Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 3 * PART 1 * BOOK 28
1 Corinthians 14:4 – 15:19
Now let’s open our Bibles to I Corinthians Chapter 14. And again, before I start teaching I would like to get into the background, because I’m finding out there are very few people who know the circumstances that surround a particular Book or Letter, so we should always know the circumstances, and that makes all the difference in understanding. Remember that Paul is writing to these weak, carnal, fleshly, believers that have just come out of abject immorality in Corinth. He’s writing to correct them because they had so many problems. So the whole theme of I Corinthians is to correct problems, and this whole letter has to be studied in that light.
Also remember the reason, I think, the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to write the love chapter, which is Chapter 13, and to sandwich it in between 12 and 14, which are filled with problems. Chapter 13 was to soften his approach in order to prepare the ground. Because Paul realizes, as well as anybody, that the only way that you can bring people around to the truth is in the spirit of love, you don’t slap them in the face with anger, or ridicule, and put them down as some kind of dummy, but in the spirit of love bring them around to the truth. So as we pick up our study in Chapter 14 don’t lose sight of what he wrote in the love chapter. Remember love is still the greatest of all the things so far as God’s dealing with mankind is concerned. Verse 1:
I Corinthians 14:1
“Follow after charity, (love) and desire spiritual gifts, (gifts is italicized, and personally I like to use the word `things’ instead of gifts) but rather that ye may prophesy.”
Remember the greatest spiritual thing at this time was to prophesy or to speak forth the Word of God, because at the time that Paul is writing to these early Churches there is still no New Testament written. The Four Gospels haven’t been written and won’t be written until many years after Paul’s letters. His own letters have not gone out as the Word of God as yet. He certainly hasn’t written to the Corinthian Church before, so you have to realize that these early primitive, apostolic Churches were experiencing their growth and reaching out into the pagan world without benefit of the written Word. Where would we be today if we didn’t have the Book. I mean this is all that we have to go on, but they didn’t have that so what did they have to depend on? Gifted men. And they had to be gifted to the point that they they could now teach people the Pauline doctrines, and not that which was still coming out of the Old Testament, or there would have been pandemonium. So Paul realizes through the Holy Spirit that this was the most important thing a local Church could have, and that was men who could proclaim the truth of God’s Word without benefit of having it in print. Now does that help? Paul said in Chapter 13 and verse 10 that the time would come when that gift would fade away. And it is no longer a valid gift, because now we have the printed page. Now of course to be a pastor or teacher it’s still a gift, and it’s delineated as such. But once the printed Scriptures came into being, Paul’s letters come into the right format. Then we got the Four Gospels, and Book of Acts, and so forth, and our New Testament is complete, and now there is no need for that kind of gifted men.
I had an interesting phone call the other day, and ordinarily I wouldn’t share something like this with you, but I imagine that if the gentlemen hears it it may get his attention. And that phone call reminded me of gifted men who didn’t have the Word of God, and he was such a kind, benevolent type or I would have hung up on him sooner than I did. At first I didn’t get what he was driving at, but finally he came out and in so many words said, “Les, you’re just like everybody else, you are teaching men’s words, and I wish I could sit down with you and teach you what God has said.” Well, the bells began to ring, and the red flag started to fly, and I said, “Wait a minute, what are you trying to tell me? That you are the only one who has received the revelation of the true Word of God?” He replied, “Yeah.” I said, “I’m sorry, but this conversation is ended,” and I hung up on him.
I had a note in the mail from him yesterday, and he couldn’t figure out why I hung up. I didn’t fly off the handle I just said, “You’re way out in left field, why do you think I have the camera constantly putting the Scriptures on the screen!” I said that’s the Word of God, not what someone like you has supposedly received, and this is what I’m constantly trying to drive into peoples’ thinking – that it doesn’t matter what I say or think, but rather what does the Book say? This is why I prefer the Word of God on the screen rather than myself, and we have to understand that, yes, in the early Church it did take men with that kind of a gift, but today we have the Word of God. And the Word is in such a format that anyone can understand it, and it can feed a hungry heart. So when Paul speaks of this gift of prophecy it was under a whole different set of circumstances than what we’ve got today.
I Corinthians 14:2a
“For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue…”
And we defined all that in our last lesson, and when you see the word “tongue” in these two chapters, 12 and 14, in the singular, and with the added word unknown italicized by the translators, it’s talking about a bunch of sounds that cannot be reduced to print. They are not phonetic, there is no way anyone can write them down, it’s just a bunch of noise. And Paul is going to make this so evident later through this chapter. But when you see the word “tongues” plural, then he’s talking about languages. And even in the city of Corinth there were probably five or six languages being used constantly. There was Latin, Greek, Spanish, Hebrew, and Aramaic, so those languages made up the city of Corinth, and it all enters into the picture of these Chapters 12 and 14. Now here he’s speaking of the tongues movement, it’s an unknown language that no one can print, so this is why the translators call it an unknown tongue. Continuing on in verse 2:
I Corinthians 14:2
“For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: (God is the only One who can make anything out of it if it were possible.) for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit (small “s” so that’s man’s spirit) he speaketh mysteries,”
And I mentioned this in the last letters about some of the pagan religions and their mysteries. And so Paul is saying here what they’re doing is using their own make-up or personality, and they are speaking things that to anybody else is nothing but a mystery. Now verse 3:
I Corinthians 14:3,4
“But (the flip side) he that prophesieth (or speaketh forth the Word as a gifted individual) speaketh unto men to edification, (lift them up) and exhortation, and comfort.” Now verse 4, and I’m not going to make a lot of comment, because the Book speaks for itself.
“He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth (and speaks forth the Word of God) edifieth the church.”
When someone claims to have had a tongues experience, according to the Book, who are they edifying? Themselves. It’s an ego trip, and that’s what it amounts to. Now reading on in verse 5.
I Corinthians 14:5
“I would that ye all spake with tongues, (That’s plural, which means languages. Paul is saying it would be nice if you could just go up into northern Greece, or other countries and speak the dialects that those people do. Today I’d say the same thing, and those of you who have kids out on the mission field know what I’m talking about. My, wouldn’t it have been great if your son or daughter could have gone to the mission field, and picked up the language the next day? But instead they had to go to language school to learn the language before they went to the field. So Paul knew what he was talking about. He said, “It would be great if you all spoke several languages.”) but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.”
Let’s take that little congregation in Corinth, and let’s say that most of them were able to understand Greek. Now there were probably some even in Corinth that couldn’t understand Greek, all they could understand maybe was Hebrew or Aramaic. Paul says, “Now it would be great if you could come into this congregation and be able to teach and preach in a language that they could all understand.” My, what a great gift that would be, because that’s what people needed, they had to hear the Word, because they couldn’t go home and read it.
I Corinthians 14:6
“Now. brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, (these different languages) what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?”
Those are the things that count. People even today need doctrine as very few professing believers today have a good solid understanding of doctrine. I’ve learned over the years that most Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, or just about any other denomination don’t really know what they believe. And if you doubt that, just ask people what they really believe, and most of them can’t tell you much. I say that sincerely, and this is what Paul is saying. Even the Corinthians were so weak in the fundamentals, but oh, they were emotional, they had a lot of enthusiasm, but that in itself is not enough. So Paul says:
I Corinthians 14:6b,7
“…except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine.” What’s the profit? Now verse 7.
“And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
What is the Apostle Paul is saying here? Unless somebody picks up an instrument that knows how to play, knows how to bring out the right tone at the right time within the score, what do you have? A bunch of noise. In fact I’ve been to a few concerts in my life, and especially if you go to a concert of a symphony orchestra, and before they lift the curtain what are those musicians doing back there? They’re tuning their instruments at the same time and it’s just a bunch of noise, there’s no melody, or harmony, or anything worth listening to, you can’t hardly wait till the curtain goes up and you can hear some real music. Well here, Paul is saying the same thing. Look at it again:
I Corinthians 14:7
And even things without life giving sound, (Musical instruments, when they’re giving sound) whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, (The right note at the right place) how shall it be known what is piped or harped?”
How can you make a melody? How would you know what song they’re playing? Well, you don’t. Now verse 8, and Paul is using simple illustrations, and I really don’t have to comment on them.
I Corinthians 14:8
“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
Now you want to remember that the Romans used the trumpet for battle commands much like you have seen in the movies and like our American Calvary did with their riders and so forth. They had a particular trumpet sound for each command, and every soldier knew what it was. And it was the same way in the Roman army, when the trumpet was sounded they would know whether to retreat, attack, or whatever. And Paul is using that analogy here. Now what if the trumpeter didn’t know his command? What if he was just blaring out a bunch of sounds, what would the poor troops do? They would just be looking at each other wondering what they were supposed to do. It would cause confusion. Now verse 9:
I Corinthians 14:9
“So likewise ye, (see how plain this is?) except ye utter by the tongue (this organ in your mouth) words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.”
Common sense? Yeah. In fact I’ve even given this illustration before: I remember years ago I was reading a book by one of the deep, deep theologians of that time, and I would just have to go back and read it over and over. I mean, it was just so hard to dig any of the truth out of it, because it was written in such complicated language. So one morning while Iris was fixing breakfast, and I was sitting at the table, and I had just read a paragraph to her, I said, “Honey, do you know anything that the guy is saying?” And she said, “No, what’s he saying?” Well, I just spit it back out into plain, ordinary laymen’s language, and then she said, “Oh, is that what he said?”
And this is what has happened across the whole spectrum. We’ve got men that are such theologians that they talk above the heads of the average individuals. And you know what I’m talking about. You pray with me that every time I teach that I can take these same truths and keep it so simple that a six-year-old can understand it. And this is what Paul is saying, what good does it do to come in with high-sounding intellectual statements if people don’t know what you’re talking about. The Word of God is simple, I explained just yesterday the Gospel (Ref. I Corinthians 15:1-4) to a man I’m sure had never heard it before. I put it in such simple language that I know he went down my driveway with no doubt what it would take to gain heaven. I don’t know whether he will or not, but I tell you what, he’s going to stand responsible someday, because I laid it out as plain and simple as it can be laid out. And this gentleman just stood there and said, “I’ve never heard that before.” Of course not, most people haven’t. Now verse 10:
I Corinthians 14:10
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.”
Do you know what Paul is talking about here? You go out even into the animal kingdom and what are sciences learning more and more everyday? That even the animals communicate one with another. Those of you who are quail hunters know if you flush out a covey, the first thing you hear is they start whistling. Iris and I were out fishing a while back, and our dog scared up a wild turkey, and she flew right over where we were fishing, and after a while we could hear her start to cluck, and her little ones who were back in the woods started to answer. What were they doing? Communicating. And those sounds weren’t jibberish, those little turkeys knew exactly what momma was saying, and momma knew exactly what they were saying. And we’ve found that throughout the whole spectrum of the wild animal kingdom that they communicate. The same is true with sea creatures, they all communicate. Men, whatever the background, whether we’re European, or Asiatic, we all communicate and this is what Paul is saying, and that’s why God gave us that ability to communicate.
I Corinthians 14:11
“Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, (If I don’t know what someone is saying) I shall be unto him that speaketh (like) a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.”
What’s he talking about? He can’t understand, and if that be the case what purpose is there in making a sound if it isn’t going to communicate. So how much understanding will come between a barbarian, an uncivilized person, and a cultured man like Paul? Nothing!
I Corinthians 14:12
“Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying (or promoting, or the lifting up) of the church.” Not just one person or two, but the whole congregation.
I Corinthians 14:13
“Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue (here’s that singular again) pray that he may interpret.” I know that to most of our tongues people, (and I’m not condemning them, because the last verse of this chapter says that he doesn’t forbid it), unless this sound can be reduced to something understandable, you’re beating the air. That’s what this chapter is pointing out. Verse 13 again:
I Corinthians 14:13
“Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.”
And for what purpose? To communicate. Otherwise it’s just so much lost energy, and time. And we’re going to see in our next lesson that it had gotten to the place even in Corinth where it was just causing commotion in the local congregation, and no one was being edified by it. So the whole purpose of this chapter is in the spirit of love to bring these people to a solid understanding.