Paul has just made the case that love is far superior to any of the spiritual gifts. But just so they don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, he reassures them,
1Cor. 14:1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts
So love is superior, but desire the gifts. They are needful and wonderful.
What is prophecy? Many people think that prophecy is foretelling the future. That may be a part of it, but in the New Testament, it is more often the forth-telling the Word of God. Simply speaking the truth of God to people. Verse 3 gives us a good overall picture of prophecy:
1Cor. 14:3 ...One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.
Edification the building up of people. Exhortation strongly encouraging them to love, good works, and holiness. Consolation a reassurance from God.
Prophecy can manifest by a statement of the future, but more often it is simply Scripture spoken as inspired by the Holy Spirit, directed at a person or group of people that God is desiring to reach with edification, exhortation, or consolation.
The gift of prophecy should be desired above every other gift. Remember that the gifts include the effecting of miracles, gifts of healings, and speaking in tongues. Paul says that we should especially desire prophecy above these others.
This is because the church benefits from, and is edified by, prophecy above every other gift. How could the church be more blessed than by hearing the spoken Word of God? Remember that,
Rom. 10:17 ...Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
So the church is built up in faith by the gift of prophecy.
Ps. 119:104-105 From Thy precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.
The church is directed in the proper walk of holiness by the spoken Word. Prophecy has so many benefits to the church. As Timothy was told, it is
2Tim. 3:16-17 ...profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
If you're going to desire a gift, desire the gift of prophecy above all the others.
Paul is now going to compare the most beneficial gift prophecy to the Corinthians' favorite gift tongues.
Tongues are spoken to God. They are words of praise directed to Him. They speak to Him in worship of the mighty deeds which He has accomplished.
Back in Acts 2, Jews that were from all over the world heard the Galilean disciples speaking in their own languages:
Acts 2:11 "we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God."
They were "speaking the mighty deeds of God" to God.
Then in Acts 10, Peter was preaching to some Gentiles in Caesarea, and the Holy Spirit fell upon them.
Acts 10:45-46 And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God...
The tongues were to God. They were exalting Him, lifting Him up, praising Him. As we read further into chapter 14, we'll see Paul say that tongues are prayer, giving thanks, and blessing God. So tongues are always spoken to God, not to man.
Very often, we find ourselves in a situation of either praise and worship, or conversely, in difficulty, where language and intellect fall short of the communicative ability that we desire with God. When praying in tongues, you're no longer bound by your intellectual limitations. You are able to translate pure emotion into pure communication without having to filter it through your limited vocabulary. You don't know what you're praying, but you can feel the heart that it's coming from. In spirit you're speaking mysteries.
This is also an opportunity for the Spirit to intercede for you. Very often, we're in a situation where we don't know how or what to pray. In Romans 8 we read,
Rom. 8:26 And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
So the Spirit can be interceding through tongues as well.
Blessed as this ability is, don't forget that Paul's point is that prophecy is to be desired even above this blessed gifting. Speaking in tongues edifies the person speaking. It builds us up as we pray and praise God. And while that is so beneficial to us, its very nature keeps it from edifying those in the church, because it is not understandable it is a mystery, beyond our intellect and vocabulary.
So there's nothing wrong with the gift of tongues, but the order of church is that we edify one another. And that's what prophecy does. So greater is he who prophecies.
As Paul compares prophecy and tongues, remember that he's not knocking tongues. He says clearly,
1Cor. 14:5 ...I wish that you all spoke in tongues
It's just that he knows how far superior and edifying prophecy is over tongues.
So tongues is mostly beneficial individually and privately. In the next few verses, Paul gives us a few more reasons why.
Someone just blowing into a flute or banging on a harp's strings won't make a person stop and say, "Hey, wasn't that 'Greensleeves'?"
Or soldiers in camp hearing someone blasting a bugle with a horrible BRAAP won't think, "Hey, that's the call to arms!"
So too, Paul says, if you're speaking in tongues that no one knows, it's just noise. Nobody's understanding it, and nobody's being edified by it.
Therefore, in the public exercise of the gift of tongues, there must be an interpretation. It can be someone else, or the person who spoke the tongue. But there absolutely, positively must be an interpretation. Otherwise, it edifies no one but you, and that's out of order in the church service.
In bypassing my intellect, I can pray in tongues for hours, and my mind doesn't understand a word I've prayed. Edifying to myself as that is, there must be an intellectual balance, for I am to love the Lord with all my heart and all my mind.
So Paul says he prays with his spirit and with his mind. He prayed in tongues, and he prayed in his native language.
Verse 15 also brings up the subject of singing in tongues. What a beautiful thing, to sing in tongues. Just remember that the same rules apply if it is done in the public church setting, there must be an interpretation. And balance it out pray with your spirit, but also in English, with your mind.
Again, the emphasis is that biblical tongues are to God. They are giving thanks.
And Paul is making the point intelligible words are superior to tongues. Even though Paul gave thanks in tongues privately more than anybody, he would rather speak five intelligible words in church than ten thousand in a tongue. Mathematically, that means that prophecy is 2,000 times better than tongues in a public church setting.
Paul encourages rationalization with them. "Don't be like little kids in your reasoning." He does clarify that in evil things we should be innocent as children, but in our thinking and logic, we must be mature.
He brings up the fact that tongues were hinted to in the Law (Deuteronomy 28 and Isaiah 28), and that God would use them to reach the people of Ephraim, unbelievers. So, he concludes, tongues are a sign to unbelievers.
In the chapter on tongues, we discussed examples of people being saved as a result of the biblical exercise of tongues. But as tongues are a sign to unbelievers, they can be a bad sign, as Paul demonstrates in the next few verses.
Because tongues are a sign to unbelievers, they should not be used in a way that would confuse and freak out an unbeliever visiting the church.
So Paul tells them how to bring it back to orderliness, and allow God to use the gift of tongues they way He intended. There must never be more than two or three, and each in turn, never at the same time.
He rebukes them for their services being a cacophony of disorder. Everyone came to church and spoke in tongues, interpreted, had a psalm to share, a word to give. Disorder.
There are offices in the church that Paul reviewed back in chapter 12. The highest was that of a prophet.
Notice the distinction between two or three prophets speaking, versus "you can all prophesy one by one." Exercising the gift of prophecy does not make you a prophet. The Bible is clear a prophet of God is correct 100% of the time:
Deut. 18:20-22 'But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' And you may say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
So no more than two or three prophets should speak in a church service.
But the gift of prophecy, everyone can exercise, in an orderly manner. Simply forth-telling the word of God, sharing the Scripture with the body. That will certainly be learning and exhortation for the body, and possibly convicting to a visiting unbeliever.
1Cor. 14:24-25 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
Now when a prophet speaks, there must be accountability. What he says must be judged by the other prophets in the church. Does the word of prophecy line up with the revealed word of God? Is it an applicable portion of Scripture? Does it line up with what God has revealed about Himself to us?
It is so important that we do pass judgment on words of prophecy. If we do not, we can be deceived very easily.
1John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1Ths. 5:19-21 Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
The word "revelation" is the Greek word "ap-ok-AL-oop-sis" meaning "uncovering" or "revealing." If it is revealed that the prophet has spoken something that is not of God, then he should keep quiet. So the spirit of a prophet must be subjected to the judgment of the other prophets.
These two verses have been widely misunderstood by many. And because of their seeming chauvinistic nature, they have been disregarded by many others.
Upon first reading, it would appear that Paul is forbidding women from uttering a sound n church. But remember, he has already approved the woman's right to pray or prophesy in church back in chapter 11.
What we have here is a cultural problem in the Corinthian church with a modern application for us. In those days, the Christian church followed the custom of the Jewish synagogues. Men sat on one side of the room, women on the other side. You will find that in Orthodox synagogues to this day.
Well, when a prophet would stand up and give a word of prophecy, the Corinthian women often shouted across the room to their husband. "What was he talking about?" "What did he mean by that?" "I don't think that was from the Lord!"
So Paul tells the women that they must be silent, that this is horribly out of order in the church.
This was a cultural problem, but certainly applicable to us today. If people are interrupting the teaching or prophecy, they should remain silent in the church.
So, after all this instruction, we attempt to find the balance. We are not to despise prophecyings or forbid speaking in tongues. But the exercise of these things absolutely must be practiced within their biblical limits decently and in order.