Study of First Corinthians 14

A Verse by Verse Study of the Abuse of Spiritual Gifts


I.         Introduction and Background (14:1; 13:8-13)


A.      Dealing with the Book of 1 Corinthians, which was written to a “carnal” and “baby” church located in Corinth, in Greece. These Christians were immature, and unable to handle strong meat (1 Cor 3:1-3)

B.       This letter was written to correct things in the church that were out of control. Examples include:


1.        Their love of the world

2.        The Lord's Supper

3.        Marriage Problems

4.        Fornication in the church

5.        Christians living and acting just like the world

6.        Their love for gifts, instead of the giver


C.       There are two issues being dealt with in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 - 14: Charity and Spiritual Gifts.


1.        Charity is supreme, and abides forever - it is an eternal “gift” of God and is rarely promoted.

2.        Spiritual gifts are temporary


D.      Three specific “gifts” are listed as being only temporary (13:8-12)


1.        Prophecy - this gift will fail. If a prophecy fails, then it did not come from God (Dt 18:19-22). Prophecy is the speaking of the word of God without “source”, meaning, being a mouthpiece for God, and not just quoting from what God had already said in the Bible. It is in contrast with “readings” and preaching of the already written word. When prophecies start failing, then God is finished with prophecies as a gift.

2.        Tongues - this gift will cease. Tongues according to Acts 2 are spoken languages that are unknown to the speaker, but clearly understood by specific hearers, because the words would be in their language, not the speaker's.

3.        Knowledge - the gift of knowledge will vanish away - knowledge itself will not vanish away. He is referring to “revelations” from God in the form of dreams and visions that give a person supernatural knowledge about spiritual things before the Bible was complete.


E.       Something that is called “perfect” was said to be “coming” which would do away with the need of the above three “gifts.” Either it is Jesus, or His word.


1.        What is the “that” that is perfect?


a.        Paul says that he currently is seeing through a “glass darkly” (9-12). He did not then possess perfection. If he is referring to Christ Jesus, then all the Christian can ever do is hope to see the same way!

b.       Paul says that he only knows in part (13:9). Even the Apostle Paul, in his day, lacked a completed revelation of truth. If this is true today, then we need more Bible! Here comes the Mormons, and the JW's, and the Moslems, etc!

c.        The “that” has to be perfect (13:10). There are only two perfect things: God, and His word (Matt 5:48; Ps 119:160; John 17:17)

d.       Both “thats” are neuter. The first “that” is referring to the things that are incomplete, and they are not alive, or beings. The second "that" is also neuter - referring however to something that IS complete.

e.        The “that which is perfect” must be referring to the completed word of God, which in Paul’s day was not yet finished.


2.        When is “it” coming?


a.        Evidently, Paul did NOT have access to “that which is perfect

b.       Paul did not know WHEN it was coming either, but only knew that on that day, he would fully understand truth.


F.       If Paul was only waiting for Christ to come, being the perfect thing, then the Bible is not finished even in our day, and is subject to additional revelations, and books, and doctrines (which the Catholics, and every other cult would love to be true) - yet we are told that we cannot add ANY more revelations to that which was presented in the LAST Bible book written, Revelation (Rev 22:18,19). This one single concept can either close the door on Mormons, and Catholic traditions, or it can open it wide open!!!


II.       First Corinthians Chapter 14 Outline


A.      Spiritual gifts are God-given abilities (helps) to Christians to be able to minister to (1 Cor 12:23-26):


1.        Other Christians in a church group

2.        The lost


B.       'Prophecy' is the Superior Gift, not Tongues (1 Cor 14:1)


1.        Why? This is the reason for the entire chapter. The Corinthian Christians had not understood this very well.

2.        These carnal Christians had reversed the order of the importance of the spiritual gifts, and made tongues the most important thing to have

3.        To them, personal edification was the greatest good!


C.       What are Tongues?


1.        What Charismatics believe.


a.        Tongues are different for believers than on the day of Pentecost.

b.       An angelic language that "no one knows" but God, and that it is only meant for personal edification and pleasure

c.        The sign that a believer has been "baptized with the Holy Spirit" and therefore are truly saved - make it a sign of salvation.


2.        But, according to the Bible:


a.        They are languages that are unknown to the speaker - they are unlearned languages (Cf Acts 2:6; 4:13,14)

b.       They are miraculous - they had to be a supernatural ability - a miracle

c.        They have a three-fold purpose:


1)       To rebuke unbelieving Jews

2)       To preach the Gospel in all languages of the Gentiles

3)       To prove that Gentiles are saved just as thoroughly as the Jews

d.       The Apostle Paul spoke in tongues probably more than anybody (14:18)

e.        Many first century Christians spoke with the supernatural gift of other languages (Mk 16:16-20).

f.         But not all Christians could speak with tongues – it was to be on a NEED basis – not a personal desire, or personal edification basis!


3.        They can be, are, and will be counterfeited by:


a.        Determination - just gibberish - psychologically produced

b.       Demon possession - demonically produced (Rev 13:11-15; 2Cor 11:13-15; Mt 7:21-23; 24:11,24; 2Thes 2:8-10)


D.      What are ‘Unknown Tongues’?


1.        Here in 1 Corinthians 14, the unknown tongues are unknown because the speakers DON'T WANT anyone interpreting what they are saying - only interested in the "feeling" they get, and the psychological uplift from the "experience." This chapter is God's attempt to correct this!

2.        These ‘tongues’ are gibberish to everyone – even to God! They are not heavenly utterances, or languages of ANY sort – they are unknown!


E.       The Problems of Speaking in an Unknown Tongue (14:2-14):


1.        You are speaking unto God (or at least you think you are), and not unto people (14:2). The problem with this is that in Acts 2, they did not speak unto God, but unto lost sinners!

2.        You are speaking in mysteries (14:3,4) - not making any sense. This was not the case in Acts 2!

3.        You are edifying only yourself (14:4). This is not to say that this is what we SHOULD be doing - but, that if you are speaking in tongues alone, you are wasting your time! Peter would deny vehemently that that was what he was doing in Acts 2!

4.        Is nice to do (selfishly), but not important (14:5). If all a person does is promote something that is mysterious and unknown, it is worthless!!!

5.        Tongues has no use unless it has interpretation (14:6) - unless it is being translated for ALL to hear - we are to be open books to the world! What we say MUST be open, and real, and with clear purpose to the world around us - it is called our "conversation"

6.        Speaking in an unknown tongue has no profit to others (14:6)

7.        Tongues is only an uncertain noise (14:7) to those who can't understand it

8.        Tongues is like speaking into the air (14:9). That is not the work of a Christian - they are to deal with the hearts of people! Those that believe they are speaking to God in a "heavenly" language (which is nowhere in the Scripture), are really just speaking into the "AIR!" Not even GOD knows what you are saying! Truly an "unknown" tongue!

9.        Unknown Tongues are only Babel (confusion) all over again, with people being only barbaric to one another (14:10,11; 14:33)

10.     To speak in tongues requires an interpreter, so that others (including yourself) can be truly edified or ministered to (14:13). Therefore, if a person is speaking to themselves in tongues, alone, they are either abusing the gift that God gave them, or seeking the gift, no matter the giver (which can end up being the devil)!


F.       The Concept of Being Driven by the Spirit, and by the spirit (14:14-17)


1.        If a person prays in an unknown tongue, their spirit would be doing the praying, but without any understanding on the part of the person who is supposed to be praying. How does that “edify” myself, or anybody else (Cf 14:4)? It is only selfishness - the fruit of carnality.

2.        Notice that we are dealing with the “spirit” of the person, and not the Spirit of God! The spirit of a person can be influenced by a multitude of other “spirits” (2 Tim 1:7; 1 Cor 2:12).

3.        To pray with the spirit means for the Christian to pray with the understanding as well (14:15) - not to be “out of the loop” - that would be demonic. The spirit here is the MIND of the Christian, not the Holy Spirit.

4.        To sing with the spirit means to sing with the understanding, and so that people understand what you are singing (14:5).

5.        This is compared to an act of my spirit “blessing” or giving thanks (16), but again, nobody understanding anything going on. If a person is going to give thanks, what good is it if no one understands what you are doing?

6.        It is possible to pray, sing, and bless in another tongue, miraculously, but it would be no good, if neither you, nor your audience could understand what was going on (14:17)!

7.        Just being driven by the spirit is not “spiritual” because different spirits can work in the life of a Christian (Cf 1 John 4:1-3; 2 Cor 11:13-15; 1Thes 5:20,21; 1Cor 14:29)


G.       The Importance of Prophecy (14:2-14)


1.        What is Prophecy?


a.        Prophecy speaks what God said, usually before being written down as Scripture (like with Agabus in Acts 11:28; 21:10,11; and with the prophets of the Old Testament). They first SPOKE (prophesied), and then WROTE (2 Peter 1:16-21).

b.       A Prophet is a Spokesman for God (Ex 4:16, 7:1) - speaks in the place of God. That is why they must be 100% accurate in what they say for God.

c.        Prophecy is the gift of knowing what God wants said at a certain time and place - what he would say if He were here.

d.       Prophecy is speaking so that you can be understood by people. It could be referred to as speaking what God said, with a KNOWN tongue - or a tongue that both you, and the people around you know.

e.        In the Old and New Testament times, a prophet would speak for God supernaturally, and was believed because of the miracles they could do, and the future they could foretell.

f.         The prophets were declaring the words of God, and were adding to the Bible.

g.       After the completion of the Book of Revelation, all revelations were completed, and the job of prophesying passed on to the work of just PREACHING what is written. No more adding to the Scriptures (Rev 22:18,19)

h.       Prophets today are: Preachers, Teachers, and Soul-winners!


2.        The Purpose of Prophecy


a.        Prophecy speaks to the edification, exhortation and comfort of everyone

b.       Prophecy primarily edifies other Christians, and not your self

c.        Gets people to repent and worship God (14:24,25)


3.        The Priority of Prophecy


a.        Prophecy is better than speaking in tongues - because tongues can still be easily misunderstood when interpreted

b.       Prophecy is part of the superior gifts of proclaiming revelations, knowledge, and doctrine

c.        Prophecy is distinct and clear, whereas, tongues is mysterious by nature (1 Cor 14:2).


H.      The Proper Procedure for Speaking in Tongues (14:14-19,27,28)


1.        There are 3 things the Corinthians were doing that needed correction:


a.        Don’t speak in an unknown tongue unless you have an interpreter. If there is no interpreter, then just keep quiet - God is not in the event.

b.       Don’t pray in an unknown tongue AT ALL - If the person cannot understand what they are praying, then it is not beneficial at all.

c.        Don’t sing in an unknown tongue unless you have an interpreter.


2.        In ALL instances, the person should understand what they are saying, as well as the general audience. If they could not understand what they were saying, then they should not speak! Instead speak to yourself and to God – in a KNOWN language!

3.        Paul spoke in tongues more than all of the Corinthian church combined - up to 50,000 people - this was because he preached to far more people in so many different languages.

4.        Paul didn’t waste any time speaking in tongues in church, unless it was directed at somebody (an unbeliever), and unless there was an interpreter. He would rather just say “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3)

5.        If a person is going to speak in tongues in a church, they are to speak in order, with an arranged interpreter. Not spontaneously!!!

6.        No woman was to speak in tongues in church - ever (14:34,35; 1 Tim 2:7-15).


I.         The True Purpose of Tongues (14:20-25) It was a “sign” to someone else - an unbelieving Jew, not a Christian!


1.        To provoke Israel to turn to Christ by seeing the fulfillment of prophecy (Acts 2; Joel 2; Isa 28:11,12; Dt 28:49)

2.        Tongues was one of the gifts that were meant to confirm the word of God that Christ had spoken, and then the Apostles (Mark 16:17-20)

3.        Tongues allowed the person to preach the word of God to people in another language than your own (Acts 2; 1 Cor 14:6-14)

4.        An unknown tongues does nobody any good, at all!


J.        How the Corinthian Christians Viewed Tongues (14:26)


1.        They had made "their kind of  tongues" the pre-eminent gift (loved it more than preaching). It is easy to understand why - preaching rebukes sin, but tongues does nothing but put on a show, and make you "feel good."

2.        They had used it only for self edification, and not for preaching the Gospel - which is our cross, and is NOT comfortable, like tongues is!

3.        They had extended the “gift” to the areas of praying and singing and conversational blessing in church - which it was not intended for!

4.        They had become blind to the needs of the unsaved, and to the unlearned in their congregations – very selfish and self-serving!

5.        They had not matured in their Christian lives beyond the “childish” things of tongues and special revelations (1 Cor 13:11) - things that "puffed them up with pride” instead of burdened their hearts to serve!

6.        They had forgotten about the need of witnessing to the Jews, and allowing the things that happen in their lives to provoke the Jews to faith in Christ (Rom 11:11-15)

7.        They had made their church services a “circus” of specialty side-shows, all pointing out their special gifts, instead of serving and ministering to one another, and to the lost (14:26)

8.        People got out of control, all in the name of “spiritual leadings” - Things had gotten out of order (14:40)

9.        They got to thinking that God was doing some great thing, just out from among them (14:36). They thought they were "above" the rest of the churches - this is the result of self-edification and pride (8:1)


K.      The Proper Procedure for Prophesying (14:27-35)


Remember that Prophesying, and Speaking in an Unknown Tongue are linked to proclaiming God’s word


1.        If there is a prophet who is to speak


a.        Then let him gather with anyone else who also is to speak, and then proceed to declare what God has revealed to him

b.       The other prophets are to sit back and examine what the man says - just as the general audience is to be doing (Acts 17:10-12)

c.        Be courteous to each other, and allow the other person to finish speaking before starting the next person.

d.       No prophet was allowed to go out of control (14:32,33) because God would NEVER author such behaviour (ie, quacking like a duck).


2.        Concerning women, and their gifts


a.        God gives women spiritual gifts just as He does men (Acts 2:17,18; 21:8,9)

b.       Those spiritual gifts have their limits


1)       No woman is permitted to speak as a prophet, or using their gift of tongues in the church, even if they have the gift of prophecy (like Philip’s daughters), or the gift of tongues (1 Tim 2:8-15).

2)       It is a “shame” for a woman to speak (preach) in the church (in the place of God, like a man does, 14:35).

3)       If women became pastors, or pulpit preachers, they would be violating the command to “be under obedience,” and to not to be in authority in the Christian church (Cf 1 Tim 2:11-14)

4)       Christian women are to use their gifts primarily in the home, as a witness to the lost, and to enable them, with their families to honour God - but not to take control of a church (Tit 2:3,5; John 4:29; Gen 2:18)!


c.        If a Christian woman wants to “learn” something that is being taught, they are not permitted to interrupt the church service, but are to wait, and ask their husbands at home.


1)       This forces the husband, and the father to be responsible for the instruction of truth in their homes - to not leave it to the church

2)       It also keeps order in the church (1 Cor 11:2-5,16)

3)       They are allowed to ask questions in church (Acts 16:13; 17:12), but they must first learn to communicate with their husbands and fathers at home!


L.       The Final Rebuke (14:36-40)


This chapter has not been comforting to the Corinthians - it has been a rebuke! There is no comfort in any of this chapter!


1.        You Corinthians have no “corner” on God’s market of the gifts, and of revelations, and of the word of God.

2.        The true test of a person’s “spirituality” is whether they respond and submit to the WRITTEN words of Scripture or not. If they do not, then they do not have the Spirit of Christ (14:37)!

3.        If a person wants to remain ignorant about these facts and truths, then leave him or her alone - let them be ignorant - but the rest are to get right, and go on for the Lord (14:38)!

4.        Christians are to love, and covet (earnestly desire) to prophesy - to preach clearly what God said!

5.        Christians are not to forbid the speaking in tongues, as long as they are according to the rules laid out here. If someone attempts to speak out of order, or out of control, then you are to FORBID them - block them!

6.        The over-riding rule is, that everything must be done decently and in order (14:40). Order is established not by emotions, or feelings, or democratic opinions, but upon the written words of God!


III.     Conclusions


A.      People turn tongues into prophesying, and mystical events, and spiritual demonstrations, instead of for what it was intended.

B.       Tongues were in use by both Jew and Gentile during the first century, but died out when the Scriptures were completed

C.       Prophesying ended also at the time of the completion of the Bible. All that is left is for the Christian to preach what is already written (2 Tim 4:1-2).

D.      If tongues are still in power, then why do ALL missionaries have to learn the language of the people to whom they preach?