1 Corinthians 14
Prophecy and Tongues
14:1-5 Prophesy Benefits More Than Tongues
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
Paul said to “pursue love”. Here is a way you could do that. Write down all the characteristics of love that Paul gave in chapter 13. Ask God to show you which ones you do not possess. Ask God to change you so that you do possess those traits. Then, seek to live them out.
Paul also said to desire spiritual gifts. We should desire God’s empowerment to serve. It is not an intellectual endeavor, but power from the Holy Spirit to serve the church.
Paul shows a preference for prophecy over tongues. This is what he talks about for the rest of the chapter. His first comparison is that no one understands the tongue, unless there is an interpretation. Its function, then, is primarily to build up the speaker, not the church.
In contrast, people understand the one who prophesies, and he builds up the church, and brings encouragement and consolation to the believers.
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
Paul continues in the same vein here, saying that even musical instruments have distinct sounds so people know what they are. It speech is unintelligible, it doesn’t help anyone.
Paul knows the Corinthians are eager for “manifestations of the Spirit” and that is why they are attracted to tongues. They want to exhibit their spirituality. But Paul says, instead, seek to excel at building up the church. That is what Christian live is all about.
14:13-19 The Unfruitful Mind
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider  say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
If you are going to speak in tongues, Paul said to pray for an interpretation, so that people will know what you are saying and benefit from it. Praying or speaking in a language you do not understand may be praying or singing in your spirit, but your mind is not benefited, it is not fruitful. Calvin uses the word “understanding” instead of mind. You can imagine, if someone came here from another country and preached in his native tongue, we would all be left totally unaffected, except for thinking him to be a nut. This was a criticism for years that Protestants leveled at Catholics. The mass had to be observed in Latin by church degree, yet no one spoke or understood Latin. It’s worse than an adult trying to understand “teenspeak”.
20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign  not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
Paul exhorted the Corinthians to be mature thinkers. Notice that he has referred to the mind as important in the exercise of faith. It is not all about emotion. Our thinking is important.
We can be infants in evil. We should not be experts in that. I love to meet a person who is simply not aware of many evil things. They are innocent. It is so refreshing. Jesus said something similar to this in Matthew 10:16-20.
But, while we may be infants with regard to evil, we are to be mature in our thinking, as adults.
Paul then refers to Isaiah 28:11-12, although it does not seem an exact quote. He refers to the Law, I think, meaning the Old Testament in general. In that chapter, Isaiah voices the complaint of the Lord that Israel has become so corrupt that trying to speak to them is like trying to teach an infant. They had lost the ability to listen to the Lord’s word.
Then, in verses 11 and 12, to which Paul refers, he says that since they will not listen to me, they will be taught be foreigners, referring to the coming invasion of the Babylonians. God would speak to Israel through the Babylonians and they would learn his lessons that way. Paul’s reference to that passage is to bolster his instruction not to think like children.
Verse 22 is a little difficult for me to untangle and fit in with the following verses. Paul said that tongues are signs for unbelievers, but prophecy is a sign for believers. The words of prophecy convict believers and unbelievers, because they hear the word of God. But, not so much with tongues, for people who don’t know what you are doing will think you are crazy. So, how is it a sign for unbelievers? Maybe it is a judgment on them for not understanding, or it is a miracle that will get their attention (Chrysostom). And the early believers did manifest the Spirit by tongues, so that was a sign they had converted. It also allowed unbelievers from other countries to hear the gospel in their own language.
In contrast, prophecy will bring conviction, even to the unbeliever. If the secrets of his heart are revealed, he will fall on his face and worship God. I saw an example of this type of prophecy once at a retreat. A young man got up to speak during a sharing time. During his talk, a pastor got up and told the man he was speaking in the flesh and should sit down and repent. The young man did so and it had a profound effect on the whole group.
Prophecy in the sense of speaking God’s word can have the same effect. Hebrews 4:12 tells us the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thought and intentions of the heart. I am sure most of us have had more than one moment of being cut to the quick by the Word.
I think it would be great if unbelievers would walk into our worship service, fall down and worship God, and say “God is really among you”.
14:26-33 Orderly Worship
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
First of all, look at the picture of worship in the early church that is revealed here. You see group participation. There were hymns, lessons, revelations, tongues (at least in the Corinthian church) and interpretation of tongues. Acts 2:42 gives us a picture of the early church in Jerusalem. It says there was teaching by the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers. They attended the temple daily. The Corinthians evidently met in houses. Acts 18:7 says they met in a house next door to the synagogue, after being kicked out of the synagogue. The house belonged to a God fearing Roman, Titius Justus.
There were no church buildings at this point. Stephen even said, in Acts 7:47, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?” The last part of that is a quote of Isaiah 66:2.
Paul sets some rules for order in worship. You get the feeling that there might have been some competition going on. He limits the participation to 2 or 3 speakers of each sort. He puts on 2 additional limitations. First, the tongue speaker should not speak unless there is an interpretation. However, he does not forbid the tongue speaker totally, but says to keep silent and speak to himself and to God. This sounds a bit like the prayer language that some speak of. Paul seems to allow for this even if our mission board does not.
Second, speakers should be one at a time. You can’t really learn anything if everyone is speaking at once. There should not be confusion, but peace.
14:34-35 The Role of Women
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
This is pretty controversial today. These 2 verses form whole theologies of women in ministry for some, saying that women cannot do a variety of things in ministry. It is interesting to me that few of those same folks require their women to wear hats in church. Why is one (hats) cultural, but the other (speaking) is theological?
One commentator said the wearing of hats was no longer a sign of submission, so it was not necessary in our culture. I think the same could be said for women speaking, it is no longer considered a lack of submission to their husband’s authority, other than in Fundamentalist circles.
Paul does say this is the practice in all the churches. He says in the next section that he is speaking a command. He also couches this instruction as a matter of submission to their husbands. They should not speak in church, but talk to their husbands at home. I guess another problem today would be that many women do not have a husband at home, and many more do not have one who could answer their questions.
Outside of the worship service itself, can women teach or preach? Women’s ministry has become huge in Evangelical life. There are many women who teach in large ministries, such as Beth Moore, or Ann Graham Lotz. Calvin seem to find the rule applicable only to the regular worship service. He said “This, however, we must understand as referring to ordinary service, or where there is a Church in a regularly constituted state; for a necessity may occur of such a nature as to require that a woman should speak in public; but Paul has merely in view what is becoming in a duly regulated assembly.”
There is some Biblical precedence for this. For example, when Apollos came on the scene, he was preaching, but only knew the baptism of John. Acts 18:26 tells us Priscilla and Aquila took him and explained to him the word of God more accurately. Priscilla is named first here and is given equal credit in the instruction.
14:36-40 Paul’s Authority and Summary
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.
Paul again appeals for decency and order in worship. He also claims this as a command from the Lord. This again is his assertion of apostolic authority.
He says that the Corinthians are not the only ones to experience God by hearing his word. That seems to be to say that they should be guided by what the other churches are doing.
In summary, we are told not to forbid speaking in tongues. But, we should desire prophecy more, and we should do all things decently and in order.