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We must first understand that in today’s context the spiritual gifts most related to edification would be teaching and preaching the Word of God and exhorting believers to obey.  New prophecies are not being delivered today.  We have the completed canon of Scripture.  We need gifted men to study and explain the text and its application to our culture today.  That is not the gift of prophesying.  But that is how edification takes place today in the church. That is why churches must give the highest priority to the exposition of Scripture.  It is not enough to just treat things in a topical manner.  You must have a systematic diet of going through the Scriptures book by book, paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse.

Mark Taylor: Paul’s intent is not to eliminate the gift of tongues from use among the Corinthians. He does not call into question the legitimacy of the gift, nor does he say that they cannot or should not exercise the gift. . .  Tongues and the interpretation of tongues are listed as one of the manifestations of the Spirit for the common good (12:7–10). Paul does establish clear guidelines for the use of tongues in the church, which must include interpretation (14:13, 26–28). Paul writes that he has no problem if all speak in tongues (14:5), claims that he himself speaks in tongues (14:18), and expressly commands, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” (14:39). However, Paul qualifies each positive statement regarding the gift of tongues with a corresponding assessment of prophecy, demonstrating that prophecy is the preferred gift. Paul preferred prophecy over uninterpreted tongues (14:5), had rather speak five intelligible words in church in order to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue (14:18), and while not forbidding them to speak in tongues, exhorts that they “be eager to prophesy” (14:39).

Paul Gardner: Having spoken of the serious problems of practical theology that have developed in the church because of their abuse of the grace-gifts, Paul began in chapter 12 to look at the right use and right purposes for which God gave these gifts. They are for the building up of the body of Christ. Chapter 13 fits well in Paul’s argument. There he specifically contrasts grace-gifts with the true authenticator of mature Christian faith: love. Paul had already indicated that the key to love is that it functions to build up the community (8:1). Then in chapter 13 he drew on some of the more exceptional or unusual gifts to make his point. It has been suggested that these gifts were among those that the elitists were probably promoting. Having shown that “love” is the only true authenticator of God’s people and one that, unlike the grace-gifts, survives death itself, Paul now returns to the right and proper function of the gifts. Chapter 14 thus follows clearly and easily from chapter 13. The first verse of chapter 14 makes the transition with a summary of the thought of chapter 13 and a return to the matter of the gifts, specifically two of the gifts mentioned in 13:1–2.

Paul thus applies his teaching specifically by comparing the gifts of speaking in tongues and of prophecy. He demonstrates how one can function to build up the community and even outsiders, thus becoming an example of the love spoken of in chapter 13, while the other cannot normally serve this purpose. While there is good reason to assume that these gifts were highly esteemed among the elitist Corinthians, they serve for Paul to make the general point about the need for discernment and judgment about the things of the Spirit and how they should be allowed to function in the community.

The Proper Function of Grace-Gifts in Public Worship (14:1–25)

A.  Pursue Love and Strive for Gifts That Build Up the Worshippers (14:1–5)

B.  Tongues Can Be Problematic in Worship (14:6–12)

  1. Illustration from Musical Instruments and Application (14:6–9)
  2. Illustration from Different Languages and Application (14:10–12)

C.  Public Worship Should Be Characterized by Intelligibility (14:13–19)

D.  Prophecy Is More Beneficial Than Tongues in Public Worship (14:20–25)


Andrew Noselli: Paul’s command to pursue love connects to 1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13.  Instead of following the way of love, the Corinthians have been childish in how they think about spiritual gifts (14:20) by earnestly desiring the flashy gift of tongues (cf. v. 12).  So Paul exhorts them to use spiritual gifts in a way that builds up the church when they meet together.  Specifically, they must pursue love by earnestly desiring to prophesy, which is more edifying than tongues because it is intelligible (vv. 1-25).  Paul repeatedly compares what is unintelligible (uninterpreted tongues) with what is intelligible (prophecy and interpreted tongues).  When a Christian speaks in tongues (in contrast to prophesying), that person speaks to only God (not fellow humans) in a way that is intelligible only to God (not fellow humans) and that builds up only the speaker (not the church).

A.  (:1) Edification Is Consistent with Pursuing Love

Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.”

Many people today would downplay the goal of edification; their concept of love is not a biblical one; they are much more interested in the emotional experience associated with worship.  Paul is not setting spiritual gifts in opposition to love.  We have already seen that any spiritual ministry must be conducted in the environment and within the boundaries of love.  The error of the Corinthian church was that they had placed too much priority on the gift of tongues rather than on those gifts that had more functionality related to edification.  Paul is not deprecating the importance of all of the spiritual gifts – including the proper use of the genuine gift of tongues.  His point in this passage is that edification must be the primary goal in church services.

Doug Goins: This first verse says that spiritual gifts are given as a channel for love. The basic reason that we’re to express our spiritual gifts, to minister and serve, is for the benefit of other people. In this discussion of gifts, especially tongues and prophesying, love ought to be the controlling factor in our consideration.

  1. Pursuing Love Remains the Highest Priority
  2. Exercising Spiritual Gifts Must Harmonize with Pursuing Love
  3. The Emphasis Must be on Those Gifts that Contribute the Most to Edification

B.  (:2-5) Since the Measurement is Edification, Prophesying Excels Tongues

  1. (:2-4)  Two Contrasts Between Speaking in Tongues and Prophesying

a.  First Contrast = Whom are You Addressing

                                    1)  Tongues – speaking not to men but to God

a) Men do not understand the content

in his spirit he speaks mysteries

b) Only God understands the content

                                    2)  Prophesying – speaking to men – they understand the content

b.  Second Contrast = What are You Accomplishing

                                    1)  Tongues – Edifies Self – not the purpose of spiritual gifts

John MacArthur: I believe Paul’s point here is sarcastic. . .  Because even true tongues must be interpreted in order to be understood, they cannot possibly edify anyone, including the person speaking, without such interpretation.  They cannot, therefore, be intended by God for private devotional use, as many Pentecostals and charismatics claim.  Paul here is referring to the supposed value the Corinthians placed on their self-styled tongues-speaking.  The satisfaction many of the believers experienced in their abuse of tongues was self-satisfaction, which came from pride-induced emotion, not rom spiritual edification.  It is an illegitimate self-building, often building up nothing more than spiritual pride.

2)  Prophesying – Edifies the Church – Has Value for:

        •  Exhortation
        • Consolation

Doug Goins: Paul says in 14:3 that there will be three obvious effects or results when prophecy is exercised in the church. The first is edification. That’s a great word from the building trade. It means building or construction. A prophet is a home-builder. The word can be used either for laying a foundation, which speaks of stability, or retrofitting or repairing a building that already exists, strengthening it and shoring it up. So applying this word to our lives, it means that when prophecy is exercised, we will be spiritually strengthened and stabilized in our emotions and our understanding.

The second effect of prophesying is exhortation. That means to motivate, to come to a person’s side and put an arm around their shoulder, to encourage that person, to give direction. This word exhortation doesn’t mean that you shake your finger in somebody’s face and holler at them. We sometimes have the idea that a prophet is someone who thunders from on high at people. But exhortation means you’re on the same level; with your arm around their shoulder, you’re saying, “Would you consider this truth?”

The third effect of prophecy is consolation, or literally, “near speech, talking very closely.” It means to comfort somebody with tenderness and hope, to empathize with that person, to give sensitive counsel.

Daniel Akin: I define the gift of speaking in tongues as a gift of speaking in a foreign language that is totally unknown to the one who is speaking and to some who may be hearing. This is what we find in the very first occurrence of the gift in the book of Acts.

  1. (:5)  Prophesying Excels Tongues with Respect to Edification

a.  Not Putting Down Tongues

Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues

b.  But Elevating Prophesying

but even more that you would prophesy

c.  Prophecying More Valuable for Edifying the Church

and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in

tongues . . .so that the church may receive edifying.”

d.  Exception: Tongues Accompanied by Interpretation

                                    “unless he interprets


Richard Hays: Paul restates his argument in verses 6–12 by using analogies, the first two musical in character. He compares inspired speech in the church to the sounds produced by harp and flute (v. 7), to the call of a military horn (v. 8), and to the varieties of natural human language (vv. 10–11).

In the first analogy, he observes that the flutist or harpist cannot merely play random notes; in order for the melody to make sense to the hearer, there must be an order or pattern to the notes sounded. (Furthermore—a point that Paul does not make—different musicians trying to play together cannot simply play whatever occurs to them; their parts must be orchestrated in a complementary fashion.)

The second analogy—the trumpet sounding a call to battle—is even more telling. Paul sometimes uses military metaphors to describe the calling of Christians (e.g., Rom. 6:12–14; Cor. 10:3–6; Phil. 1:2730; 1 Thess. 5:8; cf. Eph. 6:10–20; 2 Tim. 4:7); his metaphor in 1 Corinthians 14:8 suggests that public speech in the Christian assembly should awaken members of the church to action in the cosmic conflict in which the church is engaged. The “indistinct” sound of incoherent speech in tongues will do nothing to marshal the troops for battle. The speaker in tongues will merely be talking “into the air” (v. 9).

In the third analogy, Paul shifts the metaphorical field and points to the great variety of languages in the world (rightly NIV, JB, not just “sounds” as in NRSV). Estrangement occurs when we encounter someone who does not share a common language with us, because meaningful communication is impossible. Similar estrangement will divide us from one another in the church, he suggests, if incomprehensible tongue-speaking dominates the church’s discourse.

A.  (:6) Contrast Between Speech that is Unintelligible vs. Intelligible

1.  No Profit in Unintelligible Tongues

But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues,

what shall I profit you

David Prior: Paul spells out three major limitations in speaking in tongues: in intelligibility, personal wholeness and impact on outsiders.

  1. Much Profit in Intelligible Spiritual Communication

unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of

prophecy or of teaching?”

Craig Blomberg: Verse 6 presents the thesis of the next paragraph (vv. 6–12), repeating the need for intelligibility. The four elements of verse 6b (“revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction”) all share this attribute, as over against uninterpreted tongues. “Word of instruction” is literally “teaching,” so it seems that Paul is lumping more and less miraculous gifts together here to stress the importance of clear communication.

B.  (:7-9) Illustration from Realm of Music –

Only Clear Speech Can Elicit an Appropriate Response

Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do

not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on

the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who

will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue

speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be

speaking into the air.”

  1. Generally, Musial Instruments must make distinct intentional sounds

Daniel Akin: Musical instruments don’t exist to make random sounds; they are intended to actually play music that has melody and meaning. Music that is unintelligible to the mind will never move the heart.

  1. Specifically, the Battle Call of the Trumpet must be understandable

Daniel Akin: An even more pertinent illustration involves the military bugler (v. 8). A soldier must always know whether the bugler is sounding retreat or attack. Getting that wrong can lead to a disastrous defeat instead of thrilling victory. The fact that Paul has to emphasize this point with examples from music and the military shows just how deeply committed at least some of the Corinthians were to trying to argue for the superiority of tongues (Carson, Showing, 103).

  1. Language and speech must be clear

Mark Taylor: Paul observes broadly that all sounds (languages) in the world have meaning and exist to be distinguished and understood. . .

Paul’s third analogy, all sorts of languages (“sounds”) in the world, was especially relevant to Corinth with its two harbors positioning the city as a major crossroads to the world.  The citizens of Corinth would have been all too familiar with the alienation and frustration caused by the blend of different languages and different cultures in a major urban setting. Such alienation and frustration, however, should never characterize the assembly of believers. By means of a wordplay Paul asserts that of all the different kinds of sounds in the world none are “without sound,” that is, without meaning. If someone speaks and the hearers cannot understand what is being said, then meaningful communication cannot occur.

John MacArthur: The Corinthians were so carnally self-centered that they could not have cared less about communication.  They were interested in impressing others, not communicating with them, much less edifying them.

C.  (:10-11) Language Only Has Value if it is Understood

There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind

is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.”

Tremendous argument against any type of language that would not have meaning for man; the essence of language is the communication of thoughts and ideas that can be understood by those who know the language.

John MacArthur: The Corinthians were so carnally self-centered that they could not have cared less about communication.  They were interested in impressing others, not communicating with them, much less edifying them. . .  A language without meaning is pointless.  A language without meaning is not really a language.  It is meaning that makes language language.

D.  (:12) Zeal for Spiritual Gifts Must be Channeled Towards Edification

So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts,

seek to abound for the edification of the church.”


A.  (:13) Tongues Require Interpretation

Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”

B.  (:14-17) The Mind Must be Engaged in Worship

  1. The Mind Must be Engaged in Prayer

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit

and I shall pray with the mind also

John Calvin: Let us take notice, that Paul reckons it a great fault if the mind is not occupied in prayer. And no wonder; for what else do we in prayer, but pour out our thoughts and desires before God? Farther, as prayer is the spiritual worship of God, what is more at variance with the nature of it, than that it should proceed merely from the lips, and not from the inmost soul?

  1. The Mind Must be Engaged in Singing and Praise

I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also.”

John MacArthur: Spirituality involved more than the mind, but it never excludes the mind.

  1. The Mind Must be Engaged in Giving Assent and Blessing and Thanks

Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the

place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?  For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.”

ungifted” is not speaking of an unbeliever, but of one who does not have the gift of interpretation to allow him to understand the message from the speaking in tongues

David Prior: The most likely explanation of idiōtēs is the one given by Morris. Paul uses a rather cumbersome phrase in verse 16, ‘one who fills the place of the idiōtēs’, which indicates that [these people] had their place in the Christian assembly. They would be ‘inquirers’, people who had not committed themselves to Christianity, but who were interested. They had ceased to be simply outsiders, but were not yet Christians.  Any church with an evangelistic cutting-edge into the local community has people of this kind in its gatherings for worship. They are not yet believers; indeed, they are still ‘unbelievers’. But they are on the verge of commitment. Nothing should be done, especially in a spirit of self-indulgence by a few enthusiastic Christians, to drive them back into an unbelief from which it will then be far more difficult to extricate them.

John MacArthur: Amen is a Hebrew word of agreement and encouragement, meaning “So let it be

C.  (:18-19) The Practice of the Apostle Paul Supports This Emphasis on Edification

  1. (:18)  Paul Excels in Speaking in Tongues

I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all

Paul can’t be accused of not knowing what he is talking about here.

Ray Stedman: Well, then, when did Paul speak in tongues? I think the only situation that fulfills all the biblical requirements for the gift of tongues, one that would have allowed the apostle to exercise his ability in this area, would be when he went into the Jewish synagogues, because there was a provision made for public praise of God by visiting people. To praise God in a language never learned would be a very impressive thing to the Jewish people present, especially if it was a Gentile tongue. That is when Paul spoke in tongues “more than them all,” and that would fulfill every requirement of the biblical gift of tongues.

Richard Hays: Paul has held back one important bit of information. Now he drops it in for rhetorical impact: He claims to speak in tongues more than any of the Corinthians, including those who pride themselves on this gift! He explains, however, that he has not employed this gift “in church” (en ekkl sia: NEB’s “in the congregation” is a better translation) because he would rather speak “five words with my mind” to instruct the congregation than to pour forth a torrent of incomprehensible words (vv. 18–19). Paul has now played his ace, seeking to trump the Corinthians’ claims. He could beat them at their own game of superspirituality, he says, but he has chosen not to play that game because he has another goal in mind. Here again Paul holds himself up as an example to be imitated—an example of renouncing spiritual glory and status for the sake of others. Thus, his ethical example concerning the use of spiritual gifts matches the pattern already outlined in chapters 8–10: Paul renounces rights and privileges for the benefit of others in the church. The instruction of the community is a higher value than any amount of exalted religious experience.

  1. (:19)  Paul Addresses His Communication in the Church to the Mind

however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I

may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.”


A.  (:20-21) Appeal to Maturity of Thinking

  1. (:20)  The Appeal

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but

in your thinking be mature.”

Doug Goins: A preoccupation with tongues without concern for their place and purpose, or their effect on oneself or others is childish. Paul says we’re to be innocent or childlike when it comes to evil or sin, but not in our use of spiritual gifts. Some of the Corinthian believers had come to believe that speaking in tongues was evidence of spiritual maturity. But Paul is making it clear in this chapter that this gift can be exercised in an unspiritual, immature way. Twice he uses the word “thinking” in verse 20. That word means the faculty of wise, thoughtful, rational investigation. Mature faith will never stress the noncognitive or nonrational over the cognitive or rational. I’m not saying the noncognitive and nonrational have no place, but the cognitive and the rational must be central to the life of the church.

Craig Blomberg: Verse 20 forms the transition to the last paragraph of this first section of chapter 14. A preoccupation with tongues without concern for their effect on oneself and others is childish. There are ways Christians should be childlike (e.g., being innocent of evil—cf. Matt. 10:16) but not in their use of spiritual gifts. Mature faith never stresses the noncognitive at the expense of the cognitive. “Thinking” translates a word (phren) which means “the psychological faculty of thoughtful planning, often with the implication of being wise and provident.”

  1. (:21)  The Supporting Argument from Isaiah

In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues

and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people,

and even so they will not listen to me,” says the Lord.”

Context here is clearly talking about known languages, not ecstatic utterances.

B.  (:22) Contrast in Purpose

  1. Purpose of Tongues – Directed towards unbelievers

So then tongues are for a sign,

not to those who believe, but to unbelievers;

Daniel Akin: What did Paul mean when he said that tongues were a sign for unbelievers (v. 22)? We have already stated it could refer, as it did in the reference to Isaiah, to the judgment of God, but I would go further. Tongues when interpreted can also show unbelievers the power of God when they hear the gospel in their own languages, knowing full well there would be no way the speaker could have possibly known the language beforehand. Certainly in the book of Acts tongues was a sign of confirmation. It made unbelievers sit up and take notice. Jews from all over the world asked, “How is it that each of us can hear them in our own language? . . . [We all] hear them declaring the magnificent acts of God in our own tongues” (Acts 2:8,11).

  1. Purpose of Prophesying – Directed towards believers

but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.”

Doug Goins: He tells us that tongues is a sign gift to be exercised for the benefit of non-Christians. That was its purpose at Pentecost, as we see in Acts 2. It arrested attention as the disciples declared the magnificence of God to the thousands of Jewish pilgrims from all over the world in their native languages. Their praises were immediately followed by Peter’s preaching of the gospel as he interpreted the events to the crowd. So the expression of tongues, like any good sign, directed the attention to the saving message of Jesus Christ, which is the more important issue. A billboard arrests attention, but surely you don’t get hung up with the sign itself. Its advertisers want you to think about the message it’s pointing to. That’s the purpose of any sign in our culture today. Tongues awakened people to the presence and the power of God at Pentecost, but it was Peter’s prophetic preaching that explained who this God was and called the people to believe what God had said in his word.

C.  (:23-25) Contrast in Effect

  1. Effect of Speaking in Tongues

If therefore the whole church should assemble together

and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter,

will they not say that you are mad?

  1. Effect of Prophesying

“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters,

he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all;

the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face

and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”



What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a

psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let

all things be done for edification.”

This forms the transition to the next section in chapter 14 which speaks of orderliness in the church services.