This chapter may be viewed as a continuation of the larger topic of order in the church that began in chapter 11. More specifically, it is also part of the discussion on the use of spiritual gifts. In the last two chapters, Paul has laid out the purpose of spiritual gifts and extolled the greatness of love. Applying these key principles, Paul hones in on the relative importance of tongues and prophecy in the church.
Did You Know...?
“Prophecy is a sign” (14:22): In the Greek text, the word “sign” is not in the latter half of the verse, which may be translated “and the prophecy is not to the unbelievers but to the believers.”
- Tongues and Prophecy (14:1–25)
- Prophecy is greater than tongues (14:1–5)
- Tongues are meaningless unless interpreted (14:6–12)
- Spirit and mind (14:13–19)
- Prophecy benefits outsiders who enter the church (14:20–25)
- Order in Worship (14:26–40)
- Taking turns to speak in tongues and prophesy (14:26–33a)
- Women should keep silent in the churches (14:33b–35)
- Concluding words (14:36–40)
What can we learn from this chapter about the purpose of spiritual gifts?Hide Answer
Throughout this entire chapter, Paul repeatedly stresses the importance of building up others (vv. 4, 5, 12, 17, 26). Whatever ministry we are involved in or gifts we have received, we must do all things for the edification of the church. When it comes to choosing between prophecy or tongues in the church, prophecy takes priority because prophecy edifies others whereas tongues do not unless they are interpreted.
How does love apply to what Paul is instructing the Corinthians?Hide Answer
The teaching on love in chapter 13 is closely tied to the topic of spiritual gifts in chapters 12 and 14. To have great spiritual gifts without love for others is useless. But if we have the love of God, we would naturally carry out our ministries with the motivation to build up others.
To whom are speaking in a tongue and prophesying directed (vv. 2–3)?Hide Answer
The one who speaks in a tongue speaks to God, whereas the one who prophesies speaks to people.
Who benefit from speaking in a tongue and from prophesying (vv. 3–4)?Hide Answer
The one who prophesies builds up others in the church, whereas the one speaking in a tongue builds up himself.
Explain the nature and effect of speaking in tongues according to verse 2.Hide Answer
Speaking in a tongue is a form of communication with God. He who speaks in a tongue utters mysteries in the Spirit. We may link this uttering of mysteries in the Spirit with what Paul says in Romans concerning the intercession of the Spirit with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26–27). As we speak in tongues in prayer, the Holy Spirit is in fact interceding for us according to God’s will, thereby building us up spiritually.
Is the practice of praying in tongues during church worship today contrary to Paul’s teachings here?Hide Answer
Paul’s is teaching the Corinthians to speak to others in the church by means of words that people can understand rather than in tongues. Speaking in tongues, unless interpreted, are spoken only to God (cf. v. 28). Paul is not prohibiting the congregation to speaking in tongues to God in prayer.
How do the analogies in this segment shed light on what speaking in tongues sound like?Hide Answer
Verse 9 implies that speaking in tongues is not intelligible (cf. v. 2). Verses 7 and 8 suggest that speaking in tongues produces an indistinct sound. In short, speaking in tongues involves uttering a sound that is different from human language.
What two things is Paul contrasting in this segment?Hide Answer
The spirit and the mind (vv. 14–16, 19).
How do they relate to speaking in tongues and prophecy?Hide Answer
Speaking in tongues is associated with the spirit. When we pray in a tongue, our spirit prays (v. 14). When Paul mentions giving thanks with the spirit (vv. 16–17), he is referring to giving thanks in a tongue, which the hearers cannot understand. In verse 19, Paul changes the contrast to that of speaking with the mind and speaking in a tongue, thereby equating the speaking with the spirit with speaking in a tongue.
Speaking with the mind, on the other hand, is a reference to prophecy. Although this segment does not mention prophecy per se, we may infer that speaking “five words with my mind in order to instruct others” is a description of prophecy.
This segment sheds light on one important difference between speaking in tongues and prophecy. When we speak in tongues, our spirit is active. But when we prophesy by means of words that others can understand, we are making use of our mind.
Why is our mind unfruitful when we pray in a tongue?Hide Answer
When we pray in a tongue, our mind is unfruitful in the sense we are speaking mysteries in the Spirit according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance rather than based on what our mind deliberates. In contrast, when we prophesy, we exercise our mind to formulate a message with proper human language.
How does verse 20 relate to Paul’s overall message?Hide Answer
Being mature involves understanding priorities and being considerate of others. Paul has been stressing building up others in the church as the primary purpose of spiritual gifts. One who is mature would keep this purpose in mind when exercising spiritual gifts in the church and would not focus on his own benefit. Similarly, in the previous chapter, Paul also used the analogy of giving up childish ways after becoming a man to illustrate the surpassing greatness of love (13:8–11). The mature knows that love is our ultimate goal. He would not use his spiritual gifts to impress others or to elevate his own status.
How are tongues a sign for unbelievers and why is prophecy for believers (22)?Hide Answer
Paul cites Isaiah 28:11–12, where the LORD would speak with strange tongues to the unbelieving people so they would not understand what is being said. The word “sign” in this context, therefore, alludes to unintelligible tongues. In this sense, tongues are a sign for unbelievers because they cannot be understood.
Prophecy is for believers because its primary audience is for believers. It contains a message of edification to build up the faith of the believers.
What can we learn here about the presence of outsiders or unbelievers among us?Hide Answer
When there are outsiders or unbelievers among us in the church, our goal is to speak God’s words to them with the hope that their hearts may be touched by God. In our service and other church activities, it is important to consider the needs of visitors rather than only cater to believers. This mindset is consistent with Paul’s teachings on love and doing all things for the salvation of others (cf.
1 Cor 9:19–22).
How does the principle Paul outlines in verses 32 and 33 apply to the use of spiritual gifts in the church?Hide Answer
Being spiritual is not synonymous with disorder. While some people may wrongly equate inspiration with randomness, Paul teaches us that God, who is the author of all inspiration and spiritual gifts, is “not a God of confusion but of peace.” Hence, a true prophet of God would not create confusion during worship. He is able to exercise a sound mind and direct his own spirit in an orderly way.
How would you answer someone who interprets Paul’s instructions as promoting gender inequality?Hide Answer
When teaching the propriety of wives during worship, Paul explains that the head of the wife is the husband because the wife was made from the husband (
1 Cor 11:3, 8; cf. 1 Tim 2:13–14). The instructions for the wife to submit to the husband, however, do not imply the inferiority of women before God. Both genders are necessary and both are from God ( 1 Cor 11:12). In Christ Jesus, there is no distinction of status (cf. Gal 3:28). Instead of despising the wife as the weaker vessel, the husband must love her and honor her (Eph 5:25–33; Col 3:19; 1 Pet 3:7). Hence, unlike secular mentality regarding gender equality, the Bible stresses submission and love. In the same way, the injunction for the children to obey their parents in the Lord does not imply that children are inferior creatures. But it is God’s established order for children to obey their parents and for the parents to provide for their children and raise them up in the faith.
What is Paul saying in this segment about the basis of his instructions?Hide Answer
Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth are a command of the Lord and not just his personal ideas. Anyone who is spiritual or has received a prophecy from the Lord would naturally agree with what Paul instructs concerning order in the church.
Why is order so important in the church?Hide Answer
The goal of worship and fellowship is to bring glory to God and to build up the church. Chaos and disorder cannot accomplish this goal. In the church, it is not merely about being qualified to say or act because someone has the ability to do so. We need to humbly look to the interests of others and not seek our own interests (cf. Php 2:1–11). Even though we have been given certain gifts by God to carry out different ministries, we also have to exercise restraint for the good of the church as a whole. That is how different members of the body can work together so that the body can grow and be strong (cf.
1 Cor 12:12–27).