Epistle: I Corinthians 14:12b-20 (Epiphany 5: Series C)
The theme for this week is the Church and especially the ministry of Christ. Christ hauls in the miraculous catch, just as He hauled us in by the fishers of men whom He sent (Luke 5). In Isaiah 6, we learn how the Lord who is high and lifted up cleanses those whom He sends and atones for their sins. After cleansing Isaiah is bold to preach and to be a messenger of the Most High. Would that all pastors had such confidence in the holy office in which they have been placed! The texts for this week offer great consolation for pastors and preachers. Do not miss out on preaching this consolation to your people too. Christ is at work in us, though we are insufficient for such a ministry to save souls from destruction. God is with us and His Word will not return empty (Isaiah 55). A careful study of the Augsburg Confession, Articles IV-V, would fit very well with these readings, since it puts the preacher’s confidence not in himself, but in Christ and His promise to create faith through the office of preaching and administering the sacraments.
The theme of 1 Corinthians 14:12b-20 is the building up of the church through the preaching office. For most of our congregations, you will not have to preach against the pride of those who possess the gift of speaking in tongues. It is a rare gift in these latter days. What Paul means by tongues as a spiritual gift does not necessarily mean an ecstatic gift, that is, speaking in a human language that a person does not himself understand. It could be something like reciting Scripture in a foreign language without understanding (like we all did when we learned Greek or Hebrew). It seems more likely, however, that Paul means a gift of the Spirit to speak in a foreign language unknown to the speaker but known to others—an overflow of the Pentecost miracle. Of course, should someone have this gift today, it is only a benefit to his or herself (τῷ πνεύματι), and is hardly a gift worth desiring for the sake of the faithful, if interpretation is lacking (vv. 12-15).
Paul will say beyond our text (v. 22) that speaking in tongues is a sign for the unbeliever, to confirm them in their unbelief. As proof, he cites Isaiah 28:11-12 where speaking in tongues is a testimony against the unbelieving world: “For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people, to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose;’ yet they would not hear.” It appears Paul has the larger context of Isaiah 28 in mind, which is a judgment against Israel’s lack of understanding concerning what has been preached to them. Tongues would be a sign of the Spirit’s activity for the unbeliever, but interpretation, and not tongues, builds up the body of Christ. As Chrysostom rightly says, “For the believer hath no need to see a sign but requires only teaching and catechizing” (Homily XXXVI on 1 Corinthians). Paul says “catechizing” (v. 19) is to speak with understanding (τῷ νοΐ). This ought to encourage and guide pastors in their preaching to shy away from emotionalism as a kind of personal testimony of the Spirit’s power (your people do not need it!). What they need is preaching and teaching with understanding.
Without the content of faith, or without the fides quae (that which is to be believed), the fides qua (the faith by which we believe) is never strengthened. Building up the Church comes by means of preaching and teaching the holy faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Paul’s exhortation to desire richly the spiritual things which build up the Church (v. 12) is a call particularly to pastors to cultivate a love of interpreting the Scriptures rightly. It would seem then the Spirit’s gift of interpreting also comes by means of the catechist: ἀλλὰ ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι, ἵνα καὶ ἄλλους κατηχήσω (v. 19).
If you are in the midst of catechesis and preparing catechumens for confirmation this Easter, this text would be an excellent way to preach and teach why God wants us to grow to maturity in understanding God’s Word and will.
Concordia Theology-Various resources to help you preach I Corinthians 14:12b-20 from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.