1 Corinthians 14:1-12 Edify

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 18 Oct 2009


1Co 14:1-3  Διώκετε τὴν ἀγάπην· ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ πνευματικά, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε.  2  ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ, ἀλλὰ τῷ Θεῷ· οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει, πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστήρια·  3  ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ οἰκοδομὴν καὶ παράκλησιν καὶ παραμυθίαν.


What? Didn’t you understand that? I was just reading the first three verses of 1 Cor 14 in Greek. Socrates said that anybody who didn’t understand Greek was a barbarian, so now you know what you are!


Well, chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians discusses the place of prophecy and tongues-speaking in the church, and, although it was listed in the roster of spiritual gifts in chapter 12, I have been waiting until we got to chapter 14 to broach this subject which is controversial in modern Reformed circles.


In this first sermon on chapter 14, I want to emphasize that the passage emphasizes, however. The emphasis of chapter 14 is that we should NOT emphasize the spiritual gift of tongues/languages, so I’m not planning to go into depth on this spiritual gift today.


1. Keep pursuing the love,

but keep being zealous about the spiritual gifts – especially in order that you might prophesy.

            2. For the one who is making utterance in a language

                 is making utterance not to men, but rather to God,

                        for no one hears, but he is uttering mysteries in spirit.

            3. But the one who prophesies to men

                 makes utterance of upbuilding and exhortation and comfort.

                        4. The one who is making utterance in a language is building himself up,

            but the one who is prophesying is building up the church.

                        5. Now, it is my wish for all of y’all to make utterance in languages,

            but rather in order that you might be prophesying,

            and greater is the one who prophecies than the one who makes utterance in languages

                        unless he is interpreting in order that the church might receive upbuilding.


                        6. And, at this time, brothers, if I happened to come to you making utterance in languages,

            what advantage will I bring you unless I happened to make an utterance to you either
                        by way of revelation

                                    or by way of knowledge

                                    or by way of prophecy

                                    or by way of instruction?


                        7. Likewise the inanimate things that give off sound,

                                    whether a wind instrument or a string instrument,

                        if they do not happen to give off a distinction in the notes,

            how will what is piped or what is strummed be recognized?

                        8. For also if a bugle gives off an unclear sound,

            who is going to prepare himself for battle?


                        9. Thus also concerning your language, if you don’t give out a meaningful word,

            how will what is uttered be recognized, for you will be making utterances into thin air.

                                    10. So many kinds of [vocal] sounds might be encountered in the world,

                                    and no one is soundless.

                        11. If therefore, I don’t know the gist of that sound,

                                    I will be barbaric to the one making utterance,

                                    and the one making utterance to me will seem barbaric.

                                    12. Thus also will you appear.

Now since you are zealots of spiritual things,

            let it be toward the buildup of the church that y’all keep seeking in order to abound.


I)       3 COMMANDS (vs.1 & 12)

A)    “Keep pursuing/following after the love” described in ch. 13

1.      The self-sacrificing love that lays down its life for the well-being of others, is long-suffering, kind, not jealous or boastful, not puffed up or rude or selfish, not irritable, does not think of bad, but rejoices together in the truth, contains, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

2.      Don’t let up. It’s not something you can check off the list and forget. Keep chasing this kind of love down by seeking it from Jesus.

B)    “Keep being zealous for/desire the spiritual gifts” of ch. 12, esp. prophecy

1.      As we have seen in chapter 13, the spiritual gifts listed in chapter 12 of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healings, mercy, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation, and administration are all temporary. But just because you have disposable tools doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. We should maintain zeal for these spiritual gifts and use them while we can, yet keep God’s love the top priority because His love will not pass away.

2.      One of these gifts is highlighted as particularly desirable in chapter 14 – prophecy.

3.      As I have mentioned earlier, the basic meaning of prophecy is to “show forth” the words of God to men. It is centered on proclaiming Christ and includes those of the class who wrote scripture (Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah) which have ceased, as well as those who were not entrusted with writing scripture (Silas, Niger, Lucius, Philipp’s 4 daughters - Acts 13:1, 15:32, 21:9). Prophets in this latter category may exist today and tend to be, as Calvin put it, gifted at “interpreting” the Bible and “applying” the Bible to people’s lives.

4.      We’ve already looked at some ways to be zealous about prophecy, including Supporting missionaries, Encourage those in teaching roles in the church, Having Bible study times in your home or office for your own family and for other people as well, so that the teaching of God’s word can go forward, and Sharpening your own ability to handle God’s word through study and practice.

C)    v.12 – “Keep seeking/strive/try to edify the church” as per ch. 14

1.      This is really the main point of chapter 14 – “Organize yourselves so as to edify/build up the church”

II)    CONTRAST (vs. 2-5) – Paul shows by a contrast in the use of two speech-related gifts how to use this system of prioritizing the upbuilding of the church.

A)    Tongues/language use that is not loving/zealous, or edifying (v.2)

1.      Speaking to God instead of man

2.      Speaking which no one can hear or understand

3.      Mysterious, spiritual speech

4.      As v.4 says, it edifies the speaker and noone else

B)    Prophetic speech which is loving, zealous, and edifying (v.3)

1.      By contrast, prophecy is “to men” not to God

2.      It is spoken to be heard

3.      And it is practical in building up/edification - strengthening, exhorting/encouragement – to remove sluggishness, and comfort/consolation – to remove sadness.

4.      v. 4 tells us that Prophecy edifies the church.

C)    Talk of tongues may raise more questions than it answers right now, so let me lay out three views that godly people hold. We may not all agree on which one is right, but trying on these three views and seeing which one seems to be most consistent may help clear some confusion:

1.      Many people believe that tongues was a special gift for the startup of the New Testament church and no longer exists today.

(a)    In this case, the information on tongues would not be considered very relevant, only the principle that our speech should be edifying to the church.

(b)   People who hold this position point to the fact that all the false religions in the world have practitioners who experience ecstatic utterances, so speaking in unknown languages is not proof of a divine connection with the true and living God.

(c)    It is also pointed out that much of the practice of tongues-speaking in churches today is done in violation of the principles laid out in this chapter. (I remember going to a holiness church meeting in Alabama where everybody was yelling “LaLaLa” at the top of their voice simultaneously. When I pointed out to one of them that 1 Cor. 14 says that only two or three should speak and not all at once, I just got a blank stare.)

(d)   Furthermore much of modern-day tongues-speaking has been proved a sham by knowledgeable linguists, such as the seminary student who quoted a passage from the New Testament in Greek during a Pentecostal service and was “interpreted” as saying something totally different.

(e)    I would comment, however, that malpractice of a gift, doesn’t prove the gift to have ceased, and nowhere does the Bible explicitly say that it has ceased, only that it will cease when perfection comes.

2.      Another view on this gift of tongues is that it is a supernaturally-aided ability with foreign languages.

(a)    The emphasis upon this gift in the book of Corinthians more than any other book of the Bible could be explained by the fact that Corinth was a major port city with a cosmopolitan population of Asians, African, and Europeans, due to its central location in the Mediterranean basin and its access to two major bays. There would have been many people with different mother tongues trying to communicate with each other in the process of trade and as some were saved, there may have been different language-speakers in the church.

(b)   People who hold this view point out that the context of its use in Bible and other Greek literature appears to support the position that tongues-speaking is not gibberish but a real language spoken by men (cf. 13:1).

(c)    The story of the Apostles preaching in all those different languages at Pentecost so that the proselytes from all the surrounding countries heard them in their own language can be construed to support this view (although others say that the miracle occurred in the hearing rather than in the speaking).

(d)   It is also argued that since speaking in tongues cannot edify other people unless it is interpreted (as vs. 5, 6, and 11 intimate), then the speaker himself cannot be edified as v.4 states unless the speaker himself knows the language he is speaking, thus being able to understand and edify himself but not others because they don’t know his native tongue.

(e)    I believe that linguistics are an important gift and I have encountered multiple missionary stories where the ability to communicate the Gospel without having studied the audience’s language was supernaturally given, but most of my friends who communicate the Gospel in foreign languages have had to learn the language the hard way through years of study and practice.

(f)    This position that tongues is merely foreign language acquisition explains some things, but does not explain other phrases in this chapter, such as it being spoken to God not man, edifying self and not others, that it is a spiritual gift, that it involves prayer where the mind is unfruitful (v.14), and that it would lead unbelievers to conclude that you are insane (v.23).

3.      The third view on tongues that I wish to lay out is that it is a private prayer language in which the practitioner’s speech is disconnected from his intellect and he has no idea what he’s uttering.

(a)    Proponents of this view say that even if it sounds like repeating meaningless syllables and bears no resemblance to a real language, it is still a spiritual language that expresses intimacy with God, makes prayer more productive, and provides comfort to the speaker.

(b)   I have heard the testimony of a number of Christians who have had this kind of ecstatic experience and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity.

(c)    One application of the principles of this chapter might be for such prayer sessions to be observed in private rather than in worship services with other people, although not many seem to observe this.

(d)   There are statements, however, in v. 5 and vs. 26-28 that indicate this is not just used for personal prayer but rather that it is used in a public speaking context to edify the church.

(e)    We are also told at the end of this chapter not to forbid speaking in tongues.

4.      Although I have never had it happen to me, I believe that the gift of tongues/language has not ceased and that the Holy Spirit may manifest it as an unexpected utterance in a foreign language while praying or it may be manifested in the aid of the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of the Gospel to speakers of other languages either by natural means or by supernatural means. However, I believe that it is a much-abused gift and that it is more rare than most proponents would care to admit.

5.      The point of Paul’s message, however, is to highlight the importance of loving and edifying the church with this comparison that shows that prophecy edifies more than tongues does and therefore tongues should not be played up as very important.



A)    Speaker (v.6)

1.      Recall introduction where the verses were read in Greek. Did it do you any good? Not unless you knew the language. What about when the translation was read in English?

2.      Intelligibility is a fundamental component of edifying speech.

3.      At the end of v.6, some of the other spiritual gifts related to speech are mentioned - revelation, knowledge, prophecy, and teaching – which are indeed edifying to the church.

4.      This revelation may refer to the unique gift Paul had as a writer of holy scripture. In that case, it would no longer be in effect to add anything to the Bible. Or it could refer to the act of God in putting a thought on your mind that you then speak forth in prophecy.

B)    Woodwind/String (v.7)

1.      Demonstrate by fumbling while playing guitar and ask if people can identify the song.

2.      This second hypothetical situation of a flute/pipe/woodwind or stringed instrument/harp also illustrates the importance of clear communication to be able to edify.

3.      I was in Panera one morning meeting with Daniel Gensch last year and suddenly I recognized the strains of Delius’ Florida Suite coming from the speakers. I inherited a CD of that symphony from my Grandmother who lived in Florida, and I love that piece of music and I had never heard anyone else play it before. The sound was distinct, and it just made my morning to hear it in Panera. (I think Dan thought that was kinda weird, though!)

4.      Likewise, a fitting word, spoken in a way that is easily recognized and understood can also make someone’s day.

5.      Prov. 25:11-13  “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a network of silver.  As an ear-ring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, So is a wise reprof upon an obedient ear.  As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, So is a faithful messenger to them that send him; For he refreshes the soul of his masters.”

C)    Bugle (v.8)

1.      Demonstrate by making an uncertain/indistinct/unclear sound on the trumpet. Ask people to identify whether this is the call to wake up, the call to eat, the call to charge, or the call to go to bed.

2.      Most of the occurances of the word “trumpet/bugle” and “battle” in the New Testament are speaking of the end times. When God has that trumpet blown at the end of time, do you think He will make it unmistakeably clear or not? Is God a God of uncertain/indistinct/unclear communication? No. Neither should we be.

D)    In verses 9-11, Paul brings the comparison home to our own speech: “Like it is with instruments… so also it is with you”



A)    Give a meaningful word/intelligible/clear/easy to understand (v.9), else you waste your breath.

1.      Don’t major on tongues.

2.      “Pastoral Letter to the churches and members of the PCA adopted by the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. [1975] Life in the Spirit begins with regeneration[8]. The first manifestation of this life is the believer's calling on the name of the Lord for salvation[9]. Assurance of salvation is not based on any experience, but on the Word of God that promises eternal life to all who believe[10]. This assurance is to be cultivated by the continual use of the means of grace[11]
     “It seems evident that the tongues in Acts 2 were foreign languages known to the hearers there present. It is more difficult, however, to resolve the question of the exact nature of the tongues mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. It is also difficult to determine with certainty the relationship of the modern tongues phenomenon to the New Testament experience. The General Assembly suggests, however, that:
     1. Any view of the tongues as experienced in our time which conceives of it an experience by which revelation is received from God is contrary to the finalized character of revelation in Scripture;
     2. Any view of tongues which sees this phenomenon as an essential sign of the baptism of the Spirit is contradictory to Scripture; and
     3. Any practice of the tongues phenomenon in any age which causes dissension and division within the body of Christ or diverts the church from its mission is contrary to the purpose of the Spirit's gifts…
     “The General Assembly would also urge a spirit of forebearance among those holding differing views regarding the spiritual gifts as they are experienced today[27]
     “Finally, the General Assembly would speak a word of caution against an obsession with signs and miraculous manifestations which is not indicative of a healthy church, but of the opposite[24]...”

3.      Avoid other unclear, meaningless language, such as:

(a)    Insider Cue’s which purposefully exclude some hearers – inside jokes.

(b)   Cliché’s or vocabulary which might unintentionally exclude people:

(i)     In our book study at my house last week, we got to talking about Ben starting up an ID club on campus. After a while one of the students asked, “What is ID?” We then realized that our abbreviation for the Intelligent Design theory of origins was excluding someone from the conversation!

(ii)   In another context, if you lead prayer in the worship service, it takes some adjustment from prayer offered in private because we have to think through how to pray in the worship service in such a way that everyone can understand and agree with what we’re praying.

(c)    Culture – Consider that the things you are involved in and excited about may be different from the person you are talking to, so if they’re not into debate or football or theology or whatever you’re into, seek to engage them in what they are excited about. One of our members was just telling me last week that he was studying up on philosophy in order to relate better to his brother who loves philosophy. Way to go.

B)    Be ready to encounter another language (v.10) without looking like a barbarian (v.11)

1.      v.10 talks about there being so many different languages or vocal sounds in the world - Wycliffe Bible translators has estimated there are over 6,000 languages, each one with their own way of expressing meaning,

2.      So you will inevitably run into a speaker of another language. What will you do when that occurs? You can apply this same principle of edification using interpretation of some kind.

3.      In Acts 28, Paul had an unplanned encounter with a group of barbarians (the Greeks called everyone who was not a Greek a “barbarian”!) after being shipwrecked on the island of Malta.

4.      You may also want to work ahead in the process of learning a foreign language so that you can communicate the Gospel in that language without looking like a barbarian to them!


C)    Seek to build up the church so the church abounds/excels (returning to the 3rd command v.12)

1.      10:24, 10:23, and 13:5 mentioned the vice of “seeking one’s own;”
now we have the antithesis in v.12: “seek to build up the church”

2.      Note that the goal is not for “you” (singular) as an individual to “excel/abound” but rather that “you” (plural), the church together, excel.

3.      Understand that you are part of a community. It’s not just me and God, especially not in corporate worship. Everything we do in worship must not only glorify God but also build community.

4.      The characteristics of prophesy in v.3 are instructive in how to “build up the church” through our clear speech:

(a)    Edify/build up/be constructive. Word literally means “build a house”

(i)     Be Purposeful in speech – Carelessness  doesn’t work to build a good building or community.

(ii)   How is the church built up? Through evangelism and discipleship.

(iii)  1 Pet. 2:5 “Like living stones, you are being built up to be a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

(b)   Exhort/encourage – Call people alongside you to hold them accountable in their walk with God (Heb 12:5), Speak to one another from the scriptures and with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, (1Ti 4:13; Col 3:16), and “bear with the word of exhortation” when you are on the receiving end!  (Heb 13:22)

(c)    Comfort/console – Weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15), Consider how to bring some relief to their suffering, Strengthen the feeble ones (Isa 35:3)by reminding them our glorious hope in heaven which was obtained for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus our savior.