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The gift of tongues (14:1-25)
In the light of his teaching on the variety of spiritual gifts and the importance of love, Paul now considers the problem that had arisen in the Corinthian church concerning tongues. The gift is allowable, but prophecy is preferable. This is because those who speak in tongues speak to God, not to their fellow worshippers, and therefore are of spiritual help only to themselves (unless someone interprets for them). Prophets, however, speak to all and so build up the whole church (14:1-5). (GNB calls prophets ‘those who proclaim God’s message’, since they passed on to the people the revelation that God gave specifically to them.)
It would be pointless if Paul came to the Christians in Corinth and spoke in tongues that no one understood. It would be much better to give them some revelation or teaching in their own language, so that they could learn from it and be built up spiritually (6).
Paul follows with two illustrations to emphasize the importance of speaking in a way that means something to the hearers. The purpose of playing a musical instrument is to get a tune out of it, not to make a meaningless noise. The purpose of blowing a bugle on the battlefield is to alert the soldiers to prepare for battle (7-8). Likewise with speech the purpose is to be understood. Tongues that no one understands are as useless to the hearers as a foreign language that they have never heard before (9-11). Christians should desire those gifts that are going to be of help to others in teaching them and building them up in the faith (12).
If people have the gift of tongues, they should pray also for the gift to interpret them. Their mind as well as their spirit will then benefit, because they pray and sing with understanding (13-15). They should think also of others in the church. If the hearers do not understand what the speaker is saying, they can neither benefit from it nor express their support for it (16-17). Paul is thankful to have the gift of tongues, but in the church he would rather speak in ordinary language that will instruct and strengthen the hearers (18-19).
The Corinthians’ love for the spectacular shows that they are childish in their thinking. It is good to have the innocence of childhood concerning evil, but in their minds they must be mature adults (20). In one famous Old Testament event, the strange speech of the Assyrian invaders was a sign to God’s unfaithful people of coming judgment. In a similar way tongues may be a warning of God’s judgment to those who stubbornly refuse to trust in him (21-22a; cf. Deuteronomy 28:49; Isaiah 28:11-23.28.12). Prophecy, by contrast, strengthens the hearts of believers with a message from God (22b).
If those who know nothing about Christianity come into a Christian meeting where various people are speaking in different tongues, they may think that the speakers are mad. But if the speakers are prophesying, God’s word may speak to the hearers and bring them to know God (23-25).
Order and upbuilding (14:26-40)
At the meetings of the Corinthian church, the Christians came prepared to take part in the service in a variety of ways. The guiding rule was that everything was to be spiritually helpful (26). But confusion arose because several spoke in different tongues at the same time, often with no interpreter. Paul says that if no interpreter is present, they must keep quiet. Even if an interpreter is present, they must speak in turn, and then no more than two or three (27-28).
Similar instructions are given to prophets. They must restrict their participation to two or three, and the hearers must examine what is said and not accept it blindly (29). The prophets must keep control of themselves and make sure that everything is orderly and of value to the hearers (30-33). The women must be orderly too. It is not their job to instruct the church or question the preacher. They can discuss their questions with their husbands at home (34-35). The Corinthians must not get the idea that there are special rules of conduct just for them (36).
Some of the Corinthians thought they had the special gift of being able to tell what was of God and what was not. Paul suggests that if this is the case, they should show it by acknowledging that what he is saying comes from God (37-38). Although they should not disallow tongues, they should positively encourage prophecy. Above all, everything must be orderly and helpful to the spiritual upbuilding of the church (39-40).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent