Text:                  1 Corinthians 14:14-40

By:                     ADEOYE, EMMANUEL (Evangelist)

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Eight times in this section, Paul used the word understanding. It is not enough for the minister to impart information to people; the people must receive it if it is to do them any good. The seed that is received in the good ground is the seed that bears fruit, but this means that there must be an understanding of the Word of God (Matt 13:23). If a believer wants to be edified, he must prepare his heart to receive the Word (1 Thess 2:13). Not everybody who listens really hears. Illustration (vv. 6-11). Paul used three simple illustrations to prove his point that there must be understanding if there is to be an edifying spiritual ministry: musical instruments, a bugle call in battle, and daily conversation.

If a musical instrument does not give a clear and distinct sound, nobody will recognize the music being played. Everyone knows how uncomfortable one feels when a performer almost plays the right note because the instrument is defective or out of tune.

First Corinthians 14:10 gives us good reason to believe that, when Paul wrote about tongues, he was referring to known languages and not some “heavenly” language. Each language is different and yet each language has its own meaning No matter how sincere a speaker may be, if I do not understand his language, he cannot communicate with me.

To the Greeks, a barbarian was the lowest person on the social or national ladder. In fact, anybody who was not a Greek was considered a barbarian.

The musician, the bugler, and the everyday conversationalist cannot be understood unless their messages are communicated in a mariner that is meaningful to the listener. Having illustrated the principle of understanding, Paul then applied it to three different persons.

Application (vv. 12-25). Paul first applied the principle of understanding to the speaker himself (1 Cor 14:12-15). Again, he reminded the Corinthians that it is better to be a blessing to the church than to experience some kind of personal “spiritual excitement” If the believer speaks in a tongue, his spirit (inner person) may share in the experience, but his mind is not a part of the experience.

It is not wrong to pray or sing “in the spirit,” but it is better to include the mind and understand what you are praying or singing (Note that the word spirit in 1 Cor 14:14-15 does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but to the inner person, as in 1 Cor 2:11.) If the speaker is to be edified, he must understand what he is saying.

What, then, is the speaker to do? He must ask God for the interpretation of the message. Paul assumed that an interpreter would be present (1 Cor 14:27-28) or that the speaker himself had the gift of interpreting. Of course, all of this discussion emphasized once again the superiority of prophecy over tongues: prophecy needs no interpretation and can therefore be a blessing to everybody.

Paul then applied the principle to other believers in the assembly (1 Cor 14:16-20). He assumed that they would listen to the message and respond to it. But if they did not understand the message, how could they respond? (Apparently, saying Amen! in church was not frowned on in those days.) The “unlearned” person was probably a new

  • believer, or possibly an interested “seeker.” He could not be edified unless he understood what was being said.
  • Again, it was a matter of priorities. While Paul did not oppose the ministry of tongues, he did try to put it into a right perspective. The issue was not quantity of words, but quality of communication. The Corinthians were acting like children playing with toys.
  • When it came to knowing about sin, Paul wanted them to be “babes”; but when it came to spiritual understanding, he wanted them to be mature men (1 Cor 3:1-4; 13:11-13).
  • Some people have the idea that speaking in a tongue is an evidence of spiritual maturity, but Paul taught that it is possible to exercise the gift in an unspiritual and immature manner.
  • Paul’s final application was to the unsaved person who happened to come into the assembly during a time of worship (1 Cor 14:21-25). Paul made here another point for the superiority of prophecy over tongues: a message in tongues (unless interpreted) could never bring conviction to the heart of a lost sinner. In fact, the unsaved person might leave the service before the interpretation was given, thinking that the whole assembly was crazy.
  • Tongues were not used for evangelism, neither at Pentecost nor in the meetings of the early church.
  • However, tongues did have a “message” for the lost Jews in particular: they were a sign of God’s judgment. Paul quoted Isa 28:11-12‘ a reference to the invading Assyrian army whose “barbaric” language the Jews would not understand. The presence of this “tongue” was evidence of God’s judgment on the nation.
  • God would rather speak to His people in clear language they could understand, but their repeated sins made this impossible. He had spoken to them through His messengers in their own tongue, and the nation would not repent Now He had to speak in a foreign tongue, and this meant judgment.
  • As a nation, the Jews were always seeking a sign (Matt 12:38; 1 Cor 1:22).
  • At Pentecost, the fact that the Apostles spoke in tongues was a sign to the unbelieving Jews who were there celebrating the feast The miracle of tongues aroused their interest, but it did not convict their hearts. It took Peter’s preaching (in Aramaic, which the people all understood) to bring them to the place of conviction and conversion.
  • The principle of edification encourages us to major on sharing the Word of God so that the church will be strengthened and grow. The principle of understanding reminds us that what we share must be understood if it is to do any good. The private use of spiritual gifts may edify the user, but it will not edify the church, and Paul admonished us to “excel to the edifying of the church” (1 Cor 14:12).
  • But a third principle must be applied: the principle of order.
  • (1 COR. 14:26-40)
  • Two statements in this section go together. “Let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Cor 14:26), and, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). When a building is constructed, there must be a plan, or everything will be in chaos.
  • The Corinthian church was having special problems with disorders in their public meetings (1 Cor 11:17-23).
  • The reason is not difficult to determine: they were using their spiritual gifts to please themselves and not to help their brethren. The key word was not edification, but exhibition. If you think that your contribution to the service is more important than your brother’s contribution, then you will either be impatient until he finishes, or you will interrupt him.
  • Add to this problem the difficulties caused by the “liberated women” in the assembly, and you can understand why the church experienced carnal confusion.
  • First Corinthians 14:26 gives us a cameo picture of worship in the early church. Each member was invited to participate as the Lord directed. One would want to sing a psalm (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).
  • Another would be led to share a doctrine. Someone might have a revelation that would be given in a tongue and then interpreted. Apart from some kind of God given order there could never be edification. Note that the tongues speakers were the ones causing the most trouble, so Paul addressed himself to them and gave several instructions for the church to obey in their public meetings.
  • First, speaking and interpreting, along with judging (evaluating the message) must be done in an orderly mariner (1 Cor 14:27-33). There must not be more than three speakers at any one meeting, and each message must be interpreted and evaluated in order.
  • If no interpreter was present, then the tongues speaker must keep silent. Paul’s admonitions to the Thessalonian congregation would apply here: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess 5:19-21).
  • Why were the messages evaluated? To determine whether the speaker had truly communicated the Word of God through the Holy Spirit. It was possible for a speaker, under the control of his own emotions, to imagine that God was speaking to Win and through him it was even possible for Satan to counterfeit a prophetic message (see 2 Cor 11:13-14).

The listeners would test the message, then, by Old Testament Scriptures, apostolic tradition, and the personal guidance of the Spirit (“discerning of spirits,” 1 Cor 12:10). If while a person is speaking, God gives a revelation to another person, the speaker must be silent while the new revelation is shared.

If God is in charge, there can be no competition or contradiction in the messages. If, however, the various speakers are “manufacturing” their messages, there will be confusion and contradiction. Our own self-control is one of the evidences that the Spirit is indeed at work in the meeting. One of the ministries of the Spirit is to bring order out of chaos (Gen 1). Confusion comes from Satan, not from God (James 3:13-18). When the Spirit is leading, the participants are able to minister “one by one” so that the total impact of God’s message may be received by the church.

How do we apply this instruction to the church today since we do not have New Testament prophets, but we do have the completed Scripture? For one thing, we must use the Word of God to test every message that we hear, asking the Spirit to guide us. There are false teachers in the world and we must beware (2 Peter 2; 1 John 4:1-6). But even true teachers and preachers do not know everything and sometimes make mistakes (1 Cor 13:9,12; James 3:1). Each listener must evaluate the message and apply it to his own heart.

Our public meetings today are more formal than those of the early church, so it is not likely that we need to worry about the order of the service. But in our more informal meetings, we need to consider one another and maintain order.

I recall being in a testimony meeting where a woman took forty minutes telling a boring experience and, as a result destroyed the spirit of the meeting.

Second, the women in the meeting were not to speak (1 Cor 14:34-35).

Paul had already permitted the women to pray and prophesy (1 Cor 11:5), so this instruction must apply to the immediate context of evaluating the prophetic messages. It would appear that the major responsibility for doctrinal purity in the early church rested on the shoulders of the men, the elders in particular (1 Tim 2:11-12).

The context of this prohibition would indicate that some of the women in the assembly were creating problems by asking questions and perhaps even generating arguments. Paul reminded the married women to be submitted to their husbands and to get their questions answered at home. (We assume that the unmarried women could counsel with the elders or with other men in their own families.)

Sad to say, in too many Christian homes today, it is the wife who has to answer the questions for the husband because she is better taught in the Word.

Third, participants must beware of “new revelations” that go beyond the Word of God (1 Cor 14:36-40). “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa 8:20).

The church had the Old Testament as well as the oral tradition given by the Apostles (2 Tim 2:2), and this was the standard by which all revelations would be tested. We today have the completed Scriptures as well as the accumulated teachings of centuries of church history to help us discern the truth..

In these verses, Paul was answering the church member who might say, “We don’t, need Paul’s help! The Spirit speaks to us. We have received new and wonderful revelations from God!” This is a dangerous attitude, because it is the first step toward rejecting God’s Word and accepting counterfeit revelations, including the doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1ff).

“The Word did not originate in your congregation!” Paul replied. “One of the marks of a true prophet is his obedience to apostolic teaching.” In this statement Paul claimed that what he wrote was actually inspired Scripture, “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor 14:37).

First Corinthians 14:38  does not suggest that Paul wanted people to remain ignorant; otherwise, he would not have written Us letter and answered their questions. The New International Version translates it, “If he ignores this [Paul’s apostolic authority), he himself will be ignored [by Paul and the churches).” Fellowship is based on the Word, and those who willfully reject the Word automatically break the fellowship (1 John 2:18-19).

Paul summarized the main teachings of 1 Cor 14 in verses 39-40. Prophecy is more important than tongues, but the church should not prohibit the correct exercise of the gift of tongues. The purpose of spiritual gifts is the edification of the whole church, and therefore, gifts must be exercised in an orderly manner. Public worship must be carried on “in a seemly manner,” that is, with beauty, order, and spiritual motivation and content.

Before leaving this chapter, it might be helpful to summarize what Paul wrote about the gift of tongues. It is the God-given ability to speak in a known language with which the speaker was not previously acquainted. The purpose was not to win the lost, but to edify the saved. Not every believer had this gift, nor was this gift an evidence of spirituality or the result of a “baptism of the Spirit“.

Only three persons were permitted to speak in tongues in anyone meeting, and they had to do so in order and with interpretation. If there was no interpreter, they had to keep silent. Prophecy is the superior gift, but tongues were not to be despised if they were exercised according to Scripture.

When the foundational work of the Apostles and prophets ended, it would seem that the gifts of knowledge, prophecy, and tongues would no longer be needed. “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease” (1 Cor 13:8). Certainly God could give this gift today if He pleased, but I am not prepared to believe that every instance of tongues is divinely energized.

Nor would I go so far as to say that all instances of tongues are either satanic or self-induced.

It is unfortunate when believers make tongues a test of fellowship or spirituality. That in itself would alert me that the Spot would not be at work. Let’s keep our priorities straight and major on winning the lost and building the church.

ConclusionI Corinthians 16:13





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