The Twenty-Sixth in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
One of the most divisive theological controversies of my lifetime was the charismatic movement with its stress upon speaking in tongues. Whenever the charismatic renewal spread to a new church, it immediately divided the church into two camps–those who experienced what they claimed was a new work of the Holy Spirit which manifested itself in the speaking with tongues, and those who thought such a thing was demonic and who did everything in their power to stamp out the movement before it could spread. Thankfully, that controversy has long since died down. It amazes me that we now are able to tackle with little if any sense of controversy, what was once considered to be a very controversial biblical text and subject.
As we continue our series on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we come to chapter 14 and Paul’s discussion of speaking in tongues and proper behavior in Christian worship. It is clear from the Apostles’ discussion that the Corinthians were greatly divided about the role and purpose of tongue-speaking in public worship, and they wrote a letter to Paul in which they asked him about this very thing. Although we don’t have their letter to Paul, and so we don’t know what exactly the Corinthians asked Paul, we do know that it takes Paul three chapters to answer the Corinthian’s question.
In the opening verses of chapter 12, Paul begins by addressing the Corinthian’s faulty understanding of spiritual things (pneumotikon), before taking up a discussion of gifts of the Spirit (the charismata) in which Paul uses the metaphor of the human body as an illustration of the church of Jesus Christ. In chapter 13, Paul pointed out that love of our brothers and sisters is the context in which any discussion of spiritual gifts must take place. In chapter 14, Paul turns his focus to the specifics of the controversy causing so much consternation among the Corinthians, speaking in tongues during worship.
It is clear from Paul’s response that certain individuals among the Corinthians who had the gift of tongues, thought themselves to be superior to others who did not. Once he has established the proper categories to discuss such things (“spiritual things” and “spiritual gifts”), Paul can now proceed to the specifics of the controversy plaguing the Corinthians, how to properly exercise the gift of tongues so that this gift strengthens the body and that it is exercised in love. Those who claim to be spiritual, must demonstrate love for others, or else they demonstrate that they are nothing but windbags.
To read the rest of this sermon, Click Here