1 Corinthians 14:5-6

In 1 Corinthians 14:5-6 Paul continues to teach on the details around spiritual gifts. Paul was positive about the gift of tongues! Because of the tone of this chapter, it is easy to think he was “down” on the gift of tongues. Not at all; Paul valued the gift of tongues in his own life. “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.” Why did Paul wish everyone would speak in tongues? No doubt, because he knew the value of it in his own life. Paul was able, when praying in the spirit, to connect with God in a way beyond human language and understanding. He could pray, praise, and intercede beyond his human ability to communicate. Paul wanted every Christian to know this same blessing.

Yet Paul also knows that this gift of speaking in tongues, as valuable as it is to the individual, falls short when compared to other gifts that edify the entire body such as prophecy. “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” So why does Paul make this statement of prophecy being more valuable than tongues? As good as the gift of tongues is, Paul sees prophecy as better for the church as a whole. Why? Because He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. And the focus here is that the church may receive edification more than the individual.

Paul’s context here is more focused on what the Corinthian Christians do when they come together as a church than on what they do in their own devotional life. There are things that are powerful for a Christian to do in their own devotional life, which may be disruptive, annoying, or self-exalting for a Christian to do in a church meeting. The gift of tongues is one of those things. It doesn’t have to be if used appropriately and according to the guidance of scripture – having someone who can translate it for the body. But since Paul focuses on when the Corinthian Christian comes together as a church, it is clear why he regards the gift of prophecy as greater.

So Paul goes deeper and talks about how the church can be built up. “Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” Paul describes different ways he might communicate which would be edifying to others.

  • Revelation: Paul may speak of his own awareness of unique inspiration as an apostle. There may have been times when Paul knew with apostolic authority His words were directly and infallibly from God.
  • Knowledge: Paul may speak of his own knowledge, or by supernatural knowledge given by the Holy Spirit. Whichever, the knowledge was communicated in the language common to all, so all could profit.
  • Prophesying: Paul knew he could speak by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with a sense his thoughts and words were guided and blessed by the Holy Spirit.
  • Teaching: Paul could also profit others by speaking to them from the Scriptures themselves, teaching them as was his pattern in the churches he founded

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