The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the CORINTHIANS – Chapter 14
1 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. – 1 Corinthians 14:1-5
The term prophesy is commonly understood to be foretelling the future but biblical perspective is slightly different. A person who prophecies is proclaiming the truth of the word of God. That may have an element of proclaiming future events but generally it is publicly declaring the word of God. That is why Paul describes prophesy as building up, encouragement and consolidation for the church. There are different Greek words for preaching, teaching (and prophesy) so there is some difference in these activities and the gift of prophesy. Some have described it as when the Lord gives a specific anointed word that speaks into an individuals life, giving hope or delivering freedom or confirming direction without the person who speaks the word realising what is happening. I don’t think we can limit the Lord but many have had that experience. What ever the nuance the aim is to see the church built up.
9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
(Or as the NKJV says:)
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. – 1 Corinthians 14:10-12
It seems the gift of tongues was problematic in the Corinthian church. In simple terms Paul wanted them to know the value and use of the gift, which he believed was to communicate with God. As the language could not be understood by others it was not a form of human communication, unless someone received the gift of interpretation, but even then it is the interpretation that is understood not the tongues. But why do we need a secret, mysterious language to speak with God? Well, one thought: Jesus taught us we should have child like qualities to trust Him and live by faith. An infant who has not learned language is still able to communicate with its mother and will develop a “language” of sounds, crys, and gestures that will communicate its needs well before it learns to speak. Maybe there is a part of our spiritual being that has a deeper language that we will learn when we “grow up” but for now we use the languages God has given us on this earth. Just a thought. And that raises a further question about thought which takes place in both language and imagination. Both aspects are vital to our thought life but we can only communicate verbally not visually. As I have mentioned before I wonder how a person born deaf thinks because they will never have heard words. And yet, of course they learn to make sounds that communicate even if they themselves cannot hear them…… I am wandering (as I wonder) but language is a fascinating subject. Another mystery, in its self, for evolutionists as linguists proclaim language is too complicated to have “developed” from natural sounds we can all make. Anyway enough of my pondering. Paul clearly states:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. – Romans 8:26
A much better explanation (and in one sentence!!!)
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may 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. – 1 Corinthians 14:13-19
I find I am struggling with this subject. Maybe because I have heard teaching in the past and think there is not much new to be had from discussing tongues. I identify with vs.16 but only because often I do not understand what people have prayed, due to not hearing, but say amen on the basis that I am sure I would agree with their prayer, but it is not with understanding. God wants us to understand. Even though we are called to live by faith the Lord does not bypass our understanding. In a crisis of faith we still understand the issue even though we need to trust the Lord and be obedient. Abraham understood what God wanted him to do but I doubt he understood why. Philip understood he had to run after a chariot but again I doubt he knew why. When Peter stood up after Pentecost he was filled with the Spirit when he preached the first sermon but his understanding was fully engaged, understanding scriptures from the Torah that pointed to the pouring out of the Spirit. But he began with Jesus. Jesus who was raised from the dead so we could understand that He is Lord and Saviour of us all. Paul is encouraging us to help others understand and be encouraged.
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. – 1 Corinthians 14:20-22
Paul is seeking maturity in believers. It takes maturity to read the next two verses. in the Torah it is recorded that the Lord brought judgment on Israel by allowing Assyria to capture them. Israel was surrounded by a people whoes language they did not understand. They were ruled by people they could not understand. That is a harsh form of judgment. But the Lord was angry because Israel did not listen to Him. Verse 22 is hard to understand because it appears to contradict what Paul said earlier. Here tongues are a sign for unbelievers which contradicts what Paul said earlier that tongues is for believers. Phillips suggests that there must have been a scribing error here. But, Guzik suggests that another way to look at this is that, to unbelievers, the sound of a congregation speaking in tongues would appear at the very least confusing. But it may make them realise that there is something spiritual going on and lead them to repentance. It could be a sign for them. This would then connect with the previous verse, where being surrounded by foreigners was a sign of judgment. Not sure either possible explanation really solve the dilemma. May have to put it in the unsure file, and hope for clarity later.
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. – 1 Corinthians 14:24-25
Wow – if only that were the norm. How wonderful it would be to see people fall on their face and declare that God is among you. Prophecy is declaring and proclaiming the word of God. God has used prophets since the dawn of time. Enoch walked with God:
Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. – Genesis 5:24
Enoch means “dedicated”. It is in Jude that the Holy Spirit reveals the message Enoch preached:
14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones,
15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” – Jude 1:14-15
He proclaimed that the Lord, the Messiah was coming. A message of righteousness, of repentance (by implication) and the coming Messiah. Oh – that sounds familiar. The gospel.
Noah preached for about 100 years that judgment was coming. Peter describes Noah as “a herald of righteousness”:
if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; – 2 Peter 2:5
He declared the word of God as a prophet. In fact look at the Hebrews 11 “people of faith” list and almost all mentioned proclaimed the word of God. Prophecy reveals the secrets of the hearts so often God will speak directly to us, our situation, our inner doubts through a servant’s message when they are oblivious of how it affects you. The Holy Spirit’s conviction that makes us fall on our face and declare “God is among us.
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. As in all the churches of the saints, – 1 Corinthians 14:27-33
Paul continues to give his advice of conduct in church meetings. I do wonder how you can know ahead that someone will interprete something spoken in tongues? Best just to keep silent in less the Holy Spirit does that “pressure-building-up” thing where you know you just have to speak. Thank God He is not the author of confusion but of peace. Thank God the Spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet. God does not override our will. If we won’t speak he will use someone else. A passage I read earlier said that the Christian church needs people with humility and humanity, to respond to the Holy Spirit. God uses our personality and does not wipe us clean like a virus infested hard-drive. He works in our lives building is as He wants. Sanctifying us step by step till the day we depart to be with Him. God wants us to be fully human with feelings, thoughts, love and compassion for those around us. But humble before Him with a godly fear knowing there is nothing good of ourselves. That is how a church should operate so all may learn and all be encourage
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. – 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Ouch. Don’t want to talk about these verses!!! Oh Paul! If only you had realised how offensive this language sounds in out day and age!!!!! Oh well here goes…So let scripture interpret scripture. What law is Paul referring to? The thorny issue of submission?
Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16 (NLT)
Well, women are to submit to their husbands but women are not called to submit to men in general. Some translations of verse 34 say “your women” but that still does not specify wives and husbands. So maybe another issue is at stake. In Jewish tradition the women never went into the temple. There was an outer court for women. They were not involved in the sacrificial cerimonies. Is it fair to suggest that in that court the woman chatted? Talked? Gossiped? There was no need for restraint – it was a time of much needed “fellowship”. Could it be that in the Christian meetings women also sat seperatly from the men and were inclined to chat or ask disruptive questions? I don’t know. It is hard to place ourselves back into that culture. In 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 Paul talks about women praying and prophesying so Paul is obviously not saying women should not speak at all in church. David Guzik suggests it means women should not judge prophecy but be submissive to the men in church leadership. Alan Redpath points out that Paul uses the ancient Greek verb laleo, which means, “to talk, question, argue, profess, or chatter.” Implying that the discussion of the women “has nothing to do with prophecy or prayer; it is not public speaking as such.” So maybe the conversation was not relevant to the meeting and Paul was asking the women to learn to be quiet and learn in humility, as Martha’s sister Mary did. As for the “desire to learn” … well;
5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – Deuteronomy 6:5-7
Jewish tradition was again in question. The home was the place of learning so maybe Paul is suggesting to keep queries until you can discuss them in a more private setting.
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 recognise this, he is not recognised
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. – 1 Corinthians 14:36-40
This conclusion sheds a bit more light on the puzzle. Paul is once more using sarcasm and rhetorical questions. “Was it from you the word is God came?” No. “Are you the only ones it has reached?” No. Are you superspiritual, knowing all things? No. Paul entreats them to listen to him and respect the Holy Spirit’s authority in his teachings. Of course our fleshly human nature reacts and rebels. So Paul boldly goes on to say “if you don’t listen to me – you are off, man!!!” It is so important to honour the prophet God sends. Old Testament stories such as the rebellion of Korah (Num 16) where an earthquake settled the matter!!! Young men who mocked Elisah (2 Kings 2:23) and were eaten by bears!!! Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the greatest prophet of them all, the Holy Spirit, died. We may mentally disagree with the prophets of God but we need to have a awesome fear of God and respect that He may require us to do things that do not seem “right in our eyes”. We must not turn warm intimacy into cheap familiarity. God has the powers to give life and take life.
but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. – 2 Kings 17:36
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? – Psalm 8:3-4
Can we, the the clay, tell the potter what to do? No. Can the branch determine how the vine will grow? No. Paul ends with the most sensible of suggestions. “But all things should be done decently and in order.” Yes. Amen.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.