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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 14:16-17 the place of the unlearned

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, June 13, 2023

16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the place of the unlearned say “Amen” after you give thanks if he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.

To “give thanks with your spirit” is to pray in tongues, so that the speaker’s spirit is apparently praying (giving thanks to God for something) even though his mind does not know what he is praying about. Paul allows that this could well happen. But he adds another caution about speaking in tongues here:

8. Put yourself in the place of someone who is uninformed, who does not know everything about the theology of speaking in tongues or anything about it at all. How can he say “Amen” after you pray?

We shouldn’t think that there were specially reserved “places” for visitors or young people who were not yet full members. When Paul says “in the place of,” he means the position, the mental state of an outsider who doesn’t know everything that you, O Corinthian, are so sure of. We also should not draw any conclusions from the Greek term for such an unlearned or untrained outsider, which is idiotes (ἰδιώτης). If we have a word in English that sounds like it, it’s come to us from French and Latin and has a different meaning in our culture, a very different meaning, than it had for the Greeks.

In these verses, Paul is exposing the sin of being self-righteous about our position in God’s kingdom. Even if we sometimes take a leadership role in worship (as tongues-speakers sometimes did), we should never expect that the world will run to catch up with us. We must share the word of God as a clear message, as a simple message, and as the familiar message that the Bible everywhere teaches.

This exposes other Third Commandment sins in our lives, for the words, “Remember the Sabbath day” are not just about getting physical rest for the body but about seeking out spiritual rest for the soul, which is done only through the Means of Grace (the gospel in word and sacrament). Therefore anyone who does not listen to God’s word or does not try to understand it also breaks this commandment. Anyone who does not pray to God sins. Whoever does not think of everything he or she does as being the Lord’s work also sins. Whoever doesn’t quietly allow God to do with him as he pleases, also sins. And whoever fails to help his neighbor, and especially his loved ones (spouse and children) to do all these things, or to help restrain from doing them, also sins against the Third Commandment. In these ways, this commandment teaches us that every part of our lives is connected to God and not separate from him. Remember the Sabbath day is all about remembering these connections, receiving God’s gifts with thanks, and pledging to use his gifts in his service and to his glory.

After all, what would we think of a miserly and wicked minister who receives all his income from the people of the church, and then uses it for wicked purposes, openly laughing about his sins in public places and squandering the money that God’s people have so carefully and prayerfully saved up to provide for him and his family as he serves them? Wouldn’t his church take him to task, and then dismiss him in shame and ignominy if he never turned in repentance from his sins? But in God’s eyes, the only thing that separates that wicked pastor from a wicked layman is the divine call. God has used different means to make a wicked layperson comfortable in his life, but if he uses his income for wicked purposes, openly laughing about his sins in public places and squandering the money that God has provided him with, he is also to be condemned. Both have “exploited you, taken advantage of you, pushing himself ahead of you, and slapping you in the face” (2 Corinthians 11:20).

So we all have much to grieve about, to shrink from in terror, to repent over, and to take take before God in kneeling, groveling prayer. We should tear open the knees of our very best pants with the kind of praying that would beg for his forgiveness.

And he has forgiven us. For those times when we, like the Corinthians here in Paul’s eighth caution, fail to put ourselves into the shoes of the uninformed, or when we “run ahead” (2 John 1:9) and don’t instruct those we leave behind, God is patient with us. He lets us pause and turn around and teach, or at least behave better, so that the whole church will be built up by the things we do. At the very least, we pray that the church would not be torn down or torn apart by our words or actions. And his love covers over our offenses. For if our love “covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), it is only because the love of Christ covered over all sins of all people for all eternity. So let’s consider what we do. Serve God. Listen to what is preached and take it to heart. Do good deeds in response, and subject our bodies and lives to the spirit of God. Let us behave better, and carry along one another as we go along, day by day, going forward in Christ.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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