“Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives, especially the ability to prophesy. For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious. But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them. A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church.” [1 Corinthians 14:1-4 NLT]
Notice LOVE IS THE GOAL when the church gathers on Sunday or any time. The kind of love that is sacrificial giving and helping others without expecting anything in return. In a local church of one language, PROPHECY [which simply means speaking to others in the clear known language of everyone present] is God’s will as the greatest thing because it fulfills His goal of love, not selfishness, and speaking plainly is the tool that builds up others. The “one another commands” are to be practiced as Christians gather together as the body of Christ. PROPHECY is the public practice of these one another commands, speaking words of “edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” [1 Cor 14:3 (NKJV)]
“… the one who prophesies [who interprets the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching] speaks to men for their upbuilding and constructive spiritual progress and encouragement and consolation.” [1 Cor 14:3 (AMP)] Every time a believer publicly speaks words for these three purposes they are prophesying. God wants every Christian to speak a word of edification [strength, building them up with God’s truth, help them grow], exhortation [encouragement, entreaty to serve and please God—Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary], and comfort [consolation—Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary] to their fellow believers.
Paul instructs the immature church to “EAGERLY PURSUE and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest]; and earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts), especially that you may prophesy (interpret the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching).” [1 Cor 14:1 (AMP)]
“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.” [1 Cor 14:24-25 (NKJV)] A local church cannot go overboard when everyone clearly shares in plain language the love of God through PROPHECY (interpreting the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching).
Also, don’t be confused between our American language and the cultural language of the Bible. God never gave the church preachers! Read it. He gave “apostles, second prophets, third teachers,” [1 Cor 12:27-28 (HCSB) The Amplified Bible makes it clear, “So God has appointed some in the church [ for His own use]: first apostles (special messengers); second prophets (inspired preachers and expounders); third teachers;” 1 Cor 12:28 (AMP)
Also Paul repeats this, “And His gifts were [varied; He Himself appointed and gave men to us] some to be apostles (special messengers), some prophets (inspired preachers and expounders), some evangelists (preachers of the Gospel, traveling missionaries), some pastors (shepherds of His flock) and teachers.” Eph 4:11 (AMP) The Bible calls no one a preacher, but calls all believers to preach the word. “And He said to them, Go into all the world and preach and publish openly the good news (the Gospel) to every creature [of the whole human race].” [Mark 16:15 (AMP)] Who we call preachers, the Bible calls prophets. Same people, different culture. So when you see “prophet” you must understand your preacher in your local church is a biblical prophet.
BUT, “speaking in languages” that are unknown to the people present is so destructive to a local church gathering that Paul orders the immature and out of control Corinthians to contain themselves. It violates the whole teaching of Christ and the pursuit of “this love” because it is completely selfish to speak a foreign language when no one present knows what you are talking about. This means you get everyone’s attention but for what reason? To show off your ability? You sure are not helping anyone when no one understands a word you say. Only a little child would do this in a crowd.
There were so many, many problems with these new believers that Paul had to run down a whole list of issues they were off in. They were unloving and selfish to everyone around them in the church. Read the whole book of 1 Corinthians to see them all. And remember, the Jewish believers had an advantage. All their lives they studied the Old Testament and knew God, His commands, and His character. So when they came to Christ, they had a solid foundation. But the heathen Greeks were drunken maniacs, immoral sleazy beasts, and full of demonic doctrines from false gods. This immature church was a mess and very confused.
In chapter 3 Paul says he has to talk to them like brand new babes in Christ at best or fake Christians who are still lost souls. They had no foundation in anything. In chapter 4 he had to try to get them to even listen to him. In 5 they had such immorality being lived out openly in the church that he had to soundly rebuke them. By chapter 6 he exhorted them because they were suing each other and fighting vigorously among themselves to the point they were embarrassing Christ. Their relationships were so ruined he had to explain marriage [chapter 7]. Idolatry was so much apart of their lives they did not know how to follow Christ [chapter 8]. Their worship gatherings were a madhouse of gluttony, confusion, and selfishness. They did not know what communion was [chapter 11], and they sure did not understand how to love one another or use spiritual gifts. What a band of wild little spiritual kids this group was, and in need of firm parental control.
So Paul tells them to love as much as you want, but stop speaking in tongues because you are ruining everything Christ intended for them to experience when together. He was saying, instead of sharing and encouraging, you are driving people away from Christ. “Therefore, if the whole church assembles together and all are speaking in ⌊other⌋ languages and people who are uninformed or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” [1 Cor 14:23 (HCSB)]
Remember he already warned them, “He who speaks in a [strange] tongue edifies and improves himself,” [1 Cor 14:4 (AMP)]
Remember, only little kids are this selfish in a public place or large group. So Paul asks them blunt questions. “Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. 7 Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. 8 And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? 9 It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space.” 1 Cor 14:6-9 (NLT) They were wasting everybody’s time, frustrating each other and no one learned anything!
Another note, Paul is not saying they have some angelic language, he is speaking of known languages of the world, just not known to their local church. For example, if someone came and publicly spoke Russian in my local church no one would be blessed or helped. We would all stare into space. “There are many different languages in the world, and every language has meaning. 11 But if I don’t understand a language, I will be a foreigner to someone who speaks it, and the one who speaks it will be a foreigner to me. 12 And the same is true for you. Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church.” [1 Cor 14:10-12 (NLT)]
When Paul gathered with any local church he spoke the local language, not in tongues. “Therefore the person who speaks in another language should pray that he can interpret. 14 For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you praise with the spirit, how will the uninformed person say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may very well be giving thanks, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in other languages more than all of you; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, in order to teach others also, than 10,000 words in another language. 20 Brothers, don’t be childish in your thinking, but be infants in regard to evil and adult in your thinking.”1 Cor 14:13-20 (HCSB)
This plainly means that he spoke in tongues in the world, not the church gatherings, spreading the truth of Jesus as a sign to unbelievers. But he did not see the need to speak in tongues in the local church of people with the same language, it was childish to do this. Why would he waste their time, speak in tongues, and then interpret, to show off his wonderful apostolic gifts?
And finally, like immature children, Paul tells them if they cannot control themselves go to their own rooms until they can behave in love. “But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God.” [1 Cor 14:28 (HCSB)]
Everything inside the Corinthian church was in an uproar. But note carefully, Paul does not tell them to go home and speak in tongues to God in their closet. So why be silent in the church gathering? Because it was disruptive and selfish. But why speak to yourself? If you could not interpret it, you would not understand what you were saying unless you fully understood the language? Does Paul really mean go home and talk to yourself, or stop disrupting the church? How would you answer yourself?
And also, why would you leave the church gathering and talk to God in a language you did not understand? What would happen? You would have no relationship with God, but instead just blab noises like a little baby. Why not think or speak to God normally so you can have a real conversation like an adult? It’s true only God would understand a language you did not. But that is not really fellowship with God if you are totally ignorant of what you are saying. Isn’t this why Paul says tongues were given by God to be a sign for unbelievers not for yourself? [1 Corinthians 14:22 and read my note WHAT IS SPEAKING IN TONGUES? ]
Now on the other hand, if you did actually understand, say for example the Russian language, then, of course, go home and sing, pray and praise the Lord in that language. But don’t waste the English speaking church’s time with outbursts of Russian prayer when you could just as easily pray in English. And far better why not follow the example of the early church and find some Russian speaking people and share the good news, and let them give glory to God that He supernaturally gave you a mighty gift to shower God’s blessings upon them.
Although this church was blind to what they were buried under, it was a very specific issue that was ruining them, and we must learn from them and apply the same principles of selfless love and maturity to solve our conflicts.
1/ So in the Corinthian church, filled with immature believers, what needed to change? First, they needed to stop acting like little kids and take turns, one by one, whether sharing in their known language, or unknown. Paul demanded that they become polite and give everybody a turn! They were so out of control at every level of their lives it was frustrating for everybody. Even the women were disruptive and interrupting the person speaking.
They needed mature and loving leadership to parent them spiritually. They were so extreme in their actions that they needed to be firmly taught what love really looked like. They needed to be planted, watered and rooted in God’s love. Deception, false doctrine, and ungodly attitudes needed to be pulled out of their thinking and replaced with Biblical understanding. The great fact is that the true believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit and He quickly gives His grace (holy desires and supernatural strength to change) inside them while faithful teachers share Biblical principles.
Paul explained the process that the Corinthians needed.
Ephesians 3:17-21 (NLT)
17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.
18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.
19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.
21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
2/ There seemed to be a competition or talent show of tongues with so many overpowering the meetings that guests thought they were crazy. Paul reminded them, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” So Paul demanded they could all plainly prophecy [strengthening others, encouraging them, and comforting them] as much as they wanted, one at a time, but not to allow tongues to confuse everybody. Instead, only at the most 2-3 people were allowed, if and only if a real language interpreter was available, and then that was it.
3/ He stopped the “immature children” from destroying the public meetings of the church without crushing their childlike enthusiasm. He knew maturity would change their thinking and they would slowly “get it” and eventually use their gifts, possessions, and languages to share the truth with the lost world that awaited their love just like the first disciples in Acts 2.
4/ Apply these principles to your local church. Grow up and pursue love, by helping and encouraging those around you. “Don’t act out of selfish ambition or be conceited. Instead, humbly think of others as being better than yourselves. Don’t be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others. Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” [Phil 2:3-5 (GW)]
It is a lot to learn, and no it is not easy. But, be a part of the solution, not the problem.