PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

1 Corinthians 14:1-19; How Will I Benefit You?

03/01 1 Corinthians 13:1-19 How Will I Benefit You?; Audio available at:

1 Corinthians 14 [SBLGNT]

1 Διώκετε τὴν ἀγάπην, ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ πνευματικά, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε. 2 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ, οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει, πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστήρια· 3 ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ οἰκοδομὴν καὶ παράκλησιν καὶ παραμυθίαν. 4 ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ ἑαυτὸν οἰκοδομεῖ· ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἐκκλησίαν οἰκοδομεῖ. 5 θέλω δὲ πάντας ὑμᾶς λαλεῖν γλώσσαις, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε· μείζων δὲ ὁ προφητεύων ἢ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσαις, ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ διερμηνεύῃ, ἵνα ἡ ἐκκλησία οἰκοδομὴν λάβῃ. 6 Νῦν δέ, ἀδελφοί, ἐὰν ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς γλώσσαις λαλῶν, τί ὑμᾶς ὠφελήσω, ἐὰν μὴ ὑμῖν λαλήσω ἢ ἐν ἀποκαλύψει ἢ ἐν γνώσει ἢ ἐν προφητείᾳ ἢ ἐν διδαχῇ; 7 ὅμως τὰ ἄψυχα φωνὴν διδόντα, εἴτε αὐλὸς εἴτε κιθάρα, ἐὰν διαστολὴν τοῖς φθόγγοις μὴ δῷ, πῶς γνωσθήσεται τὸ αὐλούμενον ἢ τὸ κιθαριζόμενον; 8 καὶ γὰρ ἐὰν ἄδηλον φωνὴν σάλπιγξ δῷ, τίς παρασκευάσεται εἰς πόλεμον; 9 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς διὰ τῆς γλώσσης ἐὰν μὴ εὔσημον λόγον δῶτε, πῶς γνωσθήσεται τὸ λαλούμενον; ἔσεσθε γὰρ εἰς ἀέρα λαλοῦντες. 10 τοσαῦτα εἰ τύχοι γένη φωνῶν εἰσιν ἐν κόσμῳ, καὶ οὐδὲν ἄφωνον· 11 ἐὰν οὖν μὴ εἰδῶ τὴν δύναμιν τῆς φωνῆς, ἔσομαι τῷ λαλοῦντι βάρβαρος καὶ ὁ λαλῶν ἐν ἐμοὶ βάρβαρος. 12 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ἐπεὶ ζηλωταί ἐστε πνευμάτων, πρὸς τὴν οἰκοδομὴν τῆς ἐκκλησίας ζητεῖτε ἵνα περισσεύητε. 13 Διὸ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ προσευχέσθω ἵνα διερμηνεύῃ. 14 ἐὰν γὰρ προσεύχωμαι γλώσσῃ, τὸ πνεῦμά μου προσεύχεται, ὁ δὲ νοῦς μου ἄκαρπός ἐστιν. 15 τί οὖν ἐστιν; προσεύξομαι τῷ πνεύματι, προσεύξομαι δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ· ψαλῶ τῷ πνεύματι, ψαλῶ δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ· 16 ἐπεὶ ἐὰν εὐλογῇς πνεύματι, ὁ ἀναπληρῶν τὸν τόπον τοῦ ἰδιώτου πῶς ἐρεῖ τὸ Ἀμήν ἐπὶ τῇ σῇ εὐχαριστίᾳ; ἐπειδὴ τί λέγεις οὐκ οἶδεν· 17 σὺ μὲν γὰρ καλῶς εὐχαριστεῖς, ἀλλ’ ὁ ἕτερος οὐκ οἰκοδομεῖται. 18 εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ, πάντων ὑμῶν μᾶλλον γλώσσαις λαλῶ· 19 ἀλλὰ ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι, ἵνα καὶ ἄλλους κατηχήσω, ἢ μυρίους λόγους ἐν γλώσσῃ.

Pursue Love

Chapters 8-14 of 1 Corinthians deal with worship issues. What does it mean to worship the one true God? What does undivided devotion to the one true God look like in a culture permeated by idolatry? What is appropriate attire for the worship of the church? What should the regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper look like? What about spiritual gifts?

Chapters 12-14 deal with the issue of spiritual gifts. It seems there were questions in Corinth about who was more spiritual than whom and what gifts were necessary evidence of the Spirit in the believer. Chapter 12 lays out the broad teaching on the gifts. Paul starts the discussion by pointing to the fact that every genuine believer in Jesus has the Holy Spirit, and is therefore ‘spiritual’. Then he points to the diversity of the gifts all given by one triune God. He highlights the fact that the gifts are given “for the common good” (12:7). He uses the metaphor of the body, one organic whole made up of very unique and diverse parts or members, all interdependent and necessary. He reminds us of the fact that God sovereignly apportioned the gifts as he willed, and some of the gifts are greater in importance than others. He makes it clear that no one possesses all the gifts, then he tells us at the end of chapter 12:

1 Corinthians 12:31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

We are commanded to be zealous for higher gifts. But the superabundant way is love. Without love the gifts are empty, worthless, even irritating. Even the most self-sacrificial act accomplishes nothing when disconnected from the God who is love. The gifts are temporary, given for the good of the church in this age, but love will never end. Love is the more excellent way.

Now, in chapter 14, Paul comes back to a specific discussion of two particular gifts of the Spirit, and gives some clear practical instruction for life in the church body. He says:

1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

He tells us to go after love. Love is being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who perfectly demonstrated love to us. This is a command. We are ‘to press on, to run after swiftly in order to reach the goal’, we are’to seek after eagerly, to earnestly endeavor to acquire’ (Thayer) love. Love is to be our aim in everything. Love is to permeate everything. Yet this does not mean that we turn away from or neglect the gifts of the Spirit. Instead we are to be zealous for the spiritual gifts so that we can use them in love for the common good. This command is picked up and repeated from the end of chapter 12; earnestly desire spiritual gifts. God’s gifts are good, and are to be desired, to be sought after by God’s people.

Prophecy over Tongues

Paul holds up prophecy over tongues as the gift we are to pursue. I want to invite us to set aside any preconceived ideas of what prophecy and tongues mean, and allow the passage itself to define for us what these two gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the believers for the common good are.

1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Paul is contrasting these two gifts of communication. The one who speaks in a tongue, Paul says, speaks not to men but to God. He utters mysteries in the Spirit. No one understands him. This appears to be very different from what happened in Acts 2, where the Spirit worked,

Acts 2:6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

Acts 2:11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

Here in 1 Corinthians, no one understands, but he speaks to God. He utters mysteries in the Spirit. This is contrasted to prophecy, which is directed toward people. It is understood, and the goal is ‘for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation’. Wipe away any preconceived notion of what the gift of prophecy is and put this in its place. The gift of prophecy is speaking to people in order to build them up. Paul said back in chapter 8;

1 Corinthians 8:1…This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.

In chapter 3, he talked about laying a foundation as a skilled master builder. This is an architectural metaphor that paints a picture of construction, providing structure, strength, stability. This is manual labor that requires effort, skill, and patience. We are not in the business of building up buildings, we are called to build up people, to invest in them to provide structure, strength, stability. Prophecy also provides encouragement. This word means to call alongside, and it speaks of giving counsel, encouragement, caution. Prophecy provides consolation. This word is almost synonymous with the previous and means to comfort or console someone who is fainthearted or grieving. Prophecy is speaking to others in order to build them up, to encourage, to console.


The contrast with tongues in verse 4 is that the one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, where the one who prophesies builds up the church. It is not wrong to build oneself up. We should be building ourselves up. Jude commands:

Jude 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

It is right and proper and good to seek to build yourself up. But that is not why we gather as the church. We gather to build up one another. I don’t come to church primarily for what I can get out of it, but how I can serve others. Love does not seek its own.

Paul has nothing bad to say about tongues. In fact, he says in verse 5 “I want you all to speak in tongues”. Speaking in tongues is a good gift of the Holy Spirit. He has already said, at the end of chapter 12, that not all speak in tongues. But, if it were possible, he wishes that all could speak in tongues and enjoy the benefit of uttering mysteries in the Spirit to God. He desires that we all speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. He says that the one who speaks prophecy for building up and encouragement and consolation is greater than he who speaks in a tongue, unless it be interpreted, so that the church receive upbuilding. The goal of assembling together is to build up the church.

How Will I Benefit You?

Paul uses himself as an example in verse 6. He conjectures; what if I come to visit you and do nothing but speak in tongues? It seems that some of the Corinthians may have been asking for that very thing. They may have wondered if he was as spiritual as they were, because they had likely never heard him speaking in tongues. He might be able to impress some with his advanced spirituality and elevate his status in their eyes, but that is not his goal. Listen to the question he asks. Underline it. Circle it. Write it on the inside cover of your bible. Make this your question whenever you interact with another person. Paul asks: “How will I benefit you?” It might do me good to speak in tongues, and it might lift me up in your eyes, but what profit will it have for you? Paul’s goal is to be useful to them. Imagine what the church would be like if every one of us had this as our driving passion whenever we gathered: “how will I benefit you?”

1 Corinthians 14:6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?


All of these are speaking gifts. The difference between tongues and revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching is that they are intelligible while tongues are unintelligible. If he spoke in tongues, no one would understand him. He wants to benefit them, and he can only be of benefit to them if they can understand him. He advances some illustrations to demonstrate his point.

1 Corinthians 14:7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?

Musical instruments, wind instruments, stringed instruments, can communicate in profound ways if they are played skillfully. When someone plunks out the melody of a familiar hymn, it can awaken something in your soul and you might go about the rest of your day singing that tune. But if the notes are not clear it is just meaningless noise. This sound like what Paul said about tongues in chapter 13:

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

The bugle was a military tool used to communicate to the troops in battle. The Qumran War Scroll lists distinct signals for muster, alarm, ambush, pursuit, reassembly, enlistment, encampment, battle formation, funeral, retreat, and homecoming (PNTC p.681). If the bugle sound is not recognizable, the troops will not know how to respond and it will cause confusion.

1 Corinthians 14:9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.

Paul applies these illustrations to tongues speaking. Tongues speaking is unintelligible. It fails to communicate. No one understands. It may be that God hears, but the others in the group are left wondering. You are speaking into the air. The Corinthians seemed to prize their sensational ability to speak in tongues. Paul re-frames their thinking about this, comparing it to an inexperienced bugler or musician who is just making obnoxious confusing noise.

1 Corinthians 14:10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.

Paul moves his argument ahead pointing to the variety of languages in the world. He is not saying that the one who speaks in tongues is not saying anything of value, but if he is saying it in a language that is not understood by his hearers, then communication is not happening. He uses the word ‘foreigner’ or ‘barbarian’ a name that comes from the unintelligibility of the speaker – all I hear is ‘bar-bar-bar’ or we might say ‘blah-blah-blah’. God confused the languages at babel to divide the people who were united against him. Here in the church, where different tribes and tongues should be coming together to worship the King, people are abusing their gift of tongues in a way that alienates others. Have you ever been in a foreign culture where everyone around you is speaking in a language you don’t understand? Does that make you feel welcome? At home? Why would those who have been united as brothers and sisters in Christ engage in a practice that makes each other feel like foreigners?

Love Seeks To Build Up

Paul now gives instructions to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 14:12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. 13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret.

To be zealous for spiritual gifts is a good thing. He has commanded this in 12:31 and 14:1. Paul is simply trying to channel their zeal in a more healthy direction. Seek those things that build up the church. Seek those things that will benefit others. If you speak in a tongue, ask God to give you the ability to interpret that tongue into intelligible language so that you can use your gift to build up others. Spiritual gifts without love are noisy irritating things. Love seeks not its own. Love seeks the good of the other.

Paul again uses himself as an example.

1 Corinthians 14:14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.

Paul started this section saying that the one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God. Speaking to God can take the form of prayer, songs of praise, giving thanks. Someone who speaks in an unknown tongue is praying or singing or giving thanks with his spirit, but his mind does not understand what he is saying. Paul is eager to engage not only his spirit, but his mind also. Worship is to be both passionate and intelligent. Neither cold intellectualism nor contentless emotion is pleasing to God. We are to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. We are to think profoundly and feel deeply about Jesus. Notice Paul is not only thinking of himself. He is aware of the outsider. He is thinking of the seeker, the visitor. Sometimes our goal is to be lost in the experience of worship. But if we are so wrapped up in the experience that we become oblivious to the outsider and disregard his or her needs, then we are not acting in love. We can find application for this well beyond the issue of tongues. The apostle will have more to say about this in the coming verses.

1 Corinthians 14:18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Paul claims to be a tongues speaker extraordinaire. The Corinthians were fascinated with their ability to speak in unknown tongues, and it characterized their worship gatherings. But Paul claims to exceed them all. He is not speaking to them about something he does not understand. He has the gift, he wishes they all had it, and he thanks God for it. But just because he has the gift does not mean he will insist on finding an opportunity to exercise it publicly. It seems that this was a gift Paul restrained and used only privately. In the presence of others, he would rather speak five intelligible words so that they can be instructed than countless words in an unknown language. Paul’s goal was not to find expression for his gift, but to ask “how will I benefit you?” Paul was “not seeking my own advantage, but that of the many, that they may be saved” (10:33)

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

March 1, 2015 - Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , ,

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