May 19, 2024

Your Sunday Morning Construction Site (1 Corinthians 14:12-20)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Topic: One Body: Love One Another Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:12–20


Children's Lesson (click here)

Click here a follow-up post entitled, "What Does Sunday Morning 'Building Up' Look Like?"

I. A Different Kind of Service

What if... after some ferocious, monsoon storm this summer, this room, this 'cafe-nasium', was severely damaged? And what if... the school lacked the funds to repair the damaged roof and walls and floors? Moreover... what if... I volunteered us (myself and all of you) to make the necessary repairs (under the guidance of a licensed contractor, of course)? Okay. One final 'what if'. What if... the only time we could get all of you together was on... a Sunday morning? So instead of coming to worship, you were coming to work. Instead of coming to sing, you were coming to saw, and sweep, and secure new pieces of drywall all around this space. Think about it: how would your coming differ from the way you came to church this morning? Well, there's a good chance you would come dressed differently. For example, you might be equipped with boots and gloves and hard hat. And maybe you would bring some of your own tools, whichever ones you had. You would also come with a different mindset, right? Instead of attending a service, you would be engaging in service. You might also come with a different kind of humility. Most of us would be saying, “I'm not sure what to do, or, how to do what you're asking, so could someone help me?” It's fair to say that if on a Sunday morning this was a construction site and not a space for corporate worship, many things would be very different.

II. The Passage: “Strive to Excel in Building Up” (14:12-20)

Hold on to that image as we looking together at 1 Corinthians 14, one of the chapters from Our Bible Reading Plan this past week. This morning, we will be digging into verses 12-20. So what do we need to know about the context here? What has Paul been talking about up to this point? Well, beginning in chapter 11, Paul has been dealing with issues related to those times when the church gathered. In chapter 12, Paul introduces the topic of our unity in diversity as God's people; that is, how our diverse, Spirit-given gifts shouldn't highlight our distinctions, but should remind us of our interdependence. In chapter 13, Paul points to the critical importance of love in our interdependence as the body of Christ. And when we get to chapter 14, we realize that the Apostle has come back to tackling issues related to our gathering together.

Having set up the discussion by focusing on the gifts of the Spirit in chapter 12 and then the excellence of love in chapter 13, Paul's main focus here in chapter 14 is on two of these Spirit-empowered gifts: speaking in tongues and prophecy. Now, since the Greek word translated tongue here simply refers to a foreign language, I will translated as such. Paul writes...

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. [13] Therefore, one who speaks in [another language] should pray that he may interpret. [14] For if I pray in [another language], my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. [15] What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. [16] Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? [17] For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. [18] I thank God that I speak in [other languages] more than all of you. [19] Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in [another—or foreign—language]. [20] Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

In light of chapters 12 and 13, it's clear that many believers in the Corinthian church were, for some reason, wrongly exalting the gift of tongues (i.e., that Spirit-empowered ability to speak in a foreign language, a language you don't know—which is clear from Acts 2). If you followed the Reading Plan last week, then you know that Paul spills a lot of ink in this chapter on correcting their thinking about and practice of this gift of tongues. But one of things I hope was clear to you from our main text is that Paul's concern was not with tongues per se, but on how a wrong emphasis on tongues was distracting them from a right emphasis on prophecy (i.e., a speaking forth of God's word). Or pushing that idea little deeper, and remembering Paul's words about love in chapter 13, we could say, a right emphasis on that which blesses and builds up others.

So when the Apostle writes “pursue love” in 14:1 (at the beginning of this chapter), or calls them to “earnestly desire to prophesy” in 14:39 (at the end of this chapter), please don't miss that the practical expression of both those things, that the main application toward which Paul, toward which God, is driving everything in this chapter, is found in verse 12... brothers and sisters, “strive to excel in building up the church”.

Just look around this world. There are so many things, so many areas, in which people strive to excel; many things, many areas, in which we “strive to excel”. In your career. In your schooling. As a mother. As a father. In your gaming. As an artist or athlete. In this or that venture. And people do all kinds of significant things as they “strive to excel” in these areas. They spend inordinate amounts of time and money. They get books. They get training. They get degrees. They allow their thoughts to be dominated by the pursuit. And sadly, they may even allow more important things to fall by the wayside. But, brothers and sisters, are we “striv[ing] to excel in building up the church”? Are we doing significant things in this divinely-emphasized pursuit?

Think with me about three reasons Paul gives us here in our main text as to why we should be striving to excel in this way:

First, as we read in verse 12, building up the church in love is the superior manifestation of the Spirit and the purpose of every Spirit-given gift. Like too many charismatic and Pentecostal churches today, the Corinthian Christians believed the strangeness and exuberance of speaking in tongues was, for some reason, the best proof of God among them and within them; that it was somehow the greatest manifestation of the Spirit of God, a manifestation to be sought and experienced above all others. Though Paul doesn't dismiss the gift of tongues in this chapter, he never once calls them to “strive to excel in” speaking in tongues. But he does emphasize building others up: (v. 4) “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” (v. 5) “ that the church may be built up.” (v. 6) Paul is concerned with what might “benefit you”, not himself. In v. 17, Paul laments that the tongues-speaker “may be giving thanks well enough (in that foreign language), but the other person is not being built up.” And he summarizes his main point clearly in v. 26, “Let all things be done for building up.” This simply confirms what Paul already told them in 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit [to what end] for the common good.”

Second, building up the church in love steers us away from making church about what I get rather than what I give. Most of our passage this morning deals with Paul describing for his readers why speaking in tongues is inherently problematic for the public gatherings of God's people. Unless that foreign language is translated, tongues-speaking simply does not serve “the common good”. It is simply “speaking into the air” (v. 9). Such a person may be “utter[ing] mysteries in the Spirit” (v. 2), they may be “giving thanks” (v. 17), they may be building themselves up (v. 4), but again, verse 17, “the other person is not being built up.”

Now this may sound strange to modern ears, but I think what Paul is saying here is that a believer should not primarily gather with God's people in order to have experiences that are spiritually meaningful to himself or herself. For the glory of God, they should primarily gather in order to contribute to a meaningful experience that blesses others. And we do that trusting that through that kind of gathering, we will also experience the encouragement of Christ. Amen?

Third, building up the church in love is encouraging evidence of genuine, Christian maturity. It's so easy for us to make things like years in the faith or theological knowledge or a ministry resume or regular church attendance or a title or some impressive gift, it's so easy for us to make such things into marks of Christian maturity. But Scripture says nothing of the sort. In our final verse, verse 20, whatever their estimate of their own spiritual condition, Paul calls them out for their spiritual immaturity: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” What is mature thinking? Always considering how we can encourage others in Christ. What does this mature thinking inspire? Striving to excel in building up the church. According to what standard is this maturity measured? Ephesians 4:13, according “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. Each Sunday morning, your attitude toward, your ambitions for, your practice with the other believers in this room is the true test of whether or not you or I are actually mature in Christ. Brothers and sister, let's be eager to grow!

III. We are Building Something

You see, this may not be a construction site with ladders and lumber and the sound of power tools. But nevertheless, we are building something here, aren't we? At least we should be. We are building up one another in our shared faith. Every Sunday morning, this is, in fact, a spiritual construction site... for 'builder uppers'. But have you come this morning ready to work? And equipped for the work? Have you come with this mindset (that mature mindset)? Did you come for a service, or to serve through the power of God's Spirit? Did you come with a humility that says, “I'm not sure what to do, or, how to do what you're asking, so... could someone help me?”

Even if you don't speak in tongues, it's so tempting to come for a spiritual experience that simply benefits you. But that isn't what Christlike love seeks when we gather together. Christlike love is concerned when (v. 17) “the other person is not being built up.” What motivates this concern, this mature mindset in the believer? First, as Paul already established in 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Our desire as disciples, both individually and corporately, should be that Jesus Christ would work through us and be seen in us. Amen? Christ-like love through us only comes from Christlike love in us, and that only comes through faith in the gospel, and regular reflection (again, in faith) on that Good News that Jesus Christ sought our blessing, even when we were his enemies; that he died to build us into something amazing: a temple of the Holy Spirit (3:16; 6:19). So in our desire to build we can't ever forget, that “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (3:11)

But another motivation should simply be the vision Paul presents here. If you were searching for a faith family, which church would you want to visit: the one in which most people are only concerned about their own spiritual experience... OR, the church in which most people are sincerely looking for a way to build you up? Brothers and sisters, let's personally commit to embodying that kind of church. Talk to God today. Pray and ask Him to work in your heart, that you would desire to move beyond the pleasantries and chit chat to “excel” as this kind of builder; that if you aren't already, you would “strive” for this kind of maturity; and that, to the glory of God, you would be eager to be equipped for doing this very thing each Sunday morning, and... throughout the week.