Prophecy And Tongues - What's This All About?
- Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Paul was speaking to a situation quite similar to the one I was experiencing in the Key Biscayne, Florida, church and larger community.
You see, some of the believers at Corinth had become exclusivistic. They were spiritually proud because they spoke in tongues. Paul saw the malignancy of this pride and the destruction it would bring about. He addresses it head on, urging the Corinthian believers to make a radical shift in their priorities. He doesn't rule out the legitimacy of the gift of tongues. He simply states that the gift of tongues is edifying primarily to oneself. He writes:
For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:2-4).
You see, the prophetic word, faithfully taught and preached in a language understandable to a community of believers, is extremely important. Ironically, the issue I faced in the Key Biscayne church in the later 1960s I experienced again as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the mid-'70s. And again I experienced it in the early years of my ministry here at St. Andrew's, although not in as great an intensity of expression, because there were strong churches in the area that were Pentecostal in orientation. Those particular churches were pastored by men who themselves were faithful to this teaching of 1 Corinthians 14 and went out of their way to state that, as helpful as the gift of tongues might be to one's own personal spiritual growth, it could be very divisive. But every so often, I will run into people who are not familiar with this teaching, and you almost have to start the whole process of biblical education over again.
This prophetic word, faithfully taught and preached in an understandable language to a community of believers, has three primary functions.
First, it provides upbuilding. This is the main theme of godly teaching and preaching. Our deepest desire is not to put on a fascinating show that impresses people with our erudition or theological skills. Nor is it to entertain. Our primary desire is to build up, nurturing men, women and children in the faith. We do this by faithfully expounding the Scriptures. The faithful teacher and preacher wants to help you learn more Christian truth and, at the same time, help you apply that truth in a way in which you are more productive in your daily Christian life. Your mind is to be instructed. You are encouraged to grow in your knowledge of the things of God and be better equipped for Christian living. This prophetic ministry desires to give you the strength to live the Christian life one day at a time.
Second, this prophetic ministry provides encouragement. At any given moment in the life of St. Andrew's or any other group of believers, there are those who are discouraged. You try so hard to live the Christian life and at times feel like you're making such little headway. If you're like me, the more you look at yourself, the more you are aware of your failures and inadequacies. William Barclay writes, "Within the Christian fellowship, a man should find something to cheer his heart, and nerve his arm, and make him lift up his head." Strong, prophetic teaching and preaching should not be afraid to confront. At the same time, its primary note, its final word is one of God's grace, God's unconditional favor purchased for us while we were yet sinners. The Gospel message is not authentic if it does not grapple honestly with the fact of sin. But a Gospel message is not a Gospel message if it does not move past sin to God's grace, showing men and women how they can find the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that enables one to grow daily in that sanctification process of victory over sin.
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