Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: 1 Corinthians 14
Back around 2004, whenever I was home from college, a friend and I started going to a home church from time to time. It was a much-needed shot in the arm, as I was going through some rough times back then and needed something fresh and personal. They practiced spiritual gifts there; in particular, I remember them praying in tongues. But I don’t remember anyone interpreting, so I remained clueless as to the meaning of the in-tongues-speakers’ mouth-noises.
So, by popular request, today we’re returning to 1 Corinthians 14 to check out
Paul’s guidelines the Lord’s commandments for spiritual gifts. Paul purports to give us the procedures prescribed and proscribed by God himself: “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (37). Got a beef with Paul’s words here? Take it up with God. As Paul reiterates throughout the chapter, these instructions are intended to facilitate order and understanding, so maybe you’d rather your church services devolve into Zoo Mode.
But if you prefer God’s law to Jungle Law, the first thing to do is ensure that tongues are interpreted. Paul instructs: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church” (27-28). Only one person should speak at once, and someone–either the speaker himself or a second party–should let the congregation know what he’s saying.
The point is to promote comprehension. Paul points out, “If I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?” (6). He makes an analogy of musical instruments producing indistinct sounds, explaining that if you don’t know the meaning of what someone is saying, there’s no benefit to you. “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church” (4), Paul says. When you speak in a tongue, it’s a gift that the Holy Spirit gives to you–and that’s all well and good, but if you’re in a public setting, it’s the interpretation of the speech in tongues that allows it to build up those around you. When they understand the meaning of the words that the Holy Spirit has given you to say, that’s when the gift of tongues can do some good for them too.
And for that reason, Paul designates prophecy as superior to speaking in tongues. Now, remember that prophecy isn’t simply predicting the future; it’s bringing a message from God to others. With that in mind, we can see why Paul says, “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy” (5); as a message from God, prophecy necessarily builds up the church.
But what if someone claims to prophesy, but his message isn’t actually from God? I can vouch firsthand that I’m a fallible medium for God’s messages. And Paul’s aware of the human capacity for error, even in exercising gifts from the Holy Spirit. That’s why he instructs: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment…and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (29, 32). Church members should evaluate the prophecies of their brethren to ensure that they’re accurate. Again, the goal is order and understanding; God is not a God of Zoo Mode.
There you have it, dear readers! With this handy guide to the exercise of spiritual gifts, you are equipped to use whatever gifts the Spirit gives you in order to edify the body of Christ, as long as those gifts are prophecy and tongues. There are other gifts, but Paul doesn’t discuss them here, so neither did I. And I certainly haven’t said all there is to say about these two gifts; my own knowledge is limited at best. If you take away nothing else, remember to exercise any gifts you may possess responsibly, and get someone to interpret your tongues.