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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Many people, from many nationalities, are reading these weekly Bible lessons; and I thank God for the opportunity to explain God’s Word to those interested in seeking Truth. But I earnestly pray that each one of you discovers the Bible, as well as these Bible lessons, are meant to be diligently studied and not just read. This command comes from the Lord
(1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Timothy 2:15).
(1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Timothy 2:15).
Did you know the Lord Himself expected His disciples to carefully examine the Word of God and to be prepared for His return: “So be prepared, because you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 – NLT).
Now, generally speaking, the media, pop-culture, and far too many Americans treat God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible as irrelevant. But God and His Word will always be relevant no matter the age. Concerning prophecy the Bible says: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do (NLT - 2Timothy 3:16-17).
The word all includes Bible prophecy. The Bible names nearly 2,500 prophecies.
2,000 prophecies have already been fulfilled to the letter, i.e. without one single error. The 500 prophecies yet to be fulfilled give us some information about future events; only God knows for certain when they will come about. For those of you who are scientifically minded, the prophecies that have been fulfilled were independent of one another, and the odds for all of them being fulfilled by chance, without error, is less than one in 102000 (that is 1 with 2,000 zeros written after it).
“Why is so much of the Bible dedicated to prophecy?” The best answer is, “It directs the attention of God’s chosen people and humanity in general to Jesus Christ” - For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10).
Previously fulfilled prophecies lends authority and integrity to the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God, and the Messianic prophecies fulfilled by the birth, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth authenticate His claim to be the Son of God. Bible prophecy is the most powerful witness to the divinity of Christ.
Introduction to 1 Corinthians 14
This week Paul’s continues his guidelines for gathered worship which actually began at 11:1. But more importantly this is a continuation of the subject Paul commenced in 13:1-13. Although it’s true the Holy Spirit gifted all Believers with certain spiritual gifts to be utilized in the building-up of the Body of Christ, Paul recently taught these saints it was far better to seek the greater gifts. The one gift of the Spirit of more value than all the others, which could be obtained by all, and which should be desired by all was love.
In chapter 14 Paul continues the subject of love with special reference given to prophecy. He said prophesying was the most valuable of the Spirit’s gifts (v1). Paul sought to correct the Corinthian’s flawed opinion in which they viewed speaking in tongues (various foreign languages) as the most prized gift. It wasn’t because they put this gift to use in edifying the church, but because it gave the speaker great importance, especially in the eyes of the pagans, the unsaved in their midst.
Bible Study Tools
In explaining Grace Age truths, it’s been my habit to utilize multiple Bible translations while researching the Scriptures and in the course of writing these Bible lessons for you. Your personal Bible is a matter of preference. But there are approximately 100 Bibles in print today and many of these fall short or do not meet the criteria of a good study Bible. Many of the newer versions have corrupted God’s Word; there’s no other way of putting it, so I recommend the KJV, the NKJV, or the NASB as good study Bibles because they are the most accurate. I use both the KJV and the NASB as my personal Bibles, flipping back and forth between each one as I read and study Scripture. Neither book is perfect; no Bible is, which is why I use multiple Bibles to get er’ done.
Case in point: Paul wrote most of the N.T. and I find it remarkable that in all his letters nowhere else does he mention the gift of tongues but in 1 Corinthians, and he referred to these saints as “babes in Christ,” “carnal ”and“ still needing spiritual milk.” If you’ll read through the KJV account, the term “unknown tongue” appears six times, but in my NASB translation the added (italicized) word “unknown” isn’t used once. The translators decided the word “unknown” wasn’t found in the original Greek texts, so they didn’t include it in the NASB. That’s unfortunate - not only do I disagree with their assessment, but dropping the word unknown tends to alter the sense of the text.
I did some digging of my own and discovered there were 47 King James Version translators, giving freely of their time and talents to the careful study of the New Testament Greek. Most of them gave their lives to the study of this subject. The majority of these men felt they were supplying the word “unknown” here to complete a legitimate omission of an implied word. As I stated earlier, even the best translations contain errors, but the same error six times, I think not. These 47 learned men were in agreement. They believed strongly the Corinthian Believers spoke in unknown tongues, not an unknown foreign language mind you, but incoherent “noise” and this passage from Scripture is meant to communicate this truth.
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 14:1
Prophecy a Superior Gift
1 Corinthians 14
1: Pursue (what) love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
The word prophesy in the Greek language is Propheteuo (pronounced: prof-ate-yoo’-o), Verb, and it means: to prophesy, to be a prophet, speak forth by divine inspirations, to utter or declare a thing which can only be known by divine revelation. In essence, prophesying is to “speak forth” or declare the divine will, to interpret the purposes of God, to make known in any way the Truth of God which is designed to influence people. Many people misunderstand the gift of prophecy to be the ability to predict future events. While knowing something about the future may sometimes have been an aspect of this gift (Acts 21:10-11), it was primarily a gift of proclamation (forth-telling) not prediction (fore-telling).
Paul had received the gift of tongues. We know this from his statement in verse 18: I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all… Because of this, the Holy Spirit used him mightily to preach the Gospel of God’s Grace to these people in Corinth, a cosmopolitan city, and to many others throughout the Roman Empire. Some of the Believers in Corinth had been blessed with this same gift. They could have put this gift to good use in “building-up” the members of this church, but instead they chose not to include the languages of those present. We know this is true because at no time does Paul say the people in the church rejoiced because, “This man is speaking our language,” and there’s no testimony being offered saying, “I was encouraged by his revelation.”
Instead, Paul had this to say, “For one who speaks in a (unknown) tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries (v2).
Again, please note what the Bible does not say. It doesn’t say, “Only a few understood,” it clearly says, “no one understands.” Not one person in the church understood what was being said. This whole passage confirms the fact that the tongues spoken at the Corinthian church were unknown to those folks in attendance and in some cases to the speaker himself. In other words no good purpose was served; the end result was confusion in the body and the speaker was edified. This is why Paul wrote: One who speaks in a (unknown) tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church (v4).
To see how this is supposed to work, let’s review some Scripture. Please turn to Acts 2. The gift of tongues first appears at Pentecost and there’s no question the tongues spoken on this feast day were in fact foreign languages and not unknown languages. Let’s begin at verse 4 where it says, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
Skip down to verses 5-6 where the Apostle Luke writes, “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.” And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own (what) language.
By my count 15 different nationalities are named in the text and every single person heard the apostles speaking in their own language. Later, when the uncircumcised Gentiles at the home of Cornelius also received the gift of the Holy Spirit, upon believing, they also received the gift of tongues for Peter said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning” –“beginning” = the day of Pentecost. (Acts 11:15-17)
Evidently, these first Gentiles to receive Christ also spoke with known tongues. But now, at Corinth, we find people speaking with “unknown tongues.” Paul’s saying tongue speaking does not edify the church only prophesying does this (14:4). He goes on to say if any man speaks in an unknown tongue, that it should be by two at the most three and each in turn, and one must interpret (v27).
3: But one who prophesies speaks to men for (what) edification and exhortation and consolation.
In contrast to the gift of tongues, the gift of prophecy is directed to men. It is God speaking supernaturally through Believers to Believers. But here’s the thing, He who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation (comfort). Paul wants these Corinthians (and us) to understand the gift of prophecy is positive in nature; these items were absent in their assembly without a doubt because they were missing the key element necessary for all this to work and that was love.
Edification means “building-up” it is a constructive term and not a destructive term. It speaks of an individual receiving spiritual instruction, a word of prophecy for example, to build them up in the Lord and not negative comments and/or actions that tear them down.
Exhortation means encouragement. It’s like the pre-game speech your football coach gives you before the game begins, which is meant to rally the team behind one central theme; go out and perform as one unit; just as you were trained to do, and win one for the gripper, or in this case, the Lord. A word of prophecy will always encourage someone, not discourage him or her.
Comfort has the idea of consoling and strengthening someone who is hurting emotionally or physically. It doesn’t mean to say you sit next to them and cry along with them, but it does mean to say you wrap your loving arms around the individual with the intent of demonstrating you are there to help them bear the load. A word of prophecy will console and strengthen an individual not weaken them further.
We’ve already examined verse 4, so we’re moving on to verse 5.
5: Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy (see verse 1); and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.
If you’re thinking we’ve already read this before, we have. Seven times in this chapter our Apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of prophesying over tongues. It gets repetitive but the Corinthians need to hear it!
In addition to the Corinthians inadequate use of the gift of tongues, Paul’s repeated comments were without a doubt due to the fact the Scriptures and the revelation of the mystery were still incomplete at this time. Remember, it will be quite a while before the Scriptures come together to be what we know as the Bible today. During this transition period the gift of prophecy gave God’s church, Believers, exactly what they needed re: God’s Truths and His program for the church.
Now I want to compare verse 5 with 1 Corinthians 12:30-31: All do not have gifts of healing, do they? All do not speak with tongues (foreign languages), do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts.
We’re here because I wanted you to see what Paul isn’t saying. He’s not saying the gift of tongues isn’t beneficial, he’s saying the gift of prophecy is superior to the gift of tongues. In addition, he’s asserting its proper relationship to other spiritual gifts and setting some practical guidelines for its use. He’s judgment for this is sound, since some of the Believers were only interested in this gift for egotistical reasons.
Paul asserts this principle with the following words:
Greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues – Why? Because the person who prophesies edifies the entire church; the focus is not on them but on God’s message this is why their gift is deemed greater. In Corinth, a person speaking in unknown tongues tended to lean toward the dramatic bringing the focus of the worship service upon themselves. But Paul said the gift of prophesying was superior. Nothing was more important than the revelation of God, given to a Believer to be shared with other Believers, which means a person’s spiritual gift was not to be estimated by their gift but by its usefulness to the body.
Unless he interprets – The person speaking in tongues may have an important truth, but no matter how important the communication, the message is useless to the congregation unless he explains it in a way they can understand so that the church may receive edifying. Verse 27 indicates the person who spoke in foreign languages usually had the gift of interpreting, but sometimes this office was performed by others.
But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in foreign tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?
Here Paul’s saying, “If I should come to you speaking in foreign tongues (only), i.e. without an interpreter, it would be of no use to you unless someone interpreted it for you.” Again, we know Paul possessed the gift of tongues from his statement in verse 18, but he did not flaunt this incredible power. Paul merely communicated the gospel to those folks in foreign lands who needed to hear it but did not understand his native tongue.
What will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?
Paul has already explained the problem with uninterpreted tongues is no one understands and therefore no one benefits, since they don’t receive God’s communication. Paul wants these Corinthians (and us) to know the real value, profit, in this is in the receiving of the special revelation from God through words of knowledge, prophecy, and the only remaining active gift, teaching (see 1 Corinthians 13:8). If what goes on during the worship service isn’t profitable for all those in attendance, what’s the point? If I attended worship service and they had a visitor from a foreign land preach the sermon, in his native tongue, without an interpreter, who benefits from that? What’s the point?
Thus, Paul emphasizes the gift of prophesying repetitively. Another way of saying this is, “Put your ministry where your mouth is.” To illustrate this, Paul gives three analogies that are supposed to correct the egotistical behavior in this church re: speaking in unknown tongues. First, Paul uses the metaphor of musical instruments. In order to be understood or appreciated, all musical instruments must play a discernible melody.
7: Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?
The gift of tongues without interpretation is like a musical instrument making indistinct sounds; there is no discernible melody. Like the young boy in band practicing his tuba. Notes are being played… sort of, but there’s no melody. Paul’s saying someone has to supply some kind of understanding with this and that requires an interpreter. Else, the foreign language being spoken evaporates into the air edifying no one.
The second metaphor comes from the battlefield. Bugle calls were used to sound charge, retreat, and various other commands to specific units during combat:
8: For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
There were different note patterns or sounds which the bugler played and these alerted the soldiers as to the general’s commands on the battlefield. Imagine the chaos if the bugler played an unclear note pattern or an indistinct sound. The soldiers on the battlefield wouldn’t know how to respond… the resulting confusion could be disastrous.
The third metaphor explains that foreign languages remain unintelligible to those who have not learned them. This reminds me of algebra, back in the day. When I was introduced to this math subject for the first time, I’m sorry to say, my teacher knew as much about the subject as I did; you can imagine how this worked out. When she spoke, using her “algebra language” in her befuddled way, I was as lost as lost can be – we were not communicating. This is exactly what Paul is saying in verse 9:
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.
My algebra teacher was speaking her “algebra language” into the air, meaning she wasn’t assisting me at all. The same can be said for the Corinthians who chose to speak in an unknown tongue to their congregation for they too were speaking into the air edifying no one but themselves.
10: There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning.
There are many kinds of languages in the world and not all are human. Did you know whales and dolphins communicate with sounds, clicks, and song? With some dolphin species and some Humpback whales, individuals can be identified on the base notes throughout their life? When we hear dolphins and Humpback whales “speak,” it sounds like random sound to us, but they don’t listen to the sound itself they hear information that is riding on the sound waves. Because of this it is believed that all large ocean mammals are able to speak the same language and then have their own unique communication. There is evidence which supports this from scientific study. This serves to demonstrate Paul’s meaning: and no kind is without meaning.
11: If then I do not know the meaning of the language (If I have no idea what the person is saying), I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.
Déjà Vu. We’ve been here before… Paul’s saying if there’s a lack of understanding between the speaker and the listener, no communication is taking place. If no communication is taking place, no one benefits. So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification (the building-up) of the (entire) church (v12). I’m picking up the somewhat subtle hint of well-intended Pauline sarcasm in this verse. We know the Corinthians were zealous of spiritual gifts, or those gifts that edified the individual, but here Paul exhorts them seek to abound for the edification of the church. This isn’t merely a comment from Paul it’s actually a command to seek those gifts that will build-up the Body of Christ and in particular the gift of prophecy.
Let’s go to verse 13:
13: Therefore let one who speaks in a (unknown) tongue pray that he may interpret.
Here Paul points to the way of giving the interpretation of the tongue (foreign language) without actually speaking forth the tongue itself. He’s suggesting the tongue’s speaker pray that he may interpret the message for all. Then, the indistinct sound spoken of in verse 14:8 need never be made public, yet the entire church is edified by the interpretation of the tongue (foreign language). If the speaker is unable to interpret or if there is no interpreter present, then the speaker is to remain silent in the church (v28).
14: For if I pray in a (unknown) tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome (or the conclusion) then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.
As I’ve pointed out before, the Corinthians were not that far removed from their previous bad habits and this included their pagan worship, Paul is emphasizing here the worship of God goes not only through one’s heart but one’s mind (Luke 10:27). Prayer is done in the spirit and in the mind, as is singing. Meaningless prayer is nothing more than rambling with one’s mind tuned out; this is not God-honoring. Neither is singing that focuses more on one’s feelings than the message of the words being sung. Paul’s saying the mind must be engaged in worship throughout the service so it can be edified. This is God’s desire. God wants the mind of every individual to have a fruitful experience in singing and prayer, and in this instance, in the hearts of those who spoke in tongues. Thus, an interpreter was needed. Otherwise, those who were assembled together with the one speaking in tongues would not being able to understand the message.
18-19: I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a (unknown) tongue.
Again, Paul’s not undermining the gift of tongues for he himself possessed this gift, but he is saying there’s a distinct purpose for the gift and that is to edify the body during corporate worship. To do this the message being spoken needs to be interpreted so it can be understood. Ten thousand words, spoken without an interpreter amount to a lot of “hot air,” in other words, if no one is around to explain what was said. Thus, the Corinthians needed to start valuing prophecy and teaching more than speaking in tongues.
(To be continued)
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