Online Bible Commentary
Edifying the Church
1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. 6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. 13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is writing this letter to the Christians in Corinth, Greece from Ephesus, Asia (present day Turkey) in A.D. 54-56, during his third missionary journey. These teachings while written to the first century church in Corinth are applicable to all Christians.
In this passage Paul is writing of the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. It is believed that these gifts ceased at the end of the first century with the completion of prophecy, the Bible (Jude 3).
Paul previously stated that the gift of tongues consisted both of speaking in “the tongues of men and of angels” (1 Cor. 13:1). The “tongues of men” was the gift of speaking to others in their own language even though the speaker did not have knowledge of their language, as such was displayed on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
The “tongues of angels” was the gift of speaking the supernatural language of God and translating it so that men could understand what was being said. Angels in the Bible always spoke so that men could understand what they were saying.
Spiritual gifts are to desired but should be applied “in love” (v. 1a). The gift of prophesy was identified here by Paul to be “especially” important (v. 1b).
The gift of tongues was understood only by “God” and not by “men” (v. 2a). It was a mystery even to the speaker’s own “spirit” (v. 2b).
However, the gift of prophecy, as expressed in the Bible, edifies, exhorts and comforts those who hear the word of God (v. 3). The one who spoke in tongues may have edified himself, but prophecy edified the church (v. 4).
Paul wished that those in the first century church possessed both gifts (v. 5a). However, the gift of prophecy was “greater” unless the spoken tongues were interpreted (v. 5b). The purpose of spiritual gifts is to edify the church (v. 5c).
The church was not edified by tongues, but “by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching” (v. 6). For example, the sound of a “flute or harp” can only be pleasing if it can be distinguished by the human ear (v. 7). Also, the sound of the trumpet can only call soldiers to battle if it plays a certain tune (v. 8). In the same way, in order for words to edify the church they must be understood (v. 9).
There are many languages in the world and all are understood by those who speak them (v. 10). However, if one does not know the language, he is unable to communicate with the speaker (v. 11).
In conclusion, the one who exercises their spiritual gift should “excel” at applying that gift in the edification of the church (v. 12). If his gift was the gift of tongues, he was to “pray” that he or someone else present would possess the spiritual gift of interpretation of tongues (v. 13). Otherwise, his gift would not edify the church.