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1 Corinthians 14 is not an easy passage. The rise of modern Pentecostalism over the last 120 years has made the issue of speaking in tongues a perpetual issue, making it even more important to study this passage carefully. Further, Paul’s arguments in this chapter–made in response to the Corinthian Christians’ unruly worship and self-centered theology–stretches both the mind and heart. In this post, I will not be answering every question you or I might have about speaking in tongues, but I do hope to point out four features of this chapter, features which should shape our hearts and guide our discussion about speaking in tongues.
The first feature is context. Often ignored (because we don’t read our Bibles well) is that 1 Corinthians 14 comes right after 1 Corinthians 13 and is itself a continuation of Paul’s great call to love above all else. It’s right there in verse one: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…” Paul is not giving general directions on how to speak in tongues; he is strongly rebuking the self-centered, hateful way the Christians in Corinth were using gifts intended for sacrificial love. Any discussion on these amazing gifts from the Spirit that doesn’t start and end with a pursuit of love is already wrong.
Feature - Goal - Speaking - Tongues - Corinthians
The second feature is the goal of speaking in tongues. Against the Corinthians’ desire to be the best Christian with the coolest Spiritual gift, Paul returns them (repeatedly) to the point of Spiritual gifts: to build up the church. While the gift of speaking spontaneously in another language was surely exciting and personally encouraging to some degree, the point of the gift was “so that the church may be built up.” (14:5) This goal of Spiritual gifts is why Paul prioritizes prophesying (the declaration of God’s Word to God’s people)...
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