God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 14:23-25 Law and Gospel
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, June 16, 2023
23 So if the whole church comes together in the same place and everyone speaks in tongues, and unlearned people or unbelievers come in, won’t they say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or unlearned person comes in, he is convicted by all and judged by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are revealed, and then he will fall on his face and worship God. He will declare, “God is really among you.”
In this caution about tongues, Paul takes the dreams of the Corinthians, that every one of them should be able to speak in tongues for the spectacle (and entertainment) it would give, and Paul imagines that their wish is granted. “Put your mind in that kind of a church service,” he says. Everybody is speaking in tongues, and even if it’s in a good and orderly way, one person after another—what would an outsider think if he comes in and you are all doing this? He will think you’re all madmen. This was the reaction in Jerusalem when the Apostles spoke in tongues for the very first time. “Some made fun of them and said, ‘They’re drunk on new wine’” (Acts 2:13). That was when twelve men were speaking. What would it be like with a hundred? Or five hundred? The unlearned people, meaning those who couldn’t understand what was being said, would get nothing good from the meeting. So Paul’s caution is this:
11. When you speak in tongues, visitors and, truly, everyone who can’t understand what is being said, get nothing out of it, and they will be led to think that you are insane. This does not help or further the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The pursuit of love wants to carry the gospel into all the world. In the beginning of the New Testament age, twenty-five years past (at this moment), tongues and other miracles were helpful to show God’s stamp of approval on the message. Now that the New Testament was being written and churches were circulating letters by James and Paul and the Gospel of Matthew, the message of the Word of God was working faith in people’s hearts. The need for tongues was receding into the background. And consider: If a prophecy or a preached sermon is spoken in the local language, then the outsider will be cut to the heart by the stern judgment of the law, and his conscience can and will only be soothed once again by the gospel of forgiveness through Christ.
The result of hearing the preaching will be a former unbeliever who is now fully convinced: “God is really among you!” This was the reaction of ancient people who came face-to-face with the angel of the Lord (Judges 6:22, 13:22). This is a man who has heard the word of God and has been completely crushed on account of his sins. How, then, can he be saved? Is there something he can do? Is there some donation he can make to his salvation? The Holy Scriptures tell us that we are saved by faith. But this faith is not a doing or an accomplishment on our part. Man is not saved by his own acts, but solely by the doing and dying of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The modern theologian who thinks that God does one thing and man does another thing completely overthrows the gospel and stabs Jesus in the chest. He makes out the true God to be a tyrant who dares do everything for man. Surely, he cries, man—surely I—must accomplish something for my salvation, for behold how much I have already accomplished with my victorious Christlike life! I am the example to be followed, not meek and humble Jesus!
No, the grace offered by God has no conditions attached, no strings. The causes of man’s salvation are, and only are, the mercy of God (Titus 3:5) and the merit of Christ (1 John 2:12). If someone adds anything to these causes (such as man’s worthiness) he strips Christ of all his merits and strips God of all his mercy, and makes salvation man’s doing alone.
When I am given an injection, I am not the cause of its benefits. My arm receives what the hypodermic gives. And so it is when God’s blessings and benefits are given through the receiving location of my faith, which is nothing more than an arm, a patch of flesh, into which his grace flows. As Luther says: “The Law teaches what you owe and lack; Christ gives what you should do and have.” All our doings and all our spiritual possessions are gifts from Christ. This is what draws men to believe in him; makes believers out of unbelievers, makes the saved out of the damned, makes the living out of the dead. This is why the Gospel is called “the word of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). The law requires perfect obedience. The gospel gives us and covers us with the perfect obedience of Christ. We trust that this is so, we trust in the merits of the one who accomplished it, and all our sins and failings have been scrubbed away clean by his blood on the cross. Only a madman would reject such a gift.
Pastor Timothy Smith