By Spencer D Gear
It seems that we run into problems with confusion and disorder in the church because we do not take seriously (in practice in the gathering of the ekklesia) some of what Paul exhorted in I Corinthians 14. Some of these issues are (NIV):
“Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (14:12);
a. “In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:19);
b. “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (14:29);
c. “God is not a God of disorder but of peach” (14:33);
d. “Be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (14:39);
e. “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:30);
I have observed a number of concerns about the exercise of these spiritual gifts, but two need especial attention in the contemporary church:
1. When prophets prophesy, their messages need to be “weighed carefully.” I have yet to see this done (that doesn’t mean it is not done in some churches). Of this statement about weighing carefully, Gordon D. Fee (1987:693-694) notes that this verb is the same as for “distinguishing between spirits” in 1 Cor. 12:10.
“This is probably to be understood as a form of ‘testing the spirits,’ but not so much in the sense of whether ‘the prophet’ is speaking by a foreign spirit but whether the prophecy itself truly conforms to the Spirit of God, who is also indwelling the other believers. Other than in 12:3, no criterion is here given as to what goes into the ‘discerning’ process, although in Rom. 12:6, we are told that prophecies are to be ‘according to the analogy of faith,’ which probably means ‘that which is compatible with their believing in Christ.’ Nor is there any suggestion as to how it proceeds, but must always be the province of the corporate body, who in the Spirit were to determine the sense or perhaps viability of what had been said”.
I am convinced we are fostering disorder and confusion in the gatherings of believers when we don’t have a procedure for weighing carefully what is said, through the Spirit; and
2. Failing to prevent everything being “done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:39 NIV).
With respect, we are seeing chaos and unacceptable practices in our churches because we do not take these two points seriously.
My son, Paul, wrote an assignment, “The gift of tongues in I Corinthians,” for one of his courses at the Bible College of Queensland (Brisbane) in which he included the following exposition. With his permission, here is a section of his paper, as it deals with some of the topic that we are discussing.
A. Gifts and Intelligibility (14:1-25)
In chapter 14, Paul’s argument takes on its most practical and concrete form. Here he focuses on the distinction between tongues and prophecy and their application to the Corinthian situation. His purpose is to apply the teaching about the goal (the common good) and foundation (love) of spiritual gifts to the practice of tongues in congregational worship at Corinth.
Firstly the apostle Paul deals with the reason tongues are a problem in this setting: intelligibility. He explains this by using a series of contrasts between the gifts of prophecy and tongues (14.2-4):
1. Tongues are directed to God, but prophecy is directed to men.
2. Tongues are not understood by anyone, but prophecy is.
3. The content of tongues is ‘mysteries in the Spirit’, whereas the content of prophecy is ‘upbuilding and encouragement and consolation’.
4. Tongues edify the speaker, but prophecy edifies the congregation.
Paul would rather people prophesy than speak in tongues; prophecy is greater than tongues in that it enables the church to be edified. However, interpreted tongues can function in the same way as prophecy. (14.5)
Paul goes on to explain his intelligibility concern with two examples: musical instruments, and battle horns. In both of them, there is no value if the results are not intelligible (14.6-8). The examples are then applied to the Corinthians: if they ‘in a tongue utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?’ There will be no benefit to the hearers (14.9-11). Again, he appeals to the Corinthians that, since they are ‘eager for manifestations of the Spirit’, they should show their genuine spirituality by seeking the edification of the congregation (14.12).
The practical outcome of this argument is that anyone ‘who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (14.13). For those who pray in tongues, prayer in an understandable language is also necessary, so that outsiders can understand (14.13-17). Paul notes that he speaks in tongues also (and is thankful for it), but he is far more concerned about intelligibility in the congregation than his own benefit (14.18-19).
Following this, Paul presents another reason for seeking intelligibility: unbelievers who may be present. In their uninterpreted form, tongues can only result in judgement on unbelievers (as they did in Isaiah). If unbelievers are to be benefited (hopefully to the extent of salvation), then it will be through intelligible discourse.
B. Gifts and Order (14.26-40)
In this passage Paul sums up the changes he wants the Corinthians to make in their practice of tongues and prophecy and offers some concluding statements.
Paul’s opening statements indicate his expectations of what should happen when the church comes together: there should be a variety of manifestations brought by various members of the congregation for the purpose of mutual edification (14.26). These manifestations must be conducted in an orderly fashion, regardless of their type or origin (14.27-32). In the text as it stands in most versions, injunctions of restraint on women come under the same category as these other instructions (14.34-35). This is God’s will for the exercise of the gifts because that is his nature (14.33a).
With these instructions, Paul becomes firmer. He criticises them for thinking that they can go their own way without heed to the practice of the other churches (14.33b) or Paul’s instruction to them as an apostle. His word is binding on the churches and the Corinthians can expect there to be consequences if they do not recognise this (14.37-38).
Paul’s final statement on the matter needs no summary: ‘[E]arnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.’
1. Spiritual Gifts
Much of Paul’s argument regarding tongues and prophecy is spent with building up an overall framework of spiritual gifts. Thus it is important to outline this framework before moving on to tongues specifically.
a. Spiritual Gifts Are Spiritual
For Paul, all spiritual gifts are spiritual (pneumatikos). While this may seem to be stating the obvious, Paul belaboured the point that the gifts come from the Spirit. The Spirit is mentioned as the source of the gifts eight times in 1 Corinthians 12.4-11. All spiritual gifts are seen as manifestations of the Spirit (12.7). There is no notion of ‘miraculous’ and ‘non-miraculous’ gifts in these chapters per se.
b. Spiritual Gifts Are One in Purpose and Nature
A clear unifying purpose for gifts emerges from the pages of 1 Corinthians, which is that gifts are given by God for the benefit of the Church. This is first introduced with what can be termed the ‘prime directive’ for spiritual gifts: ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (12.7).
This purpose is further reinforced by setting the context for spiritual gifts in the community of Christ (12.1?3), by application of the body metaphor with its emphasis on the necessity of all the parts (12.21-24a), by emphasising love’s focus on the good of others (13.4?7), and by focussing on the benefits that tongues and prophecy can bring to others (14.5-6, 12, 16-17, 26b, 31).
In this respect it must be argued that those who maintain a pre-parousia cessation of spiritual gifts have missed a crucial emphasis in Paul’s argument. Chapter 14 cannot be viewed without the context of chapter 12. Seeing miraculous gifts as a means of authenticating Christ and the apostles and their message (which is surely correct) must not be allowed to outweigh the clearly stated purpose of gifts in the context of 1 Corinthians.
c. Spiritual Gifts Are Many and Varied
Scholars are generally agreed that none of the lists of gifts encountered in the New Testament are exhaustive (given that they are all different), and many would say that neither is the sum total of the lists.
Paul’s consistent emphasis on diversity in the body (12.14, 19, 29-30), and his use of “diaireseis” to qualify gifts (12.4-6) and “gene” to qualify tongues in particular (12.10, 28; cf. 14.10) shows that he expected diversity in the function of gifts.
d. God Is the Sovereign Giver of the Gifts
At various points in Paul’s argument, he reminds the Corinthians that God is the one who gives spiritual gifts, and that he is responsible for their distribution. This is evident in the sections which deal with the Spirit-inspired nature of the gifts (12.3-11), as well as those which portray God as the divine arranger of the body (12.18, 24b, 28).
For Paul, there was no apparent conflict between the notion of divine sovereignty in the distribution of gifts and the instruction for the Corinthians to ‘earnestly desire’ certain gifts (12.31a; 14.1, 12-13), or for him to wish that all of them could speak in tongues and prophesy (14.5, 18).
End of the section from my son, Paul Gear’s, paper.
What Paul, the apostle, said to the Thessalonians has especial relevance for us in this discussion: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” ( I Thess. 5:19-22).
I believe these Thessalonian verses provide keys to openness to the Holy Spirit’s ministry through the gifts today, but with order established and confusion eliminated by “testing everything.” This will cause us to retain what is good and edifying in the Spirit’s ministry among us and to eliminate confusion and evil among us.
I hope that this contributes to this discussion.
D. Appendix I
The following is a discussion I had with Edda on Trinity Theological Seminary Forum to which I used to contribute when a student there for a brief time. I no longer have access to that forum. I wrote:
I was asking if any other students have attended churches where the “testing of everything” was taken seriously and any particular format was used in the gathering.
As a starter, let me suggest what I think would keep every preacher on his/her toes and be consistent with the biblical revelation:
At the conclusion of the message (preaching or other manifestations of gifts of the Spirit), ask the preacher or person giving the “message” to be open to the congregation and provide an opportunity for free-flowing “testing” according to the Word of God.
The Word is the standard. This will encourage both preacher and listener to be conversant with the Word of God. All feedback and interaction must be done with love, grace and mercy. However, if any “message” is contrary to the Word, it needs to be corrected there and then.
I have not met any preachers or those providing other manifestations of the Spirit, who have submitted to such in 40 years as a believer.
I consider this to be appropriate biblically according to I Thess. 5:19-21 and I Cor. 14:29-33. What do you and other students and preachers think? Is it a biblical requirement? If so, how can it become a practical reality?
If you are interested in viewing my son, Paul’s, paper, it is on his homepage as, “The Gift of Tongues in I Corinthians“.
Fee, G D 1987. The first epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 It is now known as Brisbane School of Theology.
 This message was from the T-DELTA Forum [http://go.CompuServe.com/Trinity], on CompuServe [http://www.CompuServe.com] CompuServe Forum Messaging is intended for private use only. © Copyright CompuServe Interactive Services, Inc., 2002 . The topic was, “Order or Confusion” msg #61498, 6 April 2002. I went under the name of OzSpen. However, it is not available to the general public, but only for Trinity students.
Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 4 May 2018.