The Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues – 1 Corinthians 14

Good morning! It is so good to be back with you. I had an incredible time in Massachusetts learning and getting to know my cohorts and sight-seeing around some of our nation’s most hallowed ground religiously speaking, but I missed being here with you. I have heard great things about your time in worship together as Dr. Jon Wood from Cedarville spoke on 1 Corinthians 13 a few weeks ago and HeartSong led in worship two weeks ago. And of course I was incredibly blessed and excited to hear the camp reports from our youth and children’s ministries last Sunday, but I have missed preaching and I am glad to be back this morning. I have to tell you that as I learned about some of the history of the revivals that took place in the New England area I learned that many of history’s great revivals began with young people and it was so encouraging to hear and see the excitement of our own young people last week. I want to thank you for being a church that understands the importance of valuing and investing in young people – not all churches do that.


This morning we will be getting back into our study of 1 Corinthians after a couple of weeks off. Let me remind you of the context of what we’re studying currently. Throughout this epistle Paul has been trying to encourage and correct the church as they had turned astray from following his teachings. We have heard him rebuke them concerning going after worldly wisdom rather than spiritual wisdom, their lack of unity, sexual immorality, lawsuits among themselves, marriage, eating good sacrificed to idols, and how to correctly use their freedom in Christ. That got us through chapter 10, and then beginning in chapter 11 Paul addressed propriety in worship. He confronted the women who were dressing immodestly in worship, he gave instructions for the Lord’s Supper, and then he began teaching about spiritual gifts, which is where we currently are. We looked at the variety of spiritual gifts and the unity of the body of Christ that should come forth as we work together within the church to bring glory to Christ and build each other up in chapter 12. Then we saw as Dr. Wood preached, that Paul discussed how love undergirds all of the spiritual gifts. He said that without love our service within the body of Christ through spiritual gifts is worthless. We must have the right motives as we serve because God doesn’t need our service, rather, He wants our hearts. As we use the gifts He has given us our hearts should grow to be more like His as the orientation of our lives becomes more “others-focused” and “Kingdom-focused” rather than self-oriented. It is from this same angle that Paul writes chapter 14 which we will be looking at today.


In chapter 14 Paul confronts the Corinthians about their use of the gift of tongues. As we have seen before with the Corinthians we find once again that their motives were not on target. They loved a good show and they tended to be rather self-centered and those weaknesses came about in the midst of using their spiritual gifts as well. As usual we need to understand the background that the people in the Corinthian church were coming from in order to understand the problem here. We have talked about this a little before but I want to remind you that they came from a background where they worshipped multiple gods. And their worship of those gods tended to be rather wild. They worshipped through sexual orgies and ecstatic utterances and chants and the like, so as they came to know Jesus they carried some of those practices with them, thinking them to be incredibly spiritual in nature. Because of this, Paul had to reign them in at times and remind them how the worship of Yahweh was different.

Now, before we dive into this chapter let me explain something. This is really THE chapter on speaking in tongues in Scripture. It is mentioned elsewhere, but this chapter talks more about tongues than any other chapter in Scripture. I told you as we studied chapter 12 that I would try to answer all of your questions about speaking in tongues as we got to this chapter and I hope to do so today. However, I want you to understand that this chapter is actually more about the gift of prophecy than the gift of speaking in tongues. Paul corrects the Corinthians use of tongues in this chapter and he teaches how that gift is and is not to be used, but really he is trying to convince them to focus more on the gift of prophecy than the gift of tongues. As that is the case, that’s what I am going to preach on. I don’t want to use a lot of our time together this morning answering questions that are not the point of what Paul is writing. That being said I want to help you to find the answers to the questions you have, so I have prepared a question-and-answer sheet that will be passed out after the service. I didn’t want to pass it out beforehand for fear you wouldn’t hear a word I am saying right now, but I do hope that this document will help you as we move forward from this subject. But for now, let’s dive into the text of 1 Corinthians 14.

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues,unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

1 Corinthians 14:1-5


Paul starts by continuing the theme of 1 Corinthians 13 reminding the church to follow the way of love. Then he instructs them to eagerly desire spiritual gifts. Let me ask – do you eagerly desire spiritual gifts? Spiritual gifts are given to us by God so we can help to build up the church by building up others. So let me rephrase the question – do you eagerly desire to build up the church by building others up? Is that something you are actively doing? I hope so! That is what every member of every church should be about because when you began your relationship with Jesus He gifted you for this very purpose. If you’re not doing so already, please let God’s Word challenge you today to figure out how you can help build up this church and build up those who are in it.


Paul goes on to teach the church at Corinth that as they eagerly desire spiritual gifts they should especially desire the gift of prophecy. So what is the gift of prophecy? Let me explain. It is different from the Old Testament prophets who spoke the authoritative Word of God directly. We are not enabled through this gift to say, “Thus saith the Lord.” That was the job of the Old Testament prophets and in the New Testament the Apostles took over that role, but now the canon of Scripture is completed. This gift of prophecy is the ability to receive a divinely inspired message and deliver it to others in the church. However, as Paul will warn in this chapter, these inspired words are spoken in human words through a human mind so they must be tested against the Scriptures (1 Thess. 5:20-21). The Holy Spirit gives the gift of prophecy to some believers to make God’s heart and will known and to edify (or build up) the church. Those with this gift should be humble and continually study the Scriptures in order to test these revelations before speaking them. They must also allow and even expect others to weigh what is said against the Scriptures and interpret the message accordingly.

Paul explains why he wants the church at Corinth to seek out this gift in verses 2-5 as he compares it to speaking in tongues (which was their favorite gift because it brought attention to them). He says that those who speak in tongues speak to God, but not to men, while those who prophesy speak to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. In verse 4 he says that those who speak in tongues edify themselves, but those who prophesy edify the church. Because of these things, Paul tells the church that if he had to choose, he would rather them have the gift of prophecy than the gift of tongues

Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

1 Corinthians 14:6-12

Here again Paul encourages them to try to excel in gifts that build up the church (v. 12). He wants the Corinthians to understand that while speaking in tongues brings benefit and joy to them individually it is not a gift that builds up the church. He uses musical instruments as illustrations to portray his point here. He tells them to imagine a flute or a harp or a trumpet that plays without distinct notes or a clear call and he says that these illustrate their practice of speaking in tongues. Since they were speaking in unintelligible words no one was being built up in the faith, so Paul encourages them to stop focusing on tongues and turn their attention to gifts that build up the church.

For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer,say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.
I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written:“With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people,but even then they will not listen to me,says the Lord.” Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all,as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

1 Corinthians 14:13-25


As Paul moves on here he is attempting to help the Corinthians to recognize the weaknesses of speaking in tongues. He starts off by telling them to pray that God would give them the gift of interpretation to go along with speaking in tongues because when the pray in tongues their spirits are communing with God but their minds are unfruitful. Because of this, he instructs them to pray and sing not only with their spirits, but with their minds as well. Otherwise he asks, “How can those around you say, ‘Amen’ if they don’t know what you’re saying?” In verse 17 Paul flatly explains that in their use of tongues others are not built up.

He goes on to state strongly in verse 19 that he would rather speak 5 intelligible words to instruct others than 10,000 words in a tongue. To add to this strong statement he calls their attitude regarding tongues childish! He instructs them in verse 20 to stop acting like children and begin thinking like adults. What do you think this means? What is the primary thought process of children? Selfishness. It’s all about me, right?! Paul is saying stop focusing on yourselves and start focusing more on building others up!

Additionally he explains in verse 22 that the gift of tongues is not necessarily for the church anyway because this gift was given as a sign for unbelievers. Once again he returns to a comparison of prophecy and tongues and concludes that prophecy is more beneficial because when others come into the church and hear a prophecy they will be convicted of sin and turn to worship God. Meanwhile if someone comes into a church and hears everyone speaking in tongues they will simply think that they’re crazy. Based on the aforementioned reasons Paul gives the Corinthian church a couple of principles to go by regarding spiritual gifts.

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.

1 Corinthians 14:26-32


The first principle they needed to consider was that as they used their spiritual gifts, everything needed to be done for the strengthening of the church. To ensure that they knew what he meant by this Paul gave specific instructions. When using tongues.

-Only two or three should speak

-As they spoke, only one could speak at a time

-Anytime someone spoke in a tongue it had to be interpreted

-If there was no interpreter, they were to keep quiet

He gave similar rules regarding the use of prophecy saying that:

-Only two or three with the gift of prophecy should speak

-Those listening should weigh carefully what they said (by comparing it with Scripture)

-If someone else had something to say, the first one speaking needed to stop so that only one person at a time were speaking

-As these gifts were used, they were to acknowledge that the gifts were under the control of those whom God gifted because God is not a God of disorder but of peace

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

1 Corinthians 14:33-40


We see the second principle for using spiritual gifts in the very last verse of the chapter. Verse 40 says that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” One of the ways they were to conduct their time in worship together in a fitting way was to recognize God’s order of creation as we studied in 1 Corinthians 11. You will remember that God created things in a specific order so as to reflect the beauty of submission to Him. He made Christ the head of man, man the head of woman, and of course during Jesus’ time on earth, the Father was His head. Through Jesus’ perfect submission to the Father during His time on earth He showed us how to live in submission to Christ as our Lord. Similarly, by giving women the role of submission to men, God is showing the world how that paradigm can be a beautiful thing.

Within the church and the family God has given man the responsibility of authority and headship. As such, when individuals within the church use the gift of prophecy, Paul instructs that the women are to allow the men to evaluate the prophetic message. In this, along with other passages of Scripture, we see that God has given men the responsibility for keeping the church doctrinally pure. We see here as well as 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 that this principle goes back to creation and God’s created order. It wasn’t specific to the church in Corinth or even the first century, this is a principle for all time, so whether we fully understand it or not, we follow it.

But as we consider this, let’s be sure not to misunderstand what Paul is saying here. Taken at face value it appears that women can never speak in church. But obviously this is not the case as Paul just stated in chapter 11 that when women pray and prophesy they needed to have their heads covered. So clearly Paul is not forbidding women from speaking altogether, however, he is placing the responsibility of doctrinal purity on the men of the church.

Lastly Paul speaks very forthrightly to the church explaining that what he speaks is the word of God and to ignore this teaching would result in God ignoring the church. So he reaffirms the need to be eager to build up the church and to be sure that they did so in an orderly way.


This chapter is a little tricky in that Paul commands us not to forbid speaking in tongues and he recognizes tongues as a valid spiritual gift, yet throughout the chapter he continuously warns the Corinthian church about using it. This leaves us a bit wary of speaking in tongues but I hope we can take on an attitude of openness with a corresponding attitude of caution.

It’s interesting to note that tongues is not talked about much throughout Scripture. It is not mentioned in the Gospels. It is not seen or mentioned in the life of Jesus. And this gift is not seen in any church except that of the fairly unhealthy Corinthians. It is not mentioned in any of the pastoral epistles. It is not mentioned in the book of Hebrews, Peter, James, or Revelation. So what can we take away from our study today?

-For one thing, we must recognize that speaking in tongues is not normative. It isn’t mentioned often throughout Scripture and therefore shouldn’t be seen as a major part of the church today.

-There are specific guidelines that must be in place when tongues are used. If these are not in place, you should remove yourself from the situation.

-The Bible does not say that tongues have ceased and we are commanded not to forbid speaking in tongues (14:39).

-In light of God giving all believers spiritual gifts, we should all have a passionate desire to strengthen and build up the church.

-God’s giving of spiritual gifts is proof that the church is not about me. God gives these gifts for the health and nurture of His church so that He might be glorified as the church shines His light unto a dark world.

-Church is not only about learning the Bible, it is about putting our knowledge and maturity in Christ to use through service.

-If you are a follower of Jesus you have been given specific gifts and you need to put them to use!

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

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