Desiring the Better Gift of Prophecy
Paul wrote a number of letters to the church in the city of Corinth, which he helped plant during his second missionary journey. From the two letters we have canonized in the Bible, we learn that the Corinthian church was troubled by its spiritual immaturity.
God’s design for each Christian and every local church is sanctification (Jn 17:17; Rom 15:16; 1 Thess 4:3, 7; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2). This is the exclusive work of God the Spirit, wielding the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, the Word of truth (Eph 6:17; 2 Tim 2:15). Jesus prayed that His people would be sanctified by the truth (Jn 17:17). The Corinthians were strongly under the influence of the world’s ideas and practices, and the Apostle Paul addressed this in his letters.
Paul wrote of this conflict, world vs. Word, as he commenced authorship of 1 Corinthians. The bad behavior exhibited by the church members warranted Paul’s chastening words of correction. His hope and intent were for their spiritual growth unto maturity. Divisiveness, sexual immorality, divorce, eating and sacrifice to idols, abuse of Christian liberty, disorderly behavior in gatherings for worship, lack of love as motivation for Christian life and practice, and trouble believing in the resurrection from the dead were all problems dealt with in 1 Corinthians.
In Paul’s argument for the right motive and exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12–14), he addressed the deficient areas of practice by the Corinthian church members. At the center of their bad attitudes and behaviors was the lack of love in their motivation (1 Cor 13). Spiritual gifts were a point of contention (1 Cor 12), and love for one another was the remedy.
Paul explained that God had so ordered the body of Christ in such a way that the Spirit endowed each member with certain designated gifts. These spiritual gifts were to be employed for the building up of the body, and love was to be the motivation for edification (Eph 4:12, 16). All the gifts are from God, so all are important — the greatest to the least. The world honors in one direction, but Christ’s church operates differently. The least gifts should hold greater honor, so that unity and equality are achieved. Still, the better gifts should be desired by the collective whole.
Order and orderliness were also necessary as certain spiritual gifts were causing chaos in worship gatherings. Speaking in tongues by some was simply out of place in the proper ordering of the gathering. Worship services reflected the Greco-Roman pagan gatherings that often turned to frenzied commotion and confusion. Paul brought correction to this unfruitful behavior in 1 Corinthians 14.
Pursuing love, along with the orderly employment of spiritual gifts that edify the whole congregation, was Paul’s solution. Of first order in the ranks of edification was plain speaking of prophecy, or the clear preaching of the Word. Nothing benefits Christ’s church, gathered for worship, more than Bible exposition by the Holy Spirit appointed elders (Acts 20:28), who are apt to teach (1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:2).
One must read 1 Corinthians 14 with a view to this orderliness. The primary benefit is collective edification, which Paul repeatedly states in the chapter. Christians, by God’s grace afforded to them, should be growing in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18). It is the Spirit of God who is our Teacher of sound doctrine and proper practices (Jn 14:26; 1 Tim 4:6; Titus 1:9; 2:1).
Speaking in tongues was causing disorder, and we surmise that Paul’s prohibition of women speaking at the worship gatherings, in this case, was linked to their culpability in the frenzied disorder (1 Cor 14:34–36). Paul explained that the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues was for the benefit of the individual, who had the gift to pray in this manner to God, but it was not edifying to the church congregation. Preaching built up the body, while speaking in tongues was causing divisions because no one else could understand what was being said. An exception was made in the case of an interpreter being present.
We must remember that the early church did not have the canon of Scripture in its completed form, as the church does, today. We have God’s full revelation to us in the 66 books of the Bible. For this reason, we preach the whole counsel of God when we reference what God the Spirit inspired for chosen writers to pen (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20–21). These were closely tied to the ministry of the prophets and apostles. The Bible is what we have, and the Bible is what the church needs.
Those who report that they are speaking in tongues, today, inform us that they have new, fresh revelations from God, thus denying the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Like the Roman Catholics, who add doctrine and practice by way of tradition, those who claim new revelation are adding new and authoritative teaching to the Bible, which the Bible itself prohibits. Scripture alone is the authority that regulates both Christian life practice and orderly worship. It is wise for Christians to know their Bibles that all may pass judgment on what is preached in the local church (1 Cor 14:29).
The supernatural working of God, in the midst of His people, should never be denied. God is speaking to His people, today, but whether His voice is audible or inaudible, it is always in direct connection to the already revealed Word of truth, the Bible. Therefore, every claim, every teaching, every expression is worship services can be scrutinized by its alignment to the canon of Word of God.
Christians, today, are in a wonderful era because we have both the Spirit of God and the Word of God at work within us. Each one has an intimate personal relationship, which means we all have 24–7–365 access to the indwelling Spirit. Praying in the heavenly language of the Bible is a sign to unbelievers that we are believers in Jesus. As God’s Word finds its home in the Christian’s mind and heart, it becomes more and more evident in our spontaneous utterances.
Let us therefore be ecstatic in uttering the revelation of God, the Bible, first in prophecy, that is, in the basic work of the prophets of old, which was the preaching of the Word. Next, let us be ecstatic in our prayers, by praying with the revelation given to us all by God, that is, praying the words of the Bible that in our orderly worship services, both the church member and unbelieving visitor may be edified and amazed that God is surely in our midst.
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 21, 2022