Text: 1Corinthians 14
In the first thirteen chapters, Paul, who loves the church with God’s own love, has reprimanded, beseeched and instructed the troubled church in Corinth. All of what he has written, and all that they have said and done, reflects their infancy in Christ. They have not comprehended that Christianity is not about outward works or who is the greatest, but an inward work in their hearts.
In Chapter 13, Paul taught them that if they do not have love, what they are doing profits them nothing, does not profit others, and indeed, is nothing in the eyes of the Lord. They are nothing but noisy gongs and clanging cymbals, if they are not filled with the Holy Spirit and God’s divine love, and if His love is not what compels them in all that they do.
Now, Paul deals with the fixation that the infants in Christ at Corinth seem to have, regarding the gift of tongues. If the believers at Corinth were all filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul would not have to write this chapter!
If I were to give this a title, it would be, “Do Not Be Children in Your Thinking.”
Paul exhorts the believers at Corinth to pursue (seek after zealously, in a prolonged way) love — that is, zealously seek to be filled with the divine love of God! If they need to seek it, that means they do not have it yet! And yet, Paul also tells them to earnestly desire (be zealous to obtain) spiritual gifts, especially that they may prophesy (speak forth the wisdom of God, and foretell the future).
Why? One who speaks in a tongue (that is, a heavenly language) does not speak to men, but to God. Tongues are a gift given by the Spirit, but if he speaks tongues without interpretation in a meeting, what he is speaking is a mystery to everyone! Therefore, it is of no benefit to the church, but only to the speaker of tongues.
But if you prophesy, you speak to men for edification (bringing them to maturity), exhortation (beseeching earnestly), and consolation (comfort). Prophecy comes from the Lord, if the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Lord gives words to one who has the gift of prophecy, and the prophet speaks what the Lord gives him or her. The purpose is that the church may be built up and brought to maturity, as Paul writes to the church at Ephesus —
Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping (perfecting) of the saints for the work of service (to become servants to one another), to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith (become partakers of the divine nature), and of the knowledge (full discernment) of the Son of God, to a mature (perfect, complete) man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
No wonder Paul exhorts the believers at Corinth to eagerly seek this gift, above all the others! All are valuable, all have a purpose, but prophecy is the most important spiritual gift for the Body of Christ!
But one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself. He builds up his own faith. That is important, but the one who prophesies is the one who builds up everyone’s faith! Do you see the difference? Do not focus only on that which benefits you, beloved.
But believers will, just as Peter and the rest did, until they are filled with the Holy Spirit and God’s divine love!
Verse 5 —
Paul does not invalidate the gift of tongues. He wishes (prefers, desires) that all in Corinth speak in tongues! It is a gift from the Spirit, to edify the individual believer! But even more, he prefers and desires that they all prophesy.
As Moses said to Joshua, when two men other than Moses were prophesying and Joshua wanted to restrain them —
Numbers 11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!”
Would that all of the church were prophets, that they all would be filled with His Spirit and hear His words! In Moses’ day, the Spirit came upon believers, but did not fill them and remain in them. So, would that all of Israel recognize Jesus as their Messiah and be saved and filled, so all of Israel would speak forth prophecy in the New Testament way!
Greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues unless the one speaking in tongues interprets, so that the church may be edified. Interpretation of tongues comes from the Lord, to make what is being said understandable and thus, beneficial to the church. Since the interpretation is from Him, it is prophetic.
Again, tongues are for the individual believer’s edification. Prophecy is for the whole church’s edification. But in Corinth, we will see evidence that the believers treat tongues as the most important gift. Otherwise, Paul would not have to write what he is writing! I am repeating myself, for emphasis.
Verse 6 —
So if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you? You cannot understand what I am saying! But if I speak to you either by revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will surely benefit you!
The believers at Corinth meet, but all are speaking in tongues, so no one can understand. Why do they all speak in tongues when they meet? I can think of no other reason than that they want to show off their ability to speak in tongues, for it is of no benefit to their hearers.
Because the believers in Corinth are infants in Christ, they are still self-centered and boastful. They do not eagerly desire gifts that will help others, but the gift that will make them appear to be spiritual. We know they are not yet spiritual (1Corinthians 3:1)!
Verses 7-9 —
Paul uses another illustration — the flute, the harp, and the bugle (literally, trumpet), which are of no benefit unless they sound a distinct and distinguishable difference in tones (notes) so as to make a song!
No one will know what is being played, if the notes are not played in order. And if a bugle does not play a distinct sound when calling men to battle, who will prepare himself for battle?
So, unless the believers at Corinth utter by the tongue speech that can be understood, they speak into the air. No one will know what they have spoken!
I see this in many Pentecostal and charismatic circles. Many will speak in tongues, until it sounds like a cacophony — just a harsh, loud mixture of unintelligible noise! At one conference, the speaker finished and said, “Now, everyone speak in tongues!” And they did, but it profited no one. None knew what the other was saying!
Verses 10-11 —
Paul now uses another illustration. There are many languages in the world that have meaning. These are the “known languages” spoken by various countries. But if I do not know the meaning, I will be like a foreigner to the one who speaks, and the one who speaks will be like a foreigner to me!
Verses 12-13 —
Now Paul says very specifically, correctingthe believers at Corinth, who are zealous regarding spiritual gifts, but misuse them. He says, Seek to abound in gifts for the edification of the church!
Therefore, if you speak in tongues, pray that you may interpret what you have said, so it benefits the church! As I have said, that qualifies as prophecy, because the interpretation has come from the Lord.
Verses 14-17 —
If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind will not understand what I am saying. What then? I will pray in the Spirit, in a tongue, but I will also pray in an understandable language, so others can profit. I will sing in the Spirit, in a tongue, but I will also sing in an understandable language, so others can worship with me!
If you bless (praise) in tongues, giving thanks to the Lord, who can know what you are saying? Unless they have the gift of interpretation of your tongues, they do not know that you are blessing and giving thanks to the Lord. How then, can they say, “Amen!” to what you are saying? You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.
Verses 18-19 —
Lest we think Paul is “against tongues,” he thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than all of the believers at Corinth! BUT . . .
In the church of God, he desires to speak five words that are understandable, so he may instruct others also, rather than 10,000 words in a tongue that no one can understand.
Verse 20 —
Now Paul chides them, telling them not to be children in their thinking (understanding). They are yet infants, but he calls them to be mature! For they desire gifts to edify themselves, not the whole church! They are self-centered because they are yet infants.
Verses 21-22 —
Paul speaks of the Law, quoting from the words the Lord gave Isaiah for His rebellious people who followed after false gods but did not believe God would judge them for it —
Isaiah 28:11 Indeed, He will speak to this people
Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,
12 He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,”
And, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.
So, tongues are a sign for unbelievers. What kind of sign? Tongues (the Akkadian spoken by the Babylonians) were a sign of God’s judgment upon Israel, but I had a hard time connecting that to the situation at Corinth.
So I consulted Gordon Fee from The New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). Both Fee and his fellow commentators are puzzled, too. The scripture seems to have been taken somewhat out of context, and actually reversed, which I have never seen Paul do.
And usually, if everyone is puzzled, Paul is parroting back to the Corinthians some false teachings they have heard and begun to follow, as was the case in 1Corinthians 11.
In this case, I believe that Judaizers are in view. Such ones use the Old Testament scriptures to try to prove that Gentiles must follow the Law of Moses, in order to be saved.
With all of this in view, I will set aside any attempt to correlate Isaiah 28:11 with what is happening in the church at Corinth. I feel like I am back in 1Corinthians 11, where it seemed that Paul was teaching the opposite of what he teaches! But again, he was parroting back to the Corinthians the false teaching they were falling for — one that required specific rules about external appearance, in order to be pleasing to God.
But I will say this — in the situation in the church at Corinth, tongues are being spoken constantly when they gather. When unbelievers enter their meetings, they cannot understand what is being said. They do not understand nor do they believe that these tongues are from God. So they shake their heads and leave, and say the church is crazy! That was and is never the Lord’s intent for His church!
The infants in Christ at Corinth have forgotten the Lord’s intent for His church — that unbelievers hear the message of salvation through Him, in His churches! Again, this speaks to their infancy.
Because of their behavior in their services, unbelievers will not stay and hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in the church at Corinth, because all they will hear is unintelligible tongues!
And that’s the bottom line of this somewhat puzzling passage — the believers at Corinth are misusing tongues, and their misuse results in the dire consequence that unbelievers leave, rather than hear the gospel and receive salvation.
Verses 24-25 —
But if all prophesy, then what they say is intelligible. Then, when an unbeliever or unlearned believer comes in, he is convicted and called to account by all. Why? Because the secrets of his heart are exposed.
It is like the pastor in that prayer meeting at the pastors’ conference. I had a word that someone was contemplating divorcing his wife and needed to repent. When he heard it, he fell on his knees and repented.
By repenting, that pastor worshiped God and declared by his words and actions that God was certainly in the midst of us. Why? No one knew what he was planning. But God knew, and God spoke!
Verse 26 —
What should the believers at Corinth do, when they meet? Paul will now instruct them!
When they are filled with the Spirit, they will each will have a psalm, they will each have a teaching, they will each have a revelation from God’s Word, they will each have a tongue and they will each have an interpretation to go with it.
Verses 27-33 —
Paul’s instructions for the church at Corinth are specific:
— Only two or three should speak in a tongue. They must not all speak at the same time, but one after the other. And someone must interpret.
— If no one can interpret the tongue that was spoken, then the one who spoke in a tongue should keep silent in the church, and speak to himself and God privately.
— Two or three prophets may speak, one after the other. Then the others should judge what is said, as to whether it was from the Lord.
— If someone who is seated has a revelation that is a prophecy, then the first one speaking is to be silent while that one speaks.
— All are to prophesy one by one, so all may learn and be exhorted (implored, beseeched, or comforted).
— The spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets. The prophet does not lose control of his tongue, so as to interrupt or override another’s prophecy.
— For God is not a god of confusion, which is what is going on at Corinth! He is a God of peace (quietness and unity), in all the churches of the saints, those who are set apart to God by believing into Jesus Christ, and filled with His Spirit!
Verses 34-36 —
Now Paul corrects an error again related to the women of the church, as in 1Corinthians 11. The men who are believers at Corinth have likely been influenced by Judaizers.
Again, Judaizers declare that all believers must not only believe in Jesus, but also follow the Law of Moses, in order to be saved. And in Jewish synagogues, at least at that time, women were required to be silent, and were separated from the men.
NOTE: Gordon Fee thinks this section was probably added by someone, long after Paul wrote this letter. That is also possible, but to me, this smacks of Judaism.
The believers at Corinth, influenced by false teaching by Judaizers, have thus decided that women should not speak, but must keep silent in the churches. They are to thus subject themselves, just as the Law also says.
If they want to learn anything, it should be through their husbands, at home. It is improper for a woman to speak in church!
But remember that Paul speaks of women prophesying in church, in his earlier correction of another false teaching the church at Corinth has decided to follow —
1Corinthians 11:5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
Praying may be audible. Prophesying surely is audible! So for Paul, it is normal for women to speak in the church. Again, in this passage from 1Corinthians 11, Paul refutes false teaching that has led to many rules and regulations regarding outward works in the church at Corinth — ones he never taught them.
After listing these false beliefs, Paul replies to the church at Corinth. The KJV includes a, “What?” as Paul’s first word in his rebuke. Did the Word of God come from you? Or did it come only to you? The believers at Corinth once again think they know better than Paul about such things. They have heard a word from a Judaizer, and that is better than the Spirit-filled Paul’s instructions!
Verses 37-40 —
Paul closes with a synopsis of his instructions:
— If you think you are a prophet or spiritual, you will recognize (understand and heed) that what I have said is from the Lord and is a commandment.
— But if anyone does not recognize (ignores) that Paul gets his orders and words from the Lord, they are not recognized (they are ignored). Hard words, but truth!
— Paul exhorts them again, to desire earnestly to prophesy. He also warns them not to forbid to speak in tongues! How many churches have forbidden tongues because of their misuse, or because of fear! It is an insult to the Lord, whose Spirit gives this gift!
But the one speaking in tongues must be filled with the Spirit and compelled and a captive of God’s divine love. Otherwise, they are nothing but unintelligible noise. The church does not benefit unless the speaker of tongues, or another, can interpret what the speaker has said.
— All things must be done properly, and in an orderly way. The meetings of the believers at Corinth are filled with confusion, and no one is being edified.
I have seen this in many Pentecostal and charismatic venues that I have attended. Their meetings fall apart, and they spend the meeting laying hands on one another so as to cause both of them to laugh hysterically. Jesus is not glorified in it. May such churches come to their senses and seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so their sin natures — vividly on display in such cases — may be crucified and their hearts purified and filled with the Holy Spirit! Then such scenes will be absent, and the Word of God will be spoken in power.
Next time, we begin Chapter 15, often called the Resurrection Chapter. I will teach it in at least two sessions, because it is chock full of truths that must be carefully taught. May we all learn from Chapter 15, and my teachings up to this point! May I continue to learn, as I prepare the sessions, and may you continue to learn, as I teach what the Lord has shown me!
Lord Jesus, may Your errant church heed Paul’s words. May she seek to be filled with Your Spirit and Your love, so all gifts are used to profit all believers, and so that many come to faith, hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ!