April 22, 2007

Edification or Self-Exaltation

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 1 Corinthians Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:1–40


Edification or Self-Exaltation

1 Corinthians 14:1-40
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith

We find it comical when children act like children: Consider a few attempted analogies that have been retrieved from school newspapers:

  • "He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it."
  • "Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center."
  • "Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever."
  • "He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree."
  • "Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph."
  • "The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can."
  • "The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon."

Funny, but what would we think if columnists from the Boston Globe or the Philadelphia Inquirer spoke in similar language? Would we still be laughing? We find it comical when children act like children, but when adults act like children, few find it entertaining.

This principle applies to life in the church as well. God wants His church to be spiritually mature. Once again, the Corinthians serve as a negative example. Adults consider what is best for others, how their actions will affect the corporate assembly. Children think only of themselves. Children are self-focused and self-orientated. Based on this premise, the Corinthians were spiritual babies, and it is declared by Paul's comments all over this epistle.

3:1-2, "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able." As we saw last week, 13:11, "When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things." And as we will see today, 14:20, "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature."

They were grown adults acting like little babies. The immaturity of the church was revealed in their greed, their divisiveness, their arguments, their cliques, their stubbornness, their carnality, their selfishness, their arrogance, their insubordination and their general unloving attitude. But now as we approach chapter 14, we will see their childish tendencies in their desire to "show off." They approached the church services as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves. And it was primarily done through the gift they admired and misused: Tongues.

This morning we will take a "jet-tour" through the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. Though we will have to "fly over" some wonderful passages of Scripture, I believe the view from 30,000 feet will allow us to see things pertaining to the "big picture" that we could easily miss in a lengthy verse-by-verse exposition.

I have already made my comments about the gift of tongues. I understand that most of you have listened to and benefited from the CD's we had available. So this morning I do not want to follow the bait and get sidetracked by this hot issue, but rather focus on the main point of chapter 14 - which is not tongues, but edification in the church. Edification is the need all of us have to be built up in our faith.

The immature Corinthians needed to hear that we gather as a church not to exalt ourselves, but rather to glorify God by building up others in the body of Christ. That is the manifestation of love that we spoke about last week (chapter 13). That is mature spirituality. So to keep edification in the forefront of our minds, I have included that word in each of our six sermon points.


Point number one: "Edification: Superior is Prophecy."

Paul begins verse 1 by saying, "Pursue love." There is our continuation from last week in chapter 13. He goes on, "Yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts." Through the exaltation of love and his soon rebuke of tongues, Paul wanted to make sure these extremist Corinthians did not abandon spiritual gifts altogether. So he advocates spiritual gifts, and in this discourse on spiritual gifts we will see him dethrone tongues and elevate prophecy. Look how verse 1 ends: "Desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy" (emphasis added).

Though this Corinthian situation is difficult to reconstruct, it appears many believers in this church allowed the ecstatic utterance that they highly prized from their former pagan to enter the church services (cf. 1 Cor. 12:2). People were building up their own spiritual pride at the expense of others in the church being built up in their faith.

The issue was indiscernible tongues that grabbed personal attention, but brought no edification to the church. However, prophecy, or the proclamation of the Word of God, will build up believers in the faith. So for the remaining four verses Paul will now state why prophecy is superior. Listen for the contrast between the two. Listen for the key word, "edification."

Beginning in verse 2: "For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying" (1 Cor. 14:2-5).

Don't miss what Paul is doing. So many have plucked his words out of context. He is talking about life in the church, not our private devotional time. He is not justifying a personal prayer language known only to God for self-edification. He is talking about the corporate church service. He is rebuking the church for trying to edify themselves by building their own egos, while leaving other attendees in the dust by speaking in a way that no one could understand. He is sarcastically telling the church that maybe God comprehends what they are saying, but the other believers have no clue what's going on. He is making the case for corporate edification and therefore seeks to de-emphasize tongues and emphasize prophecy. Their tongues were creating division, disorder and confusion. Yet prophecy, the proclamation of God's Word, according to verse 3, brings "edification and exhortation and consolation."

Verses 1-5 remind us that we are to be "other" focused. We are to operate in the selfless way of love. We are to be concerned about the spiritual health of others. We gather to minister to each other, not stroke our own self-esteem. Therefore we should seek to construct our services in a way whereby God's Word prevails so all in the church can be edified and God, not people, be glorified.


For corporate edification, the prophetic word must take precedence. Now in point two, we must also speak to be understood if the church is to be edified.

Paul makes this clear in verse 6. "But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?" Did you catch that? Even if the great Apostle Paul came to the Grace Tabernacle we may be impressed by his appearance, but we would not profit one ounce spiritually (no edification) if he spoke in a language we could not understand. Understanding is the key for any form of communication.

Paul provides two illustrations:

The first illustration is seen in verse 7. "Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? Even lifeless things like instruments are expected to make sensible sounds if we are to receive benefit. The difference between noise and music is the order of notes assembled to create rhythm and harmony. I can play any note on the piano; I just can't play them in the right order. And apart from the right order, there is no understanding and therefore no benefit.

The second illustration is seen in verse 8. "For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?" There is a world of difference between scrambled notes and the distinctive sounds of "retreat" and "charge." In a time of battle, playing the bugle to communicate a meaning is important.

In the same way, in order for purpose to be established and people in the church to be edified, speech must be spoken in a way that is understandable. Verse 9, "So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air."

Paul continues to hammer away at this same point. Verses 10-11, "There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me."

Language comes for the purpose of communication. Yet these Corinthian show-offs cared little for communication, much less, edification. They just wanted to impress others, and the spiritual gift of tongues was their ticket. To them, impressing others was more important that edifying others.

But as we know, spiritual gifts were never given for our own benefit or self-edification. According to chapter 12, spiritual gifts are sovereignly given by God (verse 11) for the "common good" (verse 7). Therefore Paul concludes this section in verse 12. "So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church."


As we move to the third point, we see the need to interpret tongues.

As we study the book of Acts we see tongues spoken in only three isolated accounts. Each one of these accounts was a known language that happened outside of the church. As we will see in verse 22, tongues came for a purpose - They were a sign to unbelievers, primarily unbelieving Jews. They were not intended for the church. I am persuaded that these Corinthians practiced a counterfeit tongue adopted from their pagan experiences. But even when the true gift was operational, it was not primarily intended for the church. And although Paul seemed to permit its limited use in the Corinthian church (I think specifically because the church met next door to the synagogue, and even the chief rabbis were being converted - Ac. 18:1ff.), Paul still maintained that the true gift of tongues, when allowed in the church, must be interpreted. Why? Again, the goal in the church is edification, and we are not edified by a language we cannot understand!

Verse 13, "Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret."

Remember our Lord commanded us to love Him with "all (our) heart...and withall (our) mind" (Mt. 22:37-emphasis added). Remembered Jesus taught, "True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4:23). Understanding is necessary because the mind must never be disconnected from the heart in worship. Such is the tendency in pagan religion, but is never witnessed in any account found in Scripture.

So we read in verses 14 and 15, "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also."

You see, if tongues were not interpreted, others in the church could not understand and thereby receive edification. Our spirits must never be disconnected from the intellect. For example, how would you feel if I said, "Eulogetos ho Theos kai pater tou kuriou hemon Iesou Christou?" Anybody edified? Can anyone give me a hearty, "Amen," acknowledging the truth of that statement? Unless you understand biblical Greek, I hope not! But when I translate, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:3a), now you have understanding, you find agreement, you touch the spirit, you receive edification and you shout "Amen!" Edification does not exist apart from the mind!

That is Paul's point in verse 16: "Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted (personal ignorance of the language being spoken) say the 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?"

Verses 17-19, "For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church (emphasis added) I desire to speak five words with my mind (emphasis added) so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue." (Ten thousand was the largest number for which the Greeks had a special word - cf. Mt. 18:24). Five words of Scripture that engage the mind are far superior than an infinite number of words from an uninterpreted language.


Moving to point four, since the church misused the gift, Paul will now instruct them regarding its true purpose. He will conduct a "Bible Study" and appeal to the Old Testament Scriptures.

Notice how he starts. Verse 20, "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature." He is basically saying, "Grow up, let's put our emotions aside and see what the Word of God has to say."

Verse 21, "In the Law (The Old Testament - Essentially the only Scripture they had) it is written, 'By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,' says the Lord." The quote comes directly from Isaiah 28, verse 11. In this prophecy, Isaiah warns the Israelites roughly 700 years before Christ that God's impending judgment was about to come upon the nation for their sin and failure to repent. Since they have ignored the voice of God in their native tongue through their prophet in Hebrew, God would speak to them through the Assyrian invaders. When they heard the Gentile foreign languages from the surrounding armies, they would know their judgment has come.

Fast-forward 700 years and once again God's judgment was upon the nation Israel. For this time they rejected the voice of God's prophet par excellence, Jesus Christ. And this time they rejected God Himself as He came in the flesh. They condemned their Messiah to crucifixion. Once again God would reveal His judgment upon the nation through foreign tongues. Since the Jews craved a sign (1 Cor. 1:22), God again gave them the sign of tongues, Gentile languages.

That is why Paul declares in verse 22, "So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign (probably incorrect supplied words by a translator), not to unbelievers but to those who believe."

It is interesting to note that when tongues are seen throughout the book of Acts, they are always outside the church, always known languages and always in the presence of Jews.

So since tongues are a sign to unbelievers, Paul exposes the error the Corinthians were making and its ramifications.

Verse 23, "Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" In other words if an unbelieving Gentile walks in to the church and he hears all kinds of babbling, or an unbelieving Jew walks in and he hears uninterpreted tongues, both will think the place is out of their mind. Wouldn't you?

"But," verses 24 and 25, "If all prophesy (in the general sense of speaking forth God's Word), and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you."

Paul is saying that signs must be kept as signs and restricted to their proper place. Even in Christ's ministry, signs did not engender faith. Signs are only a substitute that points us to the reality (from a street sign to a biblical sign). The Word of God is the reality to which the biblical signs point. Only the Word of God convicts the heart, generates faith (Rom. 10:17) and produces true worship.


As we move to the fifth point, Paul once again reminds the Corinthians about the chaos resulting in a lack of edification. Verse 26, "What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (emphasis added).

It was a circus!

So in the desire to produce more order in their services, Paul provides some systematic instructions as to how the gifts are to operate. Even though time prevents me from elaboration, I believe these guidelines are self-explanatory. I am also convinced that most of the modern day tongues movement would cease if these biblical guidelines were observed.

Beginning in verse 27, "If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace (better to put the verse break here), as in all the churches of the saints. The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church" (1 Cor. 14:27-35).

Paul knew this church all too well. He knew that they would resent his authority and there would be objections to these stipulations.

So in verse 36 in a very straightforward and sarcastic way he first said, "Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?" They never composed Scripture. They didn't have a monopoly on the truth. Yet Paul was afraid these prideful and arrogant Corinthians would stand in judgment over the Word of God.

Then second, in verses 37 and 38, he reminds the church that these are not his preferences, but rather commands from God. "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized." Their self-perceived spiritual superiority should be evidenced not by their spiritual gifts but by their recognizing and obeying Holy Scripture. But ignoring Scripture only reveals ones false profession, and as Paul said, such a person should not be recognized as a fellow Christian. Rejecting Scripture (the voice of God) is tantamount to rejecting God Himself.


Lastly, in point number six; the Apostle makes some summarizing comments.

Verse 39, "Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues." Though prophecy was superior in the church, the true gifts exercised appropriately should not be rejected when operational.

And now verse 40-The theme of this entire chapter-"But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner" (emphasis added). God's children should reflect the divine character of their heavenly Father. Remember verse 33? "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." Listen, where disorder and pandemonium exist, we can be assured that God is not a part of it. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is not loss of control, but self-control. And where the Spirit rules, there will always be peace (Rom. 8:6; 14:17; 15:13; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:3).

It is comical when children act like children.

During a long and losing baseball game, the restless 12-year-old players were questioning Ritchie, their assistant coach, about his attractive younger sister. Annoyed at the idle chatter, the head coach hollered, "When you're in the dugout, talk baseball!" After a moment's silence, a young voice began, "So, Ritchie, does your sister play baseball?" (Source: Christian Reader, "Lite Fare").

We find this funny, but would George Steinbrenner find this humorous if it happened in the Yankees' dugout?

The Corinthian church was filled with spiritual babies. They abused and overemphasized the gift of tongues. They dethroned the Word of God. They substituted true ministry for that which is showy, spectacular, ineffective, emotional and carnal. They thought maturity was manifesting the gifts of the Spirit and not the fruit of the Spirit. They chose exhibition over edification, believing self-glorification is more important than building others up in the faith.

May we learn from this Corinthian church and be found useful and mature in the eyes of our Lord. We may be oblivious or indifferent to mature Christianity, but I do not think God, when He observes this immature behavior among His children, is laughing.

other sermons in this series

Apr 15


Everything Minus Love Equals Nothing

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 Series: 1 Corinthians

Mar 18


You Need Us

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:21–27 Series: 1 Corinthians

Mar 11


We Need You

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12–20 Series: 1 Corinthians