Paul's Passing Thoughts

Exercising Spiritual Gifts in Love – Lesson 3: The Priority of Gifts – Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on July 31, 2017

The following is part three of a four-part series.
Taken from Andy Young’s third session at the 2016 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny

Click here for lesson oneClick here for lesson twoClick here for part four
(Links to the archived files are found below)

In the first two lessons we’ve worked our way through 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 13. It is very common to hear lessons on chapter 13 – the great love chapter. It’s a very popular chapter to use in marriage counseling, or something you most likely will get a sermon on at a couples’ retreat. And that can be a very effective use of the passage. It certainly has application to all aspects of life.

But I think if we are going to be responsible students of scripture, if we are going to be good Bereans, if we are going to make any progress in undoing over 500 years of protestant orthodoxy and doublespeak, we need to be very careful to understand the context of every passage. We can no longer just take any text and wrest some application out of it that might make us feel good or might support our pre-suppositions, our assumptions, our theological bias. We must understand that the author of EVERY passage of scripture had a specific message he wanted to communicate. He has a specific context, and if we are going to understand truth we must understand that it can only be found if the application is made in that context, and only in that context. Otherwise we run the risk of doctrinal error. This is what happens when you begin with an assumption and read that assumption into the text (eisegesis), rather than reading the text and drawing the conclusion out of it (exegesis).

So lets continue on where we left off. This entire subject of exercising spiritual gifts in love covers 3 chapters, 12-14.  The entire passage is really a rebuke to the Corinthians. Paul is attempting to correct faulty behavior that has arisen because of bad thinking – bad assumptions. And the bad thinking was the result of bad teaching.

Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians was that they were being taught to covet tongues. In our first two lessons we explored the reality of being part of the Body of Christ and how we are all members. Our spiritual gift is analogous to the function of a body part. His first argument was that you can’t all be the same body part. The body needs to have all the parts with different functions if it’s going to work properly.

His next argument was that by coveting after tongues you were not showing love because you sought to edify yourself and not the body, and this prompts him to launch into his dissertation on love in chapter 13. At the end of that dissertation, he makes the point that our gifts are merely an installment payment on our inheritance. The Holy Spirit is the down payment, the gifts are an installment, and something better is yet to come – our full reward and inheritance. Tongues is just one of many gifts that have a purpose in the here and now but have no real eternal value.

Now as Paul moves into chapter 14, he starts to get into the practical application of spiritual gifts, specifically comparing and contrasting tongues and prophesy. The whole chapter is devoted to practical examples of the how and why gifts are exercised in love.   Keep in mind the context. He is rebuking the Corinthians for allowing themselves to be swayed by this teaching that tongues are to be coveted after. He picks up once again with that point, and his next argument is that when it comes right down to it, tongues is an inferior gift.

Now that is not to say that tongues has no value. But from a comparative standpoint, tongues is inferior. Remember in lesson one I showed you the list where Paul prioritized the gifts, and in that list tongues was listed last. It’s not to say that tongues does not have value, but there are other gifts that have more value, just like we said the heart is more valuable than the pinky toe. The pinky toe has value. AND, we would not just arbitrarily decide to cut off our pinky toe. But if we had to prioritize parts of the body, we would all agree that some parts are more valuable than others.

What is ironic about all of this is that the Corinthians thought they were being zealous for a very important gift. They all wanted it. And the irony is that in the grand scheme of things, they all wanted to be pinky toes. And Paul begins chapter 14 by driving home this point.

14:1Follow after love, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.”

Look what he’s saying here. You can almost hear the sarcasm in this. He’s just finished making his case that coveting after any gift is not showing love, and that to make that point even more profound, he says, you’re not even coveting the best gift. I mean, if you’re going to covet a gift, you should at least covet prophesy. Prophesy is a superior gift. It’s at the top of that list. So he starts out almost mocking them here.

So this next paragraph he makes his case WHY prophesy is superior and tongues is inferior, why it’s of lesser value. Why tongues is only a pinky toe.

2For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. 3But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the assembly. 5I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the assembly may receive edifying.”

Here’s his point. If you covet prophesy- now again he doesn’t condone this; his whole case is to be thankful for whatever gift the Spirit gives us- but if you covet prophesy it may be for your own benefit, but at least you would also be edifying the whole Body as well. Why? Because everyone would understand what you’re saying. With tongues, no one but you would be edified. Unless there is someone there who can interpret what you’re saying, which implies that someone is present who speaks that language. There is also the implication that the one speaking in tongues doesn’t even know what he’s saying. I’ll talk about that more in a little while.

But go back for a moment. Remember in Acts 2, those who were speaking in tongues were actually speaking real native languages, the vernacular of those Hellenistic Jews who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem from different lands. They sounded like native speakers, and the ethnic Jews there thought they were all speaking gibberish because they couldn’t understand them. They said they were drunk. The ethnic Jews in Jerusalem weren’t edified, UNTIL, the Hellenistic Jews told them what they heard and Peter explained the purpose; the fulfillment of Joel 2. Then you can be sure that MANY were edified. Who? The Hellenistic Jews who heard the wonderful works of God in their own language, and the ethnic Jews who saw the sign performed in fulfillment of Joel 2 and believed in the name of Jesus as a result.

As far as the Corinthians go, if we are to make the correct application here by comparing the use of tongues among these Gentiles with how we see tongues used in Acts, if tongues was to serve any edifying purpose, there would have to be Jews present, or there would have to be foreigners present; those who would hear whatever the tongues-speaker was teaching in their own native language. It would seem to me that that would be a valid and consistent use of tongues within the assembly for the purpose of edifying the body.

Now Paul goes on to use himself as an example. Paul says, what if, hypothetically, I came to you speaking in tongues. Here he might even be referencing the first time he ever came to Corinth and brought the gospel to them or any time that he returned to teach them. Paul says what if I came and taught you in a language you didn’t understand?

Or we can make this even more personal. I took 3 years of French in high school. Now I can hardly call myself fluent in French. I can congugate a few verbs and I know a few conversational phrases. But let’s suppose hypothetically that I have the ability to speak French like a native speaker. What if I stood up here right now and started speaking to you in French. Would you be edified? No? Why not? Wouldn’t you be impressed by my ability? Wouldn’t that make you want to speak French, too, so you could impress everyone with how well you can speak French? What’s the motivation? Me trying to impress you with my ability. Is that love? No, and you’re not edified. So Paul uses himself as an example in verse 6. He says:

6Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?”

There is no benefit to you if I speak in tongues. You’re only going to benefit if I teach you in your own language. It has to be something you understand. It has to be clear and distinct. I go back to Acts 2 again. It said the disciples spoke as the spirit gave them utterance. And that word “utterance” was the word αποφθεγγομαι – “ap-off-THENG-oh-my” – to speak forth plainly and distinctly. Now look how Paul emphasizes this idea of being plain and distinct.

7And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.”

See how he’s making this case that tongues is not as important as you think it is? He’s making the case that tongues is an inferior gift. It has a very limited purpose. It is of no benefit to anyone unless it can be understood. He uses the example of a musical instrument. And he uses the phrase that refers to distinct musical notes. Perhaps we can think of it this way. It would be like going to a concert that is supposed to be a Mozart flute concerto, and the flutist, instead of playing Mozart, starts playing Beethoven while the rest of the orchestra is playing Mozart. What are you going to have? It’s going to be an unintelligible mess.

Now the flutist might be giving superior performance. He may be playing Beethoven the best he ever has. He would probably be very impressed with himself. But everyone else in the orchestra will be looking at him like, “Dude, what are you doing?” People in the audience might start booing. They came to hear Mozart. They came to hear a famous flutist. He might be good, but we can’t tell how good he is because he’s doing his own thing. We can’t discern what he’s playing.

Or suppose you have an army back in the days of the American Revolution, and the commanding general wants the reserve battalion to go in and support the front line. And he sends a message to the bugler to play the call to support, and the bugler starts playing “Yankee Doodle.” Now, he might be playing “Yankee Doodle” the best he ever has. But the battalion is going to hear that during battle and they will be like, “What’s that supposed to mean? Are we supposed to charge, are we supposed to retreat, are we supposed to flank right?”  And someone else would reply, ” I don’t know, but man, can that guy play the bugle or what!”

No. It’s useless. It is unintelligible, useless noise. It does not edify anyone except the one doing it, and that is not using your gift in love.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. If nothing else, he is thorough when he develops his arguments. Now he uses tongues as a language itself. And this I think gives even more support to the idea that the gift of tongues is a real spoken, human language. He talks about the importance of language. Look at verse 10:

10There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.”

None of them is without signification. The word here is αφωνον (a-PHOH-non), and it means “without sound.” He’s referring to all the various languages in the world. Think about all of the languages there are, and none of them are useless. None of them are without meaning. Each language has its own ability to communicate. Each language is able to be understood. Each language is distinct. Now if I can’t understand the language, what does that make me to be? Look at verse 11:

11Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.”

A barbarian is the term that was used to describe an uneducated or an uncultured person. The people who lived in the remote islands in those regions were separated from Greek and Roman culture, and so they had their own culture and their own language, and they generally didn’t fit in to the Roman society. So this term “barbarian” was a pejorative term that was used for those groups of people. We might say savages. You might think of the way the American Indians were viewed by colonial settlers. So if I start talking to someone in a language he doesn’t understand, I would seem like a savage or a barbarian to him. I would seem as if I were uneducated, like I had no skill in relating to his culture. Just like that flutist who played Beethoven when the rest of the orchestra was playing Mozart.   Everyone would be like, what is the matter with him. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s not a very skilled musician. He’s a barbarian.

And likewise, I might think someone else was a barbarian or uneducated or uncivilized if they tried to communicate to me and I didn’t know what they were saying. And we tend to do that don’t we, if you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t have a good grasp of English, and you have a hard time understanding them, don’t you somewhere in the back of your mind, maybe just a little, you kind of think they aren’t very smart.   I think that’s part of human nature, and I think Paul understands that. The ability to communicate is perceived to be indicative of your intelligence. Right or wrong I think that is just a reality of life.

And then in verse 12 here he uses a word I love. Take a look:

12Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the assembly.”

That ye may excel to the edifying of the assembly. The word “excel” is the word περισσευω (peri-syoo-oh), it is literally translated “super-abound.” Not just abound, but SUPERabound! The prefix “peri” means to go over and above. Seek after being “super-abounding” towards the edifying of the body. So, if you’re going to zealous for spiritual gifts, make sure your zealousness is in the right place. Be zealous for gifts insofar as it accomplishes the edifying of the body. Be zealous for that. Not just zealous, but super-abounding!

So going along with this exhortaion that Paul just gave, he now gives some practical instruction for how to carry that out. If someone in the assembly has the gift of tongues, how should he exercise it? How would he use his gift in a way that is done in love so that it edifies the body? Verse 13:

13Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 14For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.”

If someone begins speaking in tongues, he should pray for an interpreter. Ok, well that brings up several questions.   I think we need to ask these things. Does the tongue-speaker understand what he’s saying? Because if he does, why doesn’t he just interpret what he just said? I think the implication is that for the most part, the tongue-speaker does NOT understand what he’s saying. But somebody would. Whatever that native language is, someone else who does speak that language would understand it.

Now Paul, says, “let him pray that someone should interpret.” Does that mean he prays in that tongue? If he doesn’t understand what he’s saying how can he pray for an interpreter? Does someone else need to pray for an interpreter?

So there are all these questions, and I don’t know if we can answer them. You know I’m with Paul Dohse on this matter, and this is what we mean when we say we’re coming out of a Protestant dark age. There is so much that we are re-learning here. We’re undoing over 500 years of orthodoxy. But these are the kinds of questions the laity needs to be asking, and we need to be earnestly trying to find out the answers to the kinds of questions.   This is going to take a lot of work, and we are bit by bit trying to put the pieces together.

But I think what the apostle Paul is doing here is setting up a test for authenticity. He’s allowing for a way for those in the assembly to discern if someone who is exercising tongues is exercising a real gift or a counterfeit one.

Let me show you something here real quick. This might be off topic, but it’s a good example to illustrate what I mean. Turn over real quick to 2 Timothy 3:8. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, in chapter 3 he’s warning about false teachers coming into the assemblies, and he’s describing what they look like, what they do. And then in verse 8 he compares them this way:

“Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:8

Jannes and Jambres, in case you don’t know, are the names traditionally given to Pharaoh’s magicians. You remember what they did. God told Moses to perform certain signs before Pharaoh. He told Moses to throw down Aaron’s rod and it turned into a snake and he picked it up and it turned back into a rod. You remember this. And what happened, they said, oh that’s no big deal, we can do that too, watch. And they threw down their rods and they turned into snakes. Only problem was that Moses snake ate up their snakes.

But the point is, Jannes and Jambres were able to reproduce the same sign that Moses did. The only difference is that what Jannes and Jambres did was counterfeit. 2 Timothy 3:8 uses the word reprobate, but that’s what reprobate means, “counterfeit.” Now you know what counterfeit means right? Think of counterfeit money. It looks real, it’s the same size, has the same markings. It might feel real. And unless you know what to look for, you can’t tell it apart from the real thing. And that’s how Paul describes false teachers to Timothy. They come in looking real, sounding real, they might work some of the same signs or exercise some of the same gifts, but their deception is subtle, and you have to know what to look for.

What if spotting a false teacher was this easy?

You know that’s how the Fed trains people to identify counterfeit money. They don’t study the fake bills. They spend all their time studying the real thing. They get them to the point of being so intimately familiar with what a real bill looks like and feels like that they can tell a fake one immediately. Identifying false teachers takes the same kind of skill, and Paul wants Timothy to be so familiar with sound doctrine that when false teachers come in, they give themselves away immediately!

I think he’s doing the same here with tongues. Because remember we said in lesson one that there must have been some teaching that worked its way in teaching these Corinthian believers to be earnestly seeking after the gift of tongues. They all wanted tongues. And we know that some people should have had the gift already. That’s reasonable to assume. But what about those who didn’t have the gift of tongues but coveted after it? Is it possible that in their desire to speak in tongues that some of them may have developed a counterfeit form of it? In other words, an utterance that was not a real language that could be understood, but was really nothing but gibberish?

So basically here is the test he gives. If someone starts speaking in tongues, if there is no one there who can understand him, then he needs to stop. Plain and simple. If no one understands him, no one is being edified. And here we are right back at the original point. Exercising gifts in love for the purpose of edifying. These statements he makes in these next verses allude to that. Paul shows us a better way. Look at verse 15.

15What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say ‘Amen’ at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?”

Got that? This is the better thing to do. If no one can understand you, then be quiet. It’s better that you be understood because that edifies the body. That is love. If you’re praying in an unknown tongue, how can anybody rationally say “Amen” to what you just prayed? He has no idea what you said. It’s vain and meaningless and certainly doesn’t edify anyone.

Now, I like these next verses because here is Paul’s sarcasm coming through again. Verse 17:

17For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:”

You know what Paul is saying here? This is one of those really confusing verses in the Bible that theologians twist themselves into a pretzel trying to explain it. Really they are trying to make it fit their theology. But the problem is the verse suffers from a really bad translation. And if you look at this verse in the Greek it is understandable. But when it comes right down to it, the answer is very simple. I think Young’s Literal Translation has the best rendering of this verse.

“I give thanks to God – more than you all with tongue-speaking” (YLT)

See what he’s getting at? See he’s giving them the benefit of the doubt. Ok, you might be giving thanks to God praying in that tongue that no one can understand. I’ll give you that, but so what? No one is edified. When I give thanks to God, when I pray, since I’m praying in a language that you speak and understand, everyone is edified. It’s more effective. My thanksgiving to God is more effective than all of you put together with your tongue-speaking.

See that? See how simple that is? That’s all he’s saying. And then he piles on even more. He makes his point even harder. Verse 19:

19Yet in the assembly I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.”

For all the importance you guys put on tongues, I’d rather speak a few words and be understood and have everyone be edified, than make a show of all the words I can speak in an unknown language and not have anyone understand me. Now you tell me which is better? You tell me, which one is showing love? Which is the better way?

…To be continued

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