Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. (1 Corinthians 14:12)
Edifying The Church
The early church had a unique problem. During the formation of the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit allowed men to speak in languages without the benefit of years of study. On the day of Pentecost, people from many nations gathered and the apostles were able to speak in all the languages of those gathered to speak the words of salvation. To effectively spread the gospel, it was imperative to have those who could speak in the native tongue skirting the laborious task of learning to speak the language. As the church grew, this tool was given to other men as the kingdom of God became a melting pot of all the nations of men. The church at Corinth was in a powerful position to spread the message of Christ as it was a great city of commerce with many peoples from all over the world passing through. Paul spends a good deal of time in his letter helping the Corinthian brethren see the importance of using their opportunities for the glory of God.
Speaking in a tongue is a beautiful way to teach the gospel. The ability to speak in the language of a nation without having to study the dialect is a marvelous testimony of the power of God and the intent of the Lord to share His message with all men. There is some confusion in many religious groups today about speaking in tongues but simply put it is the ability to speak in the native tongue of a certain people. It is not a gibberish that so characterizes the so-called speaking in tongues of today. What was happening in the church at Corinth was the excitement of those who could speak in a foreign language and their desire to show their gift (given to them by the Holy Spirit) without the benefit of an interpreter. This was causing confusion in the worship. Paul addresses the reality of why the Lord wanted men to worship together and that was to edify one another praising God in a devoted worship.
Spiritual gifts were the foundation of establishing the church and speaking in tongues was a valuable tool to carry out that message. The purpose of tongues was to be used for the same design as men carry out the worship today. Worshiping the Lord is to be without confusion giving honor to Him for His incredible love allowing men to come before His throne. The church is to receive the edification of the worship so they can grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Excelling in speaking in tongues was not as important as excelling in the building up of the body of Christ. Paul would later say that he could speak more languages than any of the brethren at Corinth but he would rather say five words that everyone could understand than ten thousand words in a tongue. He wanted to teach others, not impress them with his abilities to speak in a tongue.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit have faded in time as the purpose has been dismissed. There is no need for the diversities of the gifts with the final word of God formed in what we call the Bible. The design of worship remains the same. Paul’s admonition to the church at Corinth still rings clear today that if we are to excel in the work of the church, let it be for the edification or building up of the body. It is not about the melody of our beautiful voices or the expressive talents of a speaker that give God the glory. What we do in our worship is to magnify the God who saved us by the gift of His Son and through this praise excel to edify the church to greater works. Five words of understanding will change hearts more than ten thousand impressive acts of talent. God is not the author of confusion and worship should be focused on giving the honor and praise to the only one who saved us from our sins. Let God be praised and let man be humbled. If we are to be zealous for the Lord, let it be for the edification of the church that we excel.