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"Zealous to Edify"
1 Corinthians 14:1-19

Wednesday AM Bible Study
January 2, 2008

Theme: Paul calls the Corinthians, who were zealous for the spiritual gift of tongues, to be zealous instead for those gifts that edify the body.

Paul has been dealing, in this section of his letter, with the whole matter of the gift of tongues as they were used in the assembly of the church in Corinth. Paul seems very careful in this section not to discredit the gift of tongues. It was to be recognized by the church as a gift (12:10). He says that he wished—as the Corinthians supposed—that they all had it (14:5). He himself—in whatever sense we're to understand its legitimate use—apparently exercised this gift more than even the Corinthians did (14:18). He even explained how it fit into the larger picture of God's prophetic plan (14:21-22). He wrote that its legitimate use not be prohibited (14:39); and wrote at length in how that legitimate use was to be exhibited in the church (14:26-35).

All of this being said, however, the gift was being abused by certain individuals to the harm of the church. So far, he has dealt with this problem by first explaining how the gifts themselves fit together as a whole in the function of the body of Christ (chapter 12); and then by making it clear that genuine love for the brethren is to be the operating dynamic in the use of the gifts (chapter 13). With these points in the background, Paul now shows that the gifts must be valued in terms of their effectiveness in lovingly edifying the body as a whole. This precedes his discussion of the use of tongues from the standpoint of Old Testament prophecy (14:20-25), and of his practical directions concerning its use in the assembly (14:26-40).


A. In the first verse, Paul brings all that he has said in chapters 12-13 together in one exhortation: "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts . . ." But he gives clearer definition to this by adding, ". . . but especially that you may prophesy." Prophecy is a broad term that basically conveys the idea of speaking-forth to others what God has said. Many understand this to refer to the ministry of preaching the written word of God; but it is also broad enough to include the idea of uttering special revelations to the church (14:29-31 indicating that it is an utterance that the church must judge when hearing).

B. Tongues—uninterpreted—would not have the value in the church that prophecy has. It is spoken to God in "mysteries" (v. 2) and uttered to one's self (v. 4). But prophecy is clearly spoken to the church for edification (v. 4). It "builds up" the body in that it edifies, exhorts, and comforts (v. 3) through a clearly understood, clearly transferable, authoritative message.

C. Paul goes so far as to say to the Corinthians—who were zealous for greater gifts out of a self-gratifying motive—that prophecy is greater than tongues; unless the message in tongues was interpreted for the edification of the body (v. 5).


A. Paul speaks as if he were coming to the Corinthians; and asks what would happen if he came to them speaking in a tongue they didn't understand. It would not profit them unless he spoke a clear message; "by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching" (v. 6).

B. Paul uses the example of inanimate objects—such as flutes or harps or trumpets. They all must make a distinction in sounds for those sounds to be of value to others (v. 7). A bugle blown in a time of war that didn't make any distinct sound would be useless in calling the troops (v. 8). Similarly, unless a distinction is made in utterance of words, the speaking would be of no value to others who hear (v. 9).

C. Paul here uses a different word than he uses in reference to tongues. He speaks, literally, of "voices"; and most likely means different, distinct languages. There may be many different kinds of human languages, he argues; and none of them are without significance or meaning (v. 10). But if I don't know the language being spoken, I am to the one who speaks a barbarian (one who just sounds like he's making noises—"Bar-bar- bar"); and he is a barbarian to me (v. 11). The idea of being a "barbarian" would have been particularly offensive to the Corinthians who were proud of their Greek culture.


A. So, since they are zealous for spiritual gifts, Paul calls them to seek the gifts that best edify the body (vv. 12), or that their use of tongues would be so interpreted as to benefit the body (v. 13).

B. Paul emphasizes, in this context, the value of the use of the understanding in the church. Tongues disengaged the Corinthians from "understanding" (v. 14). Paul therefore concluded that, what he did, he would do with both understanding and spirit (v. 15). To do otherwise would make it impossible for others to benefit from what is said (vv. 16- 17).

C. Paul testifies that he spoke in tongues—more so, in fact, than the Corinthians (v. 18). Some interpret this to mean that he spoke in several known languages; while others see this as his testimony that he had the gift of speaking in tongues that the Corinthians were zealous for. But whichever was the case, Paul says that "in the church"—that is, in the gathered assembly of believers—he would much rather speak five words with understanding (that could be rightly grasped by those who heard), than 10,000 words in a tongue that could not be understood (v. 19). Those five words would have more edification-value to the body than the 10,000 words that no one could understand.

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