whom God is calling to salvation. Spiritual worship is not about making unbelievers comfortable, though they should have some measure of comprehension. Spiritual worship is about comfort in the word of the cross. When consolation in Christ comes after conviction of sin, then we know that God is really among us.
I desire that you leave our corporate worship with clarity about God’s Word. I want you to be edified, strengthened by the bread of truth. I also pray that His Spirit would enable your obedience to His commands. And often, as simple as it is, what I aim for is to get you to Amen. The right Amen isn’t a stopper, the right Amen uncorks expectation.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! (Psalm 72:18–19, ESV)