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Prophesy Builds Up and Comforts the Church
Paul had already told the brethren that love is most important to Christians. Yet, he thought it was good for the Corinthians to desire the gifts that might aid them in furthering Christ's cause. Preaching by inspiration, or prophesy, was the greatest gift. The tongues speaker might be telling divine truths or revealing some of God's mysteries, but only God could understand since it was in a foreign language. Those prophesying could build up the church and help it grow spiritually. They could exhort and encourage. Also, they could comfort their brethren ( 1Co_14:1-3 ).
In the normal Corinthian assembly, there would be no profit to tongue speaking. Prophesy, on the other hand, would help instruct the church. Tongues helped missionaries. Tongue speaking was profitable in that it showed the individual speaking had the Spirit of God. The one speaking may have understood what he said. However, prophesying would be profitable to the whole church since all could understand ( 1Co_14:4-5 ).
One Must Be Able to Discern To Learn
If the people in the assembly could not learn from what was said, what good was the sound? Even in musical sound, there must be a distinct sound made in order to make sense. There are certain rules of beat and harmony that must be followed. A child just playing with an instrument seldom makes a hit record.
McGarvey says, "Moreover, some instruments, such as the trumpet, because of the fixed and established laws of tone, are used to convey a language as well defined and unmistakable as that of the voice. Thus, certain notes on the trumpet command a charge, others the joining of battle, and yet others the retreat, etc. Now, if the trumpet or trumpeter fails to produce this tone/language intelligibly, the army is thrown into confusion" ( 1Co_14:6-8 ).
In the same way, tongue speaking that was not understood by the listener was wasted effort. At best, it was like talking to oneself. At its worst, it could create confusion. Languages are useful only when they make sense. They are not for mere display. Both the speaker, who used a language, and the listener, who could not understand the language used, were as ignorant foreigners to one another ( 1Co_14:9-11 ).
Desire That Which Builds Up the Church
Thus, Paul urged the Corinthian brethren to desire the spiritual gifts that would be most useful. Particularly, he urged them to desire those gifts which would be good for the edification of the church. The word for "edification" originally meant "(the act of) building; building up," according to Thayer. In the church, it came to mean, "the act of one who promotes another's growth in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness" ( 1Co_14:12 ).
If they had the gift of tongues, Paul encouraged his readers to pray that they might be given the power to interpret them. That power could only come through the laying on of the apostles' hands ( Act_8:15-17 ). Such a power would be needed so the listeners could be helped to understand the sense. The one praying in a foreign language could understand, in his own spirit, his prayer. But, his understanding would not profit the congregation since they could not understand ( 1Co_14:13-14 ).
Paul desired that the ones praying or singing should pray or sing as inspired by the Holy Spirit and in a language the congregation could understand. Prayers need to be prayed so that all could understand. Otherwise the congregation would not know what was said and could not affirm its truthfulness. Of course, the prayer would be a truthful one, if inspired by the Holy Spirit, yet, the congregation would not benefit if it could not understand ( 1Co_14:15-17 ).
Paul was able to speak in more languages than anyone in Corinth. Yet, when a congregation was assembled, Paul was more concerned with how much the people learned and could understand, than with the impression his ability left. McGarvey quoted Besser as saying, "Rather half of ten of the edifying sort than a thousand times ten of the other" ( 1Co_14:18-19 ).
Tongues, A Sign to Unbelievers
Paul appealed to the members of Christ's family at Corinth to quit being like children desiring the prettiest gift. Instead, he wanted them to be like men using good judgment to choose the most useful gift. Yet, he wanted them to take a child's approach to differences, bearing not one grudge ( 1Co_14:20 ).
The apostle quoted from Isa_28:11-12 , which was originally used to tell Israel that God would speak to them regarding their stubbornness through their captors, the Assyrians. It shows that tongues were foreign languages. Further, speaking in tongues was not profitable unless it was understood by the hearers. Tongue speaking was used to convert unbelievers, while prophecy was used to teach believers ( 1Co_14:21-22 ).
Obviously, if all spoke in tongues at once, confusion would be the result. Such would drive unbelievers away. On the other hand, if all prophesied, the unbeliever would be convinced of his sin and see his need to respond to the gospel. Feeling the truths were directed at him, the unbeliever would be pricked in his heart (see Act_2:37 ) and would respond. He would feel that God must have exposed his inner thoughts to the prophet and would recognize the speakers as God's ambassadors of truth ( 1Co_14:23-25 ).
It seems there was a large group of Christians desiring to participate in the worship. There were apparently several who possessed each of the gifts. Paul knew it was the Lord's will that everything done in worship to God be done in a manner that would edify. So, he said to limit the number of tongue speakers to three. He directed that they should go one at a time, and only speak with the aid of an interpreter. Without an interpreter, a tongue speaker could not edify ( 1Co_14:26-28 ).
Only two or three prophets would be allowed to speak at each assembly, according to the apostle's instructions. The other prophets were then to judge the truthfulness of the prophecy. If, while one prophet was speaking, another prophet received a revelation, he should make it known so the other could conclude and only one speak at a time. Paul's words make it clear the prophet still had control over his actions. The Spirit did not take over and force him to act like a puppet. Otherwise, he could not have been expected to stop speaking and allow another to begin. All the prophets in the audience were to listen to one another since they could each learn from the different revelations given to others ( 1Co_14:29-32 ).
God would not cause several to speak uncontrollably at once. Instead, the Father caused things to be done so that the church might be edified. God would not, and does not today, cause men to be hysterical or frenzied, thus creating a confusion that would not allow edification ( 1Co_14:33 a).
During the assemblies where spiritual gifts were used, Paul directed the women to "keep silent." This was a rule to be followed "in all the churches of the saints." The apostle presented two reasons such a rule was appropriate. First, he said the law would require women to be in subjection. In Gen_3:16 , God had said, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." By inspiration, Moses had presented God's law in reference to the vows made by a woman. He said her vows would stand unless her father, when she still lived in his home, or husband heard them and overruled her. Clearly, this shows the submission God intended a woman to exhibit ( Num_30:3-12 ).
Second, it was considered shameful for a woman to speak in a public assembly. Apparently the wives of the prophets had interrupted and asked questions as their husbands were prophesying. Paul told those women to quit interrupting and ask their husbands at home ( 1Co_14:33-35 ).
Paul's Appeal To God's Order
The brethren at Corinth were acting as if God's word was revealed only to them and they could tell everyone else how to act. Actually, Paul had brought them the word. Those who were Spirit inspired would have been able to confirm Paul's Spirit inspired message as truth. We may test the messages of men who claim the Holy Spirit today by comparing it to New Testament revelation ( 1Co_14:36-37 ).
If anyone showed his ignorance by failing to recognize Paul's inspired message as truth, then the brethren needed to waste no time trying to correct them since they were willfully ignorant. Paul told them to desire the gift of prophecy, but not to look down on those who spoke in tongues. All the gifts were to be used in an orderly way since God is not the author of confusion ( 1Co_14:38-40 ; 1Co_14:33 ).
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11