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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-17

Speaking in other languages

1 Corinthians 14:1-17

In this chapter the apostle writes concerning the right use of spiritual gifts and prefers prophesying, or preaching, to every other gift.

1 Corinthians 14:1 . ‘Follow after that love to God and toward your brethren about which I have been speaking. Make love your aim, and at the same time covet spiritual gifts.’ Because love has the pre-eminence does not mean that we are to despise or neglect these gifts (2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 4:13-14). Of all the gifts, the gift of preaching the word (the ability to open the Scriptures and the gift to explain the Old Testament prophecies, promises and types fulfilled in Christ) is of the greatest value to the church.

1 Corinthians 14:2 . The word ‘unknown’ is not in the original Scriptures. It has been supplied by the translators. By a ‘tongue’ Paul means a language not known or understood by most of the hearers. Suppose a person has the gift to speak or preach in another language (Acts 2:4-8) and, whether to show off his gift or for whatever reason, he uses that language to speak to the congregation. He speaks not to them, for they do not understand him. God understands him, for he is the Author of all languages. He may preach, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, great and wonderful mysteries, but it is of no profit, for no one understands him.

1 Corinthians 14:3 . He who preaches to men the gospel of Christ in the common language edifies men. There is an increase in knowledge and understanding. He exhorts them to walk in faith, obedience and holiness. He comforts the people of God who are troubled and burdened. God gives a blessing through the preached word, but the blessing cannot come through a language not understood (Romans 10:13-15; 1 John 5:20).

1 Corinthians 14:4 . He that speaks in a language not known by the hearers may warm his own heart and bless his own soul (if he understands what he is saying), but he that preaches in an intelligible language and style is a blessing to all who hear him.

1 Corinthians 14:5 . Evidently all did not have this extraordinary gift of the Spirit to speak in a language they never learned, and Paul says he would be happy if they did have it. However, more than this, he rather wished that they all had the ability to open and apply the Scriptures to men's understanding; for he who preaches and teaches the word of God in a man's own tongue is more useful and important than the man who speaks in an unknown tongue, unless he interprets what he says, that the people might be edified.

1 Corinthians 14:6 . ‘Suppose I come to you speaking in a language you do not understand. What good would it do you? Unless there is a revelation of Christ to the heart, a knowledge of our sins, his mercy and his will of redemption, a telling forth of his purpose in Christ and the doctrines of grace, my ministry among you would be fruitless.’ Men cannot believe what they do not hear.

1 Corinthians 14:7-9 . When a person plays a musical instrument, he must play certain notes which are set in order according to a prescribed time, or no one will know the song he is playing. The trumpet was used by armies to sound charge or retreat. How will the soldiers know whether to charge or to fall back if there is no clear, understandable note sounded?

‘So it is with preaching or teaching. If you speak in a language no one understands, he will not know what you are saying. You will just be talking into the air.’

1 Corinthians 14:10-11 . The whole earth was originally of one language (Genesis 11:1); but God gave them many languages (Genesis 11:7), so that now there are many tongues and languages, and the words in all languages are significant to those who understand them.

Therefore, if the language is not known to both speaker and hearer, they will be like foreigners to one another.

vv. l2. The Corinthians were very ambitious of spiritual gifts; therefore, Paul advises them to concentrate on seeking those gifts and the proper use of them so that the church may be edified. ‘Seek to excel and abound in gifts for the glory of God and the good of the church.’

1 Corinthians 14:13 . In 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:30 it appears that the gift to speak in tongues and the gift to interpret were distinct. Evidently a man could have one without the other. A man may be able to preach in another language and yet not be capable of translating it into the common language of the people. Therefore, if one speaks in another language, let him pray for the ability to interpret what he has said.

1 Corinthians 14:14-15 . ‘If I pray in the assembly in an unknown language (whether I understand, as some think, or do not understand, as others think), my spirit (by the Holy Spirit within me) does truly pray. But it bears no fruit and helps nobody if no one understands me, nor does it edify me if I do not understand.

What is to be done then? Here is the reply: ‘I will pray with the influence and aid of the Spirit of God, but I will also pray in a language that I myself and others may understand what I say.’ The same thing is applicable to what we sing.

1 Corinthians 14:16-17 . ‘If you praise God and render thanks led by the Holy Spirit, how can the man who does not understand what you are saying worship with you and say ‘Amen’ to your prayer? You give thanks and are blessed, but he is not edified.’

Verses 18-40

Worship in an orderly fashion

1 Corinthians 14:18-40

1 Corinthians 14:18-19 . Paul lets them know that he did not despise the gift of tongues, nor did he discourage them from desiring the gift nor using it. He had this gift and used it in the many countries to which he traveled and preached. He could speak in more different languages than anyone, yet he says that he had rather speak a few words to the congregation in a language they understand than ten thousand words in a language no one understands. If men understand our words, we can communicate to them the doctrines of the gospel and the mysteries of grace.

1 Corinthians 14:20 . There are some things in which it is commendable to be like little children. Children are usually tender-hearted, ready to forgive, willing to be taught, free from pride and vain glory and without guile and hypocrisy. ‘But in your thinking and judgment, don't act like babies; act like mature men.’ His chief reference here is to the way they were acting in this matter of gift, behaving with childish vanity and immaturity!

1 Corinthians 14:21 . There is no reason to be over-excited about speaking the word of God in other languages, for in Isaiah 28:11-12 the Lord says, ‘By men of strange languages and by lips of foreigners I will speak to these people (in their own tongue Acts 2:5-8) and not even then will they listen to me.’ Men are not converted by signs and wonders but by the Spirit and the word (Luke 16:29-31).

1 Corinthians 14:22 . The power of the apostles and other early preachers to speak supernaturally in other languages is not a sign for believers (who need no miracle to gain their attention or to confirm their faith), but these gifts and miracles bore witness before unbelievers that these men were sent from God and preached a message from heaven (Hebrews 2:3-4; John 3:2). Inspired preaching and teaching (interpreting the divine will and purpose of God in Christ) serves to edify believers not unbelievers, who must first be regenerated and given ears to hear.

1 Corinthians 14:23 . ‘If the church be assembled together and all of you are speaking in whatever tongues and languages you are gifted to speak and one comes in who is unlearned and untaught in the things of the Spirit, he will think you are all crazy.’

1 Corinthians 14:24-25 . ‘But if you preach the word in the Spirit and with the understanding, and people are present who are unbelievers, yet who understand your words, it may be that they shall hear the word of God, be convinced of sin, be brought to see the glorious gospel of Christ and fall on their faces in worship and faith, declaring that God is among you in very truth.’

1 Corinthians 14:26-35 . ‘What then is the right and proper order of using these gifts which you have? When you come together in the assembly and different ones have different gifts and abilities, how shall they all be used for the glory of God and the good of the church? All things must be done for edification, instruction and the good of all.’

1. If men speak in another language, limit the speakers to two or three, with each taking his turn while another interprets what he says.

2. If there is no one present who can interpret what is said, let the person keep silent in the assembly and speak quietly to himself and God.

3. Let two or three preachers, who are gifted to teach or preach, speak in the service while the rest pay attention, weigh and discern what is said.

4. If a man is inspired of God to speak, if a message is laid on his heart, then let him wait until the first one is silent, or let the first one be silent and allow him to speak.

5. We are not to sing, preach, or pray all at the same time, but one by one, to avoid confusion and disorder. Men cannot learn or be comforted in disorder and confusion.

6. The gifts, abilities and talents a man has are subject to the man's wisdom and should be controlled by him. God is not the author of confusion, but he is the author of peace, order and wisdom. If a man cannot use his gifts in a sane, orderly fashion for God's glory and the good of all, it is a sign that the Spirit of God is not in him.

7. What has been said before does not apply to women, for they are to keep silent in the assembly. Women are not authorized to teach, preach, nor usurp and exercise authority over the men in the church, if they have a problem to be resolved or a question to be answered, let them have it resolved by their husbands at home (1 Timothy 2:11-12). This is what the Old Testament teaches also (Genesis 3:16).

1 Corinthians 14:36-38 . Here is a sharp rebuke to those in Corinth who thought themselves wise, spiritually grown and beyond the instructions of the apostle Paul. He asks, ‘Did the gospel originate with you? Did the word of God come to you only?’ There were churches in Jerusalem and in other places before there was a church at Corinth. ‘If one among you is lifted up with pride and claims to be a prophet and spiritually wise, he must acknowledge that I am an apostle and what I am writing to you is the command of the Lord. But if any man refuses to own these words to be the commandment of Christ, let him be treated as an ignorant man, shunned and rejected.’

1 Corinthians 14:39-40 . ‘Wherefore, brethren, desire to preach and teach the word. Do not despise nor forbid men to speak in other languages if they are so gifted, but let all things be done decently and in an orderly fashion.’

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/1-corinthians-14.html. 2013.
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