The devil loves nothing more than believers taking our eyes off Jesus. It’s his sole mission—to pull people away from Christ—and he excels at it. One of the devil’s most devious and effective methods is stirring up dissension and debate within the church, what Scripture calls a spirit of confusion. We get mired in arguments, frustration, judgment, preferential tug-o-war, and all of it under the guise of defending truth or seeking good things. In reality, though, we’ve forgotten the reason for church: joining together to worship and reflect Jesus. Confusion has defeated us, and that’s what this passage in 1 Corinthians 14 is about.
Here, Paul sets out to offer clarity, the opposite of confusion. From the top, he says he wishes people would pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and he follows that up a few verses later by saying that all gifts are for the good of the church, to build one another up. This is Paul’s thesis, and everything else in the passage points to that.
Our temptation is to tie others and ourselves in knots with debates over speaking in tongues and prophecy. What do they mean? How should people do them? Are they gifts for everyone? These questions matter enormously, and they’re also a temptation—a temptation toward confusion and distraction.
We can never forget that we are to “seek to excel at building up the church” so that, “everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged” (vv. 12,31). This is why God grants gifts of the Spirit, and anything that doesn’t move the church in this direction is of a false spirit, as 1 John chapter 4 tells us. We are to test the spirits (vv.1–6). If this sounds oddly mystical or confusing, John clarifies:
Does the spirit profess Christ or does it not?
Does it point people to Jesus or distract them?
Does it diminish Jesus or make Him bigger?
This is a sharp knife to divide the false spirits from the true, and the helpful gifts from the unhelpful.
We ignore these instructions at our own peril and at the peril of our churches. We are called to be a sanctuary, a dwelling place of God, both individually and corporately. But when we allow chaos and confusion to supersede Jesus, we stop being a church and become nothing more than a gathering of people. Only when we seek to excel in building up the church with spiritual gifts, confessing Christ above all else, will we be the church God calls us to be through Paul’s words.
Written by Barnabas Piper