In my previous post, “Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 1“, I discussed the context of 1 Corinthians chapter 14, and the first 5 verses of that chapter. It is important to remember that Paul was specifically talking about the use of spiritual gifts when the church meets. Paul had already told the Corinthians that they all had spiritual gifts and that all of the members of the church were important and necessary. Now, he says that when the church gathers, it is important that they exercise those gifts which build up other people. In the next three sections of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul illustrates why tongues does not edify the church, exhorts the believers again that edifying others is better than edifying yourself, and discusses that different purposes for tongues and prophecy.
Section 2 – vv. 6-13 – Illustration of why tongues does not edify the church
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? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 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. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 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. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. (1 Cor. 14:6-13 ESV)
Next, Paul gives two examples to illustrate why speaking in tongues does not edify the church. The first example is from the use of musical instruments. The second example is from foreign languages. In each case, the person hearing must recognize what is played or what is spoken. Thus, Paul is illustrating that in order for something to edify the church, it must at least be understood by the church. Apparently, the people in Corinth could not understand the tongues that were being spoken (unless they were interpreted). Because other believers could not understand the tongues, then believers should not “strive to” speak in tongues during their meetings. Instead, they should strive for those gifts which build up (edify) the church. Notice that in this section, the ideas of benefiting and edification are paralleled in vs. 6 and vs. 12 respectively.
Section 3 – vv. 14 -19 – Instructing others is better than edifying yourself
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 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. 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? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 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 Cor. 14:14-19 ESV)
In this section, Paul once again emphasizes the importance of building up other people instead of building up the individual. It seems in this section that Paul is equating praying in his spirit to praying in a tongue. It is possible then, that he is also equating singing praise in his spirit to singing praise in a tongue, but this is not explicit. Similarly, he could also be equating giving thanks with his spirit to giving thanks in a tongue. Many people use these phrases to associate speaking in tongues with prayer. This is possible, but it is not necessary. It could also be that someone can pray in tongues and speak in tongues (different ways to exercise the gift of tongues). It is important to recognize that Paul de-emphasizes the benefit that the tongues speaker (prayer, singer) receives in order to emphasize benefits that other people receive. For Paul, speaking in tongues is good, but when the church gathers, anything that builds up other people is better.
Section 4 – vv. 20-25 – Signs for believers and unbelievers
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 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.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 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 Cor. 14:20-25 ESV)
This is a difficult section. I have read many interpretations of this passage, but I have not seen anything that seems to take everything into account. Instead of explaining it (because I’m still trying to understand it), I want to point out a few things that Paul tells us in this passage. 1) Prophecy and tongues have different purposes and are for different audiences. 2) Uninterpreted tongues is neither for believers nor unbelievers during the meeting of the church. 3) During the meeting of the church, unbelievers will not understand tongues. 4) During the meeting of the church, unbelievers will understand prophecy, and God can use prophecy to convict and convert unbelievers.
In these three sections (vv. 6-25), Paul continues to emphasize that he is discussing spiritual gifts within the context of the gathered church. He continues to recognize that all spiritual gifts are valid and all are beneficial, but when the church is meeting, it is important that believers only exercise those gifts which benefit others. Spiritual gifts (such as uninterpreted tongues) which only benefit the one exercising the gift should not be exercised when the church is gathered together.
Series on 1 Corinthians 14:
Prologue 1 – What do we do with 1 Corinthians 14?
Prologue 2 – 1 Corinthians 14 and the Leadership
Context & Verses 1-5 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 1
Verses 6-25 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 2
Verses 26-40 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 3
Concluding Remarks – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 4