1 Corinthians 14:20-25
- Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.
- In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to the people; and yet for all that they will not hear Me” says the Lord.
- Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.
- Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
- But if all prophesy, and unbelievers or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.
- And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
As we continue our study into Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is still trying to help them to understand the decorum of worship, using the examples of tongues and prophesy.
Paul tells them how they should be. He wants them to be babes in malice. The Greek word for babes is nepiazo. It means to have the innocence of a newborn. But he tells them he wants them to be mature in understanding. The Greek word for understanding is phren, which is literally the gut or the diaphragm where the Greeks believed was the seat of all mental and emotional activity. And in this understanding, he wanted them to be mature. The Greek word for mature is teleios. It can be used in different ways but here in our text today it means complete in mental and moral character. Paul then seems to pursue another direction; but keep verse 20 in mind, because Paul will return to it later.
I do not know about you, but in reading these next verses, I became confused. Verse 22 and verse 23 seem to contradict one another. Paul says that tongues are a sign, and we remember that when Paul says a sign, that it is, some act of power which God does to show His power and describes who He is. Jesus calming the sea, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Jesus turning the water into wine. Remember, Paul separates signs (or miracles) from the gift of healing in chapter 12, so Tongues is a sign. In verse 22, Paul says that tongues is a sign to unbelievers, and that prophesy is a sign for believers. Yet then in verse 23, he says that if an unbeliever or uninformed person came into the church and everyone was speaking in tongues, they would say you were crazy, out of your mind. For the longest time this week, I couldn’t wrap my head around the contradiction. I kept praying, “Lord please give ME understanding.”
Then I remembered something a man whom I consider a mentor, Dr. Fred Craddock, said in one of my preaching classes: “Sometimes in your preparation you find yourself with a decision to make. Are you to preach the Scripture or the Scripture’s Scripture?” Paul does have a Scripture for our Scripture! It is Isaiah 28:11-12. Here, the Father is really not very happy with His people. They have refused to listen to his word. They have refused to listen to his prophets. They have gone and committed adultery with the gods of the land while giving lip service to the Holy One of Israel. So he says that he is going to speak to them with other tongues. These tongues are not the spiritual Tongues of the Corinthians. These are the foreign tongues of the invaders God was going to send to punish them. For the Hebrew people to be threatened with a foreign tongue meant invasion or punishment! It was something that was intended to frighten the people to repentance. But verse 12 says that they still would not listen….
If we understand Isaiah, then we can understand I Corinthians 14:22 & 23 better. In the real world as we know it, Tongues should be a sign to the unbeliever to show the power and presence of the One True God among His people. It should make them say, “Wow!”, while on the other hand the believers say, “Yes, it is wonderful, but it doesn’t edify.” What happens in reality is the uninformed and the unbeliever come in and hear it and say, “They are out of their minds. They are crazy. I can go to one of the prostitution cults and hear the same thing.” Like the Hebrew children in Isaiah’s time heard God say he was going to speak with them in a foreign tongue, which means invasion and oppression (and that which should bring fear, brings no response at all), the uninformed and the unbelievers hear the Tongues which one would think would be an incredible sign, and they walk away saying, “Those Corinthian Christians are a couple fries short of a Happy Meal!”
Remember, Paul is not trying to degrade the gift of Tongues. He has said it is a sign, but he wants us to continue with his two underlining themes since chapter 12 – 1) love and 2) the edification of the church. Here is where verse 20 comes back into play. He wants the Corinthians to be complete in their mental and moral character. He wants them out of love to do what is best for the believer and the unbeliever – to edify both. And how is that done? It is done through prophecy, proclaiming God’s word to God’s people in God’s time.
In verse 24 Paul says if all prophesy and an uninformed or unbelieving person comes in and hears it, there is a chance he could be convinced by all and convicted by all. Do you see the power of the words BY ALL?? It harkens back to the first few chapters in Acts where Luke says that they were in one accord. They prayed, worshiped, and sang in one accord. They held all things in common. Paul is challenging the Corinthians to follow the example of the Christians right after the first Pentecost. To be one as the first believers were one and as Jesus and the Father are one.
What did he want them to be at one about? First, that prophecy is also a gift given by the Holy Spirit. Second, that proclaiming God’s word to God’s people in God’s time is the major way to edify (build up) the church – not the only way, but a major way. It does this in two ways – first, by building up the believer. As Paul tells us in Romans 1:16 &17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is reveals from faith to faith; as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” The church is built up, the church is strengthened. The church learns better how to walk in faith. The church learns and grows in the Father’s love for them. This enables the church to love God and the other better. The church is able to develop a relationship with a living and loving Savior instead of a religion of rules and regulations. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the church can cease being a group of individuals seeking their own way, doing their own thing, believing what they want to believe, and instead be joined together as the body of Christ ministering to the world. Through the proclaiming of God’s word to God’s people in God’s time we can see where we are and be grateful for the finished work of Christ! But we can also see where we can be, where the Father wants us to be, the joy He has for us as His children. And through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we have greater victory, as Paul says, when we move from faith to deeper faith.
What is the second way prophecy works? Repentance unto conversion. In verses 24 & 25, Paul says that by the proclaiming of God’s word to God’s people in God’s time, the unbeliever and the uninformed will hear the word of God empowered by the Holy Spirit, and they will convinced by the unity of the believers, and they will be convicted…..WOW – the unity of believers! Not just unity of believing together, but unity in what they believed. In my readings about Father Wesley, the growth of the Methodist movement has amazed me. One reason for that growth was not just the unity of believers, but a unity in what they believed. This was held together by the small groups, the class meetings where people weekly were held accountable not only for their actions but also for their beliefs. I have read that in America at charge conferences and district conferences and even annual conference, non-church individuals would be invited because there was going to be a worship service where an invitation would be given – a chance to receive Christ. And from what I have read, this service was considered more important than the business which was being handled…
Then I look at our church today. We have ‘United’ in our name, but we are not united. As a global church, we can’t even agree on the authority of Scripture. As a global church, we say we want to grow. We say at Jersey that we want to grow. What non-Christian would look at our national in-fighting and out-fighting and say, “That’s for me!”??? Locally, our unity of belief will be tested as we advance further. What will those who visit us see – both the believer and the unbeliever?? If they see us united by love in our belief, I know the Lord has great things for us. Paul says in order to grow we have to be united in our belief. The unity of the church, the BY ALL! To grow numerically, we need new blood. The uninformed and the unbeliever come in, and they hear God’s word to God’s people in God’s time, they see the unity of their belief, they feel the power of the Holy Spirit, and although they are not God’s people yet, they feel His calling in their life! They experience the love and the joy of the congregation, the welcoming spirit of proclamation and praise. They realize this is something you can’t find in a prostitute’s temple. They are convinced there is something better, something real, and something powerful that they are experiencing. They are convicted. They know the emptiness of their heart. They want more. They want a life of joy, peace and love – and they will worship God, which means they will say to Jesus like Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” And then, Paul tells us, they will become evangelists, as he says, “and report that God is truly among you.”
We know that for Paul the second repentance unto conversion is really number one for him. He was an evangelist. He went from place to place establishing churches. He wrote letters to his churches to uplift, encourage, instruct and edify. But his first love was to bring people into the saving grace and loving arms of our Lord Jesus. In the future, that will need to be our first love also. Those two little words – BY ALL!
When we unite ourselves in proclaiming God’s word to God’s people in God’s time, we will have the victory of a life growing from faith to faith and the unbelievers converted into our family.
Claim II Timothy 1:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of POWER and of LOVE and of a SOUND MIND”
Also, read the 91st Psalm every day, first person, and make it yours.