1 Corinthians 14:1-25: Clarity
April 21, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
There is much in these verses that has been controversial for some from time-to-time, but its inner meaning and basic thrust are not so controversial once they are understood clearly, and can be edifying and indeed motivating to all.
Paul’s basic point is that, having had a digression to exalt love (and what a parenthesis that was!), he now returns to where he left off at the end of chapter 12. That is, to desire the greater gifts. But what are the greater gifts? Well, Paul here then defines what the greater gifts are by that very principle that he has just been exalting. What is greater is what leads to (lovingly) building up other people. This is why he thinks of prophecy—the clear articulation of God’s truth under the inspiration of the Spirit—as something that we should especially desire. We should especially desire to speak clearly, as well as understand clearly, what God is saying! This is his basic point in this whole section. What he wants the Corinthians to understand is that understanding is more important than impressive-looking spirituality, a spirituality that does not actually edify anyone because no one gets what is being said. Clarity is the goal, understanding the aim, edification the great ambition, because love is the motivating force that drives forward the “greater gifts” (greater being defined by how they help other people, out of love).
Once you’ve got that basic idea clear in your mind, all that Paul says here tends to hang together fairly easily. Until, that is, you come to the last paragraph where he says:
“Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.”
What Paul means, though, is essentially a working out of the same principle. An uninterpreted tongue is essentially a sign of exclusion and separation from God’s purposes. What it means is that we don’t understand what God is saying. The tongue is not in our own language, and therefore we don’t understand. It is a sign for unbelievers in the sense that it is a sign that someone is not part of the family of God; they don’t get it. Whereas prophecy is a sign for believers in the sense that they do get it. The point, again, is clarity, understandability, in public worship for both believers and unbelievers. Which is why he concludes with this exhortation:
“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”
If the whole thing is clear—in the sense that with all prophesy there is an understandability, God’s Word is clearly proclaimed, and everything is in a language that people can understand—that means that if an unbeliever is present, then, by God’s Spirit, they will get what is being said, be convicted, turn, believe, and worship God too!
So the great principle of this section is understandability. And the goal is always clarity. Why? So that everyone can understand, and God’s Spirit through his Word will cause us all to turn to God and worship him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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