and strive for the spiritual gifts, and
especially that you may prophesy. 2For those
who speak in a tongue do not speak to other
people but to God; for nobody understands
them, since they are speaking mysteries in
the Spirit. 3On the other hand, those who
prophesy speak to other people for their
building up and encouragement and
consolation. 4Those who speak in a tongue
build up themselves, but those who prophesy
build up the church. 5Now I would like all
of you to speak in tongues, but even more to
prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than
one who speaks in tongues, unless someone
interprets, so that the church may be built
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue
should pray for the power to interpret.
14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays
but my mind is unproductive. 15What should I
do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I
will pray with the mind also; I will sing
praise with the spirit, but I will sing
praise with the mind also. 16Otherwise, if
you say a blessing with the spirit, how can
anyone in the position of an outsider say
the ĎAmení to your thanksgiving, since the
outsider does not know what you are saying?
17For you may give thanks well enough, but
the other person is not built up. 18I thank
God that I speak in tongues more than all of
you; 19nevertheless, in church I would
rather speak five words with my mind, in
order to instruct others also, than ten
thousand words in a tongue.
20 Brothers and sisters, do not be children
in your thinking; rather, be infants in
evil, but in thinking be adults.
Contemporary English Version translates verse 19 as "I would
rather speak 5 words that makes sense than 10,000 words in an
unintelligible language". I got to thinking, huh, I wonder if
this guy is talking about me here? :) Could I give a sermon in 5
words that made sense? Don't get your hopes up :).
I did a check on my last sermon to see how long it actually was,
and it came in just under 2,500 words (not quite 10,000 :).
Reminds me of the story of the monk who went to the monastery
where they practice the art of silence. For 7 years you had to
remain silent, and then you were allowed 2 words. Then another 7
years, then 2 words. And so this monk comes in, thinking this
will be a wonderful time of contemplation and growing in the
spirit. After his 7 years, he went to abbot and he said "food,
cold". The abbot nodded in understanding. Another 7 years, he
came back and said "Bed, hard". The abbot nodded, and
understood. Another 7 years passed and he came in and said "I
quit". And the abbot said "I'm not surprised, you've done
nothing but complain the whole time you've been here!".
Well, in over 25 years of preaching, I've never preached on this
text, not once. In part because it does not come up in the
lectionary, the proscribed readings for use that many churches
follow. But also because, I mean, let's face it, it's not an
issue for most of us in the church. I know we have many issues
that we face, but speaking in tongues (and the problems caused
thereby) is not one of them. Now, if someone starts that
practice here, then maybe it will become an issue. But it was a
major issue, you see, in the ancient church, a major source of
conflict, as some thought that they were better than others
because they had this wonderful gift.
And so it is,
for us, I think, an instructive text to examine, even if we
don't have that issue, but understanding how Paul approached
this and sought to resolve this conflict can help us as well.
And the nature of the problem was pretty simple: some had this
gift, others did not, and it was creating dis-order. It's a
peculiar gift, we have to say, for most of us in our
non-Pentecostal tradition, that we don't quite comprehend. Like
Americans trying to understand the game of Cricket :). Or the
British trying to understand the American health system. Some
things are hard to comprehend unless you are part of that
tradition and culture.
There's a lot of introspection going on now around the culture
of Haiti. And there's much that we do not comprehend because
we're not part of that culture. We just need to know that for
those that do speak in tongues, then as well as know, it is a
powerful spiritual experience. But the problem is that it's
causing this chaos and disruption in the church. So Paul does a
couple of things to bring it under control. First of all, he
deflates its importance. He says, don't think that you are so
special because you have this wonderful gift and others do not.
That alone is a great lesson for anyone to realize that no
matter how wonderful and special and great your gift may that
makes you God's gift to humanity, all of us are no more special,
wonderful, than anyone else and whatever gift they may have. And
there are many other gifts, says Paul, that are more valuable
than tongues, because they are more useful in building up the
church. He cites the ability to prophesy as one. Meaning not the
ability to predict future events, prophesy in this context means
the ability to discern the will of God. That, we could see, is
much more useful.
No matter what one's gift, however, it has to be guided by love.
So the second thing Paul does is to establish an ethic of love
that supersedes all else. And you will recall that chapter 13,
the great chapter of love (1 Corinthians 13) immediately
precedes this text. That chapter concludes by saying that love
is the greatest gift of all. We talk a lot about love in the
church, and of course it's easier to talk than it is to do at
times, but I think we all understand the importance that love
plays in the community.
And then Paul does one more thing in this text that we don't
talk about quite as much, but I think can be just as important,
so I want to focus the rest of my time on that. And that is,
Paul appeals to reason, and the use of the mind. Now, heaven
forbid that we should do that in church, right?
John Wesley, one of the great Protestant reformers (founder of
the Methodist tradition), held that there are 4 principle
authorities in the Methodist tradition. Anyone want to shout
those out? Scripture, Experience, Tradition, and Reason. April
came out of a Methodist church most recently, so that's why
you're hearing that voice from over there :). Scripture is
generally regarded by most as the most important of the four.
One of the slogans of our particular tradition, of our founding
fathers, was "Where the scripture speaks, we will speak, where
the scriptures are silent, we are silent".
It's a catchy slogan, but it's fallen a bit out of favor because
it was used too much to avoid dealing with hard issues.
Abortion? Where the scriptures are silent, we are silent.
Bio-genetics? Where the scriptures are silent, we are silent.
Condom use? Where the scriptures are silent. . . . I joined the
board of Planned Parenthood and I'm learning a whole new lingo
that I've never used in church before :).
We've come to realize that if the church is to remain relevant,
it's often right there were scripture does not speak that we
need to speak, because people are looking for guidance. And so
to use the principles of scripture and the stories of Jesus, and
to apply reason to determine how then we should think and act as
Christians, takes some creative thinking.
For ultimately it is reason, the ability to think critically
about scripture, tradition, and experience, that enables us to
incorporate all of that into our faith and apply it in our
Let me give quickly just one small example from this text on a
relatively minor point of interpretation. Ancient Greek is
written either entirely in capital letters or lower-case
letters. They had not yet invented the convention of using a
capital letter at the beginning of a word to denote a proper
noun, or the beginning of a sentence. So it takes a little bit
of interpretation. If you look at chapter 14 verse 15, you see
there that Paul says "I will pray with the Spirit". Well, is
that spirit with a capital "S", denoting God's spirit, or a
small "s", referring to his spirit? And if you look there in
your text, the translators of the New Revised Standard Version
(in our pews) have chosen the small "s". The Contemporary
English Version, to make it even clearer, adds a pronoun. Paul
says, in that translation, "I will pray with my spirit" (pronoun
not actually there in the Greek, but inferred).
That scholarly decision is based on what we know about Paul's
writing style, theology, and the content here of this text. And
you see, that is developed through rational thought, through the
use of reason.
Paul says we have to use that kind of reasoning ability in the
church. Otherwise, we are apt to descend in a downward spiral of
chaos and dis-order among competing claims of the spirit and
revelation. So, in short, engage mind before you engage tongue.
And of course, engaging the mind can potentially resolve all
kinds of problems before they occur.
Imagine a conversation between John Edwards and his wife.
You fathered a child with a campaign aide while running for
Vice-President?! What were you thinking? And of
course, the point is, he wasn't thinking, right? And that's the
We know we shouldn't eat that extra dessert, but we do. We know
we should exercise more, and often we don't. The simple fact is
that our actions are based on more than just rational thought,
on all kinds of factors and needs. And so in Corinth, people
were engaged in all these activities that were not well
thought-out, and how it benefits or builds up the church, and
that creates all kinds of problems.
Paul seeks to correct that situation, and to strengthen the
church by appealing to people to think, to use their minds.
Don't think like children, he says, grow up. Be mature in your
thinking. Some would say the church has still not learned that
lesson, that's part of our discernment process, to bring
rational thought together with the spirit.
John and Dave Frohnmayer,
are two intellection powerhouses that I've long admired, great
public servants. Of course, Dave the retiring president of the
University of Oregon, John as the former head of the National
Endowment for the Arts under the first President Bush (and many
of you will remember that turbulent era around some of the
artwork that NEA helped to finance). John has a weekly radio
address that is aired on KLCC, and I happened to catch it this
Friday, and in it, he noted that religion is often used as an
excuse for immoral actions. And he cited the example of the
extremist who tried to kill the Danish cartoonist who drew that
cartoon that most Muslims found very offensive. A price was put
on his head. But that is an immoral act, based on religious
He cites another example, a little more controversial probably,
the Roman Catholic Church's ban on condoms, particularly in
light of HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa that is literally killing
millions of people. And he said you can't justify that ban any
more on the basis of religion.
We could add our own examples, we might disagree with those, put
in some others, from suicide bombers to the murder of Dr. Tiller
(a late-term abortion provider), which is actually the reason
why I joined Planned Parenthood, because I thought it was
important, especially as a minister, to be involved.
I would agree
that justifying acts of violence with religion is abhorrent and
even immoral. But the question is: is it the fault of the
religion itself, or the thinking of the believer? Frohnmayer
went on to cite Christopher Hitchens, author of the book "God is
Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything". And in summing up
Hitchens points, Frohnmayer said: "Religion is not rational. You
cannot explain it with logic, though many have tried. And
because religion is not rational, neither are the actions of
it's believers". Who, me? :) Is he talking about us?
I waited for
Frohnmayer, who actually has a Seminary education as well as his
legal training, to come to the defense of at least the Christian
faith. But he never did, except that he cited the positive
aspects of religion along with that. And I got to thinking, is
what we do rational?
Maybe it's not rational that we open up the church on those
freezing nights to welcome the homeless.
Maybe it's not rational to send thousands and thousands of
dollars of our money to Haiti that we could put to use here.
Maybe it's not rational to come to church on Christmas Eve at
11:00 o'clock at night to hear those stories and sing those
songs we know by heart.
Maybe it's not rational to teach "Blessed are the poor. Love
Your Enemies. Forgive those who wrong you".
Maybe it's not rational to believe that God created the world,
or Jesus was raised from the dead, or that love is greater than
Maybe it's not rational, but does it make more sense to not help
those in need, and who are suffering, when we have the means to
Does it make sense to teach hate and revenge as the way to a
Does it make more sense to rely on the news from Wall Street
than the good news of Jesus Christ?
Does it make more sense to live by fear and greed than by love
Maybe everything we believe and do is not rational, but could it
be that the rational choice is not always the better choice?
That there is a better way to live than what the world offers,
and by what pure logic dictates?
said that, I also have to question whether or not the premise of
Hitchens is correct -- that religion is not rational. Well,
maybe sometimes. But that it's an either-or proposition, that
one must choose between faith and reason, between God and
science. My concern is that we accept that faith is not just
different than rational thought, that it is opposed to reason
and science. And then we deny one of the greatest gifts that God
gives to us -- the ability to use our minds. To think for
ourselves, to be creative, imaginative, original, as Christians.
So I want to argue that there is no dichotomy between belief and
reason, faith and science. But rather, to be Christian, in fact
requires us to use our minds as Paul calls for in this text. To
combine mind and spirit, faith and reason, belief and logic.
John Cobb, my primary professor in Seminary, one of the leading
theologians still alive today in this country, wrote a great
little book entitled "Becoming a Thinking Christian". And Cobb
contends that to renew the church, we have to renew thinking in
the church. That there won't be church renewal without a renewal
of our thinking. And by that, he means thinking seriously about
what we believe and do, how we interpret scripture, how we see
God working in our world. He writes: "A church engaged in
serious debate over matters of great importance will be far
healthier than the present one". Amen? He goes on: "Christians
cannot afford a continued shrinking of the sphere within which
we think as Christians. And the world cannot afford to lose the
benefit of Christian vision and wisdom".
To engage in this kind of serious theological reflection on
matters, as Cobb says, of great importance, is precisely the
idea behind our new Tuesday evening group "Theology on Tap", at
Cosmic Pizza, right after work, about 5:15 p.m. I thought I'd
start with a non-provocative topic: "Is Pat Robertson
Christian?". OK, so it provokes a little response :). But the
question, of course, is not really about Pat Robertson. It's
about our understanding of God. In contrast to Robertson's claim
that the earthquake in Haiti was God's punishment upon the
people of Haiti for the revolt of that country against the
French 200 years ago, in his words, a "pact with the Devil". To
so blame God for the deaths of 200,000 innocent people,
including thousands of children, is not just ludicrous, it's
blasphemous. Charging God with no less than genocide. And I
believe it's important for us to speak out against it.
To put it differently, is it Christian to say that God uses
amoral acts of nature (earthquake, hurricanes, tsunamis,
whatever the case may be), that make no distinction between good
and evil? As Christians, should we really say that God allowed,
or even caused, this death or that, because of this event or
that, or that accident or that disease? Can we not, as
Christians, articulate a better, more adult, if you will,
understanding of God?
A God who never acts of spite but always out of love?
A God who does not, perhaps even cannot, coerce, but does
invite, lure, and persuade?
A God who always, always, adds to life, goodness, and joy, and
never diminishes the good or destroys life?
A God who can be known in science, and understood through
A God who seek to transform chaos into harmony, a God who may
remain a mystery beyond what we can discover, but never beyond
who we can know?
Though I do not profess to know the mind of Paul, let alone the
mind of God, I believe when Paul says 'we should think like
adults, not children', he means for us to use our minds in these
ways. To deepen our understanding of God, and to further God's
work to bring life, hope, and goodness to the world.
May it be.