1 Corinthians 14: Building up the Church
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul has a lot to say about speaking in tongues. Personally, I’m not sure that he is speaking about tongues in the sense that we understand it today in the Pentecostal setting. I think back to the day of Pentecost, and the apostles were able to speak in tongues that were actually understandable languages. For their missionary ventures, they needed to be able to reach the world in a variety of languages, so it seems to make sense to me that they would have received this type of miraculous gift of communication. I don’t want to start the debate over that though because it is not in my opinion overly relevant to the main point I want to draw out of this passage.
Part of me says that is what Paul is referring to in this passage sees it was clearly a very important moment in the early church. That would have been relevant to all of his audience, and we know that that indeed happened. However, even if Paul is talking about speaking in tongues in the sense that our modern Pentecostal brothers and sisters experience that, we are cautioned that we cannot become wrapped up in either form this gift.
1Co 14:2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
1Co 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
1Co 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
1Co 14:5 I would that ye all spake 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.
Paul did not have a problem with people speaking in tongues in whichever sense he meant to use that phrase, but he was more determined to build up the church. It was great to have this particular gift, but it was more important to be able to build up the church in some way.
Whether the language was earthly or spiritual, if nobody understood it, it wasn’t going to be a very much benefit to the people around. That makes sense.
I guess for us today then be obvious application that we might have a variety of gifts. There are plenty of gifts in the church, but it is not simply enough for us to have them. We need to use them in a way that benefits the rest of the body of Christ. As we have seen earlier, when we work together, we build a comprehensive whole that can do the work of God around the world.