Prophecy before tongues. 14:1-40
In chapters 12 to 14 Paul addresses the disturbance caused by tongue-speaking in the worship services at the church in Corinth. In chapter 12 he made the point that tongues were but one of many gifts, and most likely a lesser gift. Tongues should not be placed above the others. In chapter 13 he encouraged his readers to pursue another path, namely love. Now in chapter 14 he compares tongue-speaking with prophecy, and encourages his readers to "be eager to prophecy", not "forbid the speaking in tongues", but rather that only "two, or at the most, three should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret". He wants the congregation to be built up, and to that end he argues for intelligibility and order.
v1-5. Paul begins his argument on intelligibility and encourages the use of prophecy rather than tongues because prophecy edifies. Tongues are not understandable and therefore cannot edify. They are only personally edifying, directed to God rather than the members of the congregation. Prophecy edifies and is therefore a greater gift. He does qualify his point of view by allowing tongues when interpreted.
v6-12. A rhetorical question makes the point that a congregation receives no benefit from a message which is not understandable. Paul illustrates the point from musical instruments and foreign languages, all of which require clarity for communication. Edification is the goal, and tongues do not achieve that end.
v13-19. Paul now applies the previous analogies to the worship of the church. If someone is a tongue-speaker they should pray for the gift of interpretation. Then they can both praise God with the "spirit" and with the "mind" and therefore intelligibly. As edification of the congregation is the goal, Paul "would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue."
v20-25. "In understanding be men". Paul reminds his readers that whenever God's people have turned from him in the past he has withdrawn his clear prophetic word and replaced it with riddles. Jumbled words from God are therefore a sign of judgement upon an unfaithful people. Thus beware of tongues. They are a sign of judgement rather than blessing. On the other hand, a clear world of prophecy is for a faithful people. If a seeker comes into a Christian congregation where the word is in tongues, they will be denied a clear word from God and only think "your are out of your mind." Prophecy, on the other hand, will strike at the heart, convicting and converting.
v26-33. The situation in the church is now corrected with a number of regulations. The purpose is "for the strengthening of the church". A maximum of three tongue-speakers is allowed, and only if there is an interpretation. Similarly with prophecy, two or three, with silence and reflection. The other prophets are to listen and critique. An immediate word should have precedence. The purpose being instruction and encouragement, and all should be done "in a fitting and orderly way."
v34-35. Having mentioned order, Paul has a word to say about chatter in the church. The girls obviously have a problem here and need to be brought into line. This is most likely not a prohibition against women preaching, prophesying, teaching....
v36-40. Paul concludes by calling for the priority of prophecy, but without forbidding tongues. All should be done in order. He warns his readers about thinking too highly of themselves against others, and in particular, Paul himself.
The Word that edifies
A number of the members in the Corinthian congregation regarded themselves as a spiritual elite (pneumatikos). They felt they were angelic like, with an angelic heavenly language. They were already living in the heavenly future. So Paul encouraged them, "in your thinking be adults". A truly spiritual believer affirms a variety of gifts, along with the greatest of gifts, namely love. Such a believer affirms the edification of the church through intelligibility and order.
In our passage for study Paul argues fairly strongly against tongue-speaking without actually forbidding it. His concern is for the building up of the brotherhood (edification), and he sees this furthered, not by tongues, but by a clear "word of instruction" for the congregation's "strengthening, encouragement and comfort". Such "edifies the church", is for "the strengthening of the church". What he wants is "intelligible words" so that "the heart will be laid bare."
The doing of church is always a contentious issue because we all bring to it our own personal likes and dislikes. Whatever we want church to be, the preaching and teaching of the Word of God clearly takes a central place. Prophecy is the forth-telling of God's revelation to mankind. When two or three meet in Jesus' name and in his presence, hearing his word read and explained must always be the central business at hand. When we meet with Christ, hearing him, intelligibly and in an ordered environment, is the way to build his church.
1. What is wrong with tongue-speaking? Does it have a place today?
2. Discuss the place of the preached Word in your congregation. How does the service contribute or undermine the Word?