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Good morning, church. Go with me to the book of 1 Corinthians, to chapter 14. If you want to use one of our Bibles this morning, you can raise your hand and we’ll get one to you, and if you’ll read it, I want you to keep it.

We’re continuing a series this morning I’m calling, simply, “gifted,” talking about spiritual gifts within the body of the church. Gifts are one of the major ways people love each other. I told this story, but Adam Shipp was largely the inspiration for this series. Meg and Elma were sick, and I did the only thing I know to do to minister to people who are sick in our congregation, which is to pray for them and bring them food. But in this way he has of saying so much so simply, as I was leaving, I told him I loved them, and he held up the bowl of soup and said, “this is love,” which was both an overestimation of the quality of the soup and also a profound statement, which in my mind connected to everything we’d been talking about in the residency last year in 1 Peter. My hope in this series, largely what I’m wanting you to take away, is an understanding of what it looks like to love each other, practically, in Christianity, because I think we’ve forgotten.

In the Bible, teachings on spiritual gifts and teachings on loving one another as members of the body of Christ are paired over and over again, meaning giving each other spiritual gifts is one of the major ways we’re meant to love each other. The passage we’re about to read this morning is the latter part of a passage that really spans about three chapters. Chapters twelve and fourteen dive deeply into the practicality of using spiritual gifts within the community of believers, and right in between these two sections, you find what is probably one of the most widely known passages of the Bible expounding the virtues of loving one another.

We started this series talking about how the Spirit of God filled the craftsmen working on the tabernacle in the days of Moses with the gifts and abilities to do the work. I started there because I want you to see, throughout the history of the people of God, the Spirit has been empowering us toward a single end: God coming to dwell richly with us. So often when we talk about spiritual gifts, we’re so focused on what we are able to do in the power of the Spirit, we lose sight of what the Spirit is wanting to do in us. In our churches, in our cities, in our individual families and lives, God wants to dwell with us, filling us with life, just as in creation the Spirit of God filled the earth with abounding life.

Last week, we got really practical talking about giftedness in the context of a local church. I was arguing, we need to break down the barriers in our minds between material gifts and spiritual gifts. Paul spends several chapters before this section begins in chapter 12 talking about financial gifts within a local congregation. He’s rebuking the church in Corinth for not caring for him, not giving him any gift, through the year and a half he stayed with them planting the church there, even though Corinth was an incredibly wealthy city. He says what I was giving you was so incredibly valuable in comparison to what I was needing from you. He says I gave you the gospel, life itself, and wisdom, spiritual gifts.

I was arguing, too, last week, that spiritual gifts really have more to do with your role in service of your local congregation than they have to do with your personality. Personalities don’t really change, but the gifts you’re able to give to your congregation are going to change constantly. I was talking about all of what I’ve been able to give to my fellow churchgoers in my lifetime. My gifts to the congregations I’ve served have changed with my financial capability, my time commitments, and my spiritual maturity. Years ago, when I was in seminary, I was mainly giving gifts of service to the people around me. Service and hospitality, working set-up tear-down for church plants, making coffee, doing greeting and assimilation ministries. At times I was able to give financially more, and at times less. Now I mainly preach and teach. The spirit hasn’t changed, but I’ve changed, and the needs of my church have changed.

This week we’re going to get even more practical, talking about what would normally be called charismatic gifts in the life of the body. Read with me, 1 Corinthians 14, and we’re going to start just with that last verse of chapter 13. [1 Cor 13:13-14:25] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.

Whenever a means to an end becomes an end in itself, whenever your values become disordered, your life and faith become disordered, too. Or to quote Keller, “idolatry means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing.”

This passage we’ve just read is probably enough controversy for one day, and we’re going to talk about charismatic gifts, but I’m going to make the very questionable decision to say something else controversial and otherwise entirely unrelated to get us started. I’m just going to say it: I love Settlers of Catan, the board game. I’m sorry, Robyn, I’m sorry, but I love it. If you’ve never played, it’s a very nerdy board game, one of those games that it almost takes longer to explain the rules than to actually play it. Like New Orleans itself, people tend to love it or hate it. I love it.

I’ve been teaching my son how to play, and the other day I was going kind of easy on him, giving good advice, kind of playing against myself, and he started to smack talk me. Which, as a fully grown, mature adult, obviously my reaction was just to cream him in the game, like demoralize him, Ender’s Game style, not just win that game, but crush his emotional ability to win in the future. Oddly, he hasn’t wanted to play with me recently. It’s easy for me sometimes to focus so fully on winning, that I forget, the whole point of playing it with him is to spend time with him. To show him, with my time, I love him and I’m glad I’m his dad. The game is a means to an end, it’s not the end in itself. Do you ever forget things like that?

What you value in life is incredibly important. In subtle ways, your values begin to affect all of the rest of what you do in life. Another thing I love, besides nerdy board games, is this church—I love this church maybe even more than I love Catan, Robyn—and as I continue to grow in my faith, I’ve fallen more and more in love with the Church universal. I love gathering together to worship God on Sundays. I learned this genuinely about myself in those very difficult months last year when we were in the hospital over and over again with the baby—I was out at work, no one was expecting me here, but I wanted to be here, not to preach, just to worship. I love the church, and I love gathering together.

I know many of you feel the same, which is why it’s so important for us to remember much of what we are doing in these worship services, these gatherings—the songs, the readings, the sermons—are a means to an end. They are not ends in themselves. (I’m going to set communion aside for a moment in this conversation, that is more of an end in itself.) But according to this passage, from chapter 12 all the way through the end of fourteen, the purpose, the end, of the vast majority of what we do in gathering together to worship the Lord is to love one another well, to worship and enjoy God, and especially in what we just read, over and over again, Paul writes, we’re here to build each other up. If you lose sight of building each other up in the worship gatherings, you’ve mistaken the means for the end, making good things ultimate things, and whenever your values become disordered, your life and your faith become disordered, too.

What you value in life orders your life, and what you value in your church orders your church, so let’s talk about prophecy and speaking in tongues, because those are both gifts we need to value within the church universal. I’ll admit to you, I do not speak in tongues, not in the sense most people mean. That gift has never been given to me, and I have had people leave churches I’ve pastored and question both my salvation and my authority as a teacher because of this—we talked about controversy. I don’t speak in tongues, but I greatly respect and am deeply grateful for many people who do. We should probably define some terms.

The word tongues here is the same word used for languages—like some people still call another language a “foreign tongue.” In our culture today, people broadly consider tongues to be a heavenly language that you are able to learn, or that can be given to you, in order to connect with God in your spirit. You may have also heard the word glossolalia, that’s the same thing, that’s just an English version of the original word Paul is using here. I do believe in that expression of worship, but I also believe that expression has a place in the service which is clearly expressed in the passage we read and often ignored to the detriment of the Church.

I want you to notice in chapter 13, Paul suggests two types of tongues, he says “the tongues of men and angels.” We see both forms of the gift of tongues Biblically, both amazing, and I praise God for them. One, at Pentecost we see the apostles speaking in a single language that people who speak multiple languages are able to understand. I would call that a spiritual language, or speaking in a heavenly or angelic tongue. What an incredible gift. I’ve met modern missionaries, too, who have had similar experiences. One was a journeyman in India who met a person from an entirely unreached people group who spoke a regional language and they couldn’t communicate beyond basic gestures, then the missionary felt led to share the gospel, and miraculously she was able to hold an entire conversation in which the entire village understood her, her English-speaking companions understood her, and many people believed. That is a powerful gift, one worth honor and eager desire.

Two, as Paul writes about the tongues of men, we can relate this gifting, as well, to people like Paul who are able to travel from place to place and are gifted in learning local language and custom to be able to communicate clearly the truth of the gospel and doctrine to establish the church cross-culturally. So I do see this as a gift you can work to develop in the power of the Spirit. I have many friends involved in work just like this, working to translate bibles and discipleship materials into many languages.

But going back to angelic tongues, this heavenly language that we see in scripture, and that many people have experienced in today’s world, I said earlier, people have questioned my salvation and my ability to teach them anything spiritual because I don’t speak in angelic tongues. There is a belief in some expressions of the Church that everyone who has the Spirit of God will exhibit the indwelling of the Spirit by speaking in tongues.

So since I haven’t spoken in tongues, some friends of mine and congregants have rejected my claims of knowing the Lord and refused to acknowledge that I knew God at all. I remember those conversations with some grief. Every time the body of Christ splits, the Church universal is wounded. The enemy is very talented at segregating individual spiritual gifts into different churches and denominations so that most local bodies are missing limbs.

I will say, the part of this passage we read last week teaches directly against the idea that everyone in the church, everyone who is saved is going to speak in tongues. We’re going to get a little academic for a minute, and then we’ll recover. In English, it’s harder to notice, but chapter 12, v.30 is a series of rhetorical questions. In English, the answers to rhetorical questions are implied, in the original language of the Bible, though, rhetorical questions are actually answered in the text. It doesn’t translate, but there is an actual “no” written in the text. Do all speak in tongues? No, no many Christians don’t. And look at the one right before it, same linguistic construction, do all possess gifts of healing? No, no many Christians don’t. And also in that passage he says, even though the gifts of God are varied, we should eagerly desire things like tongues and healing, yet we should also give honor to every person giving gifts of any kind to the congregation.

Chapter fourteen mainly speaks to the purpose and use of tongues and prophecy, and this is where I want you to lean in. This is where we’ve mistaken the means for the end. Paul writes, very clearly in chapter 14, v.5, the purpose of what we do when we gather in worship together is to build each other up, and speaking in tongues doesn’t do that, not unless there is an interpreter, not unless people have some way of understanding. You know where I’ve seen interpretation of tongues done beautifully? In large, multicultural churches and gatherings, like the convention back in June, where we were worshipping together in multiple languages, English, Spanish, my former co-pastor Augustine Hui led one verse in Cantonese, but they started the song in English, why? So everyone would understand what was being sung, so they could celebrate the diversity of tongues without confusing most of the people there.

Paul goes further. He says, if you’re speaking in, to quote chapter 13 again, “the tongues of men and angels,” and no one is able to translate or understand what you’re saying, he says, v. 23, whenever outsiders walk into a service like that where everyone is shouting unintelligibly, he uses a rhetorical question again, he says, people are going to think you’re insane, which is my experience of attending services like that. The last time I was at a service where multiple people were praying in tongues, loudly, all at the same time, I thought people seemed insane, if I’m honest. I was very uncomfortable, and I even understood their theology. What would the uninitiated person think, then, of Christianity after that experience?

He says, tongues are meant for the nations, for outside of the church, and he even says in v.18, I speak in tongues more than any of you, and he thanks God for that, but he doesn’t bring tongues into the worship service, because to do so wouldn’t build anyone up, and in a worship service, that’s the end. We can’t mistake the means for the ends. The songs, the prayers, all the languages spoken, that’s a means to the end. The end, Paul says several times throughout the passage, is to build one another up in love. Neglect the ends, he says, and speaking in the tongues of men and angels is like ringing a gong. It may be fun for the person doing it, but it’s a lot of noise for everyone else.

Practically speaking, then, if someone were to shout out in the church in any language, either in the middle of someone else speaking, or in a language no one here understands, and there is no one to translate it into English so people can hear and understand with their minds, I would as tactfully as possible ask that person to wait for an appropriate time to speak, and when they do speak, to speak in a way people can understand them, because the point of speaking in a church service is so that people might understand and be edified or convicted.

Corinth and New Orleans have a couple things in common; it’s messy church. As a pastor, I’ve had to ask people several times to stop shouting in the middle of a church service, or I’ve asked for it to be done. It’s always a bit awkward. One time I confiscated a shofar, which is a large horn involved in some worship services. Here in the quarter, oftentimes, or when I was helping plant a church on Magazine Street, people wander in drunk, or a little feisty, and try to kind of shout down the preaching. I remember my first ever time preaching here, Jonathan stood up after the sermon wanting to pray with someone, and before he could get to me, Lucious stood up and anointed him with oil while praying in tongues. Nothing against anointing, nothing against tongues, but let the man come pray.

When it comes down to it, if we put the controversy of tongues aside, and we’ve still got to talk at least a little about prophecy, but if we put all of that to the side, y’all, what we’re really talking about is pride, and how pride has no place in the church. Kill your pride to build up the church. Just a few chapters earlier in first Corinthians, Paul asks people not to come to church with braided hair and designer clothes on. Why? Because pride does nothing to build up the church. Same problem, different outworking.

What’s really going to come from your shouting out in tongues in a service? V.4 answers, you’ll build yourself up. People who understand what you’re doing may think you’re more spiritual, but you looking spiritual is not the point of what we’re doing here. The point is to come together, to practice the sacraments, to speak words of teaching, even prophetic words, to draw people into worshipping God, not into being impressed with us and how spiritual we are.

Prophecy, too. He’s just talking about a word from the Lord. It doesn’t have to be prophetic in the sense of knowing what’s in the future, in this sense. It can be, but he’s talking about preaching, or at least preaching as it should be, sharing the word of God as the Spirit illuminates it in scripture, and he gives a very similar warning to those of us who preach. Kill the pride; build up the church. I try every time I preach to give you what God has given me, and I try to do it with as much clarity and excellence as I can, but in the end, it’s not about me, and may God forbid that the result of my sermons or anyone else’s would be to make us seem more spiritual.

Jesus sat under some rabbi for thirty years until he began teaching and prophesying. Just because I am called in this moment to preach to you, it doesn’t say anything about me being holy, what it says is that God is able to use broken people. The words spoken in this church are for you, to build you up. Prophetic words are like food. We who preach may prepare them, and we may try our best to make what we serve healthy and good to taste, but the end is not for you to take pictures and be impressed, the end is to take and eat, to taste and see the Lord is good, that he is able to comprise and nourish you.

Friends, whatever you do, whether you teach or prophecy, or speak and tongues and work miracles, or clean the building and pay the bills, whatever gift you’ve been given in the spirit to pour out to the congregation, give glory to God, kill the pride, and do whatever you can to build up the body of Christ wherever you’re called.

As Adam comes to lead a time of response to the word of God spoken today, my hope is that we would be a church so focused on building each other up through the truth of the word, prayer, and genuine love of each other that we would forget ourselves most days. Not that we would think less of ourselves, because we are precious to God, but that we would think of ourselves less, to the glory of the one who has gifted us in the first place.

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