The apostle Paul does not let us retreat into our own, personal spiritual lives. There probably is a part of us all that wants to retreat – to leave behind the people in our religion – and to pursue only “me and my own God.” We’re happier out there on our own, in our own private studies or on the mountain side. There are certainly fewer people there to have disagreements with!
A lonely Christianity, to some, just seems better. It’s cleaner. And it’s easier.
We might like to take our spiritual gifts with us – our prophecies and our tongues and our knowledge. Then we could use them as we please. No one could tell us we are using them improperly or that, perhaps, we aren’t considering the things of God as we should.
But the apostle Paul does not let us retreat. He doesn’t let us simply “build up” ourselves. He demands we “build up” the church.
Paul already has told us spiritual gifts are given by God for the “common good” of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). Now, he tells us our primary goal in the use of our spiritual gifts should be to “build up” the church.
Paul said it seven times in this chapter – 14:3, 4 (twice), 5, 12, 17, 26. And on another occasion, he said we ought to “benefit” one another with our spiritual gifts (14:6). Paul also wrote about encouragement and consolation within the church.
My spiritual gift, whatever it may be, ought to be a benefit to you. It ought to build you up in your faith.
And so I can’t go out on my own. I can’t forsake the church. This whole plan of salvation by God is one where we weld ourselves to our church family and build up both each other and the whole community of faith. We make it stronger, more connected, better able to bear the weight of the world, and less susceptible to collapse.
This isn’t how we tend to think about our lives in the faith.
Do we attend church gatherings with a mind toward building up our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we think about what we are bringing into those church meetings – what word of encouragement or consolation or kindness we can offer? Do we gather with an eye toward strengthening those who may be attending that meeting in weakness?
Do we gather with an eye toward what may be weak in our overall body – some blind spot in our community, perhaps – and with a desire to help correct that weakness? Do we go about correcting that weakness not with an “I told you so!” but with a humble desire to help?
“Upbuilding” was serious business to Paul. Is it as serious to us as it was to him?