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The Sunday Sermon – 1 Corinthians 14:5-19

30/09/2012

Tongues and Edification!

1st Corinthians 14:5-19

I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. 6Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? 7And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. 10There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. 11Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. 12Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 14For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? 17For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

 

In our last study we seen that when Paul speaks of ‘tongues’ he is referring to actual languages, and we examined five reasons why this is the Biblical viewpoint, and why it is, and has been, the viewpoint of the Reformed faith throughout the centuries.  Now, we can begin to look at Paul’s teaching on this gift in the church at Corinth, and we may attempt to apply that teaching to our own situation today.  Paul tells us that the gift of tongues has two main purposes in the church, tongues are given for EDIFICATION, and for EVANGELISM.  It is the first of these two purposes that we will examine in this study.  Edification, we have seen, is the up-building, the instruction, the education of the believer in the ways of the Lord.  To edify the church, is to nurture the church.  In a church in Verona stands, or rather sits, a wooden statue of St. Zeno, an ancient bishop, with knees so absurdly undersized that there is no lap on which even a new born infant could be held. Spurgeon, speaking of this statue, remarked that Zeno was not the first nor the last member of the clergy who has been utterly incapable of being a nursing father to the church.  Spurgeon said, “It would be good if all ministers had a heavenly instinct for the nourishing and bringing up of the Lord’s little ones but this quality is sadly lacking.”  It is the task of all of us to edify the church – that is to edify each other!  Calvin points out that in verse 2 Paul says that a man who speaks in a tongue speaks to God, but that here in verse 4 he speaks to himself, in that he edifies himself only.  Calvin is of the opinion that this fact in itself is enough to restrict the tongue-speaker, for everything that is to be done in the worship of the church is to be for the benefit of all![i]

Edification – Product of our Worship.

Verse 3-5.  The primary purpose of all our worship is to glorify God!  Psalm 22:23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. Psalm 86:12 I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore. But worship also produce an effect upon our lives.  That effect is edification.  Paul describes it here in three simple statements.  Worship should produce:-

  1. a.      Edification!  In other words, all of our worship should teach and instruct us, in the doctrines of the faith, in the ways of God.   Psalm 86:11 Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.   In other words, edifying worship will encourage us to grow in the faith!  Amplified Bible, “To grow in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness and happiness.”
  2. Exhortation!  Our worship should encourage us, and keep the pressure upon us to run the Christian race.  We should be built up in our faith by our meetings.  Jude 1:20-21 But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
  3. c.        Comfort!  Our worship of the Lord should bring us comfort.  Now, by comfort, I don’t mean that when we leave church we should feel that our consciences have been all soothed and that our sins have been glossed over!  The church is not a place to give palliative care to half dead saints!  You don’t come to church to be told that you are all right, when in fact you are all wrong!  No, true comfort lies in reassurance that our sins have been forgiven!  That we have a hope for eternity, that we have daily help as the Lord indwells us every day of life.  We gain great comfort from the knowledge that the Lord will return again!  Writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul remarked in 1 Thes. 5:11  Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.  1 Thes. 5:14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.

So, our worship will need to contain these elements.  The worship in Corinth, with its emphasis on ‘speaking in tongues’ was the direct opposite to true worship.  Allow me to give a modern example of this Corinthian error.  In a certain church a man asked the Session if he could set up a ‘nurture group’ to help the younger members of the church to develop spiritually, in other words, to be edified.  The idea seemed a reasonable one, although at first the Session thought that perhaps this man was not the right person to lead such a group, as he was already over committed, and was a fairly recent member of the church.  However, the man persisted, and got his way.  Some time afterwards he announced that he would be stating his lessons by teaching the young people on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, as matters developed, his first lesson on this subject was entitled, “The Two-fold Use of the Gift of Tongues” and was utterly riddled with error!  As in Corinth, the confusion and division that this caused brought about the end of that little group, and within a few months many of the young people had gone elsewhere, either seeking more sensationalism, or just so confused that they went back into the world.  As in Corinth, how would people be edified, and exhorted and comforted, in a meeting where the emphasis was on getting your ‘unknown tongue’ heard above everyone else’s?   So Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?

 

Edification – Precision in our Worship!

Now Paul uses three examples to show us how the primacy of edification in church meetings must never be clouded over or disguised by other things that take place in worship services.  He uses the example of:-

a)      Musical Instruments!  V7.  Paul argues that if a band of musical instruments were to play totally out of tune, who would want to listen?  If there were no distinction in the sounds, how would the person listening know what is being played?  It would be a pointless performance and no one would want to listen!  (Of course there are some notable exceptions to that rule!  I simply cannot understand the modern attraction to some of the so-called ‘pop’ music of today, with it thudding bass, its indistinct lyrics and its loud and discordant music.  What is even worse is when some so-called Gospel Music is presented ion that idiom.  I recall being in attendance at a ‘Gospel Concert’ at a girls’ school in Bangor a number of years ago.  I was there in a ‘legal’ capacity. And with me was a colleague who was unconverted.  The band who were playing at the concert were a ‘Christian Rock Band,’ and they swayed and bounced and sang through the evening with great energy indeed.  I thought that this was an ideal opportunity to witness to my unconverted friend, so after the concert I asked him what he thought of the event.  “Great,” he said, “I thought it was great to see all those kids up at the front dancing and enjoying themselves.”  “But what about the words, what about the message?”  I asked.  “What message,” he replied.  “Sure, I couldn’t make out any of the words!”  I have to admit, that neither could I!) Our worship will only be clear and edifying if it is done in HARMONY one with another!

b)      Soldiers in a battle!  V8-9 Here is Paul’s next illustration.  What if a group of soldiers were in a battle, and the bugler didn’t give the correct signal on his bugle?  The army wouldn’t know whether they were to retreat or to advance or what to do!  Do you know, there are quite a few uncertain trumpeters in the visible church today!  There are many pulpits where the only sound the comes from the preacher or the minister is the sound of indecision! They are uncertain about the Scriptures, uncertain about salvation, uncertain about separation, uncertain about heaven…  And many of these uncertain preachers today profess to be evangelicals!  Is it any wonder that the church is failing to rouse itself for the great battle that the devil is waging against the Lord’s people! Edification in worship must be PASSIONATE and ROUSING!

c)      Foreign Languages! V10-11. This is Paul’s third illustration, and with this he drives the point home to the Corinthians, and he shows us exactly the true nature of ‘speaking in tongues’ in the Bible.  What is the point of a church service that no one can understand!  Even in English, our services must be comprehensible in order to be edifying!  I sometimes here people talking about some great preacher, and they will say, “He’s very deep, you know.”  What they really mean is that nobody can understand him!  What is point of spending hours in the study in preparation, then expending all the energy that preaching requires if nobody in the building understands a word you are talking about?   Edification in worship must be UNDERSTANDABLE and SIMPLE!

So Paul makes a plea for languages to be translated, if they are used in the church!  He says in 1 Cor. 14:13-14 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

 

Edification – Pervasive in our Worship!

You will have heard it said today that worship is something you do with your heart.  Yes, but you cannot simply disengage your mind when you come to worship God!  Edification, exhortation and comfort will require thought on the part of the worshipper!    Paul tells us elsewhere, Philip. 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.  So if we apply this teaching of Paul’s edification in worship it will affect:-

  1. Our proclamation!  Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.  Our proclamation of God’s truth and God’s message to men must be understandable, and must be edifying to the believer.  So this will affect the teaching and the preaching of the church.
  2. b.      Our prayer!  Again, hear what Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.  It is important that even our prayers are edifying!  Some prayers are anything but!  Now there is here a seeming contradiction with verse 4.  We have already noted that when a person speaks in tongues in the Biblical sense, the Lord revealed to that person, inwardly, exactly what he was saying.  This is the view of Hodge and others.  Yet here, in reference to prayer, we are told that ‘the understanding is unfruitful.’  At first glance it would seem this verse would be indicating that the speaker did NOT actually know what he was saying in his ‘unknown tongue’, – his understanding is unfruitful.  Hodge admits that this is the most difficult verse in the whole chapter.  He points out however that the apparent contradiction is simply explained.  My understanding is unfruitful TO OTHERS!  In other words, I will understand what I pray, in my God-given language, but, because others will not understand, my prayer will be unfruitful, and thus unedifying to the rest of the church![ii]   This interpretation of the verse would be in accordance with the rendering of the Amplified Bible, which states, “For if I pray in an unknown tongue my spirit (by the Holy Spirit within me) prays, but my mind is unproductive – BEARS NO FRUIT AND HELPS NOBODY.” Thus, 1 Cor. 14:16-17 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
  3. c.       Our praise!  Even our hymns must edify the church!  1 Cor. 14:15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.   Paul sings inwardly in the heart and he sings also with the voice!  But WHAT we sing is important.  In the darkest ages of the church, whether when she was beset by the darkness of Rome, or lost in the fog of liberal Protestantism, the church had her psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  When the pulpits were silenced, or when the preachers’ messages were found wanting, the people were kept close to God because of the enduring qualities of the works of the great hymnwriters.  If our hymns contain false doctrine, the people will remember false doctrine.  If our hymns are theologically sound and spiritually uplifting, then our people will learn correct doctrine and be encouraged in their Christian walk.  People learn what they sing!  In Colossians, Paul says, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  Col. 3:16

Let me illustrate what I consider to be a hymn[iii] (by Josiah Conder, 1789-1855) which will edify the church and teach us truth:

My Lord I did not choose you,

For that could never be,

This heart would still refuse you,

Had you not chosen me:

You took the sin that stained me,

You cleansed and made me new;

For you of old ordained me

That I should live to you.

 

Unless your grace had called me,

And taught my opening mind,

The world would have enthralled me,

To heavenly glories blind:

My heart knows none above you,

For you I long, I thirst,

And know that if I love you,

That you have loved me first.

 

  1. Our participation!  Paul now says in 1 Cor. 14:16-17 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.   Edification is something which must affect every single person in the church, whether young or old, educated or illiterate.  That is the real challenge for the preacher and the church which would reach all of its members with the full counsel of God.

 

The conclusion to which Paul comes is that excess ‘speaking in tongues’ (the Corinthian heresy,) is plainly not edifying, and the Corinthians must consider their ways, and engage in worship which will build up the church, not just build up their own ego!  Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:18-19 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.


[i]               Calvin, John.                         Commentary on 1st Corinthians,                       Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1960, Pg 286-287

[ii]               Hodge, Charles,                    1st Corinthians, Geneva Commentary,             Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1959 Pg 288

[iii]              Conder Josiah                       Praise! Hymnbook                                               Praise Trust, Darlington, 2000 No. 691

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