Paul highlights the Importance of Prophesy over Tongues Part 3
1 Corinthians 14:4-5 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spoke with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. KJV
Paul affirms that the person who is enabled by God the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues (another language) does by some way (known by God alone) edify (oikodome) or build themselves up when speaking in tongues and we must remember this is being written by Paul who declared to these Corinthian believers that he spoke in tongues more than any of them. Also we must remember that none of these Corinthian believers (according to any text in the entire letter) were Apostles nor had any of them seen our Lord Jesus Christ. Some commentators have in the past acclaimed Paul’s words here in the verse of “edifies himself” to mean that he or she is built up only as they are simultaneously empowered by the Holy Spirit to interpret what they are speaking, but this is not what Paul says here, he writes of no ability being given by God the Holy Spirit to understand what language is being spoken by the speaker at all, for Paul writes this just nine (9) verses ahead in this letter keeping with his theme of the best spiritual gifts edify or build up Christ Mystical Body and so he says, “Therefore, let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful” (1 Corinthians 14:13-14).
What Paul carries on from this verse 4 to what we read here in verses 13 and 14 is that, every spiritual gift given by God the Holy Spirit to any believer is for the profit and benefit of Christ Whole Body and not for one person or a few people, therefore Paul is saying, using the Greek word dia which means with this fact or reason or on this account of the Spirit’s desire in mind, the person speaking in tongues should earnestly pray for the Spirit to impart interpretation to him or her of what they have uttered. Paul does not declare that the Holy Spirit will at all times give understanding to the speaker and this is why he instructs them to not speak in such a manner “in the church” unless they have prayed and received understanding from God the Holy Spirit they will be only doing as he says here, “So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air” (1 Corinthians 14:9). Listen to what Albert Barnes (1798-1870) had to say about this verse, “That is, the truths which are communicated to him by the Spirit, and which he utters in an unknown language, may be valuable, and may be the means of strengthening his faith, and building him up in the hopes of the gospel, but they can be of no use to others. His own holy affections might be excited by the truths which he would deliver, and the consciousness of possessing miraculous powers might excite his gratitude. And yet, as Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) has well remarked, there might be danger that a man might be injured by this gift when exercised in this ostentatious manner.”
This is exactly what the Corinthian believers were doing and in excess and no one was being edified or built up because no understanding was being gained by anyone. Again this is further confirmation why Paul exhorts and encourages them to seek after the gift of prophesy because it does benefit the whole church and not just one person or a small group of people. Paul now goes on to say that he would that they all spoke in tongues and the English word would Paul uses here in 1 Corinthians 14:5 is translated by the Greek word thelo or ethelo and it is a verb used in the passive voice in objective considerations meaning by implication to wish or to love to do a thing. In other words, Paul wanted them to be gifted by God the Holy Spirit to speak with tongues or in other languages that they had never known or learned, but like what we see being manifested today by way of satan’s counterfeit with the barking like dogs, howling like wolves, laughing uncontrollably, etc., Paul knew then that satan could do and was perhaps doing even those same things then among these Corinthian believers in order to bring about chaos and confusion which is the opposite of God’s Nature and Order and lead them away from true worship.
Like Moses declared to the people of Israel in Numbers 11:29 that he would that all the people of God prophesied, so in a sense Paul declares the same to these Corinthian believers about the gift to speak in tongues, but he declares he rather (same word he used in 1 Corinthians 14:1) (Greek word mallon which means more, or to a greater degree, or more willingly, or more readily) that they would prophesy. Paul declares the man who prophecies is the “greater” and this English word is translated by the Greek word meizon which means more or larger or greatest or elder in seniority. The person with the gift of prophesy is counted over or held in higher regard because his gift is used and exercised in preaching, teaching, or writing (as Paul did each one of these things brilliantly) for the benefit or profit of many who will listen to them, learn from them, and labor over their words in print with the purpose of maturing in their faith and being victorious over sin and satan. Paul does give one exception to this rule and that is the person who speaks in tongues or other languages and is at the same time gifted with the ability to interpret what they have spoken is on equal par with the one who prophecies because he too can do the same thing of proclaiming to many the Wisdom of God.
“This gift was of course communicated, not as a permanent acquisition, to fit men to preach the Gospel in foreign countries, but merely as a temporary impulse to utter words which to themselves had no meaning. All spiritual gifts seem to have been inconstant in their influence. Paul had the gift of healing, and yet he ‘left Trophimus at Miletum sick’; his dear friend Epaphroditus was sick nigh unto death without Paul being able to help him; and when Timothy was unwell, he did not cure him by miracle, but by a very commonplace prescription. So, too, when a man by study and practice acquires the use of a foreign tongue, he has command of that language so long as memory lives and for all purposes; but this ‘gift of tongues’ was only available ‘as the Spirit gave utterance’ to each, and failed to communicate a constant and complete command of the language. It is not to be supposed therefore that this gift was bestowed in order to enable men more easily to proclaim the Gospel to all races. And at no period of the world’s history was such a gift less needed, Greek and Latin being very generally understood throughout the Roman world. Perhaps more persons grew up bilingual in that day than at any other time.” From the Expositor’s Bible Commentary 1887-1896
“If then this gift was intermittent and did not qualify its possessor to use a foreign language for the ordinary purposes of life or for preaching the Gospel, what was its use? It served the same purpose as other miracles; it made visible and called attention to the entrance of new powers into human nature. As Paul says, it was ‘for them that believe not, not for them that believe.’ It was meant to excite inquiry, not to instruct the mind of the Christian. It produced conviction that among the followers of Christ new powers were at work. The evidence of this took a shape which seemed to intimate that the religion of Christ was suitable for every race of mankind. This gift of tongues seemed to claim all nations as the object of Christ’s work. The most remote and insignificant tribe was accessible to Him. He knew their language, suited Himself to their peculiarities, and claimed kindred with them. It must, however, be said that the common opinion of scholars is that the gift of tongues did not consist in ability to speak a foreign language even temporarily, but in an exalted frame of mind which found expression in sounds or words belonging to no human language. What was thus uttered has been compared to the ‘merry, unmeaning shouts of boyhood, getting rid of exuberant life, uttering in sounds a joy for which manhood has no words.’ These ecstatic cries or exclamations were not always understood either by the person uttering them, or by anyone else, so that there was always a risk of such utterances being considered either as the ravings of lunatics, or, as in the first instance, the thick and inarticulate mutterings of drunkards. But sometimes there was present a person in the same key of feeling whose spirit vibrated to the note struck by the speaker, and who was able to render his inarticulate sounds into intelligible speech. For as music can only be interpreted by one who has a feeling for music, and as the inarticulate language of tears, or sighs, or groans can be comprehended by a sympathetic soul, so the tongues could be interpreted by those whose spiritual state corresponded to that of the gifted person.” From the Expositor’s Bible Commentary 1887-1896
“To speak in any language that someone has never learned can only be imparted by God the Holy Spirit to that person because God knows all human language (for He created it) and He also knows all angelic language (1 Corinthians 13:1) (He also created it), but speaking a language whether human or angelic if someone does not understand it himself is of no use or benefit to anyone outside of himself as Paul declares and is equivalent to speaking into the air (1 Corinthians 14:9). Question: Do I believe that God the Holy Spirit is still enabling people to speak in tongues or other languages they have never learned? Answer: Yes, but I likewise believe of all the “spiritual gifts” this is the number one that has been and is still being corrupted by the devil.” Clifford D. Tate, Sr.
If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ and His amazing healing power, pray this from your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ (you speaking directly to Him), Dear Lord Jesus, I confess to You that I am a sinner and I need Your forgiveness. I believe You shed Your Blood and died for my sins. I believe that You rose from the dead proving that You alone are God. I repent of my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I ask You Dear Lord Jesus to come into my heart and take control of my life. I want You to be my Lord, Savior, and my God. Amen...
Sincerely in Christ,
Clifford D. Tate, Sr.
Author of “Silent Assassins of the Soul - Are you Broken by Pornography and Masturbation? You can be Restored by the Lord Jesus Christ and brought into Deliverance, Freedom, and Victory! A Guide for Men and Women in the Enemy’s Crosshairs” e-book available now @ Amazon Kindle, @ Apple I Bookstore for IPod, Barnes and Noble for Nook, Reader Store for Sony Reade, Kobo, Copia, Gardners, Baker and Taylor, and eBookPie…