Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):
O.K., let’s talk about tongues. It’s been one of the controversies of the church from the start to the present day. On the one hand the gift of tongues has been over-emphasized as was the case with the Corinthians. On the other hand, the gift of tongues has been despised. Throughout history, branches of the church have insisted that speaking in tongues is the singular sign that one has been filled by the Holy Spirit, while other branches of the church have gone so far as to claim that speaking in tongues is a demonic expression.
So where’s the truth in all this? Here’s how I understand Paul on the subject. First, Paul clearly acknowledges tongues as a gift of the Holy Spirit. We need to understand Paul is responding to the problem that speaking in tongues had become in the Corinthians church. They were very much over emphasizing it. In chapter 12, Paul sets the gift of tongues in the larger context of the larger set of gifts of the Holy Spirit as well as in the larger context of the whole Body of Christ. In chapter 13, Paul presents the overall governing dynamic with respect to the exercise of any gift of the Holy Spirit: Love. Now that he has created this larger context, he moves into chapter 14 where he gets back to the specifics of the gift of tongues.
What does he say about tongues? Paul is all for tongues, but there is a governing rule over all the gifts. It is in the first part of verse one.
Follow the way of love, . . . Paul clearly defined what this means in the prior chapter. To this he adds,
eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, . . . This might be better translated to say, “Be longing for the utterances of the Spirit in your midst. Then he adds,
especially the gift of prophecy.
Love is the rule. If love is the rule it means other people are the focus. If other people are the focus, then the gifts must be exercised in ways that benefit other people. Both gifts of tongues and prophecy are utterances that come directly from the Holy Spirit through the mouths of people. The difference? Tongues can only be understood by God and edify the one speaking in them (see v.2). Prophecy can be understood by people and it edifies them (see v.3). Paul says nothing negative about tongues; only that they are for private worship. (It’s noted at the end of today’s text in verse five, but Paul would permit speaking in tongues in public worship if there is an interpretation. That’s for another day.)
So what is the gift of prophecy we should “especially” desire? Verse three indicates prophecy means words given directly by the Spirit that “strengthen, encourage and comfort” other people. They are not words I have come up with but direct words from the Holy Spirit given in the moment. Think of it as the difference between a “download” and a “live stream.” The typical sermon might be thought of more along the lines of a “download.” Someone has done research, developed creative thought and prepared it for presentation to the church. Prophecy works like a “live stream;” coming spontaneously from the Holy Spirit through a person to another person or persons. Prophecy is not prepared or under the control of the one speaking.
Do you see the logic? Grow in the greatest gift of all, which is Holy Spirit-fueled love. Let this love move you toward others. Love others so deeply you eagerly desire to bless and help them beyond your own normal capacity to do so. Especially desire the Holy Spirit to work through you in ways that supernaturally strengthen, encourage, and comfort other people.
I don’t know about you, but for most of my life I have, at best, attempted to “follow the way of love,” but that’s about it. I can’t claim that I have “eagerly desired gifts from the Holy Spirit.” I guess maybe I have eagerly desired them in the sense that I have eagerly desired to lose weight or get in shape. Nor can I say I have “especially” desired the gift of prophecy. It’s been a gap or lapse in my own discipleship. I’m working on changing that. And you?
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Thank you for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thank you even more for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Increase our understanding of the gifts through expanding our practice of the gifts. We cannot be the Church without the gifts of the Spirit. Come Holy Spirit and infuse us with more of you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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