1 Corinthians 14:1-25 (NIV)
Intelligibility in Worship
from Ray Stedman: The whole of Chapter 14 of First Corinthians is devoted to a comparison by the Apostle Paul of the two gifts of tongues and of prophesying. Both of these gifts were obviously being featured and focused upon in the city of Corinth and in the church there. Therefore, the apostle gives us some very helpful insights on these gifts and how they contrast one with another. The most important verse in this whole chapter is Verse 1 . . .
1 Follow the way of love
. . . That ties this back to the “love” chapter, and it is good to remind ourselves that this is the essence of the exercise of any spiritual gift. Here is where we get our balance. Love is to be the basic, biblical reason for exercising a spiritual gift.
Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.
and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
Edification (the NIV, above, says strengthening) is “building up.” It is a construction term, and speaks our being “built up” in the Lord. A word of prophecy will build someone up, not tear him or her down.
Exhortation is encouragement. It is like the speech from the coach in the locker room, rallying the team to go out and perform as they have been trained to perform. A word of prophecy will encourage someone, not discourage him or her.
Comfort has the idea of not only consoling, but also strengthening. It doesn’t just cry with someone hurting, it puts its arms around them and strengthens them to carry the load. A word of prophecy will strengthen, not weaken someone.
The word “comfort” comes from Latin con- (“together”) + fortis (“strong”). It uses the same root as fortress, fortify, fortissimo, fortitude. Doesn’t that change our understanding of the phrase Paul writes:
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,
Paul was positive about the gift of tongues. Paul valued the gift of tongues in his own life (I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all, 1 Corinthians 14:18), and wanted other Christians to speak with tongues.
Why? No doubt, because he knew the value of it in his own life. Paul was able, when praying in the spirit, to unburden his soul before God in a way going beyond human language and intellect. He could pray, praise, and intercede beyond his ability to understand and articulate. Paul wanted every Christian to know this same blessing!
but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
But the corporate value of any speech during worship is made possible only if the message given in tongues can be “translated” into a language understood by the congregation. Prophesy requires no such translation, and is therefore preferred for public occasions.
Before our Father’s throne
we pour our ardent prayers;
our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.
The goal must be mutual benefit at church meetings. So if there are tongues, there must be interpretation, so there can be edification.
But — If tongues are directed to God, how can a legitimate interpretation be edifying to others? The same way our reading of Psalms can edify. The prayer, or praise, or plea of another unto God can identify powerfully with our own heart before God, and we can agree with what another says to God.
13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.
We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written:
“With other tongues
and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
but even then they will not listen to me,
says the Lord.”
22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.
This verse has caused no little amount of consternation, since it seems contradictory to what Paul writes after. He says tongues are for unbelievers, yet in the next verse he says tongues make believers look mad. He says prophecy is for believers, yet his comments below relate only to unbelievers. Scholars differ — some say the verse is actually a question. Others think scribes mis-copied it and it should read that tongues are for believers and prophecies for unbelievers. Etc. As the King of Siam would say, “Is a puzzlement.”
23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
Dr. John Fawcett was the pastor of a small church at Wainsgate, and was called from there to a larger church in London in 1772. He accepted the call and preached his farewell sermon. The wagons were loaded with his books and furniture and all was ready for the departure when his parishioners gathered around him and with tears in their eyes begged of him to stay. His wife said, “Oh John, John, I cannot bear this.” “Neither can I,” exclaimed the good pastor, “and we will not go. Unload the wagons and put everything as it was before.” His decision was hailed with great joy by his people, and he wrote the words of this hymn in commemoration of the event. HERE is “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.”
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.