South Sydney Anglican Church

“Vision 2024: A Community overflowing with Faith, Hope and Love in JESUS” – 4th Sunday

Bible Passage: 1 Corinthians 14:1-20

The Church is to order itself for Edification of the Saints

Intro:              Morning South Sydney Anglican church. My name is Matt Johnson and we are currently thinking about our vision as a church. We want to be “A Christian community overflowing with faith, hope and love in Jesus.And today we are thinking about how we build the church. Specifically, what builds the church…

Prayer:            Well 1 Corinthians 14 is kind of exciting because it talks about praying in tongues and prophesying. What is the pastor going to say? A) Is he finally going to reveal that he really is a protestant cessationist refusing to come out of the closet OR B) is he going to reveal that he is a true charismaniac. (I mean charismatic). I know that in a church this eclectic you all have your suspicions about the pastor.

So today I am going to speak about tongues and prophecy because there is a lot of confusion. But the main focus of 1 Corinthians 14 is really edification. What builds the church? So let me begin by saying that 1 Corinthians 14 is the only passage in the entire Bible that clearly talks about praying in tongues. Of course, the book of Acts also talks about speaking in tongues. But in the book of Acts – it is clear that speaking in tongues means speaking to people in other known languages. In Acts God gives some people a spiritual gift to speak in other languages (they don’t naturally know). In Acts TONGUES is like God giving me the supernatural ability to speak Russian or Mandarin. Trust me, I wish I had this gift because it would really help in our Mandarin church service.

But what 1 Corinthians 14 is talking about is praying in a tongues. Now growing up in a mainline Protestant church – praying in tongues was not something I ever witnessed. And if anything, praying in tongues was usually dismissed or ridiculed. But thankfully God challenged my thinking as I read and studied this chapter.

In third year at Bible college, I was a student minister in a very traditional Anglican church in Penrith. Every week, the church conducted a very strict Anglican prayer book service. It was about as uncharismatic as you could get Anyway, in that context I had to preach a sermon on 1 Corinthians 14 and about praying in tongues and prophecy. (Now I was only a student minister and I don’t think I said anything profound). But afterwards this really OLD LADY came up to me and in hushed tones (so that no one else could hear), she started talking to me about praying in tongues. She shared with me that when she was much younger – she was simply praying one morning when all of a sudden noises started coming out of her mouth that weren’t the English language. She said she felt like she was expressing her heart to God in a very natural way that was beyond words. She also said that after this started her prayer life became more regular and more meaningful. It didn’t happen all the time. But sometimes when she felt really passionate about something this other type of speech would just start happening. So she asked me – was this praying in tongues?

As a third year Bible college student (with my protestant pedigree) – I really didn’t know what to say. But I knew no one had taught her to pray in tongues. So it forced me to go back to the Bible and ask the question – “What does God say about praying in tongues?I couldn’t deny that 1 Corinthians 14 talked about praying in tongues. Look at what Paul says (Slide 1; 1Cor.14:14-15).

Now as an evangelical Christian I believe every word in the Bible is important and needs to be taken seriously, including these words that talk about praying in tongues. So today we are going to think about praying in tongues. But Paul’s main point is that God wants people to be built up and edified in the Christian church.

Point 1:         Christian Love must Shape the Use of our Spiritual Gifts

Show:                        1Cor.14:1 (READ)

Explain:         Well Paul is continuing his teaching about life in the Christian church. He says in verse 1; “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts.” Paul is now bringing A) 1 Corinthians 12 about spiritual gifts AND B) 1 Corinthians 13 about love together. Spiritual gifts must used in love for the purpose of edification.

Remember, Paul started in 1 Corinthians 12 – talking about unity and diversity in the Christian church. We are all UNITED in the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord, but we are all DIFFERENT in spiritual gifting and life experience. Paul then explained in 1 Corinthians 13 that the marks of real Christian maturity are faith, hope and love. Faith, hope and love (and especially love) keep the church united and focussed on Jesus.

Now the problem is the Corinthian church was dividing over all sorts of stupid differences. In 1 Corinthians 1 we were told the church was divided over their preferred Christian leaders. Some people were saying I follow Paul, others were saying I follow Apollos and still others I follow Peter. STUPID. Then in 1 Corinthians 8 – we know they were also dividing over – what meat was ok to eat in the marketplace. Could you or shouldn’t you eat meat that was offered to false gods in the butchering process? MORE STUPIDITY. But we also get a very strong impression in 1 Corinthians 12-14 that the church was also dividing over the gift of praying in tongues. SOME PEOPLE were for this gift and SOME PEOPLE were against this gift. Incredibly, that sounds kind of familiar…

So Paul begins this next section saying “follow the way of love…But as I explained (in previous sermons) this is not love for self. Christian love is about love for others and doing what is best for others. (GOSPEL) This is the sort of love Jesus demonstrated as he died upon the cross for our sins. Jesus knew we all faced Gods wrath and condemnation for our sins. We were destined for hell.

So in love – Jesus put our needs before his own. He knew someone had to pay for our sin. So Jesus went to the cross and died to pay the penalty for our wrongdoing. Jesus took the punishment for your sins so that you can be eternally saved. The Bible says that if you believe Jesus died for you and repent of your sin (as best you can) God will now forgive you. That means that in the final judgment God will not have to punish you for your sins, because Jesus has taken that punishment for you already. A) Now if you are not yet a Christian – you need to think about what Jesus did for you and how you should respond. I’d suggest a sorry to God and a thank you to Jesus are probably in order. B) But if you are a Christian – God calls you to now follow Jesus’ pattern of love.

This means thinking of others needs more than your own. But this raises the question what do other Christians and even non-Christians need most in this world? What is their greatest need and what spiritual gift best meets this need? The greatest thing you can do in love is obviously meet the greatest need in other people. So what spiritual gift meets man’s greatest need before God? I’ll give you a hint – its PROPHECY.

Apply:            The fact is – there are a lot of spiritual gifts we can utilize in love. IN LOVE we can help unpack Ozharvest trucks and distribute food to the poor. This is loving. But this is not the most loving thing we can do for the poor. If we only give them food, they’ll still die and go to hell. IN LOVE we may even be able to work miracles – healing the sick and opening the eyes of the blind. But this is not the most loving thing we can do for the sick or the blind. If we heal people physically, but not spiritually – they still end up in hell. So in this passage Paul takes the principle of loving other people like Jesus and helps us to see why – prophecy is more important than tongues.

Point 2:         Christian Love means Prophecy is greater than Praying in Tongues

Show:                        1 Cor.14:2-4 (READ)

Explain:         As we begin we need to recognize that the TWO SPIRITUAL GIFTS that Paul is comparing is prophecy and praying in tongues. We know Paul is talking about praying in tongues – because he says (in verse 2) anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people, but to God. Please read that verse again. Straight away (as Paul begins to talk about tongues) he defines tongues as talking to God. That is PRAYER. This is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to the tongues in the book of Acts that is spoken to people to help them know Jesus. Straight away – Paul defines what sort of tongues he is talking about in 1 Corinthians 14. All of Paul’s references to tongues in this chapter MUST be understood in light of verse 2 (not the book of Acts). This is praying in tongues.

 Now if you come from a mainstream Protestant or Catholic background you may be inclined to gloss over what Paul says because it is NOT part of your Christian experience. But if we consider ourselves biblical Christians we need to engage seriously with what Paul says.  Paul tells us that the tongues he is speaking about is some sort of STRANGE language that is directed to God. The fact that Paul is talking about praying in tongues becomes EXPLICIT a little latter in the chapter. Look again at 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 (Slide 6; 1Cor.14:14-15). Now in the New Testament – the word PRAYER – always means words directed to God. So not only 1) has Paul told us the tongues he is speaking about is directed to God, 2) he also calls it prayer. Paul then says that when he prays in a tongue – he is praying in his spirit, but his mind is unfruitful. The mind is NOT active in the normal way. It all seems a bit strange.

Now if you look back to verse 2 Paul says; (Slide 7; 1Cor.14:2). Notice the word MYSTERIES.  Paul says that when a person is speaking to God in a tongue, people listening to the prayer can’t understand the words because they utter mysteries in their Spirit. The person praying is communicating with God, but it is not naturally interpreted communication. So what language is Paul speaking about?

Well in the context of 1 Corinthians Paul has spoken about speaking in the tongues of angels. Look with me at 1 Corinthians 13:1 (Slide 7; READ). In context – this is the closest referent to what Paul may mean by praying in tongues. It is perhaps angelic speech. But Paul is clear that even if you are speaking in the tongue of angels – without love it means nothing. (PAUSE) Now elsewhere in Romans 8 – Paul says; (ENTER; Rom.8:26). Again, we find the idea of the Holy Spirit helping people to pray in a way that is beyond normal speech. Now I think that at times Gods Spirit supernaturally helps all Christians in our prayer life. There are times when I’m praying, where I just sigh and groan before God because the right words elude me. And perhaps praying in tongues is just a richer or fuller expression of this Holy Spirit guided prayer. MY POINT IS that if Paul speaks of such a gift, instead of being jealous or dismissive – we should simply rejoice that some people have this gift. We need people seriously and fervently praying for our church and if some people have a special gifting in prayer, I think they also a special responsibility to be prayerful.

Now last week, someone said to me – “Matt your becoming a Pentecostal”. But I say, not true. I am simply testing everything I believe by SCRIPTURE because I think we all have denominational and cultural biases that aren’t always biblical. Now please note – I don’t have the gift of praying in tongues. I HAVE PRAYED and I’ve asked God to give me the gift of praying in tongues because 1) Paul tells us to eagerly desire spiritual gifts and 2) he tells us praying in tongues edifies the person praying in tongues. That sounds good to me. Edification is always good. But alas, so far God has chosen not to give me this gift. That is ok. I have a few other spiritual gifts I can use in the church.

But I want you to see – that totally apart from SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE and simply by accepting a plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 14 – I can see 1) that praying in tongues is communication with God. 2) It is mysterious. 3) It happens in the spirit. 4) People listening can’t understand the words. But 5) it is edifying for the person praying.

That’s simply what the Bible says. So I shouldn’t be surprised or dismissive when some Christians tell me they have this spiritual gift. I shouldn’t automatically dismiss praying in tongues simply because I do not have that gift? But on the flip side; those who do have this spiritual gift shouldn’t elevate themselves and think they are superior to other Christians who don’t pray in tongues? In 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul is speaking to both the haves and the have nots. Paul clearly tells “the haves” that not every Christian will have this gift. He also tells “the haves” not to make too much of this gift or to pray in tongues in public – without interpretation. But he also finishes 1 Corinthians 14 telling “those of us who do not have the gift” NOT to forbid praying in tongues. Tongues is still good because it edifies the person praying.

But Paul is clear prophesy is better than tongues because it edifies everyone in the church. Now the true nature of a prophet is that they speak the very words of God. Prophets speak Gods Word. And as Christians who speak God’s Word recorded in the Bible into one another’s lives we function as prophets. When you speak Gods Word prophetically to other people it edifies and builds them up in Gods truth. If you pray in tongues it only really edifies you. But Jesus like love has a greater concern for others, than self. So generally speaking prophesy is more loving than tongues.

But this now brings us to Pauls main point. IT IS GODS WORD ALONE (spoken prophetically) that really builds up and edifies the church. That’s why Paul wants us all to prophesy. Look again at 1 Cor 14:3-4 (SLIDE 9; 1Cor.14:3-4). The thing that strengthens, encourages and comforts Christians is Gods word? It’s not empty platitudes. It’s not us chasing the latest church growth strategy or the latest spiritual fad on the internet. God builds His church through His Word. So Paul is saying we should all aspire to be Christian prophets. But not the crazyI have a word from the Lord for you.” Paul simply wants us ALL to speak Gods Word in the Bible into one another’s life in humble, gentle, loving ways because this is how the church is built up and built out.

You may recall on the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter said (Slide 10; Acts 2:17-18). God has given us the Holy Spirit so that we ALL function as prophets. Sometimes to other Christians. Sometimes to our children But it is this speaking of Gods Word that builds up and edifies the church.

Point 3:         Christian Love means the Church is to be organised for Edification*

Show:                        1Cor.14:18-20 (READ)

Explain:         Sadly, a focus on charismatic, spiritual gifts has often led to a kind of charismania in some churches, that really is manic and chaotic. People are being slayed in the Spirit. People are praying and dancing in the aisles. People are working miracles and supposedly driving out demons. But all too often Gods Word in the Bible – fades into the background and is lost. Sadly, we’ve seen this happen all too often. Its like all the other stuff becomes more important than Gods Word. And throughout 1 Corinthians 14 – Paul is saying no. The most important thing in church life – is Gods Word being spoken prophetically into one another’s lives

THE KEY WORD throughout 1 Corinthians 14 is edify, edification or build up. God’s Word spoken prophetically is what edifies us and builds up the church in faith, hope and love. Gods Word both A) brings people into the church and B) builds people up in the church. This happens – via faithful sermons, the public reading of Scripture, the singing of Christian songs that are full of Bible truth (rather than emotional nonsense). It happens when we have biblically informed conversations together over morning tea, in small Bible study groups, youth groups and Sunday School. Again, Paul tells the Corinthian church to grow up and stop thinking like children. REAL Christian character; REAL faith, hope and love and REAL church growth ONLY comes from Gods Word spoken prophetically. Mature Christians know that if Gods Word is not kept front and centre in the church – nothing substantial is taking place in the church – even if there are more and more people…

So Paul encourages us to 1) organise the church and 2) use our spiritual gifts and 3) even restrain our spiritual gifts at times – so that God’s Word remains the main thing in the church.

Now I know that in past weeks I have negatively critiqued a systems approach to church growth. The church growth movement has pushed the idea that if you create the right management systems in a church, the church will grow and be healthy. MY MAIN PROBLEM with this approach is that they often end up putting the cart before the horse or they ignore the horse altogether. What drives the church forward is real faith, hope and love. And what creates real faith hope and love AND really builds the church is only God’s Word. Spiritual gifts MUST always serve the furthering of Gods Word. Church management systems MUST always promote Gods Word, protect Gods Word and prioritise Gods Word in all that we do.

So having laid THE RIGHT FOUNDATION Paul does now tell us – that the church needs to be ordered and arranged and even managed to keep Gods Word front and centre. Look at what Paul says a bit later in this chapter (Slide 13; 1Cor.14:26). The wordsbuilt up is edification. Everything must be organised in the church towards edification. And edification comes from Gods Word. But edification is not really growth in biblical knowledge. It is about growth in faith, hope and love (and especially love). That’s why our vision is NOT a community overflowing with biblical knowledge in Jesus. BIBLICAL KNOWLEDGE does not always equate to good expressions of faith, hope and love. But nonetheless good expressions of faith, hope and love will only ever come from knowing and living God’s Word.

Paul also says at the end of the chapter (Slide 14; 1 Cor.14:39-40). A FITTING and ORDERLY way implies management systems. We need to have structure and order in our church life that keeps Gods Word front and centre in all we do.

Now immature Christians often just want social activity and entertainment. Or they want to bring worldly, corporate ways of building an organization into play, rather than Gods Word. Or they want us to ignore or downplay certain parts of Gods Word because it is offends some people and restricts growth. This sort of childish thinking is now evident in churches everywhere in the western world. But Paul is saying that unless Gods Word has a prophetic place of prominence in the church no real building is taking place – even if there are lots of bums in seats. Now some may think Gods Word is boring. Some may think Gods Word is restrictive or somehow quenching the Spirit. Others will keep telling us that there are better ways to build the church. But Paul tells us to stop thinking like children

Apply:   God’s Word must be front and centre in the church AND next week Paul will explain that front and centre in God’s Word – must be the gospel of Jesus Christ dying for our sins and rising again. The church is built and founded on God’s Word and the authority of God’s Word is built and founded on the man Jesus Christ – dying for wretched sinners like us. But that is next week. So lets pray…


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