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CHAPTER 13 BEING a parenthesis, showing the surpassing excellence of divine love, the first verse of 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 is connected with the last verse of 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. Love is to be pursued as the thing of all importance, for where it is, spiritual gifts may safely be desired. Where love reigns, they will be desired not for personal advancement or distinction, but for the profit and blessing of all. Hence the gift of prophecy is given the first place. It is amongst the best gifts which may be coveted earnestly.
The Apostle at once proceeds to contrast the gift of prophecy with the gift of tongues, which evidently had great attractions in the estimation of the Corinthian believers, being so obviously supernatural in its origin. He does not cast any doubt upon this particular spiritual manifestation. The “tongues” to which he alluded, were the genuine manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit, and under the control of the speaker. The Apostle spoke with tongues himself in larger measure than any of the Corinthians, but he did so in a controlled and restrained way. Verses 1 Corinthians 14:6, 1 Corinthians 14:15, 1 Corinthians 14:18-19 show this. The point is, that even when the gift of tongues is at its best, it is of less profit than the gift of prophecy.
When the Corinthian saints came together in assembly before the Lord, He was to be their Director in all things, and all their activities were to be in the energy of the Spirit of God. This chapter furnishes us with many directions from the Lord—directions of a general character, which are binding at all times. Whether on a given occasion this or that brother should take any audible part, and if they should, what part, is a matter which must be settled in reference to the Lord’s will when the occasion comes. But when they do take part, they must do so in subjection to the general instructions given by the Lord in this chapter, acting as men of a sound mind enlightened by the word of the Lord. It may be remembered how Paul speaks to Timothy of God having given us the spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” This is exemplified in the chapter before us. 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 shows us the Spirit of power in the assembly; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 the spirit of love; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 the spirit of a sound mind.
Spiritual activities in the assembly may be Godward or manward. Activities Godward are mentioned in verses 1 Corinthians 14:14-17—praying, singing, giving of thanks. But in the main the chapter is concerned with what is manward—prophecy, tongues, doctrine, interpretation. These gifts are to be exercised for the benefit of others, and the test the Apostle applies is that of general edification. If the exercise of the gift edifies it is of profit. If it does not edify it is to no profit.
According to verse 1 Corinthians 14:3 the end to be attained is threefold. The simple meaning of edification is building up. The foundation is laid when the Gospel is received; but upon the foundation an immense deal has to be built up, so that edification may rightly continue throughout a long Christian life. Exhortation, or encouragement, follows. We pass through a hostile world, subject to all kinds of adverse influences. Hence we continually need what will stir us up to spiritual vigour. Then thirdly, comfort, or consolation is a continuous need in the assembly; for there are always those present who are face to face with sorrow and trouble and disappointment, and who need that which will lift them above their sorrows. We might summarize this threefold end as, building up, stirring up, and lifting up. Prophecy leads to the attainment of these three things.
Prophecy is not only the foretelling of future events. It includes the forth-telling of God’s mind and message. In the apostolic days, before the written New Testament Scriptures were in circulation, there was prophecy of an inspired sort, such as is claimed by the Apostle Paul for himself and others in 1 Corinthians 2:13. We have not that today, nor do we need it, having the inspired Scriptures in our hands. Prophecy of an uninspired sort we may still have, for we may still find men gifted of God to open up to us, from the inspired Scriptures, the mind of God and His message for any given moment, and when we find it we do well to be very thankful for it. Such ministry of the Word of God does indeed build up, and stir up, and lift up.
As to the gift of tongues; its exercise is not forbidden, but it is definitely and strictly regulated in this chapter. The regulations laid down are of much importance. They make it certain that this gift if present, and exercised, shall be used for profit. Further, we have no hesitation in saying that when and where the gift is claimed, and yet those exercising it systematically ignore these divinely given regulations, a doubt is at once raised in any sound mind as to the genuineness of the alleged gift.
Even apart from this, however, these regulations are full of profit for us, for what is laid down must obviously apply in other directions also. For an instance of what we mean take verses 1 Corinthians 14:6-9. The immediate point of these verses is that mere vocal sounds are of no value. What is uttered by the voice must have some meaning to those who listen. It must be intelligible. Is that only of importance in connection with the gift of tongues? By no means. It applies universally. In our meetings it will not be enough that the speaker talks in English, for he may be enticed into a display of his learning by using hosts of long words of uncommon use, which leave the minds of his learners a complete blank as to his meaning. Or he may speak with such rapidity, or with such mystic obscurity, as to be unintelligible. In all such cases people merely “speak into the air,” and there is no profit.
We might wonder at Paul writing as he does in verses 1 Corinthians 14:14-15, did we not know what sometimes takes place even in our day. It is not God’s way that even the speaker himself should be ignorant of the meaning of the words he has just uttered. He is to utter words, whether in speaking to others. or in prayer, or in song, which he himself understands and which are understandable to others.
If anyone address himself to God in the assembly, whether in prayer or thanksgiving he must remember that he does so as giving expression to the desires or the praises of the assembly. He is not speaking merely on his own behalf. Consequently he must carry the assembly with him; and they, understanding and following his utterances, ratify them before God and make them their own by saying “Amen” (signifying “So be it”) at the end. They cannot intelligibly and honestly say “Amen” at the end if they are quite unaware of what it is all about. Far better is it to speak but five words profitable for instruction, than ten thousand words that mean nothing to the hearers.
Take note that verse 1 Corinthians 14:16 supposes that each in the assembly, even the unlearned and insignificant, do say “Amen.” They say it, and not merely think it. If our experience be any guide, a very small percentage in the assembly say “Amen” today. Test what we say in an average prayer meeting. If a brother in prayer really voices our desires let us ratify what he has uttered with a good distinct “Amen.” If he has not, honesty compels us to refrain from saying it. If the earnest, fervent outpouring of our desires were ratified by all of us in the utterance of a hearty “Amen” at the close, and the wearisome parade of information, and discussion of doctrines with God, which sometimes is inflicted on us at great length as a substitute for prayer, were ended in a rather chilling silence, the offender might possibly be awakened to what he is doing. When however every prayer finishes in silence save for a few feeble “Amens,’ no such discrimination can be felt, and one begins to fear that all may be formalism and with little or no meaning or depth. Let us think on these things and cultivate reality.
Also we are to cultivate understanding in the things of God, while retaining a child-like spirit in other regards, as verse 1 Corinthians 14:20 tells us. When tongues are misused, as indicated in verse 1 Corinthians 14:23, it only shows a complete lack of mature sense. Children might act in that foolish way, just as they love to show off their new clothes. But the believer is to act as having the understanding of a man, not a child. The prophetic ministry of the Word of God brings the soul into the very presence of God. And the power of such ministry may be felt even by an unbeliever who happens to be present.
It is not enough that there should be prophecy. The gift must be exercised according to God’s order, which is laid down in verses 1 Corinthians 14:29-33. The Corinthians were highly gifted, and the tendency in their assemblies was evidently to have a great excess of talking. Verse 1 Corinthians 14:26 shows this. Each was eager to exercise his gift and get it in evidence. Confusion, disorder, tumult, was the result. God was not the Author of this.
So definite instructions were laid down. Speaking in tongues was not forbidden, but it is strictly regulated in verses 1 Corinthians 14:27-28; and if no interpreter is present it is forbidden. Prophecy too is regulated. Two or three speakers in any given meeting are enough. How wise is this regulation! The Lord knows the receptive capacity of the average believer. If two speak at considerable length it is enough. If more brevity marks the speakers, three may find an opportunity. Then it is enough. Someone may ignore this ruling and insist on giving us his word, but we are wearied and end by retaining less than if we had heard only three.
Note that the others who listen are to “judge.” That is, even in days when inspired utterances by direct revelation (see verse 1 Corinthians 14:30) were given in the assembly, those who listened were to do so with discernment. They were not to receive without testing what they heard. They were never to adopt the attitude of:— “Oh, everything that dear brother A—says must be right!” Such an attitude is a direct incitement to the devil to pervert the ideas of brother A—and so encompass the fall of many. It is a disaster for brother A—as well as his admirers. There is liberty for all the prophets to prophecy, though not of course on any one occasion. If on any given occasion a prophet may have something to say and yet no opportunity occurs, he must restrain himself and wait on God till the opportunity comes. He himself is to be master of his own spirit and not mastered by it.
Verses 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 deal with the silence of women in the assembly. The instruction is very plain and the word used for “speak” is the ordinary word and does not mean “chatter” as some have made out. This regulation cuts across the spirit of the age, without a doubt. But if that be a reason for ignoring Scripture, there will not be much Scripture left that is not ignored.
The Spirit of God foreknew how these regulations would be ignored or challenged. Some at Corinth evidently were inclined in that direction. Hence verses 1 Corinthians 14:36-37. The Word of God came out through the Lord Himself and His apostles and not through the Corinthians. It came to them. They might fancy themselves as spiritual people. If they really were spiritual they would prove it by discerning that these rules laid down by Paul were not just his notions, but the commandments of the Lord through him. The test of our spirituality today is just the same.
Take note that the Word of God does not come out through the church. It comes to the church. The crowning pretension of the great Romish system is that “the church”—and by that they mean the Romish authorities—is the teaching body. We need not here concern ourselves with their claim to be “the church,” for it is evident from this passage that the Apostles are the fountains, whence have flowed the pure waters of the Word, and we have them today in their inspired writings—the New Testament Scriptures. The church is not “the teaching body” it is “the taught body.” The Word of God comes to it, and its duty is to bow to the Word of God.
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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/