Message # 52 | 1 Corinthians 14:1 | August 20, 2017


Charlotte’s Web. “With the right words you can change the world.” Profound words for a spider. Many of you likely recall the story of Charlotte’s Web. A runt pig is born and Papa Arable wants to kill it, but eight year old Fern convinces her dad to let her keep it as a pet. Quickly Wilbur becomes too large to keep as a house pet, and the Arable’s sell Wilbur to Uncle Homer. He soon makes friends with all the barn animals, and it is here that he learns that Uncle Homer intends to kill him and eat him. [Pretty tragic and a bit gruesome for a kid’s story.] When Wilbur comes to learn of this horrific plight he cries out, “it isn’t fair. I want to live.” Charlotte, a large gray spider that has settled in the corner of the barn promises Wilbur, “I am going to save you.” Confused, Wilbur wonders, “You’re a spider. How are you going to stop them?”  Charlotte responds, “With the right words you can change the world. Templeton, I need words and lots of them.”  Over the course of the next couple of months Charlotte spins in her web five words “Some Pig,” “Terrific,” “Radiant,” and “Humble.”

Just five words change the fate of this special pig . . . most certainly the right words can change the world. Words are important aren’t they? No oinking or neighing or grunting would have effectively communicated to the farmer that Wilbur was special. That message needed words – and in this case only five words.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:19, “I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Words were important to Paul as well, because it was with words that he was able to communicate the special nature of the Gospel, a task the gift of tongues could never accomplish. As we quickly work through chapter 14 I want you to catch this consistent point.

Purpose Statement. As a church we want to build one another up, and this edification is completely dependent on clarity in communication. Let’s briefly acknowledge the many times edification or “building up” is mentioned in this chapter . . .

3 . . . the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 . . . The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. . . .  12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. . . . [If you pray in a tongue or give thanks with your spirit] 17 you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues 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 a tongue. . . . 26 What then, brothers? When you come together . . . Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:3-26 ESV).

It is this same principle that drives Paul’s counsel to these same believers in 1 Corinthians 8 about how they should think through whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1 ESV).

For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? (1 Corinthians 8:10 ESV).

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV).

Fallen Condition Focus. Instead of viewing our times together in corporate worship as an opportunity to build one another up, we can too often focus on how these moments and these events build ourselves up. We can tend to place more value on the spiritual experience we walk away with rather than on the opportunities offered to build up someone else.

And with that, let’s jump into our passage. [Read 1 Corinthians 14:1-25.]

Defining Love

There are four Greek words that can be translated love: (1) eros, which is erotic love and is not used in the New Testament at all, (2) storge, which refers to familial love and is only used in the negative form twice in the New Testament, (3) phileo, which is friend love and is used often throughout the NT, and finally (4) agape, which sacrificial love and was the focus of our discussion in chapter 13. It also is found throughout the New Testament.

A study of love in the New Testament is going to primarily focus on phileo and agape. Friberg defines agape love as “an attitude of appreciation resulting from a conscious evaluation and choice.”[1]  This agape love is slightly distinguished from phileo love which is defined as a “devotion based in the emotions, often distinguished from ἀγαπάω (love), which is devotion based in the will.”[2] I don’t want to make to stark a distinction between the two words because they do seem to be used interchangeably at times.  Either way, we find in them that one dimension of love is based on emotion whereas the other is based on the will or one’s choice. One dimension of love appears to be focused on the feelings of love and the other on the decision or actions of love.

Love is sacrificial. The love that God desires of us and is reflective of His character is sacrificial. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16 ESV).  “By this we know love, that he laid down his life” (1 John 3:16 ESV). “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV).

Love places the welfare of others above your own. Love does not sacrifice for sacrifice alone. There is always a recipient that benefits from the sacrifice. God did not sacrifice His Son so that he would be viewed as sacrificial, but because his sacrifice resulted in salvation to the world. Christ did not lay down his life to simply offer a model of sacrifice. He laid it down for our benefit and we are to lay down our lives for the benefit of others.

Love is not based on feelings. It’s not that this type of love doesn’t possess feeling; it’s just not based on or rooted in emotions or feelings. The love described in 1 Corinthians 13 is not threatened or shaken when the feeling of love fades because its foundation is not in feelings.

It is a choice. Therefore, in contrast to love being rooted in one’s feelings, Friberg’s lexicon tells us that this love is “devotion based in the will.” It must be a choice, for who would ever love their enemy based on their feelings, yet that is what Jesus calls us to. “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44 ESV).

Not based on the treatment of the one being loved. Jesus displays this as he washes his disciples feet. He displays love towards them as they argue about who’s going to be the best in the kingdom and Judas sits there thinking about how to betray him. He sacrificially loves them full well aware of Peter’s impending rejection of him. As Jesus humbles himself and washes Judas’ feet, he exemplifies what it looks like to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). God’s love towards us was extended to us while we were actively hostile to Him. His love was not dependent upon the treatment by the one being loved. Our love as well must be so robust as to be expressed to others, even when they are unlovely, unkind, and even hostile.

 Therefore a completed definition for love. Love is a willful choice to sacrifice one’s self for the betterment of another, not based in one’s emotions, the treatment of the one being loved, or the circumstances in which one finds themselves.

Defining Prophecy

Old Testament Prophecy. (1) OT prophets were messengers, sent by God, to communicate to people the very words of God. Primarily, prophets were sent to Israel to call them out of their disobedience and impending judgment and call them to repentance. (2) Secondly, the words of an Old Testament prophet were the very words of God. They were not their own. Let me offer one example. The prophet Jeremiah tells the story of when the Lord called him into ministry. He writes, “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (Jer 1:9 ESV). (3)  Thirdly, because the words of a true prophet were the very words of God, disobedience to those words was equivalent to direct disobedience of God. As well, a prophet was not to be challenged or questioned. (4) Therefore, and this point is important to the comparison of New Testament prophets, we see no instances in the Old Testament where a true prophets’ words are evaluated, sifted, or tested. They were accepted as from God. They may not have been followed. They may have been ignored. But, there was not discussion on whether or not they were from God. (5) As well, in a manner that appears different than the New Testament prophet, if any one prophecy ever did not come true, that prophet was to be considered a false prophet.

New Testament Apostle similar to Old Testament Prophet. Take note of the similarities between the NT Apostle and the OT Prophet. (1) NT apostles were messengers sent by Christ to communicate truth to His church. (2) NT apostles share the call to write Scripture. Jesus promises them that they will be enabled by the power of the Spirit to write Scripture (John 16:13-14, Gal 1:11-12). (3) The words of the NT apostles should be considered as coming from God. “that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2 ESV).  (4) Lying to the apostles was equivalent to lying to the Holy Spirit and to God (Peter with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:3-21).

New Testament Prophecy. While the Apostles were as well likely prophets, other NT prophets didn’t seem to possess the same authoritative position as did the Apostles. Let me quickly point out a few realities to support this point.[3]

NT prophets were messengers sent by Christ to communicate truth to His church, but their messages didn’t seem to carry the same authority as Apostles or OT prophets. In just a few more chapters, Paul is going to direct the Corinthians to weigh prophecies. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Cor 14:29 ESV).

It appears that the NT Scriptures were written by the Apostles – or those closely connected to an apostle – and not by the NT prophets.

Absolute obedience is the appropriate response to OT prophets and the Scriptures of the NT Apostles, but this doesn’t seem to be the case with a NT prophecy. For instance, when Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, he stops in Tyre, “And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4 ESV). Paul goes anyway being prompted by the Spirit.

A NT prophet may misunderstand details or share them wrongly and not be considered a false prophet. In Acts (21:10-11) Agabus shares a prophecy that does not come to pass exactly how he outlines it.

We are to test NT prophecies. At least twice Paul directs different churches to weigh or test a prophecy. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Cor 14:29 ESV, Cf. 1 Thess 5:20-21). There is no indication in the OT that a prophecy was to be tested. It was simply to be accepted and obeyed. This seems to indicate that a NT prophecy carried different weight than an OT prophecy.

Meaning of prophet in first century. These seven points parallel the manner in which the first century reader would have understood the word, prophet. Both the first century Greek and Jewish understanding for the word prophet had lost the gravity of authority and could refer to someone who spoke for God but could also refer to something less significant which carried much less divine authority. In first century Jewish thought, the idea of prophecy may have referred to anything from prophesying the future to a dream to a scriptural verse coming to mind.


In defining these two terms, we then jump into a challenging chapter on tongues and prophecy. Even Chrysostom (in the fourth century) wrote of these verses [specifically verses 21-25], “Great in this place is the difficulty which one seems to find arising from what is said.”[4] In a place of great difficulty, we still desire to walk away with some clarity. So in the spirit of Charlotte and Wilbur who changed the world with 5 words, we leave with final exhortation . . . “Purpose to edify others.”

[1] Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 30.

[2] Ibid., 399.

[3] Five of the seven from message 42.

[4] John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Hubert Kestell Cornish, John Medley, and Talbot B. Chambers, vol. 12, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 216.

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