God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 14:1-3 Pursue love
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, June 6, 2023
14 Pursue love! Yet eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you prophesy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God because no one understands him. He speaks mysteries in the spirit. 3 But whoever prophesies speaks to people to strengthen them, to encourage and to comfort.
In this chapter, Paul returns fully to the idea of spiritual gifts, and especially speaking in tongues. How are we to understand these tongues? At Pentecost, the apostles spoke in definite languages known to their listeners, languages that are clearly identified by Luke (Acts 2:8-11). Does Paul mean the same thing here? There are some Christians who think that with phrases such as what we have here in verse 2 (“he does not speak to men but to God because no one understands him”), he means an ecstatic speech that is not a human language at all. In fact, verse 2 seems to rule out the idea of the Pentecost-type of tongues speech. In a city as populous as Corinth, with a large number of travelers and sailors, it is unlikely that speaking in known languages could occur and yet Paul could say, “no one understands him.”
In the same way, people today who participate in speaking in ecstatic tongues cannot compare their experience with that of Pentecost for the same reason.
Paul begins a series of ten or so cautions about speaking in tongues. The first two are here in these verses:
1, He does not speak to men but to God. A person speaking in tongues fails to help the group even if he himself is uplifted by the experience. At best, his outburst (for that is what it will seem like) might take up time in the service. Even if he is built up, his experience is between him and God.
2, No one understands him. If no one understands what it being said, the flawed human nature may assume that a strong law message has been preached, and without gospel, the law will leave him crushed. Therefore a few words in the local language would be better, as Paul will say, “I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:19).
The better gift to pursue, therefore, is love. How can I show my love for my fellow Christian? First, by speaking to men, that is the men, women, and children of the holy Christian church. Do we build them up by what we say, or do we bring them down in confusion and frustration, leaving them behind while we build ourselves up? What might a little child think who hears a man stand up to speak in what sounds like chattering gibberish in worship? He might think it’s funny. He might think that any old person can do the same thing. He might mock it in play at home. If it is a godly thing, should that child be tempted to mock it? Or, again, how terrible it would be if that child were left thinking that there is something wrong with him, or his parents, if they are unable to do the same thing. “We are inferior Christians,” or, even worse, “Are we even Christians at all?” would be terrible things to enter into the minds of our children.
Another way to show love to my fellow Christian is to be sure that I can be understood. Whether I teach, or I preach, or I speak as a parent, do I make myself understood? It’s a habit to use expressions and references from our past. But does what I say communicate? I don’t need to use modern jargon and slang, but can I talk in a way that children get what I’m saying? We touched on this a little while ago while looking at Psalm 119:33, “Teach me, O Lord…” The good teacher “throws” (the Hebrew word “teach” is related to the word “throw”) the lesson again and again and in many different ways so that the student or the whole congregation can catch what is being taught. We don’t teach a child to catch a ball by hurling a baseball at their head and laughing at their black eye. We begin by rolling a ball to them when they are small, then by bouncing the same ball, then by tossing gently until at last they can catch something with some speed and force. The same needs to be true of any lesson. Paul is doing that very thing in this chapter. He is making himself as clear as he can: Speaking in tongues might seem like a spectacular gift, a cool thing to be able to do, and even a great boon to the church! But if it’s just chattering gibberish, it’s not a boon to anyone unless the one chattering that gibberish is built up by it. It’s not cool but a nuisance. It’s not spectacular, but an obstacle for many.
Therefore, another way to show love is to pursue love. Paul’s very first words in the chapter command this. Pursue love! Chase after love! David says that love will “follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). His Hebrew word there (radaph) also means “pursue.” So just as God’s love pursues and chases after us, so also we should pursue love as a gift in the way that we interact with each other. If I speak, I want to do it in love. If I preach, let it be in love! If I scold or discipline, let it never be apart from love! If a young man asks a girl on a date, let him have her own best interests at heart, out of love for her as a child of God, and not just his own desire for companionship.
Pursue love. Let this be how we show our love for Christ.
Pastor Timothy Smith