1 Corinthians 14: 1-40, prophecy and tongues
Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that we are sinners saved by grace. Thank You for justification by grace through faith in Christ. We pray for the daily bread of Your living Word to nourish our weary and thirsty souls today. Help us to be more Christ-like every day, every week, every month, every year, and every decade, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
VV 1-5, 1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him, however, in the spirit, he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied, for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
Practice love, seek for spiritual gifts especially the gift of prophecy. Prophecy means foretelling, predicting the future as revealed by God, and forth telling, revealing God’s message. Speaking in tongue is the gift speaking to God in a foreign language through the Holy Spirit. Prophecy is better than tongue speaking because it edifies, encourages, and comforts everyone. Tongue speaking edifies only the person speaking in tongues unless accompanied by interpretation.
VV 6-8, 6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?
Speaking in tongues is not understandable unless accompanied by interpretation. Even lifeless things like musical instruments must be played in a musical tune otherwise the sound will be meaningless. If an army trumpet is not blown to the correct tune soldiers will not prepare for battle.
VV 9-12, 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.
Paul asked a rhetorical question regarding speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is speaking a foreign language belonging a foreign culture, place, and race. The local audience will not understand its meaning. For example, if someone prays in Aramaic in a Chinese speaking congregation, how will anyone understand and benefit from it? If the Corinthians Christians were zealous for spiritual gifts, they should chose to excel in prophecy rather than speaking in tongues.
VV 13-19, 13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Anyone who has the gift of speaking in tongues should also pray for the gift of interpretation of tongues. Paul asked two more rhetorical questions. When someone prays in tongues during a corporate worship, that person should interpret the tongues so that others will be edified, blessed and say Amen. Even though Paul had the gift of speaking in tongues, he preferred not to exercise this gift in church. Paul underplayed the importance of speaking tongues. He preferred to speak five words with understanding rather than ten thousand words in tongues.
VV 20-21, 20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding, however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. 21 In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips, I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord.
Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to grow in spiritual maturity and not to behave as spiritual babies. He quoted Isaiah 28:11, Jeremiah 7:27.
Isaiah 28:11, “For with stammering lips and another tongue, he will speak to this people”.
Jeremiah 7:27, “Therefore you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not obey you. You shall also call to them, but they will not answer you.”
VV 22-25, 22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophecy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
Tongues are signs for unbelievers. Prophecy is a sign for believers. If unbelievers come to church and hear the speaking of tongues, they will be surprised but not edified. If unbelievers come to church and hear prophecy revealing the deep secrets of their hearts, they will be convicted, fell on their knees, and worship God.
VV 26-28, 26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
Orderliness must be maintained at all times during a corporate worship so that everyone is edified. Every one should take turns to sing, teach, prophesy, speak in tongues, or interpret the tongues, one person at a time. When some speak in tongues, another person should interpret them. Tongue speaking should be refrained if there is no interpreter.
VV 29-33, 29 Let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
Prophets with prophetic gifting should speak one at a time so that everyone may learn, benefit, and be encouraged. Our God is a God of orderliness and peace, not confusion.
VV 34-35, 34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
Paul’s ruling for women to keep silent in the church was a specific command to the Corinthian church in the first century world. This ruling should not be applied to the 21st-century world. Times had changed. In the 21st century world, women are uneducated, but today women are educated and capable of taking on leadership positions. Compare Paul’s ruling compelling women to wear head covering in church, 1 Corinthians 11.
VV 36-40, 36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Paul asked two more rhetorical questions. The Word of God came from Paul and not from the Corinthian Christians. The Word of God is for everyone and not just for the Corinthians Christians. Paul encouraged his audience to earnestly seek the gift of prophecy but speaking in tongues should not be prohibited. Orderliness in church worship should always be maintained at all times.
Prophecy is better than tongues because it edifies, encourages, and comforts the church and convicts unbelievers to believe in God. Tongues are for personal worship but when used in the church, it should be accompanied by interpretation.
I am speaking as a Christian from an evangelical church background. You do not have to agree with me if you have a different perspective on the issue of speaking in tongues.
Heavenly Father, we pray for the impartation of spiritual gifts especially the gift of prophecy by the Holy Spirit. We humble ourselves before You. We acknowledge that we do not deserve to ask anything from You because we are sinners. We pray for forgiveness of sin and justification by grace through faith in Christ, in Jesus’ name, Amen.