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Desire Prophecy: Pursuing what builds the church

To members of the body of Christ who deny or downplay the gifts of the Spirit Paul says desire or seek them.

The two gifts have a couple of common characteristics in that they are both gifts of the Spirit and verbal gifts, but there are significant differences as well. In verse two, Paul give us some details about the gift of tongues. He tells us that the one who speaks in tongues directs their speech to God, not to men. At least part of the reason for this is that no one understands them because they are speaking mysteries and not the native language of the congregation. By way of contrast in verse three Paul describes the gift of prophecy. One who is prophesying speaks to men (note: the direction of the speech) for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (note also the contents of the prophetic message). In order for people to receive the benefits of this communication they must be able to understand it. Therefore, prophecy is spoken in the native language of the congregation.

A further contrast between the two gifts is drawn in verse four. This contrast has to do with the benefits that the gifts produce. The person who speaks in tongues edifies (or builds himself up) whereas, the person who prophesies edifies or builds up the church.

To other believers who have and exercise the gifts Paul would say make sure that you exercise them in the proper spirit, which is love, and for the proper purpose, the edification of the church.

In this contrast the issue of edification comes into view. Edification of the church body as a whole only takes place when those gathered understand what is being said. This accounts for Paul’s preference for the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is intelligible. Paul wants more people to be served. If the church continues to give excessive attention to uninterpreted tongues the church will remain individualistic in that each one will be concentrating only on building themselves up. This in the long run will be detrimental to the life of the church and is in fact contrary to the purpose for which God gave spiritual gifts; God gave them for the common good (12:7).

Now this is not to say that tongues is a bad gift. It is a gift that has come from God (12:10) and as such has its place. Later in the chapter Paul himself says that he speaks in tongues (14:18). Lest he be misunderstood in verse five he says that he would like every one of them to speak in tongues. So, Paul is not against speaking in tongues, but he would rather have the Corinthians prophesy when gathered together as a church. The later part of verse five makes it clear that this is because he wants the church (as a whole) to be edified.

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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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