This chapter concludes the subject of spiritual gifts. As to Spiritual Gifts:
- Prophecy is shown to be greater or superior to that of tongues (1 Cor. 14:1-25).
- There are certain regulations governing the exercise of each (1 Cor. 14:26-33).
- Women members of the assembly are to refrain from speaking at its gatherings (1 Cor. 14:34-36).
- The instructions given are the commandment of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37-39).
- The exercise of spiritual gifts is to be decent and in order (1 Cor. 14:40).
Chapter 12 describes the gifts and the Body. Chapter 13 describes the love that alone gives the use of gifts any value. And chapter 14 regulates the ministry of gifts in the primitive, apostolic assembly of believers.
Prophecy is Superior to the Gift of Tongues (1 Corinthians 14:1-25)
The more excellent way - 1 Cor. 14:1 says, “Follow after love.” This is what Paul describes as “the more excellent way” (see 1 Cor. 14:12-31). Chapter 13 is the divine exposition of “the more excellent way.” Now, says Paul by inspiration, “Follow the way, beyond all comparison the best.” While following this more excellent way, make spiritual gifts your aspiration; especially desire the gift of prophecy.
Note the contrast in exercising the gifts of tongues and prophecy (1 Cor. 14:2-4). Those tongues were known, recognized languages—the word unknown is not in the original writings. Those who used this gift spoke to God—the others in the assembly did not understand. Despite this, he spoke mysteries in the Spirit. In contrast to this, the person who prophesied spoke unto men, for God, to their edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3). The summation of the regulated use of the gifts in question is:
- He that speaketh in tongues edifieth himself.
- He that prophesieth builds up the church.
1 Cor. 14:5 shows Paul’s desire for the Corinthians. He desires that they should all speak with tongues, but he would rather that they prophesied, because he that prophesieth is more useful to the assembly, unless he who speaks in tongues can interpret to the building up of the assembly.
Paul makes an observation in the following verse, when he says, “If I come to you speaking in a foreign language, what shall it profit you?” (1 Cor. 14:6) Keeping in mind the former exhortation, we know the answer is “nothing.” But, he continues, “It shall profit you if I came to you speaking by revelation (enlightenment) or by knowledge or by prophecies or by teaching, because you understand what I am saying.”
Do what profits your brother - In 1 Cor. 14:7-8a, Paul gives an illustration by first drawing a contrast between “musical instruments.” He says that they have to sound their notes clearly or how can one recognize the tune? He now takes a stronger example. If the bugle does not sound loud, clear, and distinct, how shall the soldier understand the message, and prepare himself for battle? Likewise, if what one utters is garbled or spoken in a foreign language, how can it be understood? It is like talking to the trees in the forest.
There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none of them is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. Apply this to yourselves. Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
1 Cor. 14:13-14 teaches that praying or speaking in an unknown tongue is unprofitable. Those who exercise this gift should pray for the “gift of interpretation.” What then shall I do? When I pray, I will pray in the Spirit, in a manner that both those who hear me and I can understand. When I sing, I will sing in the Spirit, using ordinary language. Otherwise, when you give God thanks, in a language unknown to the assembly, how is it possible for one without unlearned gifts to understand and say Amen? (1 Cor. 14:15-16) You may give God thanks well enough, but the other brother is not built up or encouraged.
Paul concludes his reasoning here relative to the importance of the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues. He says “[I talk in strange languages more than any of you—in private. But, when I am in the assembly, I would rather speak five intelligible words that would instruct others, than ten thousand words in a language that no one understands].” Be not children in understanding. Some of you have been abusing and showing off this gift of tongues, just like children would do. Cease to do so and become mature in your thinking - in other words, “know what edifies” and practice it (1 Cor. 14:18-20).
1 Cor. 14:21 is a quotation from Isaiah 28:11-12. The apostle is about to show that “speaking in tongues” is a sign for unbelievers—and “prophecy” is for believers. 1 Cor. 14:23-24 illustrates the point: If the assembly is gathered together and speaking in tongues and an unbeliever is present, he will come to the conclusion that everyone has lost their mind. On the other hand, if the assembly is gathered together and one prophesies in the Spirit, the unbeliever is both convicted by God and judged by all; the secrets of his heart are manifested. In this condition, the unbeliever becomes a believer; he falls on his face, worships God and confesses that God is among you.
Regulations Governing the Use of these Gifts (1 Corinthians 14:26-40)
In 1 Cor. 14:26, Paul says, “How does it stand with you brethren, in the light of the foregoing?” Then he goes on to answer his own question. When you come together, each one has a hymn, lesson, revelation, tongue or an interpretation. If each one was determined to exercise what he thought was his gift, apart from the leading of the Holy Spirit, there would be confusion. Hence the exhortation, “Let all things be done for edification.”
If any are going to speak in a tongue let it be two, or at the most three, and let someone interpret. If there is no interpreter they are forbidden to speak publicly (1 Cor. 14:27-28) 1 Cor. 14:29 seems to regulate the prophets. Two or three may speak – the congregation must listen and consider what they say. No one has to take up the whole time. Opportunity has to be given for others who may have been given a revelation from God. In this way, all who have a message from God will be given opportunity to give it for the encouragement of all present. This means that the prophet who is under the control of the Holy Spirit is subject to Him. He will stop at His direction to allow another prophet, being moved by the Spirit, to deliver his message. There had been utter confusion. In the church meetings, brethren and sisters had been carried away in uncontrolled ecstasy – false spirit – perhaps many speaking at the same time. This was wrong. “God is not the God of confusion but of order and peace.”
In 1 Cor. 14:34-36, we see that women members of the assembly are to refrain from speaking at its gatherings. The spiritual in the assembly will acknowledge the foregoing instructions as the commandment of the Lord. If anyone in a carnal state will not recognize this as a commandment from the Lord, let him refuse it at his peril. The conclusion of the matter is (1) Cultivate the gift of prophecy, and (2) Do not forbid the speaking of tongues. 1 Cor. 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Tongues – Then and Now
Miraculous gifts were “sign gifts.” They were given to authenticate the establishment of the Church. Periods of miracles happened at times when special testimony was needed to the authenticate God’s servants. Consider the periods of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and finally, Christ and the apostles (see Mark 16:17-18). The third period occupies our attention tonight.
The “sign gifts” are as follows:
7. Discerning spirits
See the actual conditions in the Book of Acts:
- Signs and Wonders: Acts 2:43 (last mentioned in Acts 14:3).
- Tongues: last mentioned in Acts 19:6.
- Miracles: last mentioned in Acts 19:11.
- Prophesy: last mentioned in Acts 21:9.
Tongues shall cease (1 Corinthians 13):
- That which is in part (1 Cor. 13:9, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.”)
- That which is perfect is come—the inspired Word.
- That which is in part shall be done away.
- Tongues are languages.
- Women and tongues (see 1 Corinthians 14 - Keep silent).
- Hypnotism and tongues.
- Evil spirits and tongues.
Three things that are to cease in 1 Corinthians 13: (1) Prophecies, (2) Tongues, and (3) Miraculous knowledge. Three things to abide throughout the Church age: (1) Faith, (2) Hope, and (3) Love. Faith and hope will disappear when the Lord returns. Love never fails, it shall not cease; love is as eternal as God Himself.