From Liz Groman
On PROPHECY1 Corinthians 14:1-5 NIV Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
1 Corinthians 14:1-5 NLT Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives—especially the ability to prophesy. For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious. But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them. A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church. I wish you could all speak in tongues, but even more I wish you could all prophesy. For prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened.
1 Corinthians 1-5 MSG. Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does. Give yourselves to the gifts God gives you. Most of all, try to proclaim his truth. If you praise him in the private language of tongues, God understands you but no one else does, for you are sharing intimacies just between you and him. But when you proclaim his truth in everyday speech, you’re letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience his presence with you. The one who prays using a private “prayer language” certainly gets a lot out of it, but proclaiming God’s truth to the church in its common language brings the whole church into growth and strength. I want all of you to develop intimacies with God in prayer, but please don’t stop with that. Go on and proclaim his clear truth to others. It’s more important that everyone have access to the knowledge and love of God in language everyone understands than that you go off and cultivate God’s presence in a mysterious prayer language—unless, of course, there is someone who can interpret what you are saying for the benefit of all.
Corinth was highly influenced by Greek culture, sitting on a land bridge providing a major trade route between Greece and the Peloponnesian peninsula. From the time of Socrates and Plato (about 400 BC), the Greeks began to preach/teach that laws, ethics and morals should be determined personally rather than by society/government. By the first century this experiment in freedom of thought and celebration of individual rights had produced a culture generally known for being argumentative/divisive/polarized around issues, resulting in the worship of many gods (who treated mortals as expendable pawns in a game), contentious philosophical debates and high incidence of litigation (hmmm, this sounds a bit too familiar...). The city’s patroness god was Aphrodite (aka Venus), the goddess of licentious love, whose priestesses served as ritual prostitutes; thus, Corinth became infamous and a byword for sensuality and prostitution. When pagans in this city converted to Christianity, they had to be completely rewired regarding freedom/rights (sacrificing individual rights for the benefit of the Body of Christ), godly love (exchanging erotic for agape), spiritual manifestations (recognizing the difference between demonic and Holy Spirit activity), obedience (learning to trade what seemed right in their own eyes for Scripture as their legal/ethical/moral foundation), submission (living by Christ’s example of sacrificing individual rights to fulfill the will and purpose of God) and so many other redefinitions of cultural/religious/spiritual disciplines. This passage in Paul’s letter is dealing with a lesson in discernment, and the exercise of humility, submission and good judgment in the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the public expression of Prophecy and the gift of Tongues (that requires its twin Interpretation of Tongues).
Early on in my Christian experience, I was confused about the differences between (1) Tongues as my prayer language and the Holy Spirit Gifts of Tongues and Interpretation and (2) the difference between the prophetic messages of the Old Testament Prophets and the Holy Spirit Gift of Prophecy. I was so blessed to sit under a teaching by Jack Hayford that helped me to put these in proper perspective. You see, because I had grown up in a religious environment, I had never read the Bible for myself. My family were loving, generous, honest, responsible, law-abiding, caring and kind to others, but we had no understanding of how to discern what spirit was responsible for any manifestation, resulting in either considering all manifestations as God-inspired or mistrusting all manifestations just in case one was not. When I embraced a personal relationship with Jesus, I was so new to the Bible that I didn’t even know the real difference between the Old and New Testaments and needed the Table of Contents to find a book’s location. Because our first non-Catholic church was pastored by a former tent preacher who had a deliverance ministry, I was highly motivated to learn from the Word about how the Holy Spirit operated so I could discern the true spirit at work around me. One of the very important lessons was that the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit are meant to serve and glorify God, not draw attention to or elevate in status the one through whom they flow.
Side note: There is a very distinct difference between magic and the miracle power of the Holy Spirit. Both have to do with the exercise of supernatural power through a person. Magical power serves the person exercising it; it is power that originates from the devil, is used to control others and draws attention to/glorifies the magician. Holy Spirit power serves others; it is power that originates from God, sets people free and glorifies God. Magic powers operate according to the whim of the magician; Holy Spirit power operates when, where and how the Holy Spirit wills it. Magic powers provide wealth, power, status to the magician; Holy Spirit power brings glory to God.
Apparently, in their enthusiasm, the Corinthian services had become chaotic and clamorous because of an overabundance of uninterpreted messages in Tongues. Remember, they come from a culture where the focus is on individual rights and status. So, Paul is instructing them in the purpose behind these vocal gifts of the Holy Spirit and reminding them that they are transitioning to Jesus culture, sacrificing individual rights for the benefit of others to fulfill God’s will and purpose. Paul encourages them to privately pray often and long in their prayer language (Tongues) so that they may deepen their relationship with Jesus and be built up in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, when speaking in public, the Holy Spirit gift of Tongues is only exercised with its twin, Interpretation of Tongues, so that the message can be understood by the audience. Paul is also instructing them in the use of the Holy Spirit gift of Prophecy, which has a different function and purpose than the prophetic messages of the Old Testament Prophets. In Christ, we are under a new covenant, one between God and the man Jesus, a covenant that Jesus will never break, and, therefore, guarantees us grace. So, the function and purpose of prophecy under this unbreakable covenant is to strengthen, encourage and comfort others (“letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience his presence with you”).
Lord, You are the most amazing and awesome God, Who seeks intimacies with us and even provides the resources/tools/encouragement to us regardless of where we are in the transition from earthly culture to Jesus culture. I thank you for providing me with a prayer language and for the ways that You reveal Yourself, the mysteries of God, to me as I set aside time to pray. I thank You for all the gifts and Ministries of the Holy Spirit and ask You to school me (and us all) in the proper use of these. Lord, search me, instruct me in humility/meekness/obedience, and destroy any hindrance to the pure and powerful operation of those gifts and ministries in and through me so that You May be glorified and others may “grow, and be strong and experience His presence”. I pray this all in the name of Jesus.