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Desire Prophecy: Pursuing what builds the church

What is more certain is the condition of the Corinthian church. It was a divided church. Examples of division can be seen in the letter in relation to: teachers, wisdom, legal matters, marriage, divorce and idol feasts.5 Their divisiveness also carried over into areas of worship, namely communion and spiritual gifts.6 The intense individualism of the Corinthian believers is in part due to their culture. First century Roman Corinth was marked by, boasting, self-promotion and the desire for public recognition.7 The Corinthians brought these characteristics into their new faith.8 The “world” had invaded the church and Paul was seeking to remedy the situation in many areas, including spiritual gifts.

One who is prophesying speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

A third explanation for Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14 is that he was writing to the church about spiritual gifts because they had previously written to him about them.9 Let us now turn our attention to a more detailed consideration of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:1-12.

Before focusing on the gift of prophecy we need to note how Paul opens the passage. He begins in verse one by telling the Corinthian believers to, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts.” Fee tells us that these instructions are imperatives.10 Thus, they are not mere suggestions, they are orders. Morris tells us that the word, “follow,” means to “pursue with persistence.”11 In chapter thirteen Paul had taught extensively on the subject of love. By beginning chapter fourteen telling them to “follow the way of love,” Paul is indicating that love has application to the subject of spiritual gifts. As someone has said, the gifts of the Spirit should be exercised by the fruit of the Spirit. From what Morris has told us about the word “follow,” this is to be done in an on-going fashion. In view of what follows in chapter fourteen, Paul may have instructed the church to “desire spiritual gifts” so that they did not misunderstand his instructions as a negative view of the gifts. And most certainly, he urges them to desire spiritual gifts because they are good for the church. First Corinthians 12:7 makes it clear that this is the purpose of the gifts. So, Paul’s introductory remarks tell us that the gifts are to be sought and they also tell us the “spirit” in which they are to be exercised.

In the last part of verse one, Paul especially commends the gift of prophecy to his readers. Since the letter is addressed to the church as a whole, Witherington reminds us that any believer could be used in the gift of prophecy.12 But why this emphasis on prophecy (seemingly over against tongues)? Barrett believes that it is because the Corinthians had an exaggerated view of the importance of tongues.13 Morris also shares this view.14 Paul does compare and contrast the two gifts and he has an obvious preference for prophecy. Fee says that what Paul is taking issue with is not tongues but tongues that are not interpreted.15 Also in commenting on the passage Fee says that, “The concern is edification (vv, 3-5), the issue intelligibility.”16 This is a very good assessment of the situation. With this in mind let us now give our attention to what Paul says about the gifts of tongues and prophecy.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2006

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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