The 10 Commandments: H.C. Question 93

How are these commandments divided? 

Matthew 22:36-40 – “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Mark 12:28-31 – One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”



The Law: H.C. Question 92

What is God’s law? 

Exodus 20:1-17 – And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Deuteronomy 5:6-21 – “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.



Law: H.C. Question 4

Heidelberg Catechism Question 4

What does God’s law require of us?

Deuteronomy 6:5 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Leviticus 19:18 – “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Matthew 22:36-40 – “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”



Romans 2 – The Law

Read Romans 2

The prominence and important of the Law in the Old Testament cannot be understated.  It’s relevance to the New Testament and the New Covenant often is.  Paul is laying out the basics of God’s plan for salvation and we see here that the Law was a vital part of that plan.  For God’s people, however, Paul points to the true purpose of the Law and God’s true desire of His people: a “circumcised heart.”

God’s desire for His people was a renewed, reconciled relationship with humankind. Since the calling of Abram in Genesis 12, the whole arc of this relationship was that all of the nations of the world would be blessed through God’s covenant relationship with Abram.  The Law, then, became a part of how God was calling His people to live in this relationship.  It was, as Moses points out in Deuteronomy 6, always about the heart.  God’s Law showed His people the things that would damage their relationship with the goal being that they would want to avoid these things, desiring a deeper relationship with Him.

Yet Israel completely misses this point.  First, they ignore the Law and, when they are punished in exile, they eventually divulge into legalism rather than heart change.  So many laws were developed to protect people from breaking God’s Law that it was literally impossible to follow, even for the religious leaders and teachers that Paul addresses here.

Israel’s problem, in the end, was that they thought that having the Law and being in the land is what gave them their identity.  What they failed to see is that it isn’t what one does that makes them God’s people but who they are as God’s called children.  We too need to remember that our Identity is grounded in Christ, not our actions.

Check out what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this:

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A: 12, 13

Check out what the Belgic Confession says about this:

Belgic Confession Articles: 17



Luke 3 – What Then Shall We Do?

Read Luke 3

Luke records the rise of John the Baptist’s ministry in great detail, similar to that of Matthew.  Here Luke is both following up on the opening narrative about John’s calling, even before he was born, but also relaying to his readers both John’s message and its impact on the people of the land.  John’s message comes straight from the prophet Isaiah, one of preparation and repentance as the Kingdom of Heaven approaches.  Everyone, it seems, asks the same question in the face of John’s message: “What then shall we do?”

John’s response to these questions is not at all complicated, though and essentially involves a return to the Biblical way of life.  There is a certain irony here, especially for the many Jews that are present here.  The call of John is a return to who they were and what they were called to from the very beginning; their identity as the people of God.

Sometimes we make the message of God so extremely complicated.  We create so many rules and regulations for ourselves, governing how we are supposed to live as people of faith.  But what does John’s message boil down to?  A very simple, familiar passage: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Don’t cheat people, give to those in need, don’t threaten; love your neighbors.

This really is, as Jesus says, the core of Scripture, and what we are called to as people of faith.  It is not complicated or complex and requires no laws or regulation.  The message of the Kingdom of Heaven is the call to love and this is seen most specifically in the life and death of Jesus Christ who is the chief example of the love of God.



Mark 12:28-34 "What Matters Most?"

There are a lot of things that we consider to be important; sometimes too important.  We make big deals about little things, promoting them to be the true test of orthodoxy (right faith).  Jesus says here that the most important thing is relationships:

  1. Our relationship with God
  2. Our relationship with our neighbor


Day 356: 1 Peter 1-5; Courage in the Midst of Suffering

As we continue in our reading, we come to the books of first and second Peter.  Tradition holds that it was the Apostle Peter that wrote these two books, probably while he was in Rome.  Whether or not this is true, I guess, is besides the point.  Reading today you’ve probably picked up on a common theme that has been prominent, especially in the latter letters of Paul and these general letters that have gone out to the whole church.  As the Church continued to grow and spread out throughout the Roman Empire, it continued to face a great deal of persecution and struggle.  The Roman government acknowledged the Church as a sect of Judaism, something that was not necessarily beneficial to Christians.  The Jews has often been hostile to Roman rule, which caused many believers to be persecuted on behalf of the Jews.  More than that, the Jews themselves obviously didn’t accept the Christians as well, thus causing more persecution.  Many believers lost all that they had, their homes, businesses and any sort of ability to sustain a living for themselves and their families, all because they professed faith in Christ.  The further on we go in the first century, the more this becomes prevalent.

Peter, or the writer of First Peter, knew this and was writing into this very issue.  The Church had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire; this letter is addressed to the churches throughout what is no known as Turkey.  Peter also addresses this letter “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.”  He could mean a number of things here.  Returning once again to Dr. Robert VanVoorst’s book Reading the New Testament Today, VanVoorst writes that Peter could be referring to “spiritual exiles” in that all believers are spiritually exiled from the fully realized kingdom of God and reign of Jesus Christ here on earth.  Another reason could be an implication that the writer was looking to target a Jewish audience as well, using words like “exile” and “dispersion” which show up in the Old Testament a great deal.  In any case, it is clear that Peter is writing to many churches during a time of increased persecution.

One of the main points that Peter is making in this letter actually speaks directly into this time of trial and struggle and in many ways echoes the book of James.  Peter is imploring the believing community that they are called to live lives of faith and to testify to Christ Jesus, even if it brings them troubles in this life.  From the very beginning, Peter talks about the salvation that we receive in Christ Jesus, and continues by saying “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

It may be easier in life to acknowledge faith in church and even in our speech with other Christians, yet hiding it from the rest of the world so as to not face persecution.  However, this is not the way that we as disciples of Christ are called to live.  In my discipleship class this year we have talked at great length about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what that looks like in our lives and in the lives of the church.  Ultimately this is lived out in the calling that we have had since the beginning, To Love God and To Love Neighbor.  This is the greatest commandment that Jesus testifies to and that even Israel was called to.  This calling has two aspects, an inward action to love God and to love neighbor, and an outward action to show the love of God in our lives and to do that towards our neighbor.  Faith and Christian discipleship are not something to be lived out only in the Church building on Sunday mornings, they are things that are to be lived out EVERYDAY, they are the out flowing of what happens on Sunday morning.

What does this look like?  Peter addresses this by saying that it looks, first and foremost, like having Christ as the cornerstone of our  lives.  It also shows up in our submission to authority and respect of it in the world (whether we agree with it or not).  It shows up in how we love and treat our family, with love and respect.  It shows up in our vocations, even if it leads to suffering or persecution (a word I use in the lightest of senses because Christians in North America do not truly know what it means to be persecuted to the point of imprisonment and death).  It also shows up in our we interact with other Christians as well, which brings us back around to the notion of discipleship.  Peter exhorts the “elders” among them to be good shepherds of the flock, something that we often loose in our churches today.  Older folks do not feel that they can relate to the younger generations, or that the young have any desire to listen to them, but they do and the church is in desperate need of people that are solid in their faith to come alongside the young and immature so that they can be built up into Christ.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.



Day 355: James 1-5; Authentic Faith

There isn’t a lot that is really known about the writer of the book of James or the approximate time of its writing.  Some people hold to the idea that James was written by the half-brother of Jesus who didn’t believe in Jesus at first but was later converted and worked in the Church during the first century.  However, this is not known for sure and neither is the time frame in which it was written.  Honestly, it could have been written anywhere in the second half of the first century.

This epistle has not always been very well received.  Unlike most of the epistle writings that we have encountered thus far, James is one of the more practical writings, talking the authentic living out of our faith in Christ Jesus.  Martin Luther called this epistle the “epistle of straw” because he thought that it went against all of Paul’s teachings on justification by grace through faith alone.  On the surface, I could totally understand why he may have thought this.  Any discussion about how to live as Christians, what is appropriate and inappropriate, what we can do and can’t do walks the line of a “works-based righteousness” model of salvation.  Dealing with this thought about salvation has often been a struggle in the Christian Church, having to put down a number of heresies surrounding it.

However, if we take a few moments to read deeper into James (and if you’re feeling like James is all about works-based righteousness, I would encourage you to read it through again) we see that James isn’t at all talking about earning salvation through works, but rather the appropriate way of living which sees the marriage of faith and works together.  In fact, James’ audience is likely dealing with these issues at the time of his writing.  One of the many struggles that the church encountered in the first century, really up until the conversion of Constantine, was those Christians who said that they had faith, but didn’t show it by how they lived.  One of the main reasons that this was a struggle was because those that showed that they were Christians outwardly, through the way that they lived and through their interactions with others were often subject to persecution, arrest, torture and even death because of their faith.  This is the very reason that the writer of James starts out his letter with encouragement in the face of persecution.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing… Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

From my perspective, the rest of this letter is really about the exposition of these two major claims in the opening of His letter.  James’ major thrust here is that our faith needs to be shown in our actions, lived out in our lives everyday.  He says this through a whole bunch of different methods, all of which have to do with lifestyle and response to the call of God.  We need to be doers of the Word of God, not just hearers.  People will see our faith in our actions, not simply hear them in our words.

To be honest, this book is something that the contemporary church needs to read again and again; it is a call to missional living.  Especially in North America, believers have learned to live segmented lives in which we are very quick to acknowledge our faith in church, or even with our church friends, but if we are outside of those spheres, no one would ever know that there is anything different about us.  How is it that we expect to spread the love of Christ to people in our lives if we live as though our faith means nothing to us?  This is really what James is getting at.  We need to be careful of what we say, taming our tongues.  We need to not be segregating and dishonoring people, judging them for their racial, social, and/or economic status.  We need to not boast about tomorrow and not live as the world lives.

I know… this all sounds like legalistic Christianity speak… one person saying that if you want to be a Christian you have to do all these things… but honestly that is not it at all.  James never says that you have to do these things to earn salvation.  Nothing he says is at all in contrast with any other part of Scripture.  In fact, he references the Shema (or part of the greatest commandment) in his writing!  We aren’t talking about earning our salvation here, we are talking about the Romans 12 aspect of salvation, offering our bodies as living sacrifices, being renewed by the Holy Spirit, and then living it out day in and day out no matter what the cost.  In this we are called to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves because as we saw in the book of Hebrews, all of faith comes from seeing what God has done for us and believing.  James simply takes it one step further to tell us that, in view of all this, we need to live our our faith in a way that can be seen by all, for the glory of the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit.



Day 337: 2 Corinthians 8-10; The Cheerful Giver

Paul has the dubious pleasure that I think every pastor throughout the history of the church has probably had at some point in time in his ministry, that of talking about giving.  You know… that awkward sermon that is given on the need for tithing and giving cheerfully when you “can’t afford” it.  Generally it is made more awkward by the fact that church funds are usually low, giving is down, and many of the church member blame the pastor and leadership.  It is an interesting paradox that churches often face as we are asked to give into a system that is clearly broken, and we are asked to do it joyfully.

Well, that might be a little bit more than what Paul is talking about here.  Paul has asked the churches to given gifts for an offering that he is taking to the church in Jerusalem who has suffered a great deal of persecution at the hands of the Jews.  They were, at this time, likely doing a lot more hiding and were probably very poor.  Chances are, the church in Jerusalem had been kicked out of the synagogues and many of the believers had been arrested.  It is entirely possible that they were meeting in houses or even in back alleys to worship, if they were able to meet at all.  Some of them may have lost much of their businesses, their homes, and perhaps even their families.  While Saul, now Paul, wasn’t persecuting them anymore, there were no doubt many that rose up to take his place.

Wisely, Paul approaches this from the angle of giving cheerfully, even drawing on Scripture like Psalm 112 to talk about the need and benefit of giving.  He doesn’t simply say that he needs money and then guilts them into giving by making them feel bad.  Instead, he talks about how giving is part and parcel to the Christian life, yet another part of the sanctification that is taking place within the believers.  Interestingly enough, Paul points out right away that it is a matter of the heart, not a matter of wealth or physical abundance.

Remember a long while back when we talked about the Shema and some of the meanings of the words “heart,” “soul,” and “strength?”  Let’s recap real quick here:

MIGHT – מְאֹדֶֽךָ – “Me’od” – power, strength, very, greatly, sore, exceeding, great, exceedingly, much, exceeding , exceedingly, diligently, good, might, mightily – Roughly translated… “me’od” means ‘muchness.’  If you have some sort of a spell checker, you will see that ‘muchness’ isn’t actually a word.  If we look at what we are loving God with so far, it encompasses all of our inward and outward being.  This word indicates then, all of the things that make up our lives.  For Hebrew people, one’s strength and power was related to his (and I say his because it was a patriarchal society) family, his wealth (money, flocks, herds, servants, etc), his house, his land, defenses, etc.  All of these things were to be used to love God completely and bring glory to Him.  While loving God with your exceedingly large biceps is a nice thing, this really means a bit more than that.

This is a direct quote from Day 53, we talked about the deeper meanings behind this command that really has become the overarching theme that runs throughout Scripture.  Not only are we to love God with our mind and our heart, and even by the things that we do and the interactions that we have, we are also supposed to be honoring God with all the physical things that we have as well.  Part of this is really understanding the nature of all we have as being first and foremost a blessing for God.  Our Heavenly Father is the creator of all things, He is above all things, and it is He who has blessed us with all that we have, great or small.  In this we need to make sure that our hearts are not for our things, but for the One who has given them to us.

The other part of this has to do with the nature of our hearts in this recognition.  Not only do we remember that all we have is given to us as a blessing from God, we are also to have a cheerful and open heart when we are giving back to him and to others.  Yes, it isn’t simply about the giving of things that Paul is talking about here, he is talking about the nature of our hearts both when we give and in our everyday lives.  We have not been blessed to be hoarders of our blessings.  Like the gift of grace in Jesus Christ, we are blessed to be a blessing, given to so that we can give ourselves as well.  This is both the attitude and the stance that we are to take as grow ever deeper in humility and thankfulness, giving generously and joyfully of the gifts that God has given to us.



Day 333: 1 Corinthians 10-13; Worship, Spiritual Gifts, and Love

Today’s reading, apart from chapter 10, have much to do with the corporate aspect of worship in the sense that Paul is talking about “rules” in worship as well as the use of spiritual gifts.  In fact, chapters 11-14 all have to do with pretty much the same thing: corporate worship.  The thing about these chapters is that each one of them often gets used for some reasons that weren’t necessarily part of the original meaning.

In chapter 11, Paul addresses head coverings in worship.  This was likely an issue for the Corinthian church in general and Paul is not necessarily speaking to the whole church here.  It is possible that things were happening in worship involving head coverings that were becoming distractions for worship, therefore Paul set some guidelines for them.  Notice though, that in the midst of this discussion, Paul draws it all back into the center, which is Christ.

In the same way, Paul addresses things that are happening around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  The greater story, we read, is that there was division at the Lord’s Table because of class, wealth, and work and this is not acceptable.  Paul writes, “In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.  Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

We see here too that Paul uses the words of Jesus’ institution of communion and then goes on to point out that one thing that needs to happen during communion is the act of self examination.  By not doing so, Paul says, we are sinning against the body and blood of Christ.  These words are used a great deal in communion and communion preparation liturgies which I think is a good thing, self examination is one thing that we are called to do as Christians.  Sadly, these words have also been used to keep people away from the Table of our Lord, and I don’t think this is right at all.  The Lord’s Supper is a place in which we are welcomed, a place that Christ invites all His people to, and it is clear that all of Christ’s people are sinful by nature (even though we are redeemed).  It is not by human judgments that we are judged, but before God, and when we come to the table we need to remember, above all else, our identity in Christ Jesus as those that are forgiven and justified.  Here Paul is addressing systems of inequality that were present in the Church that were “dishonoring” others at the Lord’s Table, something that is unacceptable in the Church and to God.

Paul then turns his attention to the use of spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14.  I know what you are thinking, “isn’t 1 Corinthians 13 the chapter about love?”  Yes, it is.  However this is another passage that often has been used outside of the context for which it was originally meant.  Paul is talking to the church in a corporate setting here, for both the spiritual gifts and the “love chapter.”  There were a lot of things that were going on in worship, much like the head covering issue and the issues with the Lord’s Supper.  Paul is concerned here that there are things drawing people away from the center of worship, that being Christ.  The use of spiritual gifts had become showy and attention seeking, which is why Paul wishes that the less showy gifts would be the ones that they excel in.  He also talks about women, both speaking and dressing, which doesn’t have anything to do with women in church leadership positions (the precedence for which is set by Lydia in Acts 16), but has more to do with dealing with a particular culture in a particular city where the women’s action in worship was both distracting and tended towards the temple cult worship of pagan gods.  In this case, Paul says that women are to be silent.

Ultimately though, what Paul is getting at here has a lot less to do with how to use these gifts as much as the “why” of using them.  Why do we have spiritual gifts?  Why do they manifest themselves in worship?  Paul very clearly points out that it is for the edification of the body, NOT for individual gain.  Like the teaching on prayer that Jesus does, pointing to the leader that prays loudly on the street corner and receives nothing but public attention, so too would worship be if spiritual gifts were used in such a way.  What does love have to do with it?  It is what surrounds all of this… using spiritual gifts in such a way that we are (you guessed it) loving God and loving neighbor! The Shema!  When the use of spiritual gifts becomes more about showmanship than about worship, we find ourselves in the wrong… Yet these gifts are still present (even today) and are meant to be useful for building up the Body of Christ, and that is how they are meant to be used.

The following is another paper that I have written in the past.  It has more to do with 1 Corinthians 14, which isn’t necessarily part of our reading today, but has everything to do with the chapters that we did read today.

—————————————————————

Pericope Paper: 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Introduction.  All people everywhere seek to pursue what is best, to do otherwise would be nothing more than a foolish and empty pursuit.  Christians are called to pursue the things of the Lord and the live above the prevailing worldly culture.  “Live above the culture,” Paul seems to say, “don’t just blend in, be intentionally different.[1]”  This is the main point of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  After talking about the church, and the dealings that the people there were having, Paul begins to talk about spiritual gifts. He writes that they should live their lives in the way of love and seek after spiritual gifts and particularly the gift of prophecy.  Paul goes on to explain that prophecy is a better spiritual gift because it helps to build up all those who hear it, rather than speaking in tongues which is more of a conversation between the person and God.  Paul wants all those to whom he is writing to have the gift of speaking in tongues, but it would be better if people had the gift of prophecy, which helps to build up the church as a whole.  Prophecy is greater and better than speaking in tongues, unless there is someone who can interpret the tongue, in which case the message of the one who is speaking in tongues can be understood.  If one really thinks about it, what good is a message in a language that cannot be understood?  A similar argument can be made of that of an instrument, or group of instruments that plays a song with indistinguishable or out of tune notes.  If people don’t recognize an instrumental sound, how can they react to it?  So it is with people that hear a different tongue.  If people want to have spiritual gifts, they should work to develop gifts that help the church as a whole.  Those who speak in tongues should pray for interpretation.  If one should pray in a tongue and doesn’t understand it, they are only praying with the spirit and their mind is unfruitful, so pray and sing and worship the Lord with both the mind and your spirit.  Though Paul is thankful for his gift of speaking in tongues, it would still be better for intelligible words to be spoken in the church rather than tongues.  Though tongues are a sign of the Holy Spirit, the really don’t help unless there is someone to interpret.  If someone that is not a believer comes amongst a group of people speaking in tongues, he will not understand and probably think everyone is crazy.  On the contrary though, if a group of people are prophesying and an unbeliever comes into the group, he will hear and understand what is being said and know that God is there[2].

Paul brings up several different principles that could and should be applied to everyday Christian life.  Everyone has gifts that can be used in the church today, but what Paul is addressing here in particular are spiritual gifts.  Paul’s goal is to further clarify the proper use and further development of spiritual gifts. One of the main theological principals in this particular passage excerpt in Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth is that the people of the church and the church as a whole should seek to strengthen and use the gifts God has given them to help the church grow and to spread God’s kingdom to unbelievers.

Contextual Meaning.  The church in Corinth, like the Christian Church at the time was a relatively new entity.  The city of Corinth however, had been in existence for far longer.  In the time of Paul’s journeys and letters to the church in Corinth, the city had become a large thriving trade port, and the new capitol of the Achaea province, and home to somewhere around 100,000 people[3].  Because of its strategic placement and its great dealings and commerce with traders, it was a place of great importance and great prosperity.  With the vast amounts of people from many different parts of the world, there were many different religions and cults that thrived there many of which practiced sexually immoral activities.  The city’s upper class was concerned with only one thing as well, the accumulation of wealth.  Corinth became known, because of these things as a city of evil and use of the word “Corinthian” even became an adjective, associating that which was being described as immoral or sexual[4].

Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth comes to them in the midst of all this as an answer to the questions and assumptions of the Corinthian people.  At the time that Paul write his first letter to the Corinthian church, many sins were running rampant throughout the church there.  Many people in the Corinthian church had developed the opinion that they were free to do whatever they wanted.  They abused their Christian liberty in many ways and had great spiritual pride.  These sins were all an extension of the Corinthian culture that prevailed during the time[5].  Paul wrote to combat these issues and direct them in the ways of properly living as a Christians.  To the Corinthians at the time, what Paul had to say flew drastically in the face of the way they were living; they were literally polar opposites.

After expounding for several chapters on the worldly issues that the Corinthian congregation was facing, Paul turns his attention to things inside the church and the spiritual matters that plagued its congregation.  One particular issue that Paul addressed that was pertinent to them at the time was the issue of spiritual gifts and their proper use.  The congregation in Corinth had seen obvious signs of the spirit moving though the manifestation of various spiritual gifts and Paul says that he would not have them be ignorant about them[6].  Whether or not they had any knowledge of them before this letter is unclear[7], but if other aspects of Christianity were being bent to fit into the culture of Corinth, it would be fair for Paul to assume that the gifts of the Spirit could be and probably were misunderstood.  Paul seeks to fix that in the later chapters of first Corinthians when he talks about the various gifts that the spirit has to offer and how useful they all are.  He also, to quell the quarreling and division that was going on in the church at the time, makes the point that all spiritual gifts come from the same Spirit.  Paul makes it very clear by the end of chapter twelve, that though there are many parts of the church, like there are many gifts of the spirit, they are all useful and necessary.

Paul wants the people of Corinth to pursue all Spiritual gifts so long as they make sure that love, which is most important, is kept in the forefront of their minds.  This is why he starts chapter fourteen with a continuation of chapter thirteen, “follow the way of love[8],” or “pursue love[9].”  These words clearly set love apart as the number one thing that the church in Corinth should be pursuing.  Calvin says that love “should take an honored place in their dealings with each other” and by doing so the use of spiritual gifts would be kept under control[10].  He is saying this because of the apparent abuse of the gifts they were being given, this is his way of turning them from their self-seeking attitudes and help focus them in on what is most important[11].

After making clear to the Corinthian church that what is more important than any gift is love, He ventures into tackling not just a dispute between two spiritual gifts, but the reason why certain gifts should be used more and are more edifying to the church body.  Again, Paul is making it clear that he wants the church to pursue all spiritual gifts but he sets apart prophecy as a gift that is better than others, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.  It isn’t that Paul doesn’t think much of the other spiritual gifts, he is just establishing, as Calvin writes, the “pride of place” that prophecy should get[12].  Naturally though, words like this require some explanation.  One cannot just simply say that one spiritual gift is better than another without giving some sort of a reason for it; they are gifts of the spirit given by God as a sign of God’s presence.

To really understand Paul’s argument, one must truly understand what some of the words he used mean.  Prophecy is a word that is often misunderstood to simply the telling of the future, but this is not the only meaning this word can hold.  Prophecy in the context that Paul was writing about is the gift of speaking an inspired message which often times had to do with obedience to God.  Many times this included Old Testament writings or inspired utterances directed at a person or people[13].  The gift of speaking in tongues on the other hand, was understood as to speak, tell or proclaim[14] something in a different language, tongue or even a strange spiritual language that is not of this world[15].  Without too much thought one can see that these gifts, though both are inspired by the spirit, are very different and can have very different effects on the church body.  In this context Paul continues his defense of his statement that the gift of prophecy is better than the gift of tongues.

The gift of speaking in tongues, though great and awe inspiring comes with some obvious disadvantages.  If someone starts speaking in a different language suddenly, no one will know what that person is saying.  It is because of this that Paul says that anyone speaking in tongues speaks only to the Lord.  Calvin points out that the gift of tongues is more “showy” than that of prophecy, probably due to the fact that when someone does begin to suddenly speak in a language other than their own, people can be filled with awe and wonderment, which is not necessarily the case when it comes to the gift of prophecy[16].  Paul points out here that this thought process is obviously flawed because speech in another language, though miraculous, does nothing for the church in the way of helping it or building it up.  Notice though, that Paul does not say that it is bad to speak in tongues, just that it is not helpful to the church body as a whole unless, as he goes on to say in v. 13, there is someone to interpret the speech.  This is an excellent rebuttal to a question that could have easily been asked, as Calvin again points out.  Paul wanted to make sure that there is still an opening for the gift of speaking in tongues and to make sure that it was known that the gift was not useless[17].

Prophecy is the contrast that Paul makes to his audience in Corinth.  He says in v. 3, “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation[18].”  This is yet another reason to support Paul’s argument of prophecy being better than speaking in tongues.  When a non-believer is present, He says later in v. 24, he will hear, understand and possibly be convicted by the prophecy[19].  In this way then, the church as a whole will be built up and the Word of the Lord and the good news of the Gospel spread.  This is simply a hypothetical statement that Paul makes, but one to prove his point.  If an unbeliever hears someone speaking in tongues, he may think that the person speaking is mad.  This encounter with a manifestation of the Spirit does not produce a conversion[20].  On the contrary though, an unbeliever that hears someone speaking in tongues is convicted, converted, and worships God because of it.  The application for the Corinthians here is rather obvious and as Paul works through is explanation he offers more and more examples and reasoning for what he is saying, thus making his argument irrefutable.

Contemporary meaning.  Point for point, Paul’s desire is for the church to be built up through the use of the gifts of the spirit.  In his entire explanation of why he thinks prophecy is better than speaking in tongues, he bases his argument on the good that it would do for the church as a whole.  If the gift of tongues could do this better, Paul’s letter would have reflected it.  This idea or building the church as a whole and working for the betterment of believers is not something uncommon to the church today either.  In the pursuits as a Christian community, the church, and its people, should seek to do what it can to build up those around them and win people over for Christ.

One thing that makes sense and something that Chester points out is the somewhat negative acceptance that the gift of tongues receives from those on the outside[21].  This can go for both Christians and non-Christians alike.  If someone walks into a church next Sunday and hears someone speaking in tongues, they probably won’t know how to take it.  If one doesn’t understand it, and has never heard or heard of it before, it will very possibly be a turn off for them.  On the other hand though, the person could be in awe at the gift.  What Paul is saying though is that if there is no interpretation for what is said in tongues, the message that was coming through it, which was presumably from God, is lost and no one is edified or built up because of it.  Again, this is why Paul calls for interpretation when speaking in tongues.  This is a principle that should and often is applied in churches today.  In many Pentecostal churches and others that believe in and allow the speaking in tongues gift in public worship, an interpretation is not only expected but anticipated when a person proclaims something in a different tongue.  This is in direct line with what Paul says in First Corinthians.  Instead of having random utterances and proclamations that disrupt the service, this gift is used as a channel to proclaim God’s message and build up the body.

One doesn’t often hear of the gift of prophecy in church anymore.  Though it is still relevant and applicable with today’s Christians, the greater point that Paul is trying to make is what the Church body should look at; the gifts of the Spirit should be used to build up the church and win people over for Christ, not for self edification or showiness.  Paul makes this point over and over again.  His entire argument is based on it, and the application that Christians today can take out of it comes also from it.  Paul likens the misuse of spiritual gifts poorly played, out of tune instruments.  An audience would hardly stand for a performance where instruments were indistinguishable and played incorrectly.  Likewise, the misuse of Spiritual gifts both then and now can turn a captive crowd away from the gospel and therefore give a bad name to the church and the people in it.  Furthermore, the name of Christ and the message of salvation are tarnished when Spiritual gifts are abused.  Christians must avoid these things in an effort to spread the good news.

Paul summarizes this point very well earlier in his letter when he says, “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial[22].”  Paul makes this point time and again to address the argument of Christian Freedom, an issue that was highly used by the Corinthians to defend their actions[23].  Paul goes on to say, “”Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others[24].”  Paul’s point here that as witnesses for Christ Jesus, we should be pursuing thing that are for the good of others.  It isn’t that the gift of tongues was bad; it was that it was being used improperly.  Even with the best of intentions, today’s believers can misuse and abuse God and the gifts He gives them.  Paul reminds every Christian everywhere that there is a higher calling, to sets their minds on things above[25] and not waste time in the foolish pursuits of the world.

Paul sums up his argument about Spiritual gifts rather elegantly at the end of chapter four-teen when he says “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way[26].”  As a church body, Christians should always be encouraging of the use of spiritual gifts.  As Paul says at the beginning of his argument, “Pursue spiritual gifts,” but follow in the way of love[27].  This is the application, and even the calling for Christians today.  God has blessed Christians with gifts, this is an obvious fact; it now lies on those being blessed to work to build up the church and help to spread the message of grace and salvation to all people.


[1] Life Application Study Bible, New International Version.  (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1991).  Pg. 2059.

[2] Today’s Parallel Bible.  New International Version, 1 Corinthians 14:1-25 (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 2000)  Pg 2631-32.

[3] Bimson, John J. ed .”Baker Encyclopedia of Biblical Places.”  (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press: 1995). Pg. 92-93.

[4] Myers, Allen C. ed.  The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary.  (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1987).  Pg. 235.

[5] Grocheide, F.W.  “Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.”  (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1953). Pg. 16.

[6] 1 Corinthians 12:2  NIV

[7] Grosheide, “Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.”  Pg. 279.

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:1 New International Version

[9] 1 Corinthians 14:1 New American Standard Bible

[10] Calvin, Jean.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”  (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1960). Pg 285.

[11] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 285.

[12] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 286.

[13] Goodrick, Edward W. & John R. Kohlenberger III.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1999).  Pg 1588.

[14] Goodrick.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  Pg 1566.

[15] Goodrick.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  Pg 1538, 1553.

[16] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 285.

[17] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 290.

[18] 1 Corinthians 14:3 NASB

[19] 1 Corinthians 14:24 NIV

[20] Chester, Stephen J.  “Divine Madness?  Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23.”  Journal of the Study of the New Testament.  (London, SAGE Publications: 2005). Pg 417.

[21]Chester.  “Divine Madness?  Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23.”   Pg 419.

[22] 1 Corinthians 10:23a NIV

[23] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 220.

[24] 1 Corinthians 10:23b-24 NIV

[25] Colossians 3:2 NIV

[26] 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 NIV

[27] 1 Corinthians 14:1-2 NASB