But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV).
The local church is a gathering or assembly of God’s people committed to the Lord and one another for worship, the spread of the good news of Christ, and the good of each other. The first century Corinthians wrote to the apostle Paul with some questions. Though they were richly blessed (cf. 1:4-9), they struggled about spiritual matters. So, they reached out for help. (Too often these aspects of the Corinthian church are overlooked. They had issues, and they knew they had some and sought help for them, even as they failed to take other issues seriously. This sounds like a typical church to me!)
Paul wrote his brothers and sisters in Christ to help them apply the instruction of the Lord to their local situation. Believers in Christ have heard the good news, yet we need the teaching of the word to know how the message ought to transform our thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and actions. We have the benefit of this instruction, but we need to listen to it carefully and to apply it to our local gatherings.
We can lose sight of the point of the above verse through discussions about the exact nature of prophecy and other related spiritual gifts. The point that Paul makes in 14:1-25 is that all verbal contributions during worship must be intelligible to all, or they are profitless and so loveless (13:1-13). Paul told them that intelligible prophecy was far superior to speaking in tongues, which required an interpreter for anyone to profit. Using prophecy as an example in contrast to tongues (14:2), Paul set forth what people ought to experience when a church gathers. I mean a shared experience. Each one is to contribute according to their growth in grace, spiritual gifts, and wisdom. We should not attend as mere consumers but as helpers of one another.
We should experience strengthening. Every local gathering is to build itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16). This requires each part of a local body of believers to function. In this chapter, Paul spoke to their failure repeatedly (14:3-5, 12, 17, 26). He told them to speak in an intelligible way that would build up the church. We must sense that the spiritual strength of others is our responsibility. We need to look at ourselves. How has the Spirit of the Lord equipped me to make others stronger:
- In their consecration to God (sanctification)?
- In their participation in the mission (shared evangelism)?
- In their communication with God (prayer)?
- In their understanding and application of the word of God (Bible study)?
The contemporary church has “staffed these things out”, with the result that strengthening has been selectively and inadequately done. Paul did not write chapter fourteen to “the elders and the staff.” He wrote to all, and all are to contribute to strengthening. Our churches need immediate and drastic change.
We should experience encouraging. Like strengthening, encouragement requires knowledge of one another. We need to grasp the life experiences and present situation of our brothers and sisters in the Lord to be able to encourage them. This necessitates an atmosphere of trust, awareness of acceptance, and the absence of perfectionism. People sin, people fail, and people suffer. We must expect others to need encouragement from us. We come with hearts taught by grace (Titus 2:11-12) and motivated to lift others up graciously and kindly.
We should experience comfort. To comfort, we draw upon the comfort that we have received from our God and Father (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). We receive comfort, and we act from comfort to comfort. This is one reason that a close walk with the Lord is important. We have learned how the Lord reached out to us in our misery or shame, and we apply those principles to our interactions with those hurting. Some matters cannot be learned from sermons and seminars. The Lord teaches us in the furnace of affliction, and because we have felt the heat, we know what cools and calms the soul, so that it again produces fruit.
These three ought to be an important part of our gatherings as a church. Wise words, kind attitudes, and beneficial actions show forth the beauty of the glory of the Lord. Become a part of what the church ought to be and not a contributor to what it is not.
Grace and peace, David