1 Corinthians14:1

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Aggressively chase after

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sacrificial love; also, boil with zeal

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for the spiritual

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but especially that you may prophesy.


Pursue sacrificial love with great intensity; desire the spiritually given gifts of grace with burning zeal; however, above all the other gifts, ask God that you might be given the gift of spiritual exhortation that fits the needs of peoples’ lives.



This verb means “to chase, pursue, hunt down, persecute,” or in another form “to be chased or be persecuted.” It is a very strong word.

2: "to boil with zeal”:

This word means to “boil, to be heated,” and it also came to mean “to be jealous, to envy.” It is the Greek word from which we get our word “zeal or zealous,” but in meaning it is more closely associated with being jealous or envious, i.e. being zealous for personal gain only. In this case it is a positive thing, i.e. the strong desire to receive something of great value (a gift of grace from the Holy Spirit), but once that thing is received, it cannot be used for self but only for others.


“the spiritual”: The Greek gives us the adjective “the spiritual,” but the noun it is supposed to modify is not there, it is left for the reader to assume. From the context of the past two chapters, we can safely assume the left-out part should be “gifts” not “things” in general.


First, we should seek Jesus, pursue Jesus, run hard after Jesus. Jesus was the epitome of sacrificial love, so we should pursue sacrificial love in order to become more like Jesus. As part of that we should desire to be used by God to minister to others – that is the purpose of spiritual gifts. Therefore, watch for how God is equipping you to serve others. That will include an understanding that God graciously gives us packages of giftedness that uniquely equip us for such ministries. In many cases, He has already done so; we must discover what our gift-blend is. In other cases, He adds to our gifts as we move through life and we find ourselves blessed with opportunities that were not present earlier in life which require a different set of abilities.

The problem in Corinth was that many of them seem to have ignored the fact that God decides who gets which gifts; they got all fired up about speaking in tongues. They placed the focus entirely on their desires and their own glory.


To prophesy in Hebrew meansto speak under the influence of the divine spirit, or be carried away by the spirit and speak, sometimes ecstatically, to speak religious instruction with occasional predictions.”

In the Bible it was often tied to practical issues of life and obedience. The vast majority of the time it sounded something like this, “Wake up to reality! You are not living as God desires, therefore there will be consequences!” Only rarely did it also include specific details about consequences that would come much later. Usually it referred to consequences that were close at hand and based on present reality. Because of the emphasis on “get your act together or there will be consequences,” every preacher that ties Biblical truth to everyday life and tells people what they can do about their spiritual condition, has also prophesied. It is unfortunate that our English words prophecy and prophesy are mostly used about predicting future events; that was a very small part of those words in Scripture. We need to reject the modern use of these words and return to a more Biblical definition.

When Paul used the letter of I Corinthians to chastise the Corinthians for sexual sins, division, abuse of the Lord’s supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts, tongues in particular, he was prophesying to them – speaking truth that was related to real life. He was warning them, and that is what prophecy is.


The fact that the secular meaning of the word “prophecy” included the idea of “ecstatic speech” does not mean that we should quickly go there when we see this word used in the Bible. What we read in the Bible must agree with the rest of the Bible.

In the two stories about King Saul joining a group the prophets (I Samuel ch 10 and ch 19), we are told that Saul “prophesied.” Does that refer to ecstatic speech, meaning that he babbled in a form of tongues similar to what is practiced today? I think not because it does not agree with the rest of Scripture such as the rules that Paul taught in I Corinthians 12 and 14 including that every spiritual gift must provide a spiritual benefit to others. I will soon show that there is no wiggle room in Paul’s application of these rules to the chaos in Corinth. Rather than focusing on the secular use of the word, I recommend that we focus on a definition like this: “speaking divinely inspired words that help people know how to obey God.”

I also encourage you to click the following link to see some other uses of the verb “prophesy” which are relevant to the story of Saul prophesying, but are not relevant to I Corinthians 14. Did King Saul Speak in Tongues?

The meaning of “prophesy” that is consistently used in the book of I Corinthians is: “Teaching on how to apply spiritual truth to life that is so on-target and impactful to the hearers as to be obvious it is coming from God.” It is the impact on the hearers that marks it as coming from God.