Watch our Livestream 10am Sundays Give Online

Building Up the Church Through the Gifts of Grace

July 23, 2023

Teacher: Mike Noel
Scripture: I Corinthians 14:1-25


Last year we went through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and in the book of Ezra we read about the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Like a lot of building projects there were a number of starts and stops until its completion. However this was beyond most rebuilds in that it took over 20 years to finish.

There were many challenges to rebuilding but we read in chapter 5 the following:

Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. 2 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them… And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. Ezra 5:1-2; 6:14

God used prophets and their words to encourage and exhort the people in the building process. As you read further along in chapter six you find out about the joy and celebration and consecration of God’s people concerning the completion of God’s house.

In our passage today we find a similar dynamic only this time in the New Covenant. This passage is about tongues and interpretation, about prophecy, about all the gifts of the Spirit. It is however even more so about the focus a Christian should have towards service in the church. We are called to build up the body of Christ through our gifts and service. It is one of the great callings we have given by the Lord. Alongside the Great Commission (go into all the world and make disciples…) is this call to strengthen the local church God has placed us in.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds  and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ   Ephesians 4: 11-13

This is the New Testament type of building of the house of God and the glorious thing is that we all have a part to play in it. Helping build up the church can sound very generic if we only think of the church in an institutional way. But building up the church means building up the people of God. Our God loves and cares for his people and his plan for their good is linked to each member of the congregation. An important part of the building up of the church comes through the spiritual gifts that the Lord gives to his people. These are literally called gifts of grace in I Corinthians 12:4. And we are called to be good stewards of these gifts. 

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace I Peter 4:10

You may not be sure what your spiritual gift (s) are or you may doubt that God has given you any. But this passage in I Corinthians 14 calls us to desire them and seek God for them so that his people may be strengthened and grow in the Lord. This Psalm came to my mind as I was preparing. I want to read it and then pray:

Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever. Psalm 48: 12-14

I. Building Up The Individual Through Spiritual Language

Now our text has 25 verses and we will not be able to cover every single verse. However a lot of the passage has to do with Paul instructing the Corinthians that speaking in a tongue in a public meeting without an interpretation does not fit into a Christian worship service. We might wonder why Paul takes up so much time/space making this argument. He does so because he’s writing to the church in Corinth! (church in process) This was a church that was for the most part primarily Gentile with no Jewish or biblical background. When people come to faith especially those who had no biblical foundations sometimes they do eccentric things in church. I was converted in the charismatic revival that took place in the 70’s and 80’s. A lot of folks who got saved back then didn’t grow up in an evangelical church but then they got wonderfully saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. 

And just like the Corinthians sometimes in our zeal for God we did eccentric things, practices that were out of balance with Scripture. There was a learning process. Apparently a church service in Corinth included times when some/many of the congregation began to speak out in tongues without any interpretation. Paul takes pains to address this situation. Whereas most of us would hear Paul’s argument and agree with it right away, not so if you had been in that church and that had been your practice.

Now Paul has many points to his argument in this chapter but his main point is that a tongue without an interpretation doesn’t build up the church (because they have no idea what you’re saying) and it’s not a good witness to those who are not yet believers. 9So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?  (V23 out of your minds).

So Paul is laboring in this passage to make the point that unless there is an interpretation to a tongue it shouldn’t be given in the church service.

The church gathers to worship God and to be edified so its members should pursue gifts and then exercise them in a way that is worshipful and edifying to others- that is in love. Michael Gorman as quoted in the Pillar Commentary on I Corinthians.

However this does not mean that Paul is reproving the Corinthians for the spiritual gift of tongues (when it is accompanied with an interpretation) or the private use of this “spiritual language”. Now most of us, even those who believe in this language can get a little tentative talking about it in public. It comes with some “baggage” and when people hear the word “tongues” it has a certain negative connotation to it. Here’s an example of why: Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

tongues as is the gift of men who, rapt in an ecstasy and no longer quite masters of their own reason and consciousness, pour forth their glowing spiritual emotions in strange utterances, rugged, dark, disconnected, quite unfitted to instruct or to influence the minds of others” Thayers Greek Lexicon

There’s nothing in scripture that describes tongues in that way. And in my 45 years of being a believer, in the churches I’ve been a part of I’ve never seen that description of someone using this gift. It’s a gift of grace and when there is a tongue and an interpretation it’s usually a beautiful and edifying experience- it builds up the church. The word for tongues just means a language or a tongue as in one’s native tongue.

“The Spirit energized ability to pray, worship, give thanks or speak in a language other than your own.”  Sam Storms

John encouraged us at the beginning of chapter 12 concerning the spiritual gifts - that we must let these passages of Scripture clearly speak for themselves. And so we must do that this morning specifically where it has to do with this spiritual language. .

And it’s good to remind ourselves that our text is the one place in Scripture that clearly instructs us concerning the gift of tongues and interpretation and the private use of this language as well.

Scripture tells us that there is the spiritual gift of tongues and that when it’s exercised in a public meeting it should be accompanied with the gift of interpretation. So here at Cornerstone if someone comes and tells us they have a tongue to give we ask them if they have the interpretation. If they don’t we will tell the church and ask if anyone has an interpretation. Paul tells us in verse 13 that he who has a tongue should pray for the interpretation. However it could be and our experience is that often someone else with that gift has the interpretation.

In addition to this spiritual gift of tongues and interpretation Paul in chapter 14 seems to be encouraging and advocating for the private use of tongues or what charismatics often call your prayer language. This is to be used to edify the individual believer and is to be done in private. What I’d like to do in this first point is to highlight the benefit of the private use of tongues and to show from our text why I think Paul is advocating for it.

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. I Corinthians 14:5

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. I Corinthians 14:18-19

Let’s stop and think here. This is the Apostle Paul speaking. The theologian of theologians. The man who wrote close to half of the NT epistles. And he’s speaking to the Corinithian Christians who had wrongly placed their measure of spiritual maturity on speaking in tongues. And yet he tells them that he speaks in tongues more than all of them.

So on the one hand he advocates/argues that only those who have an interpretation speak in tongues in a public meeting. On the other hand he tells them he would want them all to speak in this spiritual language. This I believe is because he is highlighting the benefits of this private use of the spiritual language. In verse 29 he tells them:

But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God I Corinthians 14:28.

DA Carson quoted in the Pillar Commentary writes:

“If Paul speaks in tongues more than all the Corinthians, yet in the church prefers to speak five intelligent words rather than ten thousand words in a tongue then where does he speak them?” Clearly he did so in private. Pillar Commentary on I Corinthians

So why would Paul encourage the Corinthians (and us) to exercise this gift of a prayer language? Because of its benefits. In verse 2 he tells us that one who speaks in a tongue utters mysteries (secrets) in the Spirit. If you could be given a grace from the Lord to speak the mysteries of God in the Spirit wouldn’t you desire it? I along with Paul encourage you to.

In verse 5 Paul gives a second benefit of utilizing this prayer language:

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. I Corinthians 14:4

The word for build or edify is the same Greek word both times it is used in this verse. It means to build up or edify. The one who prophesies is greater because he/she builds up the whole church. However this does not take away from the benefit of building oneself up inwardly by praying in one’s prayer language in private. Paul doesn’t minimize this. We read in Jude a  similar verse:  

 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. Jude 20

So when one uses this prayer language they are building up their inner being or their spirit. This is a mystery of what is happening when we do so. But this should not prevent us from seeking this language. When we read or study or meditate…

In Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost it says the believers spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. So we are engaging the Holy Spirit as we pray or speak in this spiritual language. (We’re being built up; the Lord wants his people to be built up-to be edified in the Spirit.)

A third benefit for using this prayer language is that one is speaking directly to God.

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God I Corinthians 14:2

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving I Corinthians 14:14-16

So how can we use this gift in our personal life? We can pray to the Lord and our spirit is praying and this includes giving thanks.

And we can sing to the Lord and our spirit is singing praise to God. So our prayer life is enhanced but also our worship life. NIV translates the beginning of verse 16 as “Otherwise when you are praising God in the spirit.” Other translations translate it to  speak a blessing, say a blessing in the spirit”.

In Acts 10 when the Gentiles were filled with the Spirit it says they were speaking in tongues and extolling God.

This word extoll means to make or declare great, to esteem highly or laud. One of the reasons we should ask God for this prayer language is that when we use it our spirit is extolling the Lord and we are telling of the great things of God.

I wish we had more time to discuss this prayer language. Two resources: One is Jack Hayford’s book, the Beauty of Spiritual Language and secondly is Phil’s teaching on 10/14/18 on Spiritual Language. Next we want to look at prophecy which has the power to build up the entire church.

II. Building Up The Church Through Spiritual Gifts Especially Prophecy:

If we go back to verse one we see that Paul reminds us of the “more excellent way” of love by stating “pursue love and desire earnestly the spiritual gifts but especially that you may prophesy.” Paul wants us to pursue both love and spiritual gifts.

And he puts a focus, a priority on the gift of prophecy? Why is this? Well, I think there are a couple of reasons but the one I want to focus on (because it’s what this chapter is primarily about) is that it builds up and strengthens the church.  

The gift of prophecy is to be a key gift in the life of the church because it is meant to build up or edify the church. We critically need this gift operating in our services, our small groups, our life together.

But continuing prophetic ministry is essential today if the church is not going to settle down into a comfortable conformity to contemporary culture. David Prior, Commentary on I Corinthians  

Now before we go further let me make clear that prophecy in the New Testament is different than it was in the Old Testament.

Much of what the Old Testament prophets spoke was part of what was written down as Scripture, the infallible word of God. And if a prophet uttered a prophecy that was deemed as a false prophecy it might not go well for them!

This is not the case in the New Testament. John Piper defines the spiritual gift of prophecy as:

It is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained utterance that does not carry intrinsic, divine authority…  (it is) revelation-rooted, but mixed with human imperfection and fallibility and therefore in need of sifting. John Piper

That’s what I Corinthians 13:9 tells us = we prophesy in part. And I Thessalonians adds to this by exhorting us:

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. I Thessalonians 5:19-21

So it’s not authoritative like much of Old Testament prophecy was. It must always conform to the written word of God - never contradict it. The fact that it is given mixed with human imperfection and fallibility is true for all the gifts of the Spirit. These gifts come through clay vessels.

We are weak and sinful people but we have been born anew of the Spirit and the Spirit empowers us by giving us these gifts of grace. This principle is true not only of the gifts but of all of life. We are and we live with and interact with imperfect Christians who minister to one another.

Let’s look at verse three.

On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation I Corinthians 14:3

This first word is upbuilding or edification or building up. Some versions use strengthening/encouragement. It means to build up or strengthen another person. Paul uses this word build up or edify seven times in chapter 14.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear Ephesians 4:29

The second word is said to be encouragement in ESV. Other translations use exhortation and I think that’s a better usage because the meaning of the word is to summon, or to give a holy urging or admonition.

The third word is consolation or comfort. One commentator says that it has a greater degree of tenderness than the second word (exhortation) and enables God’s people to be calm under pressure. .

For our discussion I’m going to use encouragement, exhortation and comfort. One way to define prophecy is that it is a Spirit inspired message with the intent of building up the church through encouragement, exhortation and/or comfort.

One way to look at the differences in these three words is to picture a person who is down on the ground. Maybe they’ve fallen or have been pushed down and are wounded and bruised. (They’re beat up by the circumstances of life and/or relationships with others or maybe their own sin) They need a comforting and tender word from God.

But maybe they aren’t hurt but they are discouraged or have just stumbled and they’re having a hard time getting up. Encouragement or strengthening them in their soul is what they need. They need a word from God through his people that strengthens their soul to get up and keep walking on the path of the kingdom. Don’t we all need that. Prophetic encouragement:

They returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. Acts 14: 21-22

Words of grace and truth to build us up.

It’s good for the heart to be strengthened by grace. Hebrews 13:9

Or maybe they need exhortation. An exhortative word may be “Get up”! Has one of your children ever thrown themselves down on the ground and cried or complained? We see this situation in the book of Joshua: 

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings… Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “Joshua 7: 10-11, 13

Sometimes we need an exhortative word from the prophetic people among us. There’s obvious overlap in these three words: Jack Hayford describes it this way: builds up/stirs up/lifts up. The church needs prophecy. It needs it for the building up of our individual lives and our corporate life together. And as Paul says in verse twelve of our text it’s not just prophecy but all the gifts of the Spirit.

since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church I Corinthians 14:12.

Whatever gifts God has given us we should desire to use them to build up his people. This is the main purpose of the gifts of the Spirit - to strengthen the church. But Paul also speaks of the non- believer and the outsider in verses 16, 22- 24. This outsider is also translated as an ungifted person. But for these two groups of people (the non-Christian and the outsider) prophecy can have an edifying (exhortative) effect as we see in

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. I Corinthians 14:24-25

When we think of the spiritual gifts we should not just think of the more spectacular ones like miracles and healings. The purpose of all the gifts of the Spirit is edification or as one commentator said to promote another's growth in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness, happiness" and this happens through different gifts. Gifts of serving and healing and mercy and miracles and teaching and tongues and interpretation and all the other gifts that God wants to pour out on us.

III. Building Up Others Through The Gospel of Christ:

In our third point I want to discuss how the gospel of grace, the good news of Christ connects to the spiritual gifts and specifically the gift of prophecy.

Throughout the history of the church there have been prophetic movements or groups that put too much emphasis on the gift of prophecy. Now we’ve already discussed that the gift of prophecy is a key gift for the edification of the church. How can we keep this important gift in its right place in the church?

By continuing to be rooted in the gospel of Jesus. The work of Christ on the cross is the foundation on which we are to build our entire life on. It contains the truth that will build us up more than any prophetic word that someone can give us (the strength/word in season/timely). The gospel message is that of our Savior taking the punishment for our sins upon himself and thus reconciling to God the Father every person who puts their faith in him.

He endured very grievous sorrows in his soul and very painful sufferings in his body. He was crucified, died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he rose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered and with which he also ascended into heaven. He sits there at the right hand of his Father making intercession and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world Trinity Fellowship Confession of Faith 8:4

And this “good news” is continually telling each believer, “you are loved, you are accepted by God; you are in right standing with the Father; you have peace with God through Christ alone; your sins are forgiven; All is well!

It is the most edifying message we will ever hear because in it our most critical problem has been solved. That of, how can a sinful man be made right with holy God? Only through Christ alone.

This message should continually build us up. Strengthen us and give us hope. It doesn’t mean that you won’t face trials and sorrows and testings from God or that you won’t experience his loving discipline or need to repent. But even if that is the case, all the gospel truths are still true and in difficult seasons of our lives they should bring even more comfort than normal.

This gospel message is the one we should continually come back to. Like a boy who takes off to walk to his friend’s house because he thinks he knows the way. But then realizes he doesn’t really know how to get there. He thought he did but now he’s confused and a little lost. And yet he still knows the way back home… Comfort of home, the love of his parents and family and all its blessings.

When we are confronted and conflicted by thoughts and voices and feelings that tell us something’s wrong with us or that God is against or is apathetic towards us or just feelings of confusion and guilt we must run home to the comforting and encouraging and even sometimes exhortative truth of the gospel that never changes. This is expressed in one of our worship songs:

Boldly I approach Your throne
Blameless now I'm running home
By Your blood I come
Welcomed as Your own
Into the arms of majesty: Boldly I Approach: Rend Collective

His arms are always open.

This most excellent way of the gospel does not mean that we don’t need the gift of prophecy or the other spiritual gifts. It means that the gospel message gives “life” and meaning to those gifts.

If the gospel isn’t true or if there’s no resurrection our gifts have limited meaning. But because it is true that Christ died and was raised and has given us eternal life our gifts are far more powerful. Every prophetic encouragement is rooted and stands upon the great foundation of Christ risen from the grave having died in our place and justifying us giving us peace with God.

And every act of service should be done from that foundation and the strength/grace that is in it. These gifts are ways of affirming the love of God and the gospel truth that in Christ God is for us and not against us. .

For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Revelation 19:10

Our prophetic words and encouragements and all the gifts of the Spirit should be full of the testimony of our Savior and his work on our behalf and the grace and truth that is in him.

And may we as a church grow in our pursuit and exercise of these gifts…

How Do We Desire Earnestly The Gifts of The Spirit?

I would like to finish up by discussing how we “desire earnestly the gifts of the Spirit?”. If we go back to verse one of our text that is the command that Paul gives to the Corinthians. And if he gives that exhortation to a church who he describes in chapter one as not lacking in any gift, a church who was zealous for spiritual gifts surely he would give the same exhortation to our church. Sam Storms: moral and biblical obligation of every Christian to seek the gifts.

So here are some thoughts of how we do that:

First pursue love. This is the first part of the command and in some ways the most important one. Our motivation for all things including the gifts should be love for God and for his people. This is why Paul reiterates many times in chapter 14 that the purpose of the gifts is for the building up of the church. I Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us the “gold standard” of what love is about.

Daniel said last week concerning it: study it, memorize/meditate on it, let it shift your heart and help evaluate your Christian progress. Use that as both a standard to measure your love but even more so a list of attributes that we should seek to cultivate in our lives.

Secondly come to grips with the fact that spiritual gifts are for everyone, not just the charismatics among us. There are 18-20 gifts listed in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 and some more that we could add that the Bible would endorse. They range from mercy, giving, helps, to leadership, teaching to prophecy, miracles and healings.

This word desire means "to burn with zeal…'to be earnest, to set one's heart on, to be completely intent upon' " to pursue i. e. to seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor to acquire.

I think it begins with desiring earnestly to live a Spirit filled life. If you are seeking to live life apart from the Spirit’s power you are limiting God in your life. Desire for the Spirit’s help, grows when we realize that apart from his power we are not able to be fruitful in ministry and service. To be filled with the Spirit we have to acknowledge our own emptiness. John Stott

He loves to work in broken people, people who realize that they can’t do life on their own… The Spirit is at his best when we are at our weakest. Paul Miller

So when you feel weak and not up to the task, allow that to push you into God and his sufficiency.

Cultivate in your life a dependency on God where you are regularly asking for the Spirit’s power and gifts to be fruitful in ministry and life. (Bastics)

In Luke 11 Jesus tells us that the Father gives the Spirit to those who ask him. I think desiring earnestly the gifts of the Spirit is primarily cultivated in

  1. prayer. Are you regularly asking for more of the Holy Spirit - more of his power, his presence, his gifts and his help in your life in little things and in big things? Ask him for specific gifts that you’d like to see in your own life but don’t limit him to one gift; ask for many. Don’t allow false humility to keep you from asking and seeking God for his gifts whatever they might be. And this asking should be done in faith, a confident trust in God that he will give you what you ask for. The flow of the Spirit comes through trust.
  2. Look for opportunities to do the “one anothers” of the Christian life. Pray and then look for opportunities to encourage people, be hospitable, serve people, to prophecy, pray for them, give financially to them, exhort them. We can often think that spiritual gifts are only big things or that it’s a mystery on how they come about. My experience is that often the spiritual gifts are experienced when people are praying and asking for them and two looking for God to use them in whatever situations he provides.  

Recent Messages

Here are some other recent messages.

Cornerstone Fellowship Church logo

We are a church built on the Bible, guided and empowered by the Spirit, striving to make disciples, and pursuing holiness in the context of robust biblical relationships.

Email Updates & Newsletter

Times & Location

10am on Sundays

401 Upchurch St, Apex, NC 27502

© 2024 Cornerstone Fellowship Church of Apex