1 Corinthians 14:1-19 Speaking in Tongues and Prophecy

Previously in his letter to the Corinthians Paul pointed out love or charity, from the Greek “agapē” is the most important spiritual gift of all. Now the apostle addresses the gifts of prophecy as well as speaking in tongues, a popular gift among the believers in Corinth.

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.” (1 Corinthians 14:1-3)

Paul defines speaking in tongues as a spiritual gift aimed at God, since only the Father understands all tongues, rather than prophecy described as a gift that benefits and edifies men since it is spoken a language they can understand.

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.” (1 Corinthians 14:4-5)

Paul characterizes the gift of prophecy as one more important than speaking in tongues which he reiterates is a spiritual gift mainly understood by God. The Corinthians had been putting too much importance on the gift of tongues which is not a method by which the gospel is advanced, but confirmed to those already in Christ. Tongues could only be understood or interpreted by someone already saved. Therefore prophecy was looked upon as a greater gift since it could be understood by the majority of men.

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?” (1 Corinthians 14:6-9)

Paul here uses an analogy comparing speaking in tongues with the sound of an instrument, pointing out the uniqueness and character of each instrument. Unless a sound heard undeniably came from a flute, who then would know which instrument was used. Likewise with tongues, if no one understands the message, what good are tongues?

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.” (1 Corinthians 14:9-11)

Again Paul uses an example that’s easy to understand and identify with to reinforce his point about tongues, comparing this spiritual gift to a foreign language certainly meant to glorify God yet not understood by men. No matter the intent, if someone worships the Lord in a language not understood by others, only the foreigner knows what he is saying thereby isolating himself from the others or worse yet, isolating others from himself from his ultimate goal to worship God almighty.

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. 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.” (1 Corinthians 14:12-13)

Paul’s wish for the Corinthians is that they would seek spiritual gifts that advance the gospel and build the church, gifts such as prophecy and teaching of the word rather than speaking in tongues. Paul’s hope and prayer is that those who are blessed with the spiritual gift of tongues are also able to interpret the language so to explain its significance and meaning to others, turning a self edifying gift into one of teaching that would allow others to grow in their faith through tongues.

15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the 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.” (1 Corinthians 14:15-17)

Paul once again uses an analogy by which he makes his final point about tongues. How could anyone agree with a prayer, a sermon unless they understood its message? Using the word “Amen” which is a Hebrew word which means “so be it” the apostle exemplifies his reasoning behind labeling prophecy as greater than tongues.

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.” (1 Corinthians 14:18-19)

HEre Paul makes a bold statement about tongues stating that he would rather speak only a few words about the gospel that would be understood then ten thousand words which would have no meaning to those listening since they could not understand him. This hold true today as it did when the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Corinth.

A clear, precise word driven message aimed at advancing the gospel will bear a harvest far larger than a multitude of secular inspired words spoken without meaning. Let us pray!

Father God;
We thank you for your blessings in our lives and for your servant Paul,
We praise you Lord for his wisdom and for his works through this scripture,
We ask you Lord to inspire us to use these verses in our lives
As we grow in you through the teachings of your faithful apostle.

Lord we ask you to strengthen us each day as we endure through battles,
Allow us to praise and love each other through faith in you Jesus,
Shield us from evil through truth, the gospel, salvation and prayer,
Guide us to abide by your word as we spread your gospel to one and all
Becoming examples of faith through our character as we walk the narrow path.

God we pray that you will continue to bless us, to bless our lives and fill us with hope
We ask you Lord to guide our footsteps and lead us to the way everlasting,
Through faith in you Lord we seek salvation and a place with you in heaven
According to your word, your everlasting wisdom and strength.

May your will be done
In our lives, for your life.

We thank you for your love and all you bless us with each day.

Praise God,
Amen!

This message was written by Daniel St.Pierre
Email: DanielStPierre@ThriveThroughChrist.com

Posted in Bible Studies.