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103. I Corinthians 14: “Wonders and Blunders at Corinth”

Golden Nursing Center in Mannington, NJ –Evening Service on 10/17/2019


South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, NJ –Men’s Evening Chapel on 10/20/2019

(edited February 2022)


[note: Over 100 Bible studies ago now, I began this series with my “shaky” attempt at a sermon based on I Corinthians chapters 9-10 back in the year 2000 at a local church. Maybe this study in chapter 14 of that same Book of the Bible is a fitting place to end. Even after all this time and all the experiences the Lord has allowed me to have along the way, I must admit that I’m still pretty “shaky” at times. One thing I’ve learned for sure is that my understanding of God’s Word is limited. I have greatly enjoyed sharing with you, but I do hope, beloved, that you have, or will soon, surpass me in all things.]  


Verses 1-2: Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.


The previous chapter to this one is the famous “Love Chapter” of the New Testament, I Corinthians 13. But chapter 14 you really don’t hear that much about today. But Paul, I think, links the two chapters together in the opening verses of chapter 14 that I just read to you. Spiritual gifts, especially the most flamboyant gifts, were being craved and sought after by many in Corinth. But Paul here was really trying to get them to crave the “Agape” Love of God. Paul’s message to the Church (then and now) is service to one another, not some kind of show or performance for one another!


He clearly acknowledges that there was a legitimate the gift of “tongues” among them, whatever that may have been. But his emphasis, and his preference for them seems to be the gift of prophesy:


Verses 3-5:  But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.  I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.”


These verses tell me that, for Paul, prophesy at Corinth meant more than describing the future. It also involved what we today would simply call “preaching.” Now, I’m not trying to say here that there are no more miracle gifts. But I don’t think Paul is emphasizing those here. Have you ever been greatly moved by a regular old sermon, by a regular old preacher or Bible teacher? I mean REALLY moved! Moved in such a way that you knew in your heart that it just couldn’t all be coming from the abilities of that person speaking? Well, if you think about it, isn’t that a miracle too?


It also occurred to me this week that they may have had to preach somewhat differently back in Paul’s time. What I mean is, they had the Old Testament Scriptures written down or passed down orally to them, but the New Testament was still “under construction” at this time. So, it makes sense that they would have to really rely on the moving of the Spirit to both sense and teach God’s Word, especially messages about Christ and the New Covenant. But there was potential for chaos in that, too. I think that’s reflected in what Paul says next:


Verse 6:  Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?”


Paul, I think, appeals to them to avoid the glamor of the Gifts and to make sure to use them to build up and support each other in rational and easily understood ways: 


Verses 7-12: “And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?  For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?  So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.”


How much of what we do in our churches today has a practical benefit to believers and non-believers? Maybe some of the lost are not turned off to God, but just turned off by you and me sometimes. I know I’ve done it (people have told me 😊). Paul isn’t trying to limit the Gifts of God at Corinth. But he is trying to limit nonsense in the Church. The final effectiveness of what we present in public matters most. The effect on others matters as much or more than the effect on the presenter:


Verses 13-17: “Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.  For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.  Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.”


Paul isn’t against any of the true manifestations of the Holy Spirit. But he is against ignorance or intentional misuse of those Gifts. Listen here for the passion in his voice:


Verses 18-21: “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.  Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.  In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.”


That last verse is a reference to Isaiah 28:11 in the Old Testament. Isaiah said that at a time when Judah was in deep rebellion against the Lord and the Old Covenant was unravelling. THAT is who needs to hear a dazzling tongue! It is like a trumpet, a wakeup call to grab the attention of the spiritually dead or the grossly rebellious.


Verses 22-23: “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.  If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?”


Not long after the time of Isaiah, the Babylonians marched in to conquer Judah and enslave God’s People. Then they were carried away to a strange land and had to figure out and follow commands given to them in a foreign language. How shocking that must have been. How humiliating. I’m not trying to make light of it at all. But they thought they could roundly reject their Covenant with God and still rest securely in His protection! And they lived that way for years, in complacency and fooling themselves. Then the end came. What a wakeup call they must have experienced!


Well, at Corinth in Paul’s day, they were using the gift of tongues to, basically, “show off.” It wasn’t even useful as a sign of power to “wake up” the unsaved. It was just a very public form of spiritual confusion. Paul’s advice to them is to put the emphasis in corporate worship on prophesying, preaching, and sharing in good old, easy to understand, plain old language mixed with prayer and the Holy Spirit. And, in case I’m being too subtle about it, that is Paul’s advice also for the Church today and for you and me. Paul explains further:


Verses 24-33: “But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”


Let the horrors of the world, the flesh, and the Devil shock the sinner. But if they come to church let them see order and discipline with clarity and charity, not more chaos and confusion.


Verses 34-35: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”


I don’t know everything about these verses and I sure don’t know everything about the Bible. I discover that over and over again. But I do think that what Paul is saying here was not meant to be a put down to women. It is evident in the Bible and through experience that women are quite capable of genuine prophesy when enabled and called by the Lord to do it!


I think Paul’s statements here are directed more at the men of the Corinthian church. It is, actually, an inditement of their spiritual laziness and this can be the case today in the Church, including with me sometimes. Paul’s goal isn’t to muzzle the women, it’s to FORCE the men to overcome their carnal nature. These guys were “Momma’s Boys.” If the women will do all the talking in church, heck, these guys will just sit back and let the women do EVERYTHING. Just like they let Momma do EVERYTHING for them, if Momma was willing or didn’t know how to say “no.”


Well, Paul’s havin’ none of that at Corinth. He tells the women to just stop. Shut it all down. Why? Because there’s something wrong with women? NOPE, it’s to force those men to stand up and to be the men they need to be in church, in their families, and in their sphere of influence in the world. And Paul sees that it just isn’t going to happen as long as the women will do it all for them! And I would say this to women today who are true believers, I will never dare to doubt your abilities or your gifts from God, but I would say this, exercise them with caution and once in a while look behind you and make sure there aren’t some men back there who are hiding from THEIR responsibilities to the Lord.


Paul was not afraid of controversy, was he? Remember how, way back in the first study in this whole series, we saw that he intentionally refused any financial support from the church at Corinth? Now we see why. He needed to be obligated only to God when dealing with this church. He needed to be free to take on ANY issue that was holding them back. Listen to what he says next:


Verses 36-38: “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”


He’s not very apologetic, is he? He was FREE there to speak his mind and to serve God fully to the BEST of his ability. And that was God’s will for Paul at Corinth. We need some “tent makers” in the Church today who can stand up and “take the hit” for our professional clergy when the Church needs to address certain legitimate, but difficult issues and trials.


I loved my Momma, and she was a spiritual leader in my eyes, but I don’t want to be a spiritual “Momma’s Boy.” I don’t want to sit back and hid behind the women at church, or behind my local preacher, either! To just sit there and always criticize him. Don’t say, “Why doesn’t he do something about this or that?” Maybe God won’t let the preacher take certain actions because He’s waiting for you to get up and do it! And, by the way, even if your preacher is at fault, you may find some compassion for him once you come off that sofa and out of that pew and roll up YOUR sleeves and commit YOURSELF to God’s Word and to His Work. You’ll soon find that it is a wicked world out there, and it’s easy to slip once you take up the Work.


Tongues? Well, perhaps the Lord will not use that gift today to shock unbelievers as He did on the Day of Pentecost. I recently watched a movie that was all spoken in French. It would have been kind of shocking and strange, but there were subtitles on the screen that instantly explained everything. The miraculous understanding of foreign languages is probably looked at differently today because of cell phones and computers, etc. So, we have to be careful not to get hung up on any single manifestation or gift. Trust me, if God REALLY wants to get your attention or mine, He has unlimited ways to do it!


We don’t have to avoid difficult topics today. But we need to apply some common sense, sometimes. Paul closes by emphasizing what we need: Ministry in the Church that is organized, intentional, and easily accessible to all who need it. And, yet, we are to do all that without quenching the Spirit of God, even when His working goes beyond our abilities to comprehend it.


Verses 39-40: Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.”


Let’s pray.                 



[a final note: I had no idea when I first delivered this message that a pandemic was on its way to the USA and the World. One result has been a shutdown of local prison and nursing home ministries, and that continues to this day. I can only guess at the amount of turmoil the pandemic has caused in these facilities. I have continued to speak at a few other venues, when and where group meetings were permitted. I even used some of these same messages as a text and I think I will continue doing that in the future.


Upon reflection, I have decided not to produce any more longer Bible studies. Christ has been very gracious by allowing me to create these and I am content just to organize and use what I have. Of course, I plan to continue the daily Bible readings, study, and meditation that I have recommended all along for everybody else! Dear Reader, I’m praying for you right now.]