From: Jon Yeager
Prophesy, tongues, and charisma, oh my! Many may wish that the yellow bricked road for the Christian did not lead through 1 Corinthians 14. Perhaps these gifts of the Spirit seem immensely foreign to you and the only tangible examples you have of their activity come from the best dubious characters that television and the internet can provide. Equally, these gifts of the Spirit can be immensely hard to understand when they have been used with a negative and harmful effect. There is good reason to approach tongues and prophesy with caution. This is part of Paul’s driving point in this passage, instructing the church to not misuse these gifts. Yet, there is also plenty of good reasons to “strive for the spiritual gifts,” however foreign and uncomfortable they may seem or whatever residual bad taste lingers from past experiences. This section of Paul’s letter may not settle our understanding of tongues and prophesy (nor this scripture reflection!), but their purpose is unambiguously clear. These gifts are for the sole purpose of building up the church.
We all long to be known, embraced, and fulfill all that it means to be human in this world. This is partly the cry echoed throughout today’s Psalms (61, 62, 63). The wonderful news of the gospel is that God does know us, sees us, embraces us, and is at work to fulfill all that it means to be made in his image in this world. Paul’s emphatic command to “pursue the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy” (v. 1) is towards this end. Prophesy has too often been confused with a magical ability to see future events and speak them into the present. While others gaze into some future-telling mystery ball, Paul’s primary concern is for the present “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (v. 3) of God’s people. Prophesy is much more concerned with bringing clarity for the present (which is also why he downgrades the gift of tongues—because it usually lacks clarity).
But do we understand the present? Are we seeing clearly? Do we understand the cravings of our hearts? Or have we been perniciously influenced by our seemingly neutral surroundings? From whose cup are we drinking, and from whose table are we eating, that keep us in a perpetual state of anxious exhaustion? We need prophets among us to awaken our imagination. Prophets, with keen observations guided by the Spirit, pulling back the curtains of reality, revealing the darkness in our path, awakening the path forward, and exhorting us to walk. All for the sake of building, encouraging, and allowing the life of the Spirit to richly work among the body of Christ—for this is the work of the people of God.
Pastors need to pursue this gift and operate effectively in it. Friends need to do the same. We need our young, old, sisters, brothers, spouses, and friends growing in the life of the Spirit at Church of the Cross. “Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you” (Psalm 63.1) – may we seek the gift that is ours in Christ, the Spirit who is with us, and may we be uniquely used to build up the community of God’s people. He is faithful; he will surely do it.