The Twenty-Seventh in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
It has been said that the true creed of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches is Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 14:40 to “do everything in good order.” While we often joke about the Reformed obsession with rules and proper procedure, we must not overlook the fact that this statement is Paul’s concluding point in his lengthy response to the Corinthian’s question to him about the role and proper exercise of the gift of tongues. Sadly, division and confusion reigned in the Corinthian church, and Paul is writing to correct a number of problems in the church, problems which led unbelievers to think the Corinthian Christians were crazy.
We now wrap up our study of chapters 12-14. Paul is answering a question put to him by the Corinthians about the role and practice of the gift of tongues. Apparently, the way in which the Corinthians were exercising this gift was causing division in the church, as well as creating much chaos during the Lord’s day worship service. Paul has emphasized the need for Christians to earnestly desire the gifts of the Spirit because these gifts are for the common good, they strengthen the churches, and they enable us to love one another (the more excellent way). Now, he gives explicit instructions as to how the Corinthians are to use this gift, as well as the gift of prophesy.
Throughout this chapter, Paul makes the point that while the tongue-speaking is indeed a true gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of tongues is inferior to the gift of prophecy. The reason for this is that those who speak in a tongue (whether that tongue is known or unknown to the speaker) cannot be understood by the assembled church unless the tongue is interpreted, while those who prophesy (which is Spirit-enabled speech, likely from the text of the Old Testament) speak in such a way that the congregation understands what is said. Therefore, the congregation is said to be edified by some word or revelation from God.
Last time, we covered the first nineteen verses of this chapter, so we will now take up the balance of the chapter, verses 20-40. In the last half of the chapter, Paul addresses the effects of uninterpreted tongue-speaking upon unbelievers who may happen to visit the Corinthian congregation during worship. Not only do believers remain unedified (because they cannot understand what is being said), but non-believers will be completely put off by the confusion and chaos created by uninterpreted tongues and by everyone speaking at once. Seeing the confusion and disorder in the service, visitors will think Christians are crazy! Or, even worse, visitors will think that Christians behave no differently than pagans. This explains why Paul exhorts the Corinthians in verse 20, “brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” Paul softens the stern rebuke a bit by affectionately referring to the Corinthians as ‘brothers.” But the force of the imperative (command) must not be missed–“stop thinking like children.” The Greek text literally reads, “stop being children in mind.” To paraphrase Paul: “grow up! Quit acting like children.”
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