Paul continues to call for love from the Corinthian church. He also encourages them to seek one specific spiritual gift because that gift builds up the body. It leaves no one out and all benefit by its use. I think it may be his favorite spiritual gift.
The spiritual gift Paul values most is the gift of prophecy. Or maybe he simply values it most in the church service. It is also possible that he is highlighting this gift because the gift of tongues was being overused in the church without the gift of prophecy accompanying it and he is trying to restore order.
The gift of tongues and prophecy are both gifts from God and are in operation today. I do not believe they were only for the apostles as they are mentioned as being in operation in many of the churches. I want to share my experiences with you regarding these two gifts, both good and bad.
I grew up in a Pentecostal church where they believed in using the gift of tongues all the time. It wasn’t used by the pastor while delivering the message but during praise and worship time. It could be VERY confusing to someone who didn’t know what was going on, like a visitor or a young child.
I remember going to the front to receive the Holy Spirit so I could join in this form of worship. I was surrounded and prayed for until I uttered anything they felt met the standard of tongues. I don’t know if I really received the gift of tongues that night as I was willing to do whatever it took to get these people to release me. But I DO know that I have since received that gift from God and am VERY thankful for it.
While attending a very small church our pastor decided to teach us more about the gift of tongues. He sat down with his wife and faced us. He spoke about different uses for tongues; simple prayer language, prophecy connected, intercession, and foreign language. He then proceeded to have his wife “demonstrate” the different kind of tongues. That experience still disturbs me today. It was very contrived and I don’t believe it was something that God approved of. I don’t believe it was anything but a performance.
But I do NOT doubt the gift of tongues itself. My reason for this is I have seen the power that kind of prayer can unlock in my own life. I have had times that my soul is so heavy that nothing but tongues can release it. The most memorable time for me was when my husband was recovering in the CCU after heart surgery. He was not doing well and I was beyond scared. I was awakened one night and felt pressed to pray in tongues to intercede for him. I was alone in a little room and I poured my heart out in that prayer. While praying, I had no idea the words the Spirit was using, but He showed me visions concerning the battle that was being waged at the time. When I finally felt a release of urgency I began to praise in the Spirit instead. I don’t remember how long this prayer time lasted but I was able to sleep in peace afterwards. When I came onto the unit that morning they began to tell me how my husband had started improving in the middle of the night and confirmed the visions that I had seen during my prayer time. NO ONE will EVER convince me that tongues are not real or for today!
As for the gift of prophecy, I can’t lay claim to having this gift. I have had a few visions and dreams that were of things to come but not the gift Paul is referencing. I have seen it in action though and have been blessed by it.
The customary way that I have seen the gift of prophecy work is directly after someone shares a message in tongues. Another person would then share the meaning of that message. Because the Spirit is usually the only one who understands the first message, unless it is spoken in a foreign language and someone present speaks that language, the Spirit is the one who gives the interpretation through the gift of prophecy. That is how Paul was instructing the Corinthian church to use these two gifts. He was however allowing that the gift of prophecy could be used on its own, but not tongues in the regular assembly.
Another way I have seen the gift of prophecy operate is through messages delivered to an individual, written down, and then read to the congregation. I was skeptical of this form of prophecy until I stopped to think about the book of Revelation. That is exactly what John did.
I won’t go so far as to say that every time someone gives a prophetic word that it comes from God, but as Paul said, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (chapter 12, verse 3). The best way to judge is if it builds up those receiving it. Sometimes that building up comes from a corrective prophecy too. The Old Testament holds MANY examples of that kind of prophecy.
Let’s get back to Paul’s directions. He is not telling the believers to throw out the gift of tongues. He wants the believer to use that gift in their own prayer life. It builds up the individual. But he is calling for its use during the service to be put in order. When you come together as a body, use the gifts that benefit the whole body, not just the individual. Don’t scare the visitor off with people rampantly speaking in tongues. If the Holy Spirit gives a message in tongues, ask also for the interpretation. He knows what is best for the body and won’t deny this request. The Holy Spirit desires order and reaches out to the believer and non-believer in ways that draw them closer to God, not drive them away.
Love for one another calls us to this too. If I truly want to bring someone to Christ, it’s much easier if I don’t scare the pants off them or make them think that all Christians are crazy.
Father God, thank You for Your gift of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit, thank You for all the gifts You bestow on us. Thank You for being ever present in my life and for all the times You changed me through Your gifts. I can’t begin to tell You how blessed I feel thinking back over the times You used my mouth to pray God’s heart. I’m also in awe of the times You spoke to me through my dreams or little visions. A lot of those visions come during our bible time. Thank You for letting me share those with others. Please continue to speak to my heart and show me the heart of the Father. Forgive me for my skepticism or doubt about Your workings in others. Forgive me if I have judged wrongly. Help me see what is really You and not something contrived.