Friday, September 9, 2016

P2 - Be a blessing with your spiritual gifts - building up others and understanding the gift of tongues

1 Corinthians 14:12 "So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church."

Yesterday we began considering the importance of being a blessing to others by way of the spiritual gifts. God has so gifted believers and His church with gifts so that they can be a blessing to others. We discussed briefly the subject of tongues and the warnings Paul gave to avoid the self-centered tendencies that the Corinthian believers we practicing. We closed out noting how whether one is a Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian or whether one is a non-Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian, self-centered tendencies can still occur. The former group of Christians can tend to over emphasize certain gifts at the expense of others (what we see occurring in 1 Corinthians 14), whereas the latter group of believers can risk under-valuing the gifts all-together, and thus being uninformed (which Paul aimed to correct from the onset in 1 Corinthians 14. 

The overall goal of these posts is to hopefully shed some light on what can be the difficult chapter of 1 Corinthians 14. Overall, the hope would be to encourage all Christians to exercise their gifts in such a way as to bless others. We've already noted the need to avoid self-centered expressions of the gifts. Today, we want to consider the second way in which we can be a blessing - namely building up others.

Building up others by way of our gifts is at the heart of being a blessing with our gifts
 1 Corinthians 14:5 sets the tone of the chapter with these words: "Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying." That term "edification" has to do with "building up", or "reinforcing" someone else in their spiritual walk with Christ. To be a blessing to other people with respect to our spiritual gifts has the goal of edification and thus, praise and worship to God. As a matter of fact, this idea of "building up others" or "edification" dominates the horizon of 1 Corinthians 14 (see 1 Corinthians 14:3,5,13,17 and 26). Thus when we say to "be a blessing" in the realm of spiritual gifts, we are saying to use our gifts to "edify others", which achieves the ultimate goal of "glorifying God". 

Certain passages bear out the importance of edification in the body of Christ:

Romans 15:2 "Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification."

We then find the following statements in Paul's letter to the Ephesians....

Ephesians 4:11 "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers". 

Why did God give these offices or gifts? Notice Ephesians 4:12 - "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."

Ephesians 4:29 "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear."

So what benefit comes when the church-body is "built-up" or "edified"? Dr. John MacArthur comments on what we read in Acts 9:31:

And so then, we are committed to edifying.  We meet together to edify.  You say, “But what happens with evangelism.  Well, how do we reach out if all we do is edify the saints?”  Well, it’s very easy to see the answer to that if you look at Acts 9:31.  Even if you don’t look at it, I’ll read it to you.  Acts 9:31 says this: “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria and were edified.”  All right.  The churches were doing what they should have been doing.  They were being edified or built up to maturity."

MacArthur then continues on....

"Now watch.  “And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were” what?  “Multiplied.”  You see, growth is a result of edification.  As the church is built up, it will reach out and evangelism will be a by-product."

What exactly were the Corinthians doing that was not edifying? What exactly is tongues in 1 Corinthians 14?
To answer these two questions, we will answer the second in order to arrive at an understanding of the first. A definition of the gift of tongues, as so understood from studying passages such as Acts 2; 8; 10; 19 and 1 Corinthians 12 & 14, refers to a supernatural ability to speak a previously unlearned language in instances of evangelization of unreached people groups. It appears that this particular gift's use ranges from extreme infrequency (for who is anyone to limit God) to total disuse as one goes further away from the apostolic era. 1 Corinthians 13:8 hints at this general pattern with respect to Biblical defined tongues.  As a general pattern, once the Gospel has sufficiently saturated a given people group, more typical methods are employed by God: such as Bible translation and missionaries that are trained to go to such areas. 

Now we know that the tongues of 1 Corinthians 14 is a previously unlearned actual language, rather than escatic speech, by what Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 14:10-11 "There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me." The term "barbarian" was used in the first century to refer to those who did not speak Greek. Corinth was a major cultural center of the ancient world that preserved and promoted Greek and Roman culture.1 

So with the gift of tongues so defined, what can we say was occurring at Corinth with respect to this gift? The Corinthians were attempting to use tongues in such a way as to promote themselves. If anything, they may had been trying to replicate what was the common pagan practice of ecstatic speech. Whatever the exact manner of their use of this gift of tongues, the Corinthian church's use of the gift was leading to a decline in the overall health of the church body.  

Can 1 Corinthians 14 be a proof text for "praying in tongues" or "second-blessing theology"?
This particular point cannot be avoided, since in today's contemporary church scene we find theologies promoting "praying in tongues" and "second-blessing". As I noted in yesterday's post, I was at one time in my early Christian walk involved with both Pentecostal and Charismatic expressions of the Christian faith. Many friends and pastors have and still are very dear to me. At times I suppose I tend to be more charitable towards Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians due to the many, many ways God uses them. With that said, it is important to judge our experience by God's word, rather than God's word by our experience. 

When we view the so-called "gift of tongues" practiced in both Pentecostal and Charismatic church bodies in light of the above discussion, we find a different sort of phenomena all-together. Pentecostal believers associate tongues as a form of prayer language; whilst Charismatic believers view "tongues" as an initiatory experience into the full-range of the miraculous gifts. 

These trends and interpretations of tongues is different from the tongues we see in the scripture, and thus, for this author at least, would suggest that whatever we may call the phenomenon it is not strictly speaking the Biblical gift of tongues. It would seem that these otherwise well-meaning Christians could be calling a "right-intentioned" practice by the wrong label. No one can argue that in many cases and in many-such churches, prayer and faith in God answering prayer is far more emphasized than in non-Pentecostal/Charismatic church bodies. 

With that said, we musn't confuse practical benefits with a theological stance that lacks insufficient scriptural support. 2  To suppose that Paul is talking of a different sort-of-tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 from what we see in Acts 2,8,10 and 14 is to unnecessarily divide the Bible's teaching on tongues.3 

Closing thoughts:
It is so important that we not miss the forest of 1 Corinthians 14 (namely, the need to be a blessing to others with our gifts) for the big trees in the chapter (tongues and other issues). Certainly we need to grasp what tongues is and how we need to understand its place in the Bible and our 21st century scene. With that said, Paul lays out principles for ensuring that we use the spiritual gifts to build-up others, which is why he expounds at length on correcting what were misuses of tongues. 


1. Noted commentator R.C.H Lenski comments:

"We also see that what Paul describes here refers to foreign languages. The speaker uses his 'voice' when he is speaking the language that is incomprehensible to Paul. The very term 'barbarian' settles the point regarding the voice that is used in speaking a foreign language and thus also in when a member of the church similarly uses his voice in speaking with tongues (foreign human languages).

2. To put it clearly, it would seem far less probable to see a genuine exercise of true Biblical tongues and its attendant gift of interpretation in today's world, given that God employs either more ordinary methods of propagating the Gospel or other spiritual gifts to achieve the Great Commission. Paul's insistence upon "praying with his spirit and mind" in 1 Corinthians 14:15 and the need to use our gifts to build-up others in 1 Corinthians 14:3,5,12,17 and 26 would appear to show the Pentecostal/Charismatic treatments of 1 Corinthians 14 to be in question.

3. To show how one must make the tongues of Acts and 1 Corinthians 14 distinct phenomena for the Pentecostal and Charismatic interpretation to work, two examples will be given from the literature. The "International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements" (Zondervan, page 786), notes in its discussion on tongues as "initatory evidence" for the Pentecostal experience of a "second-blessing": "At the same time, this individual dimension was not to be confused with the expression of the gift of tongues in corporate worship (1 Corinthians 14). Secondly, the Pentecostal theologian Guy P. Duffield in his volume: "Foundations of Pentecostal Theology", page 337, notes in a comment on "kinds of tongues" in 1 Corinthians 14:10-11: "This is literally "kinds of tongues" (Greek gene glosson). The term "kinds" doubtless refers to the fact that there are "new tongues" and "tongues of men and angels" (1 Corinthians 13:1). Some tongues are human languages, as on the Day of Pentecost (to show that the gospel was for all races and nations); some tongues are of heavenly origin (of angels, used for praise and prayer where the mind is superceded: 1 Corinthians 14:2; Rom. 8:26,27)." As can be seen in these two sources, the teaching on the gift of tongues becomes distinguished between the two main bodies of texts (Acts and 1 Corinthians 14). 

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