Vs. 5, “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.” Question: Why was Paul making such an emphasis on this topic of tongues? Because the Corinthians were elevating the gift of tongues to a very unhealthy way. They were speaking in tongues publicly and without an interpretation (vs. 5, 13). If a church body is unable to know what a person is saying, then there is no edification happening (vs. 5, 17). Paul doesn’t pull any punches when he tells them they are acting childish (vs. 20). He then quotes the prophet Isaiah to illustrate the purpose of tongues. Isaiah prophecied that Israel would hear God’s message by different tongues, but they would not believe. Tongues then are a sign. Question: A sign to who? A sign to the unbelieving Jews. Back in Isaiah’s time, the northern nation of Israel had already been taken captive by the Assyrians who spoke a different tongue. Isaiah proceeded to warn the southern nation Judah of similar fate by the Babylonians (another foreign tongue). Now, at Pentecost in Acts 2, the Jews from all over other regions came literally speaking different tongues (languages and dialects) then the Jews who resided in Jerusalem. Consequently, this speaking in tongues cut at the heart of unbelievers and many at Pentecost came to salvation. Of course, there are those that interpret this reference to tongues as some unknown utterance (vs. 2). I have known and respected believers who side on these two major different interpretations. Some believe that these sign gifts have ceased in today’s time (I Cor. 13). But no matter how we interpret, the bottom line is, Paul is trying to remind the Corinthians Christians to have a far bigger appreciation for the gift of words that can be understood (prophecy)! Prophecy here in the New Testament refers more to the spoken word like encouragement, preaching, teaching, although future prophecy can also exist. I will say, I’ve seen a few state they have the future prophecy gift, but none of those prophecies have come true (Jeremiah 28:9). And in the last half of our chapter, Paul devotes this section to address orderly worship (vs. 26-40) in the Corinthian church. I state “Corinthian” church specifically, because in this passage lies a controversial statement about women being silent in the church (vs. 34-35). As one of my seminarian professors state, the few unclear passages often are made clear by the plethora of clear passages. So in other words, this reference was a very specific issue addressed to the women due to some cultural aspect we are not privy of understanding.
Regarding application…Building the Church. Vs. 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.” Question: Who doesn’t want gifts from God? Any person who wants to follow the Lord should desire gifts that can help them not only in their life, but in the life of others. The Corinthians to their credit were eager for gifts, but the mistake was that they were selfish in the process. Each gift played it’s important part in the body of the church. We are to excel in gifts that edify each other. Question: Who are we to dictate, demand or even pray for any specific gift? My personal thought is that God in His infinite wisdom gives us gift(s) when He needs us to use them. We are to be agents that use them wisely for the time we have. It’s a bit insulting to think that God has given you this gift of encouragement, but you look over at your brother who has the gift of preaching and sulk about it. Let us be people who wisely and with love desire that God would give us the greater gifts that help build His church!