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871 1 Cor.14.1-12 The Love Principle in Action

1 Corinthians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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- We had a lady who used to come to church, but sadly, she passed away in 2015
- Her name was Maria. She was from Eastern Europe & I think she was Polish
- She would join us for prayer before the church service but she struggled with her limited knowledge of English
- So often, she would go off in her Polish language praying to God
- We all hadn’t a clue what she was praying but we understood that it was difficult for her having so little knowledge of the English language
- It could be said that Maria was speaking in tongues
- As far as we were concerned she may as well have been because it was all Greek to us – er, I mean, Polish
- When she would finish, a number of us said “amen” as an encouragement to her
- But the reality was that our minds were disengaged & she could have been saying something terrible for all we knew & we were saying “amen” to it
- This is the problem associated with tongue-speaking &, unfortunately, there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the Corinthian situation & what the apostle is actually trying to convey

1. The Corinthian Setting

- Tongue-speaking has been practised by other religions even before Christ came to the earth
Here the significance of the term “glossolalia,” or “speaking in tongues,” comes to the fore. “The gift of tongues and of their interpretation was not peculiar to the Christian Church, but was a repetition in it of a phrase common in ancient religions. The very phrase glossais lalein, ‘to speak with tongues,’ was not invented by the New Testament writers, but borrowed from ordinary speech.” -- H. Wayne House
- In a place called “Delphi”, a mere 200 klms from Corinth, the Pythia – the priestess – would sit on a tri-pod over a fissure in a rock & pronounce her oracles
- The whole exercise involves the god, Apollo, coming up out of the earth & taking over the woman
- She would get wound up & start speaking in tongues & in an ecstatic way
- Ecstasy was very much inter-related with speaking in tongues
- The definition of ecstasy can be helpful here
"an emotional or religious frenzy or trance-like state, originally one involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence.”
- It is the overwhelming feeling of excitement that carries a person away into the “twilight zone”
- We need to realise how far this is from the teaching of the NT
- Spirit & “spiritual worship” is not about the emotional experience or being carried away into a mystical type communion with God – this is paganism
- Having the Spirit is not about your worship or your worship practises because the Spirit is common to ALL Christians no matter what their spiritual experience
1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV
13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
- Communion with the Spirit is about walking in the Spirit & about engaging with the mind & dwelling on the word of God
- But there is more – the pagan way had to do with being taken over by the deity
- To the point where you & your mind disappears & the deity takes over
“To be filled by God entails relinquishing one’s own thoughts to make room for God” – Plato1
“The mind is evicted at the arrival of the divine Spirit, but when that departs, the mind returns to its tenancy” -- Philo
[tongue-speaking] in itself was not peculiar to Christianity: Greece had long experience of the utterances of the Pythian prophetess at Delphi and the enthusiastic invocations of the votaries of Dionysus. Hence Paul insists that it is not the phenomenon of “tongues” or prophesying in itself that gives evidence of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, but the actual content of the utterances. -- F. F. Bruce2
- Again, this is reinforced by
1 Corinthians 12:3 NASB95
3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
- The words which engage the mind makes known the S/spirit behind the content
- Content is the all important key, not ecstasy nor enthusiasm in worship
- Paul bases Christian worship & the revelatory gifts on the ability of the MIND to process the content
- Wayne House says...
The expression of the ecstatic state took various forms, such as gashing one’s flesh, dancing nude in a frenzy, and speaking in ecstatic utterance. The latter was the means whereby the devotees sought to have communion with the saving deity.-- H. Wayne House3
- It was all about getting yourself into this mystical state in order to commune with the deity – this is straight out of paganism but I hope you can see how dangerously close to this are some modern parallels
Corinth was experience-oriented and self-oriented. Mystery religions and other pagan cults were in great abundance, from which cults many of the members at the Corinthian church received their initial religious instruction. After being converted they had failed to free themselves from pagan attitudes and they confused the true work of the Spirit of God with the former pneumatic and ecstatic experiences of the pagan religions, especially the Dionysian mystery or the religion of Apollo. -- H. Wayne House4

2. Tongues-gift for the Church

- Having given you a brief background into the Corinthian way of life & the influence of paganism upon them, I hope you will be better equipped to read truly what the apostle is conveying in this passage
- Because you need to realise that he is trying to reach these people & some of the things he says are allusions to their old pagan way of life, not intending for the church to adopt these allusions
- He is trying to connect with them, with pagan allusions without endorsing those pagan ways
- But not knowing this, the modern Christian church has picked up on some of his language & his allusions & are repeating the very things he is actually trying to curb
- This will, hopefully, become clearer as we progress through chp. 14
- Now speaking in tongues was a gift that was used by the Spirit of God to minister God’s word to the church
- It is quiet clear that tongues were languages – at the very least, they are in the book of Acts
Acts 2:1–11 NASB95
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”
- The point of this was so that people of diverse languages could hear & understand the word of the Gospel
- Tongue-speaking was also a way – shown in the book of Acts – of how God used tongues – languages – as a sign that He had accepted that people-group
- So many people get caught up in the trees in the book of Acts, but have lost sight of the forest - its overall message & purpose
- People from different cultures & races thought that God was not interested in them
- The Jews thought that Gentiles, as they were, were un-acceptable to God
- We must remember the divide back then
- Jews were the chosen ones – others had buckleys chance of having what we know as a personal relationship with the living God
- Remember that passage I quoted to you when Peter reported to the Jerusalem Christians
- He was called to account by them & asked to explain himself for going, entering & eating in the home of an unclean Gentile
Acts 11:2–3 NASB95
2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
- He told them the story of his vision & being told by an angel to go to Cornelius’ home & that he was to speak to them the gospel
- Here is what happened at Cornelius’ home...
Acts 10:45–47 NASB95
45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”
- He goes to Jerusalem & the Jewish Christians there took issue with him about going to the home of a Gentile
- He reports to them what happened there
Acts 11:17–18 NASB95
17 “Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
- They accepted the truth of what God was now doing
- Gentiles did not have to become Jews, get circumcised, adopt the law, before they could be acceptable to God
- The ability to speak in other languages became a sign of God’s acceptance, not of an individual, but of that group
In the book of Acts, God was doing some unique, but not to be repeated, things that served to unite the church into one body of Christ
- Tongues became a sign that God had accepted that people-group
- It happened to the Samaritans (Acts 8), it happened to the Gentiles (Acts 10) & it even happened to those 12 disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19)
- Because even beginning with John the Baptist was not good enough
- One had to be in Christ & after Paul baptised these men they also spoke in tongues – for the purpose of showing that God had accepted that group
Acts 19:2–6 NASB95
2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.
- It shows that God had accepted them now they are in Christ
- Such a thing as this is no longer needed because now God has made it abundantly clear to all that anyone from any people-group, race, male or female who accepts Jesus as Lord & Saviour is welcome to Him
- What we learn from this is that tongues is not now a sign of your acceptance with God – your repentance, faith & baptism is now what activates the promise of God’s Spirit & His acceptance
- After Pentecost, however, God continued to use the gift of tongues / languages in an evangelistic setting
Because of the diversity of human languages, preachers received the ability to speak in tongues so that when they came to the inhabitants of India, they could use their own language to bring them God’s message. Again, by using the language of each people, they could proclaim the gospel to Persians or Scythians or Romans or Egyptians. But for anyone speaking in Corinth it was pointless to use the languages of the Scythians or Persians or Egyptians, since the Corinthians could not understand them. -- Theodoret of Cyrus (500 AD)
- A very interesting statement & that does stem from the fact that the apostle Paul insists that if tongue-speaking is going to happen in any church, there must be an interpreter
- So that the language can be translated into the common language of the church & be understood
- In our passage vs. 1-5 his point is that it is better to prophesy & greater is he who prophesies than he who speaks in a tongue – unless it is interpreted
- The thrust here is not on tongues as a prayer language or a personal thing between you & God – that is so beside the point!
- It is about the body of Christ & the importance of the clear & penetrating word of God
- Now just because he says in v.2 that the tongue-speaker talks to God, he is not, by this, making a point that tongues-speaking can be used for talking to God
- He is neither making this point for or against it – its just not his point
- What we must do is lock on to his main point
- His main point is that it is of no use to the body because no one understands
- Of course, the talk can only be to God because God is the only One who understands
- But Paul’s point all through chp. 14 is that the gift is for the body
- Again, we must not assume that in v.4 he is endorsing some personal edification by tongue-speaking – otherwise we again miss the point
1 Corinthians 14:4 NASB95
4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.
- I would be bold enough to say that this borders on sarcasm
- He is pointing out how out of sync personal edification is compared with the motive of love that concerns itself with the edification of others
- So with these first 5 verses, he is making clear that tongues only had value when it was used for the body
1 Corinthians 14:5 NASB95
5 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.
1 Corinthians 14:13 NASB95
13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
- The thrust of this is that tongues are great if you have an interpreter
- If not, prophesy is king
Paul trenchantly attacks the individualism and egocentric horizons which assume that corporate worship is simply about “God and me,” rather than “God and all of us.” -- Anthony C. Thiselton5

3. Intelligible Language Is a Must

- Sounds played in a particular key or order convey meaning
- The importance of clarity is necessary for us to understand, pick up & to identify the message or what is happening
Sounds may make a racket, but when they are used, they are used to convey meaning
Play – last post; Brisbane Lions; Tigerland
- Paul mentions the bugle that sounds the war cry & the charge into battle
- I tried to get “the charge of the light brigade” but the sound was really poor
- But we can identify each of those tunes by the different sounds and arrangements they make
- They are familiar to us & we understand them & their meaning
1 Corinthians 14:9 NASB95
9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
- He uses a similar illustration of pointlessness in chp. 9
1 Corinthians 9:26 NASB95
26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
- Speaking into the air or beating the air expresses a fruitlessness & a pointlessness to the whole exercise
- Paul speaks of the foreigner here too
- A foreigner who can’t understand your language will not be able to communicate with you
I received a call at 2.00 am in the morning in 1985 from a person from France. He was calling his relative but had the wrong number. Ros and I were hunting through the phone book trying to find his relative’s number & we were having a great time as far as the novelty of this was concerned. I’d never spoken with a French person who himself could only speak French so it was a crazy experience. For 40 minutes we were laughing away at trying to understand each other Fortunately, there were enough similarities in words for us to find his relative for him & pass on the number to him
- I could handle that for novelty sake but I couldn’t do it again because we struggled to get anywhere
- This message in chp. 12-14 is what the modern church must to come to terms with
- For a number of reasons I do not believe that this gift has its use in the western church today
- But whatever you believe, the teaching of Scripture here shows that tongues had a specific purpose for the body of Christ
- The Christian church is a body & we are to relate to one another in the way we relate to Christ
- The message here on tongue-speaking makes clear that Paul is not making a point that this is for one’s personal enrichment
- The point is that it was to be used for the body
- It was to help build up the body
- That is, for the purpose of building up the body to be like Jesus, to respond like Jesus – in short, that the church would be imitating Jesus
"The goal of corporate worship is not a personal thrill, but the building up of the Body of Christ" -- Anthony C. Thiselton
1 David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 638–639.
2 F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit, (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 1977), 260.
3 H. Wayne House, “Tongues and the Mystery Religions of Corinth,” Bibliotheca Sacra 140 (1983): 147–148.
4 H. Wayne House, “Tongues and the Mystery Religions of Corinth,” Bibliotheca Sacra 140 (1983): 147–148.
5 Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1116–1117.
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