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1 Corinthians 14:1-25 Study Guide: Pursuing Love and Desiring the Gifts

Community Group Study Guide — The Pursuit of Love and Desiring Spiritual Gifts
1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Main idea:
Spiritual gifts are a conduit for the church to show God’s love and grace to one another. Followers of Jesus are to earnestly desire spiritual gifts and specifically to use their words to build up one another in the faith. To show this, Paul addresses the main problem the Corinthians had concerning spiritual gifts which was using them to compete instead of build up. 

Study Information:
The core temptation with spiritual experiences and spiritual gifts is to use them for yourself. Our culture can often highlight a “God and you” type faith that emphasizes how worship makes you feel rather than worship being something we do as the body of Christ. This is a temptation to make church about an individual experience with God, but throughout this whole section in 1 Corinthians (12-14) Paul is helping us to see the role we play in the church community to love and serve one another. We’re reminded that the only enduring thing we can do is to love rather than compete and Paul wants us to live with that truth in mind. In this passage he goes straight at the problem in the Corinthian church, namely how they competed with each other by using their spiritual gifts - specifically wisdom, tongues and prophecy (1 Corinthians 13:8). Our response should be to pursue love for each other, earnestly desire the gifts and above all prophesy. 

Pursuing Love With Your Spiritual Gifts
To pursue love means that we put ourselves in places and spaces where we can grow in doing good for one another (1 Corinthians 12:7, 13:1-8). Love is more than an emotional feeling; to love is a commitment to one another's good. It means that we’re willing to serve each other, sacrifice for one another and to not allow secondary things divide us as we follow Christ together. To live a loving life is to be purposeful with who you spend time with, where you invest your energy and how you use your resources. Our natural tendency is to buddy up with people we already know, prioritize leisure activities and use our resources for ourselves. Paul is imploring the Corinthians to love those who are different than they are in the body of Christ, pursue service and give to those in need in their midst. 

Some practical ways you can put 1 Corinthians 14:1 into practice would be to spend time after weekly worship gatherings interacting with people you do not yet know in the church community, invite someone out to lunch, find out what needs are in the church that you can help serve and be praying for one another in the body of Christ. When it comes to desiring the spiritual gifts; you can pray for God to direct you to opportunities where you can be used by him as a conduit of his grace and love, ask a mentor or your community group about how you’re gifted and where you might be able to serve and try out new things in the body of Christ. Desire does not mean “wait around until things are clear”, it means to long for it in your heart and pursue it with your actions, which means we take some steps in response to what Paul is teaching here. Paul close out this thought by telling us that there is one gift we should long for especially, to prophesy. Which begs the question, what in the world is that?

Tongues versus prophecy
1 Corinthians 14:1-12
To prophesy is to tell forth truth from God or about God and it is something that hopefully God is doing through you, by the Spirit, all the time. 

Scripture gives us a few different definitions for prophesy and it is important to understand which one he is talking about here. First, we have prophesy in terms of direct inspiration from God that takes the form of scripture. This would be what we see with Moses, Isaiah and Paul and the creation of scripture as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Second there are prophets in the Hebrew Bible that we hear very little of like Huldah or the Obadiah who lived during the time of Elijah; and in the New Testament like Agabus and the daughters of Philip (Acts 21). These prophets were speaking truth about God, calling people back to faithfulness to God and even at times speaking about events to come; but we largely do not have their words written down anywhere and it is not on the same level as “inspired scripture.” We can conclude that Paul is not talking about these first two definitions, so what is he talking about? Third, there is a category of prophecy that we see in 1 Corinthians 14 which could best be classified as words from God, to one another, meant for the building up of each other’s faith. 1 Corinthians 14:3 defines prophecy for us; Paul tells us this kind of prophesy is meant for upbuilding, encouragement and consolation with our words. Paul contrasts this with speaking in tongues which is the use of a human language, by the Spirit, unknown to the speaker to declare truth about God. 1 Corinthians 14 shows us that this was likely a missionary gift since it is meant for “unbelievers” but we get a sense that the Corinthians were using it for personal edification and even to selfishly highlight their gifting in the church (but more on that later). 

To prophesy would be to be used by God as a conduit of his grace and love for the good of someone else. It would be those times when God used you to say the right thing at the right time for the encouragement of someone else in the church, or where the Holy Spirit used you to help someone understand the Lord more clearly. We know from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 that these gifts are to help us know Christ in a deeper way and therefore are useful until Christ returns (1 Corinthians 13:10). But, unlike the Word of God, these gifts are “in part” and like seeing in a mirror dimly so we should be cautious (1 Corinthians 13:12). The hope for a follower of Jesus is that you’re so grafted into a community of faith that you have opportunity to regularly speak and declare truth about God to one another, and that God will frequently use what you say, by the Holy Spirit, to guide one another into greater love for God, his people and the world. 

The Corinthians did not prioritize this gift like they ought to, rather they made the gift of tongues a “greater” gift, so Paul contrasts tongues with prophecy. The point in bringing up tongues is not to put down the gift, but rather to show you its proper place. The Corinthians misused and abused the gift of tongues in a self centered way. Paul calls tongues a “lesser” gift unless someone can interpret the tongue so that the church may be built up (1 Corinthians 14:5). Likewise, his instruction is that unless it can benefit the church then these tongues are like lifeless instruments or a noisy gong (1 Corinthians 13:1, 14:6-12). At the same time, Paul tells us that he speaks in tongues more than the Corinthians and wishes they did the same, but that it should be done not “just in spirit” but with the mind hence the need for an interpreter and the building up of the church in love (1 Corinthians 14:18). 

Why do we not see tongues regularly practiced this way today in the church? As a church, we have leaders who believe some of these sign gifts have ended and others who are more cautious but open meaning that a gift like tongues as described in the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians is no longer a normal experience but still something that could happen. Yet, it is important to keep in mind that the goal is for believers to be built up in love so Paul gives the Corinthians instructions for how to have clear speech rather than confused speech with their use of tongues. 

Clear speech is always more edifying that confused speech
1 Corinthians 14:13-25
Paul would rather speak 5 clear words with his mind rather than ten thousand with a tongue. By saying this  he is prioritizing clear speech that articulates truth about God. Today we can see tongues expressed in some churches as a personal prayer language or as a way to express emotion to God and certainly that is one possible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:14 as Paul talks about praying in the Spirit. However, it seems like the gift of tongues was meant to be used in a more orderly way in corporate worship. For example, it was a gift that was meant to speak towards outsiders to the faith who were among them, maybe even people who did not speak the dominant language of those in the church (1 Corinthians 14:22). In our next study guide, we will hear Paul’s instruction for orderly worship, but it is important to recognize here that Paul’s vision for tongues was two or three people at most with an interpreter present in an orderly fashion so the church could be built up (1 Corinthians 14:27). It appears that the Corinthians were also competing and talking over one another and trying to display their “spiritualness” through the use of these gift, which is why Paul corrects them and points them back to the goal of using them in love. This instruction is not meant to stifle worship, but rather make sure that worship is encouraging and upbuilding for all present and not for worship to be just a God and you experience. 

Our desire when we gather together for worship should be to purse love and to desire the spiritual gifts for the purpose of having something to contribute to one another’s faith. Your relationship with Jesus is about your growth in faith, as well as your fellow member’s growth into Christlikeness. These passages are helping us to be other centered in our worship and in our service in the church. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

What does it mean to prophesy (see 1 Corinthians 14:1-5)? What is the use of prophecy compared to the purpose of tongues in this passage?

Have you experienced moments where God used someone to communicate truth about him or where someone said something that was the right thing at the right time for your encouragement, consolation and upbuilding? What was that experience like? Do you think of those type moments as prophesy; why or why not?

What questions does this passage leave you with?

What are some ways you can pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts?