15. Built up

Photo by Guilherme Cunha

Photo by Guilherme Cunha

by Rev. Tommy Williams, Senior Pastor

This week in our study, the apostle Paul continues his discussion on spiritual gifts. Paul reinforces in chapter 14 that all spiritual gifts are “so that the church may be built up” (verse 5). Over and again Paul emphasizes, “…since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church” (verse 12). In worship, Paul writes, “Let all things be done for building up” (verse 26).

Any time something in the Bible is repeated in a short span of space, we need to take note. Repetition is a literary device used often to drive home a point, and Paul certainly does that here in this letter. In a community like Corinth, diverse peoples express faith and worship in a variety of ways. The temptation to rank or prioritize certain gifts over others is strong, then and now. The measure is whether they build up the church?

Let’s not lose sight of this core lesson on unity from I Corinthians – the primary threat to the church’s unity comes from within, not from outside the church. With passions aflame, people do great good. With passions high, temptations toward dissension and abuse of power get higher also. This is one reason why Paul emphasizes in chapter 14 that “all things should be done decently and in order.” Order, discipline, and humility are all practices and virtues that keep the diverse church linked together. “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (verse 33).

I don’t want to gloss over the many passages in this chapter that largely deal with the gift of “tongues.” In mainline Protestant churches like ours, this seems very foreign to many. However, I know some of you come from Pentecostal traditions where “speaking in tongues” was a regular worship expression. Paul illustrates all kinds of guidelines in this chapter for this, including having interpreters present, making sure new people understand what is going on and so forth.

What is finally at stake here – again – is the love the church needs to have for each other and for all, and for their own growth in that love. No gift, nor worship expression, ought to stand in the way of the greatest gift of love. Chapter 14, verse 1 emphasizes this – “pursue love…” Love doesn’t just happen; it must be pursued, striven for, worked after, and practiced into being. Then and now, we must commit to love one another amidst our diversity of gifts.