Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians is one of my most favorite chapters in the Bible. On the surface it is a boring list of rules for speaking in tongues in the infant Church. This phenomenon is not something that happens often these days, so why should we care? But scratch the surface and the chapter reveals a goldmine of instruction in the faith. The first sentence starts us off,
1 Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
Thus, love is the aim, that supernatural charity that Paul spoke about yesterday. Remember that supernatural charity (love as it is being used here) is when we love other out of our love for God. Notice what Paul says is the gift we should desire most … prophesy. We must note that here Paul is using “prophesy” not in the way as we might typically understand it – as in, “to predict the future”. Here prophesy means to testify, evangelize, preach and convert. The gift most readily given out by God and the one we should desire most is the gift to spread the Gospel. Why? Because that is the greatest way to show love to another person. Paul says it is OK to desire the more exotic supernatural gifts we should love first and God will give you the gifts he desires you to have.
Next, Paul tells us the purpose of Spiritual gifts:
26 What then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
Paul has made this first point before. All people have their role to play. Some are Apostles, some are teachers, some are teachers, some are healers, etc. He starts by making that point again here. Each person has something different to offer. Not every person has to speak in tongues; some will have hymns, some lessons, etc. But to what purpose?
All things, i.e. all the spiritual gifts, are to be used to build up or edify the Church. If you have a gift from God, it is to be used for this purpose. This is not what the Corinthians were doing. They were taking their ability to speak in tongues as a badge of honor. They had turned it in on themselves, saying, “look what I can do”. Paul rejects that. Gifts, any and all gifts, must be used to edify the Church.
But Paul goes further!
36 What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. 38 If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
Paul challenges the Corinthians. Although they were not using their gift to build up the Church they still had great love for Him and were praising the Lord. The people speaking in tongues clearly are filled with the Holy Spirit! So much so that they are routinely performing the miracle of speaking in tongues. But Paul rebukes them, basically asking them do you think that because you have the Holy Spirit that you are elevated up to some greater position? This is an important point. Having the Holy Spirit, faith, loving God and praising God is not enough. Your spiritual gifts must be used for edification – for building up the Church and evangelizing.
Then Paul makes his central point. If a person does have the Holy Spirit, “he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord”. The implications of this statement are mind blowing!
What Paul is writing to the Corinthians is the same as a “command of the Lord”. Think about that! What Paul says is the same as if Jesus himself tells you, “do this”. This is the level of authority Jesus gave the Apostles when he said, “as the Father sent me so I send you” and “he who hears you, hears me…”.
This implies many things. Jesus had the power to forgive sins, therefore the Apostles have the power to forgive sins. Jesus had the power to appoint Apostles to carry the message to the world, therefore the Apostles have the power to appoint successors, today we call them Bishops, to carry the message to the world. Jesus had the power to change the bread and wine into his Body and Blood and therefore the Apostles and their successors have the power to change the bread and wine.
But there is more…
Paul KNOWS that he is writing scripture. Since Paul knows that what he is writing to the Corinthians is “the same as a commandment of the Lord”, he knows what he is writing carries the same weight and teachings of Jesus. This means that God made it so a plain old fallible man could actually know when he is writing something that was revealed by God and all the faithful are bound to.
And there’s more…
The statement implies that if a person truly has the Holy Spirit, then they will recognize Paul’s authority. In other words, if the Holy Spirit is really in you then He will cause you to recognize who speaks for Jesus and that they have the authority to do so.
And there is still more!
1. Since there is only one God, and
2. since the Holy Spirit is God and Jesus is God, and
3. since the Apostles and their successors speak for Jesus
if it is truly the Holy Spirit speaking through someone, they will always teach the same things as the Apostles taught because the Holy Spirit cannot teach something different from Jesus. Paul says exactly that:
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
This is why it is so important to look to the Fathers of the Church, especially the Apostolic Fathers. They are the early converts in the first, second and third centuries. They recorded what the Apostles taught. Their writings are not scripture but they are informative of what the Holy Spirit and the Lord were teaching through the Apostles. That is what we too must believe, that is the Christian faith. Our faith today should be the same as the faith taught by the Apostles. To find the Church that Jesus established find the Church that teaches the same thing today that the Apostolic Fathers. If you’re interested in learning more about exactly what the fathers taught I highly recommend a book called, “The Father’s Know Best” by Jimmy Akin which summarizes their teaching by subject.