Online Bible Commentary
Understanding the Message
1 Corinthians 14:14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. 21 In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord. 22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. (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’s purpose for this passage is the edification of the church. The church should be able to understand whatever message is being spoken in order to achieve some benefit. They are not able to understand if tongues are used without interpretation.
If Paul prayed in his spirit, but in tongues, his message would be “unfruitful” (v. 14). It would not benefit the church because it would not be understood. So, whether he prays or sings, he should do so in his spirit and in words that others could understand (v. 15).
“Otherwise” the message given would not “bless” others because they would not understand (v. 16a). They would not be able to agree with an “Amen” because there would be no understanding (v. 16b). Others are not edified by the giving of thanks to the Lord, if they do not understand the words being spoken (v. 17).
Paul spoke in tongues and, in fact, spoke more foreign languages than “all of you”, the believers in Corinth (v. 18). Even so, he would rather speak “five words” that would be understood than “ten thousand” that would not be understood (v. 19a). At least his five words could be used to “teach” the church (v. 19b).
The believers in Corinth were not to be “children” trying to impress others with childish things, such as tongues (v. 20a). The only thing they should be immature at is “malice”, sin (v. 20b). They should not be “mature” in sin, but, instead, mature in their “understanding” of the word of God (v. 20c).
In Isaiah 28:11-12 God rebuked the Israelites because of their willful disobedience to His commands. He would bring His judgment upon them by having them overtaken by the Assyrians, “men of other tongues”, men who spoke in another language that the Israelites could not understand (v. 21).
In The same way, the use of uninterpreted tongues in the church is a “sign” to those in willful disobedience that they will be judged (v. 22a). “Prophesying”, proclaiming the word of God, is not for these “unbelievers” who have hardened their hearts towards God (v. 22b). Instead, it is for “those who believe”, believers, who obey the word of God (v. 22c).
Also, tongues are not for “the uninformed”, those seekers who come to church seeking God. They would leave as soon as possible and not come back. They would think “that you are out of your mind” (v. 23).
On the other hand, if there is “prophesy” in the church, the proclaiming of God’s word, the seeker would understand the message and would be “convinced” and “convicted by all” those speaking the word of God (v. 24). “The secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (v. 25).
The Holy Spirit convicts and converts seekers, bringing them into the Lord’s saving grace. However, if His message is not understood His work will be compromised. The church’s message should be clear. Understanding the message should be of prime importance within the church.