Pursue love and use your ambition to try to get spiritual gifts but especially so that you might prophesy. This is because those who speak in a tongue don’t speak to people but to God; no one understands it—they speak mysteries by the Spirit. Those who prophesy speak to people, building them up, and giving them encouragement and comfort. People who speak in a tongue build up themselves; those who prophesy build up the church.I wish that all of you spoke in tongues, but I’d rather you could prophesy. Those who prophesy are more important than those who speak in tongues unless they are able to interpret them so that the church might be built up.
After all, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation, some knowledge, a prophecy, or a teaching? Likewise, things that aren’t alive like a harp or a lyre can make a sound, but if there aren’t different notes in the sounds they make, how will the tune from the harp or the lyre be recognized? And if a trumpet call is unrecognizable, then who will prepare for battle?
It’s the same way with you: If you don’t use language that is easy to understand when you speak in a tongue, then how will anyone understand what is said?It will be as if you are speaking into the air! There are probably many language families in the world, and none of them are without meaning. So, if I don’t know the meaning of the language, then I will be like a foreigner to those who speak it, and they will be like foreigners to me. The same holds true for you: since you are ambitious for spiritual gifts, use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at building up the church. (Common English Bible)
Sometimes we need to look at a section of Scripture and see its big picture message, not losing sight of the forest for the trees. At first glance, it might be tempting to question or delve into whether tongues (a private language of communicating with God) and prophecy (divinely inspired speech for a person or group based in Holy Scripture) are for today, or not.
Please keep in mind that spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy were not the Apostle Paul’s driving concern when he wrote to the Corinthians. Paul wanted the Corinthian believers – who were puffing themselves up like peacocks so that others would admire their gifts and abilities – to grasp a basic important message: pursue love by striving to excel in building up people.
If we miss love, we have lost sight of God’s Word to us. A preoccupation with tongues and prophecy only makes us lose the forest for a few tress. Rather, we are to keep thinking about how we show love for all our brothers and sisters in Christ and put some significant effort into doing our part to encourage them.
Spiritual gifts are given by God to Christians as a means of loving and encouraging the Church. They are not given in a vacuum, as if those gifts are only for an individual’s help. They’re meant to be directed toward helping and serving others.
For example, I am a teacher of God’s Word. It would be really weird if I jumped out of bed on a Sunday morning, got dressed, looked in the mirror and taught at myself. Then, went back to bed dreaming about what a great teacher I am. Spiritual gifts are meant to be unpacked and used for the community, not self.
One of the great temptations of humanity is to finagle our efforts so that other people will notice and give props to our wonderful work. Indeed, we can write Facebook messages to garner as many “likes” as we can get, or post things on Twitter and our favorite blogs hoping to look smart and funny in the eyes of a community of people we may not even know personally. All the while we may be withholding love to actual people right in front our faces because they may not give to us the attention we crave.
Perhaps with Lent coming in another month, you might want to consider a fast from social media in order to better connect with people within your direct sphere of human touch and influence. Or maybe ask someone close to you what they believe your primary spiritual gifts are, with the expressed intention of using the information to explore fresh avenues of love and service to others.
Whatever you do, pursue love and excel in building up the church.
Loving God, you have graciously gifted us all for love and service. May we continually see your love expressed to us through Jesus Christ so that we will be always inspired to pass on that same love to others for whom you also love. Amen.