God has directed that the voice gifts of the Holy Spirit should operate during meetings of the Church. The manifestations of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy have been set in the Church for the ‘edification, exhortation and comfort’ of its members (1 Corinthians 14:3). God’s attention to the detail of this aspect of His communication with His people is vital to the Church, and must be adhered to precisely.
God communicated with the children of Israel in Old Testament times through priests and prophets who could only approach Him according to His instructions. Anything less was regarded by God as blasphemy (Ezekiel 20:27). This God of the Old Testament (who is the same God of the Spirit-filled Church) viewed the idea that ‘near enough is good enough’ as desecration of worship and He did not respond.
Many Pentecostal churches have challenged God as they ostensibly operate the Spiritual Gifts in ways that are self-indulgent rather than the way the Bible describes. They have made a mockery of God’s instructions as recorded by the apostle Paul. The prescribed format for the Lord’s communication with the Church has been replaced by out-of-order theatrical displays, emotional outbursts, and practices that are foreign to God’s requirements. The Apostle Paul’s instructions about the manner in which the voice gifts should operate in the Church conclude with these words: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
We are also reminded: “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Corinthians 14:26). There is potential for confusion when zealous, Spirit-filled people gather together: if everyone speaks in tongues at once, interprets, or prophesies there is no benefit to the Church. The need to be orderly and in control is crucial for the edification (spiritual growth) of God’s Church.
Another reason for the need to be orderly relates to the need that the Church should not be perceived as being unruly and raucous by unsaved people present in a meeting “If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” (1 Corinthians 14:23). During a Church meeting, the only people to speak in tongues should be the two or three who give messages at the prescribed time. All other prayer and praise must be in the language common to the congregation — this is the scriptural pattern. Being a good testimony, both as individuals and collectively in a Church meeting, is of great importance to the Lord because the Church represents His Kingdom on Earth.
The Word of God specifies the maximum number of gifts that should operate when the Church meets: “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course (rotation); and let one interpret … Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Corinthians 14:27–29). Some translations from the original Greek read ‘two or three at the most’. It is important to note that the Lord stipulated the maximum rather than the minimum number of voice gifts. If only a small number of Spirit-filled people is present and the maximum number of manifestations is not achieved, there is no need for any feeling of inadequacy. Also, there is no need to prolong the silence if there are fewer than the maximum number of messages. This is not edifying — it is embarrassing for outsiders as well as Church members, as those present feel compelled to speak rather than to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.
When we receive the Holy Spirit, the Bible states that we are thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3:17), should “… come behind in no gift …” (1 Corinthians 1:7), and are therefore all capable of contributing to the operation of the Spiritual Gifts when the Church is gathered together. As all Spirit-filled people are able to speak in tongues, all are able to be involved in the voice gift of tongues as specified.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 14, the apostle Paul repeatedly encourages members of the Church to “desire spiritual gifts”. He also makes it clear that although we can all speak in tongues (and therefore give a message), interpretation and prophecy have greater merit when the Church gathers because these gifts exhort and edify all the people: “… he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying” (1 Corinthians 14:3–5). Many religious authorities use these verses to contest whether speaking in tongues is always the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. Clearly they do not understand that these instructions are directed to Spirit-filled (speaking in tongues) people and are directions for operating the voice gifts of the Holy Spirit during Church meetings. Paul writes: “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:19).
The Spirit-filled Church of the Bible is remarkably privileged. Members of the Church experience God’s presence within when they speak in tongues, and when the Church comes together and the voice gifts of the Holy Spirit are operated, God is speaking to encourage and edify His people.
If God’s communication is not apparent in your church (in the manner that the Bible describes) then you are in the wrong place — think about it!
(This article first appeared in the Voice of Revival – December 1996.)
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