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1 Corinthians chapter 14

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New International Version

New American Standard Bible

Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

6Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? 7And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. 10There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. 11Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. 12Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 14For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? 17For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
New King James Version

What does 1 Corinthians chapter 14 mean?

Paul's instructions to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts began in chapter 12 and concludes here. Between them, the small-but-powerful chapter 13 contains Paul's warning that spiritual gifts are useless if not practiced with love and he included an action-packed definition of what he meant by "love."

Paul begins this chapter with another command to "pursue love," meaning to ardently work to develop that characteristic. By contrast, he tells the Corinthians to desire spiritual gifts, since they cannot be worked for or earned, but must be received as a gift from God's Spirit. In particular, he tells them to want the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1).

Paul never dismisses or discounts the gift of speaking in tongues, but his instructions seem to indicate that the gift was being misused in the Corinthian church services. From the context, we might imagine that many people were speaking in tongues at once with nobody interpreting what was said. Paul shows that the exercise of the gift of prophecy in the church is superior to the use of the gift of tongues if nobody can interpret. Apparently, tongues were being used mostly for praying aloud to God in unknown languages. Paul agrees that this may be encouraging to the one who prays, but it is useless in the church service. If nobody can understand what is being said, the church is not being built up (1 Corinthians 14:1–17).

The gift of prophecy, on the other hand, involved revelation from God to an individual for the purpose of communicating that message to the church. When that gift was exercised, everyone in the room benefited from it (1 Corinthians 14:18–19).

Beyond that, practically speaking, Paul said that it is jarring to listen to others speak in tongues without an interpreter present. It becomes mere noise. Worse, it might scare off unbelievers, driving them more deeply into unbelief. Unbelievers exposed to the gift of prophecy, on the other hand, may fall under the conviction about their sin and come to faith in Christ, recognizing God at work among the Christians (1 Corinthians 14:20–25).

Paul follows this teaching with specific commands about how the Corinthians should conduct their services. He describes it as a series of voluntary presentations, each in turn, one at a time. One might bring a hymn, another a lesson, another a revelation from God by means of the gift of prophecy. Paul says those with the gift of tongues are free to speak, as well, but only if someone with the gift of interpretation of tongues—including even the speaker—is available. In a similar way, those exercising the gift of prophecy should be followed by a discussion among those with the gift of discerning spirits to confirm or deny that the prophet's message was from God (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1). Only two or three tongues-speakers or prophets should contribute each service, with the prophets yielding the floor when another received a revelation from God (1 Corinthians 14:26–33).

Finally, Paul raises the issue of women's participation in church services. He commands that wives, specifically, remain silent and save questions about the proceedings for their husbands when they are at home. Perhaps, these restrictions have more to do with the marriage relationship than the role of women in a service; Paul earlier in the letter allowed women to offer prayers or prophecies if their heads were properly covered (1 Corinthians 11:2–16). The purpose here appears to be similar: to not give a conflicting or confusing message (1 Corinthians 14:34–35).

Paul concludes the chapter by stating again his two essential principles for worship services. Christians in a given congregation cannot claim special privileges or knowledge over other believers. All are subject to the same tests of truth and love. Everything must be done in an orderly and peaceful way, reflecting God's orderly character. And only that which builds up the church should be included, even if some people must keep the expression of their spiritual gifts to themselves (1 Corinthians 14:36–40).
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