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In my personal Bible reading I have just reached chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians. It compares two spiritual things that can be done in church – speaking in tongues and speaking prophecy. I am helping run the 11am church here at St Michael’s, but what do I do with this passage? (…Especially when I am not 100% sure what tongues and prophecy are?)
I start with what I am more sure of.
Paul says one of these gifts of speaking is better than the other: prophecy is better than tongues. It seems the key is whether his words are understood by others, because then his words are useful to them, and build them up. This doesn’t happen if he speaks in ways people don’t understand. In fact, Paul says he would rather speak five words that people can understand than 10,000 words they can’t.
Then I look at previous chapters I have read, to help me.
In chapter 13 Paul says he should always aim to love people in everything he does, or it’s a waste of time doing it.
Paul might be able to speak impressively in tongues of angels, but if others don’t understand it, then his words are just noise. And if he has all understanding and knowledge, but is not using these to help and love others, then he is a nothing.
Back in chapter 9, Paul says he was a free man but his choice was to make himself a slave to others for Jesus. Paul says he became all things to all people, to try and save some. Being ‘true to himself’ was not his priority.
Then I ask God’s help to listen to him by praying about his words.
This is what I try and do with any part of God’s word. Read it. Try and understand it, starting with what is clear. Read its context. And talk to God about it. Then I obey it; but this is often harder than I like.
So, how do I obey chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians?
Whatever difficulties I have defining prophecy and tongues, it seems my decisions in leading at 11am should always come back to love. 11am’s purpose is to better serve people from non-English speaking backgrounds and so aid St Michael’s growth.
That means helping people at 11am understand God’s word by using suitable vocabulary, and pictures in sermons, and having the sermon printed out to give to people beforehand with a list of difficult words and their definitions.
It may mean choosing fewer words, so they are words that can be understood, rather than many words that are more natural to me. It may mean things we haven’t thought of yet!
The focus in this chapter – on choosing what is most loving – is a reflection of our God who always chooses what is most loving, because our God is love.
Warmly in Christ,