Prophecy beats tongues as a spiritual gift
- 14:1 Follow love wherever it goes. But along the way, eagerly hope you get to experience some spiritual gifts—especially the gift of prophecy.
- 14:2 If you have the gift of speaking in the heavenly language called tongues,1 you don’t use that gift to talk to people. You use it to talk to God. People won’t have any idea what you’re saying. Yet God’s Spirit is giving you the ability to talk about mysteries.2
- 14:3 Prophecy is a different gift altogether. When you prophesy, you’re talking to other people. You’re giving them strength, encouragement, and comfort.
- 14:4 If you speak in tongues that no one else understands, you promote yourself. But if you prophesy, you promote the church.
- 14:5 Let me make this as clear as I can. I wish all of you could talk in the heavenly language of tongues. But given a choice, I’d rather you prophesy. Here’s the reason. When you prophesy, you’re helping the church grow stronger. That doesn’t happen when you speak in tongues—unless someone translates what you’re saying, so your words can help the church.
- 14:6 Here’s the reality, dear family. If I come to visit you and I stand up and start talking in a heavenly language that no one understands, what good does that do you? How are you going to get any spiritual help unless I pass along some of the insights God has given me, or some knowledge I have, or a prophecy, or a teaching that you need to hear about?
- 14:7 Think of it this way. What if you’re listening to someone playing a musical instrument, such as a flute or a harp, but every note you hear sounds alike? How would you be able to tell what song they’re playing?
- 14:8 And what if you can’t tell one bugle call from another? How are you going to know, on the brink of a battle, when it’s time to attack?
- 14:9 That’s what it’s like for people listening to you when they can’t understand what you’re saying. You might as well blow your words to the wind.
- 14:10 There are oh-my-goodness so many languages in this world. And every last one of them makes sense.
- 14:11 But if someone starts talking to me in a language I don’t understand, we’re foreigners to each other.
- 14:12 That’s how it is when you talk in the mysterious language of tongues. Since you’re so eager to experience spiritual gifts, go after the ones that strengthen the church.
Heavenly language needs interpreted
- 14:13 So if you speak in tongues, pray for one more gift: the ability to interpret what you said.
- 14:14 When I pray in the heavenly language of tongues, it’s my spirit that’s praying. My mind has no idea what my spirit is saying.
- 14:15 What can I do about this? I’ll tell you what. I’ll go ahead and pray with my spirit. But I’ll also pray with my mind, and with words I understand. I’ll sing praise with my spirit, too. And I’ll sing praise with my mind, as well.
- 14:16 If all you do is praise God with your spirit, what happens when a newcomer shows up? How’s he going to say a hearty “Amen” to the gratitude you’re expressing if he doesn’t have a clue what you’re saying?
- 14:17 Certainly you’re giving thanks. But you’re not doing anyone else any favors.
- 14:18 I speak in the heavenly language of tongues more than any of you. And I thank God for it.
- 14:19 I’ll tell you this, in a church service I’d rather say five simple words that make sense to me rather than 10,000 words in a language no one on earth understands.
- 14:20 Dear family, don’t think like kids do. Get your head in gear and think like grown-ups. But when it comes to sin, be as innocent as a newborn baby.
- 14:21 You’ll find it written in the Bible that the Lord has said, “I’ll talk to my people from the lips of foreigners speaking strange languages. But even then, my people won’t listen to me.”3
- 14:22 So the mysterious language of tongues isn’t a sign intended for God’s people, the believers. It’s for nonbelievers.4 Prophecy is just the opposite. It’s for believers, not for nonbelievers.
- 14:23 So let’s say you church folks get together for a worship service. Suppose everyone starts talking in the heavenly language of tongues. When visitors or nonbelievers show up, won’t they say you are crazy as all get out?
- 14:24 On the other hand, suppose everyone starts prophesying. Then in walks an unbeliever or a newcomer. The words he hears will convict him of the wrong things he has done in his life. And he’ll feel accountable for what he is done.
- 14:25 All the painful secrets he has kept buried in his heart will rise to the surface. Then he’ll fall on his face and worship God. He’ll cry out, “God is in this place with these people.”
How to have a good worship service
- 14:26 What are we supposed to do about all this, dear family? Well, whatever you find yourself doing when you meet for a worship service, do it all for the good of the church. Strengthen each other with songs, teaching, insights from God, heavenly language, along with translation of that language.
- 14:27 If folks want to speak in a heavenly language during a worship service, limit it to a couple of people. Three at most. Let them take turns, instead of talking over one another. And be sure to have someone there who can interpret what they’re saying.
- 14:28 If you can’t find anyone who can interpret, then ask the people not to speak out loud. Invite them to keep it to themselves, speaking privately and quietly to God.
- 14:29 Invite two or three speakers5 to deliver God’s message to the people. Everyone should listen carefully and think about what these speakers are saying to them.
- 14:30 If a revelation suddenly comes to another person sitting there, the person doing the talking should stop.
- 14:31 This gives everyone a chance to prophesy, one by one. Everyone gets to learn and be encouraged by whatever God has to say.
- 14:32 The spirit within each prophet tells them when it’s time to speak and when it’s time to wait their turn.
Keep the women silent in church
- 14:33 God wants us to worship in peace, not in chaos. In all the churches where believers meet to worship,
- 14:34 women need to worship silently. They aren’t allowed to talk. They need to do as they are told, just as the Bible says.6
- 14:35 If they have a question about something, they should ask their husbands about it when they get home. It’s disrespectful for a woman to speak out in church.
Do you think you’re God’s favorites?
- 14:36 Come on now, do you think God’s message started with you folks there in Corinth? And were you the only ones to get it?
- 14:37 If you’re a prophet or another spiritual person of faith, give me an Amen. Let everyone know that what I’m writing is from the Lord. They are his commands.
- 14:38 If you don’t recognize the Lord in this, he’s not going to recognize you.
- 14:39 So, dear family, light a fire under prophecy by enthusiastically speaking out for God. Go ahead and speak in the heavenly language of tongues; don’t tell people they can’t do that.
- 14:40 When you put it all together, keep it respectable and orderly.
See note for 13:1.
It’s unclear what kind of “mysteries” Paul is talking about. But if the person is revealing some of the mysteries known by God, no one is being educated about them because no one understands what the speaker is saying—unless someone translates that person (14:28).
Some Bible experts say by “sign,” Paul was talking about a warning sign, not a miraculous sign intended to point nonbelievers to God. The theory comes from the fact that in 14:21 Paul was talking about the foreign language of Assyrian invaders from what is now Iraq. God punished the people of Israel by sending those invaders. By implication, the gift of speaking in tongues now serves as a warning to unbelievers. One reason scholars say they don’t see the “sign” of tongues as anything positive for unbelievers is because of what Paul says in the next several verses. There, unbelievers say Christians who speak in tongues are crazy.
Paul describes the speakers as “prophets.” Bible experts debate what exactly Paul had in mind when he talked about prophets. Students of the Bible generally think of prophets as charismatic spiritual leaders such as Isaiah or Ezekiel, who received specific messages from God and passed them on to God’s people—who generally didn’t pay much attention. But many Bible experts say Paul more likely has in mind what is comparable to preachers or other religious leaders who teach people about God and about what it’s like to live as citizens of God’s kingdom. Prophets might deliver a message dramatically revealed to them by God in a dream or a vision. But perhaps much more likely, they pass on spiritual insights they have learned along the way.
Some Bible scholars say Paul may have been referring to what God told Eve her relationship with Adam would be: “He will control you” (Genesis 3:16). Others say Paul is not talking about women submitting to their husbands. He’s more likely talking about them submitting to a “principle of order” that God followed in Creation, turning chaos into order.
Paul urges the Christians in Corinth to “eagerly hope you get to experience some spiritual gifts—especially the gift of prophecy” (14:1). That seems to imply we can get a spiritual gift that we don’t currently have. Do you think we come with spiritual gifts embedded into our character, or are spiritual gifts something we can cultivate from nothing more than perhaps a tiny seed?
When Paul writes about “the gift of speaking in the heavenly language called tongues” (14:2), some Christian say he is referring to foreign languages, not to what is sometimes called “unknown languages” that sound like babbling. What clues in this chapter would you point to if you wanted to illustrate that Paul is talking about a language that is not native to earth?
If you’ve had some experience with churches or individual Christians practicing what is generally called “speaking in tongues,” what do you think about it?
Paul seems to imply that some people speaking in a heavenly language of tongues may not understand what they are saying (14:14). In other words, what’s coming out of their mouth sounds like babbling not only to the people around them, but to themselves as well. If that’s true, what sense does that make?
Paul seems to be throwing a wet blanket on the practice of speaking in tongues during worship services in Corinth. “I’ll tell you this, in a church service I’d rather say five simple words that make sense to me rather than 10,000 words in a language no one on earth understands” (14:19). Why do you think Paul said this?
What do you make of 1 Corinthians 14:22, perhaps the most puzzling verse in this chapter? “The mysterious language of tongues isn’t a sign intended for God’s people, the believers. It’s for nonbelievers. Prophecy is just the opposite. It’s for believers, not for nonbelievers.”
When Paul describes what a worship service should look like he says, “Invite two or three speakers to deliver God’s message to the people” (14:29). The literal term for those speakers is “prophets.” Given the context, these prophets might seem to be more like a modern-day preacher or perhaps a layman giving a testimony in church, rather than an Old Testament prophet delivering a message he got from God in a vision or a dream. Which direction do you lean?
As Paul has done in some of his other letters, he tells women to cork it in church. “In all the churches where believers meet to worship, women need to worship silently. They aren’t allowed to talk” (14:33-34). Why on earth would Paul say something like this? Which option below best reflects your gut reaction?
- He got dumped by his one true love.
- He has mama issues.
- He’s reacting to what may have been an ancient version of a women’s liberation movement that was in danger of becoming a distraction for the Christian movement.
- When it came to women, Paul was a product of his patriarchal, man-first culture.
- God told him that women should keep quiet during church worship services.
- What Paul taught then should apply to churches today.
LIFE APPLICATION. Which line from this chapter do you think is most relevant and most important for Christians worshiping in churches today? Here are some contenders.
- “Follow love wherever it goes. But along the way, eagerly hope you get to experience some spiritual gifts” (14:1).
- “Go ahead and speak in the heavenly language of tongues; don’t tell people they can’t do that” (14:39).
- “When you put it all together, keep it respectable and orderly” (14:40).