1 Corinthians Chapter 14: Ground Rules for Speaking in Tongues and Prophesying

Jan 4th, 2010 | By | Category: 1 & 2 Corinthians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1 Corinthians Chapter 14: Ground Rules for Speaking in Tongues and Prophesying

1 Cor. 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.

Some feel that this verse, which is like a summation, belongs at the end of chapter 13. “Follow after [pursue] charity.” Paul was saying, “The Christian’s main objective, the primary goal, is to attain Godlike love, but now we will discuss a secondary aim, which pertains to spiritual gifts.

Since speaking in tongues is the least important gift, it would be better to seek a higher spiritual gift. The ability to interpret is a step above the mechanical ability to speak in an unknown tongue. If we are pursuing after love, every rung of that ladder toward its attainment is a step of advancement.” Paul was suggesting that the ability to prophesy, or interpret the Word of God, was far more important than the ability to say something in an unknown tongue.

In stating, “Follow after charity,” Paul did not expect the Corinthians to have the quality of love at the start of the race, but he did expect them to pursue it as a main objective. They were to “follow after” the instructions that God has given in Scripture with regard to what love is. And that is the advice for us too. We should follow the instructions to that destination because without love, we would sound like a “tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). Love is the object, the goal, we should strive for in building character. Love is to be developed—it is not an instant gift. We are to attain it to the extent of our capability as soon as possible and then stand (Phil. 3:14).

In the previous chapter, Paul gave a definition of love with various characteristics, but we should not think that all we have to do is practice them—long-suffering, patience, kindness, etc.—for the attainment of Godlike love. If attaining love were that easy, the rest of the Word of God would be unnecessary. Having the characteristics, or symptoms, merely shows progress, for the attainment of perfect love is a lifelong study. Not only is love progressive, but it is something internal; it is not just externally applied. In studying about love in the Bible, we must make sure that we understand God’s concept and that we do not hold onto prejudices and our own misconceptions. The attainment of perfect love requires obedience, and God’s Word tells what to do under various circumstances. We learn God’s love by obedience. Jesus said, “If ye love me, [you will] keep [obey] my commandments…. If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:15,23). “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, [even] as I have loved you” (John 15:12). The Apostle John said, “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments” (2 John 6).

Some who have written beautiful articles on love have included false statements. The following are from one particular article.

1. “Love takes the complexity out of life and reduces duty to one simple primal element of love: to love God and our fellow men. Everything else will take care of itself.” These sentiments sound very good, but they are not enough. We must learn to love; we must grow in our concept of love.

2. “A person may be very deficient in the knowledge of God’s Word, possessing only so much as is required to make one a Christian, and yet be the possessor of this grace of graces.” This statement is wrong.

3. “Hereby if we have love one to another, we know that we have passed from death to life, and so we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This thought is in God’s Word, but it is wrong to assume that we automatically know what it is to love one another. We must study the Word to learn God’s definition of love.

4. “Love expresses tenderness or goodness of nature, benevolence. It is gracious, affectionate.Its expressions are gentle. Its whole bearing is cordial. Love is always good-mannered. Love does not act rudely or discourteously.” The article gives no exceptions. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and spoke angrily on several occasions. Are God and Jesus always good-tempered? No.

5. The article continues with regard to the statement in the King James Version that love “is not easily provoked” (1 Cor. 13:5). “The word ‘easily’ is not found in the original manuscript. Love is never provoked. It never fails in anything. Had Christ even once failed in manifesting any of the characteristics of love, had he lost himself and become sinfully angry, had he been incited to rage, he would never have been the Savior or the Deliverer.” These statements have to be modified. Strong, wrong, and dangerous statements are buried in the midst of a smooth-flowing, smooth-sounding article. The reader or hearer must be wary of words like “always” and “never.” One needs to analyze the substance of what is being uttered or written, not the spirit or the manner of presentation.

6. “Never, for one moment, in the contest against sin and evil or in his [Jesus’] contact with the most wicked people did he ever display sinful anger or wrath in the shame and the spitting [at the time of the Crucifixion].” When the time came for Jesus to die, he was meek and quiet like a lamb, but he was not meek and quiet during the preceding 3 1/2 years of his ministry. When he knew it was time for him to be crucified, he did not try to defend himself, but earlier he spoke strongly to the scribes and Pharisees and did not allow himself to be walked on like a rug. Otherwise, we would not know the gospel.

7. “The most delicate and sacred of love’s ministry is to the erring, and only one who has a very loving heart can deal with the sins of others. Harshness never helps them, censoriousness never heals them, a spirit of judging never uplifts them; but ‘ye which are spiritual, restore such a one that is overtaken in a fault, in the spirit of meekness.’” The Bible does say we should have a spirit of meekness when giving advice, for we are to realize that our character is on the block, as well as that of the erring party, and that if we issue a warning or a condemnation, it will be slanted back to us. However, that realization does not mean we do not give a warning.

In the article containing these false statements, there is not one word about rebuking, warning, or admonishing. The article is 30 pages long, but it gives only one side of the coin. As Christians cultivating love, we should recognize the propriety of kindness, gentleness, etc., but love has other facets as well. In their epistles, the apostles Paul and John both spoke strongly about love, expounding the underlying principles of God’s Word and giving advice.

If this article containing false statements on love were delivered in a soft voice as a discourse, probably almost everyone hearing it would rejoice, but some of the thoughts are dangerous.

We must not be of the class whose ears are “tickled” because they want to hear smooth things. If we once get the point, we will know how to analyze what we hear and read. Many do not stop to think because they are impressed with certain phrases that are scriptural, but very damaging thoughts may be sandwiched in. Since God is love, a mature Christian possesses Godlike love. Incidentally, when the word “love” is used prolifically in verbal expressions as a panacea—as an ointment, or salve—its meaning is minimized.

Paul added, “Desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” Spiritual gifts were to be earnestly desired, but it was better to advance a step higher and prophesy, for that gift imparted understanding. The word “prophesy” is sometimes defined as “to expound publicly,” that is, to explain in understandable language that which is written. This ability was a very desirable gift, for otherwise the speaking was a “mystery.”

A lesson for us is to seek the environment where we can receive instruction. Reading or memorizing Scripture is one level, but understanding is more important, for how can we grow in the love God desires us to have unless we understand what His Word says on the subject?

We need to be in an environment that will lift us up to higher understanding.

1 Cor. 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.

One who had an unknown tongue spoke not to others but only to God; that is, the gift was between God and him. In those days, strangely, the one who spoke in tongues understood the tongue himself. Thus he knew he was communing with God in that mechanical relationship, but of what value was the tongue if he could not transmit the understanding to anyone else? Feeling he was an instrument of God, the individual spoke to himself.

The basic lesson was that if the tongue did not make sense to others, the individual was to keep quiet. If no one understood what he was saying, he should stop talking—and that was true whether the language was a gift or one’s own language. The question to be asked was, Does the language/tongue benefit others? The subject of tongues has multiple nuances, of which we are covering only a few in these studies.

Comment: There were different types of tongues. If no one in the class could interpret the tongue, then the individual himself was to pray for the gift of interpretation. That way the message would not go on deaf ears.

Bible studies were conducted according to the language of the locality where they occurred. If the study was in Israel, the language was Hebrew. In Asia Minor, the language was Greek. Both Greek and Latin were spoken in Italy. In addition to the three languages, there were many hard-to-understand dialects. However, the majority attending a study knew the language being spoken. For those brethren who did not know the language, the study had to be translated into their tongue(s).

Comment: Verse 2 is not speaking about an incomprehensible language.

Reply: That is correct. The tongue was designed to be a blessing, but the only way it could benefit others was if the words being spoken were understood.

“Howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.“ The person with an “unknown tongue” spoke in “mysteries” because no one understood him. The individual understood himself, but his words were a mystery to others.

Whether the person spoke in his native tongue or in a supernatural tongue, God understood it. Speaking “unto God” was speaking in His presence. Paul was saying, “When you say anything, think twice because God is listening to you. If you teach error, there will be a penalty in one way or another.” An example of speaking “unto God” was in prayer.

Generally speaking, those who could miraculously and mechanically speak in a foreign tongue could measurably understand what they were speaking but not the congregation, or at least not all of the congregation. But if the tongue were interpreted and explained in the language that most of those attending could understand, it was beneficial. Suppose an individual who got up and spoke in an unknown tongue understood what he was saying, but no one else in the ecclesia, or perhaps only one other person, understood. To have that gift and what it would lead to was wonderful. However, if only a few in the ecclesia could understand the tongue, it was necessary for the words to be translated again so that all could understand. The party who had the gift of the tongue would be looking for an audience that would understand the tongue he had received as a gift. His search would lead him in an evangelical path of going out to witness to some who could understand, and he would try to bring them into the truth. Thus there were various reasons why the Lord used this method in the early Church.

Through the Holy Spirit, the individual who could speak in tongues understood what he was saying, but he spoke “mysteries” to those who could not understand. The Adversary has cleverly granted a counterfeit of this ability to speak in tongues where the individual himself does not understand what he is saying, and sometimes he unknowingly mistranslates the Word of God. From the standpoint of the fallen angels, the individual makes a fool of himself and actually brings a curse on the Christian religion. If people with these counterfeit tongues knew what they were saying, they would never utter such words.

Paul was giving advice to the Corinthians. Those brethren who had the gift of speaking in tongues were to desire understanding as the second part of that gift. When they got the understanding, they had a truly wonderful gift that was beneficial to others. However, if some today are not living up to Christian standards and do not understand the tongue they are speaking, the Adversary could be using them as a tool. Consider what Satan has done to the nominal Church. Roman Catholic priests are garbed in black, generally speaking, whereas the priests in the Tabernacle arrangement wore white. The Adversary likes darkness and hates the light, for darkness makes his supremacy secure. Not only does Satan have no rivals, but he is far above the other demons because he was originally created as an angel of light, an archangel, in heaven. Now he is the false light in earth’s atmosphere. Error subtly entered the Church, and one by one, all the props of true Christianity were knocked aside. What remained was a false Church. The true Church can only be understood with the Word itself.

Many who speak in tongues today do not know what they are saying. Paul clearly stated that those who spoke in tongues in his day understood the language, and the tongue was known between the individual and God. Of course God understands all languages and dialects and has no trouble interpreting. The individual knew what he was saying but could not transmit it to others without the additional gift of interpretation. Some have a lot of knowledge but cannot convey it to others. The capability of interpretation is also a God-given gift, and Paul said to pray for it. Being able to interpret and explain was another step in advancing toward love.

1 Cor. 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.

Gospel Age “prophets” are outstanding individuals because of their teaching ability. In Paul’s day, one could be a prophet in two senses: (1) as a public expounder of truth and (2) as a foreteller of future events. “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men [not only in the Church but also of the public] to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” Those of the early Church were instructed to go out and make disciples; that was their objective.

Verse 3 gives a logical sequence. “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification”; that is, he has the capability of communication, of clarifying the message. If others know what is being said, they are edified. Next comes “exhortation,” which is emphasizing certain points or giving a proper perspective or balance. For example, if we could not understand a difficult passage of Scripture, the one who “prophesieth” would first explain what was being said. Then he would point out the emphasis in that statement and tell why the statement was made.

“Comfort” is the fruitage or benefaction received by others from the edification and the exhortation. The comfort may not be according to the flesh. In fact, it may be hard for the flesh, but the new creature would be helped and blessed. To recap, first comes the understanding of the message, then the proper emphasis of that message, and finally the benefaction and blessing to the new creature. The natural sequence is (1) clarification of the message, (2) giving the message a properly balanced emphasis, and (3) fruitage from the message.

The one who prophesies has to go through the three processes himself before he can be a blessing to others. For example, Paul said he would like to give others the scriptural comfort wherewith he himself had previously been comforted by God and His Spirit. Spiritually speaking, “comforting” words are truthful and scriptural; they are not necessarily smooth talk that soothes the flesh. Therefore, we should be sure any comfort we give is godly edification.

Q: What should be our attitude toward those who speak in tongues today?

A: The ones who speak incorrectly in tongues usually do not know what they are saying. What they think is glorifying God may actually be curses in a foreign tongue they do not understand.

If one starts to speak in a tongue, we should stop the individual right away and ask bluntly, “Just exactly what are you saying?” If the person cannot translate, the tongue would surely not be from God. However, if the tongue were translated into English, at least the hearers could judge the words. There is probably an occult influence in 99 percent of the cases today. Since that which is without understanding is dangerous, we should not say “Amen” unless we both understand and agree.

Comment: The gift of tongues was commonly given in the early Church as an evidence that an individual’s consecration had been accepted. However, prophecy, a higher and less common gift, really fed the Church, for then a lesson was obtained by all.

Reply: The gift of tongues was glorified way out of proportion. Paul was saying that the gifts had a value, but that value was nothing compared to understanding God’s Word.

Three thousand Jews were gathered following the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. When they heard uneducated fishermen miraculously speak in multiple languages, they realized the tongues were supernatural and holy, for they made sense. The Jews were quickly converted, and they went away edified.

1 Cor. 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

“He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself.” However, he could not edify others, that is, the Church. To be able to speak in an unknown tongue and interpret put one on the level of prophecy. One who prophesied (or taught) did so in the mother tongue, the known tongue, not the unknown tongue. If one who spoke in an unknown tongue could also interpret, then he was up to the level of prophesying. Thus the explaining of a known tongue and the explaining of an unknown tongue were more or less the same in that the whole ecclesia could judge as to credibility and edification.

The primary reason to be able to both speak in a tongue and prophesy was to edify the Church. The secondary value was to be able to go out and publicly expound to those who were in unbelief. Paul was trying to get the brethren in the class not to war against each other, not to be factional, not to show off with their gifts, and not to boast of which leader they followed. In other words, his main purpose was to unify the brethren and to create a good atmosphere for Christian development and growth of the fruitage of the Spirit, let alone for the benefits that would accrue to others through such a ministry.

1 Cor. 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 criticize the possession of tongues in his day. In fact, he said, “I would to God that all had this personal, private experience in understanding,” but he wanted the brethren to go further and interpret and be a blessing to others. “Greater is he that prophesieth” was his thought. Evidently, unknown tongues were the most common mechanical gift back there, but they were also a lower gift. However, if one could interpret as well as speak in an unknown tongue, that was a higher step, more or less equivalent to prophecy.

Paul gave a gradation of value, showing that prophecy is more important than speaking in tongues. But if one could speak in a tongue and also interpret it, he was prophesying, that is, teaching. Thus Paul showed the value of interpretation. Prophecy and interpretation are similar, both being the ability to teach—to understand and to let others understand too.

Paul tried to show that God had not given everyone a tongue, anymore than the human body consists of all tongues. God distributed the gifts, and the variety edified the congregation. The purpose of the gifts was to edify the Church with understanding.

Why did Paul say, “I would that ye all spake with tongues”? If all of the Corinthians spoke in tongues, they would not be examining one another with such statements as “I can speak in tongues, but you cannot.” The Corinthians might even have prayed that their wife or friend would get this gift, but receiving a gift was God’s doing. Paul hoped they could all speak in tongues so that envy and jealousy would not be prevalent in their midst. When an individual consecrated, he got one of the gifts but not necessarily the gift of tongues. However, the brethren misunderstood because more people got tongues than any of the other gifts.

Q: The majority received the gift of tongues, yet Paul usually put that gift at the bottom of the list. Was the problem that since the majority had gotten the gift of tongues, they looked on the minority as either questionable or inferior?

A: Yes, that was the situation. When many brethren were in a class, the majority got the bottom gift.

Q: Did sisters also get gifts or just the brothers?

A: Sisters also received gifts, but since a woman is not to teach in the Church, their gifts were not as pronounced. For instance, a woman could speak with a tongue but in a way that was suitable to her position. Women could expound publicly to the unconsecrated, but the parameters were more restricted with the consecrated.

1 Cor. 14:6 Now, 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?

“Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you?” If, say, another person had all of the gifts that Paul had, the temptation would be to show off how many tongues he could speak. To the contrary, Paul’s purpose was to edify, build up, and be constructive to the brethren. He did not use his talents to call attention to himself, for he called attention to the Word and its meaning and instruction.

When the brethren came together in a holy environment and atmosphere, they expected that those who had the gift of tongues would be spontaneously moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, much like the prophets in the Old Testament. Of course there were gradations in the gift of tongues. For instance, some spoke with better elocution. However, all of the talking was profitless if it was not understood.

Paul wanted to come to the Corinthians to expound further, for they needed more than a mechanical knowledge. When he came, he would adopt not just tongues but a combination of various other qualities. He would use his capabilities in a rounded-out manner for their instruction.

Paul was addressing the brethren, not the public, and to be profitable to them, he would speak by four methods: revelation, knowledge, prophesying, and doctrine. We will consider each method separately in ascending order of development or importance.

1. Revelation. Usually “revelation” is the uncovering of a topic of Scripture that is not understood—the uncovering of a mystery or an enigma. For example, when a topic is being discussed in an ecclesia and someone quotes a very appropriate, right-to-the-point Scripture, a “thus saith the LORD,” that statement is an uncovering, or a revealment, with certainty.

2. Knowledge. A person who has previously studied a particular topic and is personally satisfied and blessed with an understanding can provide an edifying explanation when the subject comes up in a meeting. Having considerable familiarity with Scripture, he is beneficial to the brethren by casting additional light. His explanation has instructional value to the hearers. Therefore, “knowledge” is not necessarily the uncovering of a mystery but is an explanation that provides a depth of understanding of something which might be relatively familiar. For example, Scriptures may be quoted to buttress what is presently being studied, and the individual’s accumulated knowledge is of great value. Thus “knowledge” provides the class with greater depth or fullness of understanding on a particular topic or Scripture they had previously considered.

3. Prophesying. One aspect of prophesying is foretelling future or current events as a seer.

Another aspect is the ability to speak or utter publicly for the edification of others. Some have the ability to teach in a more private fashion, and others can teach publicly, that is, in a larger capacity. In Paul’s day, speaking publicly, or prophesying, required a strong, powerful, distinct voice in order to be heard by a multitude. The one who taught privately might have had just as much knowledge, but he was not suited for public speaking because of his voice. Thus “prophesying” was the next step of usefulness because it extended the range of blessing beyond revelation and knowledge to a small group. Whether considered from the standpoint of future events, the meaning of current events, or speaking publicly, prophesying is more important in its outreach than either revelation or knowledge. Prophesying is more like a discourse or a continuation of thoughts along the lines of teaching, instruction, and the ability to provide coherent understanding.

4. Doctrine. One who teaches doctrine not only gets his point across but also knows the difference between truth and error. He may have the capability to explain, but he must also be able to detect and reject error, untruth, sophistry, and teachings of the Adversary. Satan often uses coordinated truths to teach error. Therefore, teaching truth is based on many Scriptures dealing with a particular point of doctrine. The one with this capability is more pastoral in his influence. He knows the dangers of spending too much time investigating certain lines of thinking. This highest capability is geared for the brotherhood; it is the very marrow of Christian teaching. Those who have this ability to teach sound doctrine are a marvelous blessing. They are elders in a higher sense because they give food directly to the elect (rather than to the public).

Revelation is usually thought of as dispensational and as having current value, whereas doctrine is age-lasting. For example, the doctrine of the gospel, the teaching of Jesus Christ, has been the same throughout the entire history of the Church. Therefore, doctrine has practical, lasting value that gives strength, encourages, and builds character.

Of course the seven messengers to the Church were even higher. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, they were specially raised up to be “prophets,” that is, not just public speakers but speakers whose message was international in influence. Teaching doctrine in this manner includes prophesying but elevates both to a new level that only a certain few individuals have been privileged to do during the Gospel Age. 1 Corinthians 12:28 gives the proper order of importance: apostles, prophets, and teachers.

1 Cor. 14:7 And 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?

1 Cor. 14:8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

Now Paul switched from abilities possessed by humans who, through speech, edified the Church to inanimate objects. He used easy-to-understand illustrations. “Things without life” are inanimate things, such as musical instruments. If a child were to give a blast on a horn, the sound would be meaningless—just a loud noise or mechanical sound without language or content. But if that same musical instrument were to play a meaningful tune, it would convey a message and thus be useful. What is the analogy? When other Christians did not understand the message of an unknown tongue because it was not interpreted, that tongue was just as meaningless as the “uncertain sound” of a musical instrument that had no life. Therefore, Christians were to desire to be a blessing to others.

When a sound is given, that sound must be certain and distinct. Just as a hymn played correctly is more effective than a hymn played with wrong notes, so a Biblical message, utterance, or expression loses much of its effectiveness if it is uncertain because of the immaturity and/or the incapability of the person delivering it.

If a person who is playing a musical instrument hits a few false notes, we may recognize the song, but the person is not adept. The message loses a lot of its effectiveness because of the uncertainty, immaturity, and incapability of the utterance or expression. Therefore, knowledge is important—not merely in the sense of giving a message but also in making the message sharp, distinct, and definite. In short, the message then has value for either good or evil. Some are capable in truth, and some are capable in error. One’s effectiveness for good or evil is based not only on the distinction of the sound but also on the definiteness, or certainty, of the sound. As Christians, we want a “thus saith the LORD” for our certainty. A message given with proper scriptural certainty is greatly to be desired.

The “trumpet” refers to the individual speaking through the Word. In the type, the priests blew two silver trumpets, which represent the Old and New Testaments. In other words, the individual should speak in harmony with the teaching of Scripture. Just as a trumpet should speak with certainty, so the individual should speak with a “thus saith the LORD.”

Paul’s main argument seems to be that even if there is a sound, unless it is a meaningful message, of what value is the sound? Something constructive has to come from either the harp or the pipe, the illustration being the importance of a trumpet in warfare to direct the course of a battle. The sound of the trumpet can be vital, for it has an organizing and a timing influence.

A flute is a pipe with various holes, and it makes sound when blown. Even things without life that give sound are confusing unless one is skilled in playing the instrument. By placing fingers on the holes, the flutist can make a melody, mournful or cheerful. The flute is much like the other gifts. Some are given to exhortation, some are evangelists, some are public expounders, etc., but each has a separate melody or theme. Just as with animate beings who by voice help the ecclesia, so musical instruments, which are inanimate but are capable of making a sound, create a mood if they are played correctly. The singing of psalms and hymns edifies the ecclesia. In very few words, Paul gave a deep explanation of the wonderful gifts and/or fruits of the Holy Spirit. They greatly benefit those on the receiving end.

It does not matter whether the musical instrument is a pipe like a flute or a stringed instrument like a harp as long as it gives a distinct sound in the blowing or the plucking. But if there is no distinction of sound, “How shall it be known what is piped or harped?” Paul’s logic was irrefutable.

“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” Paul continued to talk about an inanimate object capable of making sounds, but the scenario was different with the trumpet—it was that of a battle. The Church fights a battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Sometimes only the individual himself hears the trumpet saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” To be effective, the trumpet sound has to be given with authority. And other inanimate objects have a value as well: the printing press, tape recorder, telephone, etc.— all can be marvelous channels of blessing to others.

The Christian fights the good fight of faith, and sometimes the battle is within the Church itself.

An example is a person who arises with capability but begins to teach strange doctrines. It would be the duty of an elder if one was present—or another brother or even a sister through the question method rather than through statements and explanations—to correct the situation. The Corinthians (and other ecclesias in the early Church) had difficulties with Jewish Christians, who felt that to believe in Christ was not effective unless the individual also obeyed the ordinances of the Law. For instance, they tried to make circumcision mandatory for salvation for the Christian, both Jew and Gentile. Individuals introduced doctrines that were not compatible with the teaching of the gospel of grace and faith in Jesus Christ. The matter had to be confronted and settled doctrinally in order for the Corinthians to grow in the faith.

Comment: Paul was still mainly talking about speaking in tongues. If someone spoke in a tongue that no one could understand, it was worthless.

Reply: Yes, that was the background theme. The Corinthians thought so highly of the gift of tongues that brethren began to measure themselves against others and be judgmental, yet the possession of tongues was like having a baby’s rattle. A baby will do anything to make a sound and attract attention, and if there is no rattle, he will scream. Unless there was an interpreter, the tongue was just noise and had no value except to the individual himself.

1 Cor. 14:9 So 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.

Paul compared the blowing of a trumpet and the strumming of a harp to speaking in an unknown tongue. If the words do not make sense, they should not be spoken. Unless the words are “easy to be understood,” they are spoken “into the air.” It is sometimes said of people who speak without meaning, “Empty barrels make the loudest noises,” or “They are full of hot air.” Such people do a lot of talking, but the talking does not make sense and has about as much substance as wind.

1 Cor. 14:10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

1 Cor. 14:11 Therefore 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.

If we go to a foreign land and do not understand the language, there is no communication with the inhabitants. The slogan “It is Greek to me” expresses the thought. In other words, the tongues all had meaning, but if the meaning was not understood by others, the tongues might as well be gibberish.

Both the instructor and the listener should be edified. The instructor is disquieted if he cannot get his point across, and the listener is frustrated if he cannot understand the message. There is dissatisfaction both ways. Paul was saying that the individual should pray for the ability to communicate. The term “barbarian” is not used here in a derogatory sense to say the person is not a Christian. Rather, the term refers to a lack of understanding. From one standpoint, the “barbarian” is the instructor who uses a tongue that is not interpreted. From another standpoint, the “barbarian” is the listener who cannot understand the tongue.

1 Cor. 14:12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

“Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” The Christian is to seek and desire to edify the Church. Those who sincerely desire the office of an elder desire a good work, that is, as long as the desire is based on zeal and not on pride (1 Tim. 3:1). Brethren sometimes mistake one’s zeal for pride, but there is nothing wrong in desiring to be a blessing to others.

Comment: We should desire to build one another up in the most holy faith (Jude 20), and to do that, we must be able to communicate.

Reply: The desire for spiritual gifts is commendable, but the motive behind that desire is important. The motive should be to edify the Church, not just to make noise.

1 Cor. 14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.

Every consecrated person back in Paul’s day got at least one gift. If that gift was the ability to speak in a foreign language, the individual was to be zealous and to pray that he would also be able to interpret what he was speaking. It is commendable for the Christian to advance in understanding and truth with the purpose in mind of edifying others as well as self.

Unfortunately, many brethren, whether they realize it or not, are satisfied with the modicum of knowledge already attained. Today we would call that understanding “knowledge of the divine plan.” They neither desire nor see the need for anything deeper. However, Paul said that those who would be of the Little Flock must progress in knowledge (Heb. 6:1,2). If we try to develop to the extent of our capability, the Lord will reward that desire.

Q: Were speaking in an unknown tongue and being able to interpret that tongue the same as, or equivalent to, prophesying? In verse 5 of this chapter, Paul said, “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.”

A: Not necessarily. For instance, someone might make a statement or quote a Scripture in Greek, and another would interpret, or translate, what was said into the language of those assembled. That translation was simply giving an understanding of the words, not teaching or explaining the meaning of those words. Prophesying was an analysis of what the text signified.

1 Cor. 14:14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

“For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful [to others].” Those who could speak in tongues in the early Church knew what they were saying, but the ability to transmit the meaning to others was another matter. The purpose of the gift, the purpose of developing the fruit, was not only to enhance one’s own spirituality but also to benefit others. If a person prayed in the unknown tongue he had received as a gift, the words were acceptable to God as a prayer because the individual understood the foreign language he was using. And even if the words were a jumble, the Holy Spirit interpreted the groaning request (Rom. 8:26). In other words, a Christian undergoing a trial or temptation may bring the matter to the Lord with such anguish that he cannot intelligibly express his desire and need. However, the Holy Spirit understands the problem.

Comment: A principle extracted from verse 14 that would be applicable today is the following. A Polish person, for example, should not be asked to pray before an English congregation that cannot understand the Polish language unless someone interprets the prayer.

Reply: Yes, that is a correct principle. If a prayer given in a foreign language is not interpreted, how can the hearers say “Amen”?

Comment: At first, verse 14 seems to contradict verse 4, which says that one who speaks in an unknown tongue edifies only himself, since he understands that tongue. Therefore, verse 14 should be understood as explained; namely, if one prays in an unknown tongue, his understanding is unfruitful to others unless the tongue is interpreted.

Reply: Yes. Others will not reap a benefit if the tongue is not interpreted. The brethren were to desire to prophesy or interpret so that the unknown tongue would edify the Church. In fact, Paul used the word “zealous” in verse 12—we should be zealous in the laudable goal of desiring to edify others.

Comment: Some try to use Romans 8:26 to justify speaking in tongues today, but that verse refers to a private prayer by one who is emotionally distraught. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Verse 14 clearly says that speaking in an unknown tongue, which the speaker himself understood, was “unfruitful” to others unless someone could interpret what had been said.

Q: A lot of charismatic churches teach that when one prays in an unknown tongue, his spirit is praying. Of course the word “unknown” was added by the translators, but charismatics claim that the spirit is taking over and that the same spirit will interpret the tongue to another person who has the gift of interpretation. How would we reply to that reasoning?

A: If a person prays in an unknown tongue as the spokesperson for the congregation and the prayer is not understood, it is of no value whatever, but if someone in the same setting explains what the individual is saying, the tongue has some value. The responsibility then rests on the interpreter, for if he falsifies what the prayer is saying, he receives the blame. Based on the interpretation, the congregation says “Amen” to what they see as an acceptable prayer.

Today many speak in unknown tongues, and no one knows what they are saying. Moreover, it has been explained in unusual circumstances by someone who did know the tongue that the individual was actually criticizing God and Jesus and even saying filthy things, but because the people hearing did not understand, they thought the utterance was a miraculous gift and said “Amen.” That which is miraculous and supernatural is not necessarily holy, yet the assumption today is that when spirit beings materialize, their superior nature makes them good. However, their coming out of nowhere to appear in visible form does not mean they are beneficial. We must use discrimination and understand what we endorse with an “Amen.”

Comment: Tongues were necessary in the early Church, but they are not necessary now because the written Word is available.

Reply: That is true, although under an unusual circumstance, something along this line could still happen, but to be authentic, the speaking would have to be in harmony with Scripture.

Much of the healing that goes on today is also false. Some preachers encourage people to attend or join their church in order to be physically healed. Another motivation is for social purposes—meeting other people, having a good time, and singing hymns. Our motivation bears scrutiny. We should examine ourselves and ask, “What am I looking for?” The proper motive is wanting to understand God’s will and praying for greater ability to obey so that we will grow in understanding and spirituality.

1 Cor. 14:15 What 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.

1 Cor. 14:16 Else 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?

1 Cor. 14:17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

Paul was commending holy, praiseworthy utterances to God in unknown tongues, but they had to be interpreted. While the apostles were alive, unholy utterances were not tolerated. The apostles were given a sixth sense, as it were, to know the culpability of individuals. They could see when one was a danger to the Church, and they pronounced it. Today people would also be able to see the danger if what was being said in tongues was explained.

“I will pray with the spirit, and … with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and … with the understanding also.” When a person sings, others need to understand the words. The singing has to make sense not only to the singer but also to the hearers. The same is true of praying and blessing. Otherwise, the hearers are not edified and cannot say “Amen.” Paul’s point was, “While the one with the tongue may understand what he is saying, do others understand? If they cannot understand, they will not be able to say ‘Amen’ to the prayer.” The prayer was acceptable if the individual was communicating privately with God, but it was not acceptable as a public prayer.

When one was asked to pray on behalf of a group of brethren who were gathered together, how could they say “Amen” if the prayer was not understood? The prayer was valueless as far as the others were concerned. The implication of verse 16 is that we must be careful what we say “Amen” to, especially if the prayer is wrong. As a Christian matures, he has a little more reserve not only with regard to giving consent but also in matters such as wishing someone Godspeed who may not be the best emissary of truth or whose understanding may even be harmful to others. We must be careful whom we recommend. The Christian experience is lifelong. If faithful unto death, we will instruct others in the Kingdom Age and have great honor and privileges of bestowing help and understanding.

1 Cor. 14:18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

1 Cor. 14:19 Yet 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.

Paul thanked God that he spoke with more tongues than the others for several reasons. (1) The others could not glory in their own gift of tongues. (2) They could not think Paul was downgrading them when he said he would rather speak five words of understanding than 10,000 words in an unknown tongue that was not understood by others. (3) Paul’s advice became more meaningful and his perspective more credible.

Incidentally, the two epistles to the Corinthians give more insight into the Apostle Paul than any of his other epistles. How interesting to know that he spoke with more tongues than anyone else! He was very blessed.

Paul used this boasting in a constructive sense to show that he would rather speak five words of understanding than to show off all his tongues. To the contrary, some who could speak with only one tongue were looking for the opportunity to show what they could do. However, if the tongue was of no benefit to others because it could not be understood, it was better to speak just a few words of common sense.

A principle is to not cast pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6). This is frequently done unconsciously when some of the most sacred, intimate thoughts are revealed to strangers. Of course an unconsecrated person who is teachable and humble is a lot different from swine that turn and rend the one who feeds them. In other words, some use intimate understanding or knowledge to their own detriment. Jesus said, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15). We are to look for those we can converse with and witness to in a somewhat agreeable manner.

Paul’s background theme was to belittle the importance of speaking in tongues lest that gift get out of hand and be used as a judgmental tool. Thus he would rather speak five words with understanding that would benefit others than 10,000 words of no benefit.

1 Cor. 14:20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

Paul was saying, “Be children in harboring evil thoughts and desires—for example, malice—but be mature in understanding.” Malice is an ill feeling of injury or harm toward others. Earlier Paul told the Corinthians to keep “the feast … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” and not with the leaven of malice and wickedness (1 Cor. 5:8).

Paul’s advice to “be not children in understanding” is pertinent today with regard to speaking in tongues, for those who are speaking may be cursing and blaspheming God and no one knows it. For tongues to be legitimate, they must be understood. Paul was also showing the need to progress further and to mature in understanding.

It is commendable not to be too developed in some things, but we should spend considerable time and energy to know other things. With regard to speaking in tongues, those in the early Church tended to glory in the mechanical aspect and not so much in the content of what they were saying. Paul advised, “Be desirous of saying something profitable and edifying to others. Do not be children in this matter. Rather, you should exercise mature judgment and be men.”

Comment: Paul accused the Corinthians of being children in using tongues, and a characteristic of a child is to play excessively with a new toy.

Reply: Yes, the immature used tongues like a toy. Being impressed with the novelty, they gloried in the tongues instead of desiring to edify others.

The Christian is to “desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2).

Growth is the motivation. As one grows, he prospers in the direction of maturity. Christians are to be children in malice and men (mature) in understanding.

Q: What is the meaning of Jesus’ words in the following Scriptures? “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).

“Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). Were these two texts only for the 12 apostles?

A: That is primarily true. The teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles is the foundation of the Church. However, in a secondary sense based on circumstance, binding and loosing can be done by a congregation of believers. For that reason, when a class votes on different matters in decision making, we should abide by the ruling, even if it is different from our own understanding—if no principle is involved that would violate our conscience. It is possible that one brother could be in the right and the rest of the ecclesia in the wrong. Therefore, the Church has some influence, but it can be fallible depending on the spirituality of the membership. Each circumstance should be carefully scrutinized.

Jesus addressed Matthew 16:18,19 to the Apostle Peter. In regard to the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” Peter was the first leading speaker to address the Jews on the Day of Pentecost after the Holy Spirit came on the disciples, and he also spoke to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert. The apostles loosed the binding of the Law on the Jew and in the council at Jerusalem recommended certain requirements that would be temporarily binding (Acts 15:1-29).

1 Cor. 14:21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.

“With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people [the nation of Israel]” is a reference to Isaiah 28:11,12, “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.” The “law” in this context is a broad term that refers to the Old Testament, not to just the Pentateuch and the Law of Moses. God used prophets to speak to the people of Israel with admonitions, warnings, and instructions, but what the prophets said did not penetrate their hard hearts and thus had little or no effect.

Isaiah 28 mentions two principles of why God speaks in a “stammering” tongue. Paul referred to only the aspect that is profitable to the Church. Because God did not speak plainly in the Scriptures but used the method of line upon line, here a little and there a little, the undesirables are weeded out, whereas diligent and sincere Christians try to harmonize the Word. By even making the Word seem foolish in places, God provided opportunity for the worldly-wise to look for faults and flaws. The Scriptures become a stumbling block to such. Only the diligent and sincere are blessed with understanding and edification. The same method blesses this class and is a stumbling block to those who refuse to listen.

Paul applied the principle a little differently. “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people [to Israel in the type and to the unlearned and unbelievers in the Gospel Age]; yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord [because of hard hearts, blindness, and a willing ignorance]” (2 Pet. 3:5). For those who will not repent and consecrate in this age, the truth can actually be damaging because understanding brings responsibility. Deep understanding is given to individuals who inquire, hunger, and seek.

The prophecy of Isaiah 28:11,12 was intentionally worded so that it can be interpreted in two ways. First, instruction is given to those who need to be warned because of sin, and for that reason, the Holy Spirit is not acceptable to certain people. Jesus said, “And when he [it, that is, the Holy Spirit] is come, he [the Holy Spirit] will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11). The bottom line is that the public in the future will have no excuse for not knowing God. All can observe nature, and the Bible is available in almost all languages. Therefore, when the human race comes forth from the grave in the Kingdom, no one will be able to say, “Why didn’t you tell me?” The people had neither the desire nor the hunger to know the Lord, but nevertheless, certain statements had to be made to the public in order to find the hearing ear.

We pay more attention to those with a hearing ear because that is the principle on which information is given, but if we said nothing and kept everything to ourselves, we would not find the hearing ear.

Isaiah gave many prophecies to the Israelites, and what happened? How did he die? They sawed him in half. That act shows how his ministry was received, yet he was a most outstanding prophet in that he told not only about trouble and judgments to come but also about some of the most beautiful promises of the Kingdom. The same exact message is like babble to the one class and has the opposite effect on those who are searching. Therefore, God used the principle that Isaiah’s prophecies were mutterings, or stammerings, to those without a hearing ear and tidbits of valuable information to those with a hearing ear.

Comment: Paul stated the same principle, “To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life” (2 Cor. 2:16).

Before proceeding, we will take a moment to consider the context of the Isaiah Scripture.

“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken” (Isa. 28:9-13). Speaking as the mouthpiece of God, Isaiah gave much counsel to the Israelites during his ministry, but the nation did not view him as a true prophet and preferred instead to hear the false prophets. Thus their minds were locked as far as understanding what he said. They were not familiar with the line of reasoning God used through the mouth of Isaiah. However, to those who had a receptive mind, many of the prophet’s statements were wonderful prophecies of Israel’s restoration to favor after a coming period of judgment and punishment.

Isaiah stated that the Old Testament is recorded in scattered bits and pieces, with here a little and there a little, line upon line and precept upon precept. One has to wholeheartedly believe and be interested in God’s counsel in order to put the bits and pieces together. Thus the stumbling block was the Israelites’ unbelief in Isaiah as a true prophet. Consequently, they ignored his advice.

In referring to Isaiah’s words, Paul said, “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.” Isaiah purposely spoke in plain Hebrew so that the Israelites could have understood if they had not had hearts of unbelief. Satan, the god of this world, has blinded people not only in the Jewish Age but also during the Gospel Age (2 Cor. 4:4). A prerequisite for understanding the Scriptures is a belief and faith in God. Paul’s words remind us of Matthew 13:10,11. When the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables, he replied, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” If others had had the right inclination of heart and mind, they would have understood what Jesus was saying, and they would have asked for a further explanation. The lack of following through and thirsting for understanding blocked their minds and hearts.

1 Cor. 14:22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

Paul continued the subject of speaking in tongues. The Moffatt translation reads, “Thus ‘tongues’ are intended as a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; whereas prophesying is meant for believers, not for unbelievers.”

Comment: Again prophesying was shown to be far above tongues in order of priority.

Reply: Paul was showing the importance of prophesying—of teaching, of giving understanding. Consider the principle Isaiah used. In addressing the Jews, he spoke in the Hebrew language.

They all knew Hebrew and thus knew what he was saying, but only those with a hearing ear could understand his message. To those who did not want to hear, Hebrew became an unknown tongue because they closed their ears and hardened their hearts.

The Bible is, in effect, an unknown tongue because it is so little understood. In the future, the world will not be able to say, “No one ever told me,” because the Bible was there and they did not want to hear it. The Bible is a sign, a miracle. Of all the books, it contains the best history; it has science, biology, botany, and the creation of the world; it tells about the future and about the past. No other book is even remotely like the Bible. When we consider its magnitude, the hymn comes to mind: “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.” Even though the Bible is put on a shelf and remains there, it is speaking, for its very presence is telling that those in the house are unworthy of God’s grace. When those individuals come forth from the grave, they will have no right to criticize God. Many find fault with Him in their calamities, but it is difficult to rationalize or reason properly with those who are emotional.

If a stranger entered the room where brethren were meeting, they should not judge him as willingly ignorant, for God might be calling him. The hope would be that the unbeliever might become interested. Therefore, Paul was urging discretion with regard to the use of a tongue.

For example, if a Greek came into the meeting, Hebrew should not be spoken to him. And even if the tongue of the stranger was used, the message should be explained in a way that he could understand it. If a stranger entered the room who was of a different nationality than the language being spoken at the time, the brethren had two choices. (1) What was being said could be switched into the language of the newcomer, or (2) the same language could continue to be used but then be interpreted for his benefit. In other words, if one spoke in a tongue but did not have the ability to interpret, another had to interpret for the benefit of the stranger coming in. The point was not to make the topic of discussion subservient to the public but to make it sufficiently understandable so that if the unbeliever had a hearing ear, he would be attracted to the truth. Nevertheless, the main thrust of the message was for the believer, not for the unbeliever.

The following scenario could have occurred in the early Church. A mixed group of brethren were meeting together but had no Bible. A certain topic was being considered, and someone quoted material pertinent to that topic in a particular tongue. Since not all who were present would understand that tongue, it was the duty of another brother or sister to interpret what had just been said if the individual himself could not do so. The most desirable situation was that the speaker could both speak in a tongue and interpret the message. Then there would be no need for a second party to interpret. Therefore, Paul said that the one who spoke in tongues should desire also the gift of interpretation so that the brethren would receive a profitable message with understandable content. When compared to interpreting, “prophesying” had the finer meaning of not just speaking in a tongue that could be understood but of conveying, or explaining, the message—a far more valuable gift. Paul urged that those who spoke in a tongue also be able to interpret and then go a step further and prophesy, and if they were good enough, they would publicly prophesy, not merely speak in the small local gathering.

Comment: In Acts 2:9-11, the multitude said, “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” It is true that we can listen to someone speaking another language and have a general idea of what they are saying, but Paul was talking about having a definite understanding, which is very different from today’s emotional experience of speaking in tongues.

Reply: Yes, some speak in tongues that they themselves do not understand, whereas in the early Church, the individual speaking in the tongue understood it. But the tongue also had to be interpreted and then explained (prophesied) to be of benefit to the ecclesia as a message, so that the brethren could truly say it was the “wonderful works of God.” If the congregation did not receive some understanding, Paul said it was better for the one with the unknown tongue to be quiet. In other words, the tongue had to be accompanied with understanding in order to be a real gift to the whole congregation.

1 Cor. 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

If all brethren in the congregation were speaking in tongues with no explanation, a stranger coming in would think the group was indeed a cult. The effect would be a literal “Babylon”—a babbling on. However, if the brethren were speaking in tongues with understanding through the power of the Holy Spirit, not only would the stranger be convinced that the tongues were from God, but also he would see that continued fellowship would incur responsibility and, in time, a commitment and sacrifice. The calling of the Little Flock class out of the world is the main theme or purpose of the gospel during the present age. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). Thus Paul was saying, “When you get together as a group of God’s people and speak in tongues but have no explanation, not only is it madness to unbelievers, but it is not even profitable to the congregation of believers.”

Paul was also trying to cover the subject of speaking in tongues from the perspective that it would not be good for all to have the same gift. Someone with tongues was needed, as well as someone to interpret, someone to understand, someone to teach, and someone to inspire with music, song, prayer, or exhortation. All of these gifts were needed, for to become fossilized in one strata of learning or teaching would be very limiting. Earlier Paul warned that no one should feel deprived if he did not have a tongue, and to the contrary, no one should glory if he had a tongue.

Comment: When the Holy Spirit came immediately after Pentecost, the apostles began to speak in many different tongues. The people listening were amazed, but some who were not in the right heart attitude mocked, saying, “These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13).

Reply: Similarly, as has been said, Paul’s reasoning can be taken two ways, and much depends on the heart attitude. Those hearing the tongues on the day of Pentecost should not have made a snap judgment, the principle being that a fool cannot hear the wisdom of seven wise men (Prov. 26:16). One can also be a fool from the perspective that “he that answereth [judges] a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Prov. 18:13). Those who mocked on the day of Pentecost made a judgment without analyzing the matter. When they heard the tongues, if they had just paused and looked, they would have seen that a certain segment understood each of the tongues, and they would have realized that the words made sense even if they did not understand them. Instead they made a hasty and incorrect judgment. The point is that we should weigh matters lest we stumble through hasty judgments.

Today, as seen on television, a lot of speaking in tongues and healing is being done in so-called Christian circles, but no one explains the tongues. Therefore, the fallen angels could be speaking through the individuals and cursing God or expressing their depraved sense of humor. The people who are present say “Amen” to that which they do not understand. We should have nothing to do with such confusion. What is improperly served on the Lord’s table is called “vomit” (Isa. 28:8). The tongues distract and subtly take the people away from the main purpose of the gospel. One does not consecrate to benefit the flesh.

1 Cor. 14:24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

1 Cor. 14:25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

“If all prophesy [that is, interpret the tongues or simply speak in a straightforward language that all know], and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all.” If the stranger could see that the brethren understood and made sense of the words, the truth made more inroads with him. He would say, “God must be revealing very important information from His Word.” If in the right heart condition, he would “report that God is in you of a truth,” for he would recognize that he was witnessing something supernatural. A humble and receptive heart attitude was essential.

If unbelievers came into a meeting and what was being said was not explained, none of them would get a blessing. To the contrary, if the message was explained and one of the unbelievers had a hearing ear and responded, he would receive a blessing. And if an unbeliever did not have a hearing ear, at least he understood the message up to a certain point. Then when he rejected the message, that was his responsibility.

“Thus are the secrets of his [the unbeliever’s] heart made manifest [by whether he becomes a believer or not].” When an unbeliever came to the meetings, he had to make a decision. The objective was that he would become interested and respond to truth. However, most people are insipid and lacking character, and thus are not benefited by the truth.

Comment: If an unbeliever with a burden on his heart attends a meeting, the brother giving the talk may say something, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that directly addresses the burden. Then the unbeliever falls down figuratively and worships God.

If we use our talent(s) faithfully, perhaps the Lord will open the door to other opportunities for enlargement of the talent(s). The bottom line of all gifts and talents is edification. If an individual edifies others, he himself is edified. The edification is reciprocal and mutual, like coals of fire warming each other.

Comment: An example is visiting an infirm brother or sister. Even if we cannot communicate very well, we usually come away feeling edified, and so does the brother or sister.

Comment: When healing is done today, the recipients fall backward, but Paul said the godly individual would fall “on his face”—that is, forward—and worship God (verse 25).

Reply: Yes, and the whole congregation gets emotionally involved. In one case, the preacher waved his hand and the choir collapsed. The chaos in religious circles is one of the signs that we are in the last days. Also, we are reminded of Eli, who fell backward and died (1 Sam. 4:15-18).

1 Cor. 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

1 Cor. 14:27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.

1 Cor. 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

Paul was repetitive in this chapter, for by going over the subject enough times, he would get his point across. In slightly different words, he had already expressed the sense of verses 26-28.

It was commendable for brethren to speak in a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, or an interpretation, but there needed to be a chairman so that everything would be done decently, orderly, and not too quickly. That way the greatest benefit would be extracted from the gifts instead of confusion. For example, if an individual expressed a psalm verbatim and with emotion, and another person immediately afterwards talked on another subject, the psalm would not be edifying because a little time was needed for the effect of the psalm to be felt.

When something important is read, we should stop and listen so that the words will sink in. As Jesus said, “Let the words that I speak sink down into your ears and hearts” (Luke 9:44 paraphrase). If the gifts were used too quickly, the benefit was lost. All of the gifts were good, but the brethren were to be patient to extract the value. When a tongue was spoken, time was required for an interpretation and an explanation before another individual spoke in a tongue.

Not only did the Corinthians want to prattle and show off with their tongues, but two or three spoke at the same time. There was no profit or instruction in that type of meeting. In addition to having order—that is, taking turns—no more than three brethren were to speak in tongues, and even then, if no interpreter was present, they were to keep quiet. The limitation allowed the meeting to be rounded out with other gifts. Edification came from a variety of gifts. Today the principle would apply if a brother monopolized a meeting with a lot of words and little or no content. It is one thing to have comments of instructional value and another thing to have prattling. Certainly such individuals should not lead the meetings, for edification is needed. The very fact Paul said, “If there be no interpreter, let him keep silence,” shows that the meetings were to be edifying.

An example today of the principle of variety would be not to study just the Sermon on the Mount or the Book of Revelation or 1 Corinthians 13 on love. We are to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). Paul was saying that when brethren were gathered together for edification, the meetings should be more general and not warped in only one direction. Along another line, evangelists tend to press their particular interest with the emphasis continually being “To the work, to the work, to the work.” As a result, the message is often shallow, even though it is good. Paul said we are to study to show ourselves “approved unto God” (2 Tim. 2:15). Before going out to teach others, we have to be taught ourselves. Therefore, Paul admonished the Corinthians not to become too specialized in one gift. The danger was in becoming so enamored of a miraculous gift that other aspects of Christian life were neglected. The whole Word is needed for edification.

If the individual with the gift of tongues was in tune with Paul’s instruction, he remained silent unless there was an interpreter. However, if the individual did not have enough sense to realize he should keep quiet, the chairman was to establish order for the benefit of the others.

“Let him speak to himself, and to God.” The individual with the gift of tongues was to remain silent at the meeting if no interpreter was present. However, when he got home—that is, when he was outside the meeting—he could speak for his own edifying and to God.

1 Cor. 14:29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.

“Let the prophets speak two or three [in a meeting].” Paul was referring to a teaching capacity, either public teaching or being a study leader. The one who prophesied helped to explain and thus edify. However, the number of prophets was limited to two or three. The principle of no more than two or three speaking in tongues at one meeting also applied to prophets, and again they were to speak one at a time.

Prophesying could include the interpretation of tongues, but true teaching—explaining—was deeper and is the real thought here. This principle helps to weed out those who speak in tongues today because there is no explanation and hence no edification.

There were several reasons for Paul’s counsel of limitation. (1) Not everyone should think of himself as a prophet or feel he had to say something. (2) The meetings were to have variety. (3) The other brethren could “judge” what was said, making sure that the teaching harmonized with the Word. The brethren were to weigh the words of each prophet. Incidentally, with two or three speaking in tongues and two or three prophesying, the implication is that this gathering was a rather large group of brethren.

Comment: The Amplified reads, “Let … the rest pay attention and weigh and discern what is said.”

Reply: The Bereans listened to Paul readily with an open mind, and then they went home to search the Scriptures to see whether what they had been taught was true (Acts 17:11).

1 Cor. 14:30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.

1 Cor. 14:31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

Two principles were operating here. Why did Paul say, “Let the first hold his peace”? Suppose a prophet was explaining a subject at length, and the Holy Spirit quite noticeably moved another brother to make a comment that either contradicted or confirmed what was being said. It would be as though the Lord wanted to move someone else to interrupt the one speaking. Rather than to suppress the comment or utterance of the Holy Spirit, the prophet was to graciously stop for a moment and allow the other brother to speak, for the proper time to speak is when the particular point is being treated. The utterance might be a needed clarification. Of course the brother who is moved to speak should not take over the meeting, but he should express his comment. The principle is, “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19).

What common-sense instruction Paul gave! He was chosen by God for this purpose.

The Holy Spirit operated in one of two ways: either mechanically or in the nature of a comment, as expressed in Galatians 6:6, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” Verse 29 expressed the principle of letting the prophet speak and the hearers judge his words. The “judging” could be done either silently or verbally.

Each individual was to exercise discrimination in examining and weighing what was said. Nevertheless, as verse 31 states, others should have an opportunity to comment and express their thought. The prophet should allow such interchange of thought. The implication is that a chairman decided when a particular gift had operated long enough in a meeting and it was time for a different gift.

Paul was counteracting an anarchy-like atmosphere where several spoke at the same time (verse 26). All were moved and happy, but the group was not being edified. The brethren were to “prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and … be comforted.” This principle applied to all kinds of meetings: testimony, study, discourse, speaking in tongues, etc. Evidently, the gifts of the Holy Spirit operated spontaneously in the early Church, that is, as each of the brethren was moved with perhaps, first, a testimony, then a tongue, an explanation of a Scripture, another testimony, etc. But they were to speak one at a time, not simultaneously, in decent order. In contrast, our meetings are segmented. For example, 45 minutes might be allotted to a testimony meeting and an hour to a Bible study.

The brethren probably had great respect for each other’s gifts once they learned to appreciate order. Having traveled under long, difficult, and dangerous conditions to meet, they wanted to hear what each one had to contribute. Such respect knit them together as a spiritual family. The object of prophesying one by one was “that all may learn, and all may be comforted.”

Comment: At times, we are so moved by a particular remark that we want to say “Amen” out loud. To some, this expression might seem out of order, but an “Amen” properly used and not overdone should be spoken.

Suppose a brother was speaking and had reasonable time to express himself. Meanwhile, someone else was almost exploding while waiting to speak. In observing this desire, the first party should sum up his thoughts. Thus not only was the chairman to create order, but the one doing the teaching should desire order.

“Let the first hold his peace”; that is, the one doing the prophesying should willingly cut short his own remarks as long as he had had reasonable time for expression. “For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and … be comforted.” Through this procedure, those who have something to contribute will at least feel they did their little bit.

Paul was also saying, “Do not monopolize the meeting, for it is meant to be communal.” Since the brethren back there had no Bible to gather around, they had to listen to each other to get the lesson for the day.

1 Cor. 14:32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

1 Cor. 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

“The spirits of the prophets are [made] subject to the prophets.” While Paul was criticizing the order in the meeting, he was not criticizing the content. When the brethren came together, one might have a psalm, another a doctrine, another a tongue, someone else a revelation, and still another an interpretation. A “psalm” could be a hymn, an emotional poetic outburst, or a Scripture—something spontaneous and appropriate for the occasion. A “doctrine” was a teaching. One with this gift was moved to bring out an instruction that was needed. A “revelation” was either a prediction of a future event or enlightenment on a difficult text. An example would be where brethren were struggling to understand a Scripture, and suddenly an explanation came to a brother. “Interpretation” was an explanation of a comment. All of these things were good, but they were to be done in order and for edification.

Prophesying (teaching) required more time than some of the other gifts such as a psalm or a revelation. The “spirits” of the prophets were the message(s) to be conveyed. The way the prophets were moved to exhort, interpret, and explain was to be given expression and not suppressed or interrupted at length. “Let the spirit of the prophet be under the control of the prophet” is the thought. In other words, the teaching was important, and the prophet was not to be interrupted in a way that would make him lose his thought. Each of the brethren could contribute, but the one teaching was to be granted more opportunity of expression. He was to be allowed to speak as the Lord moved him. It is more important to study God’s Word than merely to have emotional outbursts. For example, some like to dominate the service by singing. We see this “entertainment” on religious television programs, where the remarks of the speaker are quite limited and are subordinate to the singing. However, the main thrust of the whole service should be comfort and edification. Other facets play a part, but teaching should be under the control of the one doing the teaching. He should be given enough time.

“Prophets” are those who publicly expound either to the congregation or to the public. The Diaglott interlinear reads, “And spirits of prophets to prophets are subject.” Since those who teach incur responsibility, they should give serious thought to what they are instructing.

Teachers should be slow to speak unless they are sure from a scriptural standpoint that their instruction is solid, for no one can speak in the Lord’s name without incurring responsibility. As the Apostle James said, “My brethren, be not many masters [teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1). Those who are faithful in teaching will get a greater reward, but the question would be, Is the responsibility worth it?

“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” God desires peace and order in the meetings. Why did Paul add “as in all churches of the saints”? A number of translations put a period after “peace,” so that the next verse reads, “As in all churches of the saints, let your women keep silence in the churches….” The early manuscripts lacked punctuation, so the translators have this liberty, which seems to be the correct thought. Women’s liberation crept into the church at Corinth.

Comment: The anointing of the Holy Spirit, the enlightenment, might come simultaneously to several brethren, but they had to take turns lest there be confusion in the meeting. The prophets were to speak one by one, and each was responsible for how he used his gift.

Reply: When a prophet in Old Testament times was instructed by the Lord to make a certain proclamation, his responsibility was not to add to or subtract from that message. Mechanically given, the message was to be spoken as received. Then the prophet stopped speaking, for an addendum might defeat the purpose of the Word of God, which is like silver purified seven times (Psa. 12:6). God spoke through the prophet in humble terms that the people could understand. On certain occasions, false prophets contradicted the true prophet of the Lord.

Not only did the Old Testament prophets receive the word mechanically, but the people could discern when the prophets were speaking mechanically, for there was a change in their mode of talking. On one occasion when Jeremiah was giving a message from the Lord about various nations, he warned particularly about Babylon—what God’s judgment would be both on the Jews in exile and on Babylon itself. Subsequently, the false prophet Hananiah, motivated by an unholy spirit, contradicted Jeremiah by taking the wooden yoke around his neck, smashing it, and claiming that God had spoken to him (Jer. 28:1-11). His supposed “thus saith the LORD”

contradicted Jeremiah’s true “thus saith the LORD.” Hananiah said that Jeremiah’s utterance was not true and that two years hence the king of Babylon would be defeated by the Israelites and Jeconiah would be released from captivity and brought to Jerusalem. God then told Jeremiah to go out and deliver another message. Jeremiah was to say, “Thinking the Lord’s wrath will be appeased is a false message. Now, instead of a wooden yoke, the yoke will be iron.” Moreover, he prophesied that the false prophet Hananiah would die before the end of the year, and he did (Jer. 28:16,17). The false prophets were culpable for their utterances.

1 Cor. 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

1 Cor. 14:35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak.”

Verse 34 needs to be analyzed because there are two extremes today. It is important to realize that Paul wrote this advice at the time the various gifts were being given to the Church.

Moreover, we know that the Corinthian women could speak because chapter 11 of this same epistle tells that their heads were to be covered when they prayed or prophesied. However, praying and prophesying are different from teaching. In the early Church, praying and the mechanical prophesying of a future event, such as saying, “A famine will occur three years from now in Samaria,” were not teaching. Prophesying was a mechanical prophetic utterance that the Holy Spirit moved some of the brethren to do.

Under the symbol of a woman, Jesus pointed out the prohibition of teaching: “Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel [the false church system], which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach” (Rev. 2:20). Papacy, a religious government, is likened to the man of sin, and the Church of Rome, an ecclesiastical body, is likened to a harlot (2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 17:5). The symbolism of the harlot, a woman, is based on the principle that a literal woman should not teach in the Church: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:11,12).

One aspect, then, is that women are not to teach. A second aspect is that women are to “keep silence” and to “ask their husbands at home.” A logical question is, What if a woman did not have a husband? The point is that the women were allowed to ask questions, but they were not to persistently question and thus interrupt and disturb the meeting. They were not to needle when their questions were not satisfied, nor were they to continually advance questions on an issue. Instead they were to ask their husbands at home. The Scriptures do say, “Let him [both male and female] that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things” (Gal. 6:6). Thus questions between the teacher and those who are taught are permissible and desirable, but women are not to take an aggressive role and teach with their questions. For instance, “I do not agree. What about this, and what about that?” Sisters must exercise care in the ecclesia arrangement and keep in mind the balance of liberty and restraint.

Comment: Today verses 34 and 35 are often dismissed with the statement “Well, that was back in Paul’s day,” yet his words are strong here. For example, “It is a shame [it is shameful—RSV] for women to speak in the church.”

Reply: The point is that women should not dominate the class, and sometimes they practically take over. Some women justify their aggressiveness by saying they are asking questions, but they are monopolizing the attention and, in effect, teaching. Even if a sister has the right thought, she should be subordinate and not take a dominant role. Women can be well versed in Scripture and still be subordinate by realizing the role they play, and thus they have checks and balances with regard to what they can and cannot do. If a persistent woman has a consecrated husband or father, she should ask him at home. If the question is important enough, he will bring it back to the class.

Women “are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” The ceremonial Law showed that women should be subordinate. In the type in the Tabernacle arrangement, the bonneted underpriests represent the woman, and the high priest, who did the teaching, pictures the man. In addition, other requirements under the Law show how men and women were to deal with each other. A good study would be to analyze how different issues were settled and why the Law was stated one way for the man and another way for the woman.

Paul was telling the Corinthians that out of deference, the consecrated wife should let the consecrated husband do the speaking. The advice did not mean she could not counsel on the side, whisper into his ear, or discuss the matter either before or after the meeting. Rather, Paul was saying the woman should not assume a teaching role in the Church. Women in the church today do not have to be silent, but when they speak, they, like the ones who teach, should consider the responsibility of what they say. Women can participate in a meeting in two ways: (1) They can ask a question with a desire to obtain information and learn. (2) They can ask a leading or instructive question that might open the door to further consideration of the topic as to whether it is being taught correctly or whether it can be supplemented in a constructive sense. Sisters can also quote Scriptures that bear on the subject. Therefore, the “silence” of verse 34 does not mean utter silence but that a sister should give deference to her husband or that she should speak in a way that is not teaching. If a sister is further advanced than the one doing the instructing, she can effectively ask questions. Speaking for 15 or 20 seconds is usually just a comment, whereas speaking for three or four minutes can get into the role of teaching.

In Paul’s day, women were in a secondary role. Had permissiveness been allowed to get out of hand, the unconsecrated might have considered the Christian religion dangerous. The principle is shown in the account of Vashti with King Ahasuerus (Esther 1:9-12). Similarly, Paul said that the slavery issue should not be brought up in the Church, for the instruction should be about the Scriptures and godliness, not about political issues.

Comment: Part of the curse on Eve was that her husband would rule over her (Gen. 3:16).

What does Paul’s statement “I suffer not a woman to teach” mean today? A woman was not to teach in Old Testament times or in Paul’s day, but what about today? Depending on the circumstance and the environment, a woman can teach. Even in Old Testament times, females such as Deborah were prophetesses (Judg. 4:4). And so we find there are exceptions to the general rule. Unfortunately, what often happens today is that people reading the Bible make the exception the general rule and vice versa. Sunday school is certainly an example of where a woman can teach, and teaching is frequently done in private fellowship. The point is that a woman should not usurp authority over the man either in the ecclesia or in the home.

Certain customs in Corinth in Paul’s day are no longer followed to quite the same extent, but there is a tendency for some of them to creep back in today. For example, since the women in Corinth were among the educated, it was not seen as wrong for a woman to teach. Stated another way, when a woman who was accustomed to teach became a convert to Christianity, it was natural for her to think she could continue to teach in this new arrangement. Thus secular customs were brought into the ecclesia. Another custom in Corinth was looseness with the opposite sex. Because of that custom, such immorality was not seen as anything too bad.

The same is true today with lesbians and homosexuals even among the clergy in some denominations. Another problem occurred when men with several wives became Christians.

For that reason, a qualification for elder is being the husband of one wife. All of these problems started with the early Church, but they died out. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul ingeniously addressed these issues in a remarkable manner.

Comment: Women are allowed to speak because even in the early Church, they could pray and prophesy as long as the head was covered.

Reply: Yes. For a woman to comment during a Bible study is different from leading a meeting. While certain liberties are allowed, some women do not realize they are abusing the liberty and are actually dominating the class. Some classes have come under the influence of a woman, especially when the elder is weak.

Comment: A good arrangement is to have a question box at a convention for anonymously submitting questions on the discourses. That method avoids the issue of whether a brother or a sister is asking the question.

Reply: Yes, a question box is a discreet way to ask questions.

1 Cor. 14:36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

Comment: The RSV reads, “What! Did the word of God originate with you [in Corinth], or are you the only ones it has reached?” Paul was saying, “Do you sisters think the Word of God is only for you?”

Reply: Paul’s questions were sharp because evidently, in the church in Corinth, there was an emphasis on the equality of men and women. Also, women took the liberty of introducing innovations. Thus we can understand the strength with which he opposed their attitude, for the women had gotten out of hand. Not only were they taking a prominent role spiritually, but from a physical standpoint, they excessively adorned their heads and bodies. Incidentally, Paul spoke strongly, yet he had love. He was emphatic where necessary. Being the recipient of his words would have hurt, even if said delicately, but the words had to hurt enough to get the lesson across. When words wrapped in honey and butter will not be effective, a rebuke has to be caustic and penetrating in order to be lasting.

Paul talked about the need for women to be under subjection, but some of the men were heady too, thinking they were apostles equal or superior to the Apostle Paul. Teaching in a leadership capacity was a real problem in the class at Corinth with both male and female. With regard to the questions in verse 36, Paul was the one whom the Lord used to enlighten the Corinthians about the gospel of Jesus. He founded the class, yet some later wanted to push him aside. The “democratic” spirit kept them from recognizing God’s providence. Today, especially with those who attended college, there is a tendency for everyone to want to be a teacher, and that spirit must be fought against. Higher education can lead to pride.

Q: If no consecrated brother is present, is it permissible for a sister to lead the meeting?

A: It is better to have a consecrated sister act as chairperson than to have an unconsecrated male lead the meeting. Moreover, sisters can meet privately as long as their meeting does not conflict with the regular meeting.

1 Cor. 14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

1 Cor. 14:38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that his instruction, as an apostle, was superior to that which was practiced in the class. To make themselves equal to Paul, or even superior, some in the ecclesia had criticized him, calling attention to supposed shortcomings. Therefore, Paul was saying, “Any who are spiritual in the class will have to agree with what I am writing, for these are commandments of the Lord.

Comment: Again Paul spoke strongly, “If you think you are spiritual, you will understand and agree with what I am saying. Otherwise, you are ignorant and will remain ignorant.”

Q: Since Paul said, “The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord,” would even his advice be considered a commandment?

A: Anything he spoke was a commandment with the exception of three places, where he said he was giving advice and not a commandment. “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment” (1 Cor. 7:6). “Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful” (1 Cor. 7:25). “I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love” (2 Cor. 8:8).

Comment: Paul was used so mightily of the Lord that it would be wise for us nobodies to heed his advice.

Reply: Paul answered all kinds of questions, first on a scriptural basis and then on a common sense basis.

“But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” In other words, “Do not promote those individuals who are making themselves apostles. Do not encourage them in a wrong direction through fellowship or recognition.” The brethren were not to wish them Godspeed. And if those who were putting themselves forth as elders got too aggressive, the class had to act.

1 Cor. 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

What is the distinction between prophecy and tongues? Because so many Corinthians had the gift of tongues, the entire meeting was predominately characterized by that gift. Paul’s general instruction to them was, “Forbid not to speak with tongues.” However, they were to forbid more than one to speak at the same time or more than three to speak at the same meeting.

Therefore, verse 39 has to be considered and harmonized with what Paul had said previously.

His point here was not to disdain tongues and forbid them altogether, for childish things (toys) are important in their place. However, tongues were not to dominate.

Q: What did Paul mean by the statement “covet to prophesy”?

A: Paul was saying, “Covet to have [be zealous for] the ability to teach, explain, and/or interpret, for these capabilities are far superior to speaking in tongues.” “Prophesying” includes interpreting, explaining principles, instructing, teaching, mechanically forecasting a future event, and explaining Bible prophecies. The desire to have a sufficient understanding of Scripture in order to enlighten others is a good thing. For example, the greater the degree of familiarity with Scripture, the more qualified one is to witness.

The two epistles to the Corinthians are a masterpiece of instruction in personal, practical Christian living and how to meet the problems of life. All of the epistles and books of the New Testament have a special and important main theme or message that is not repetitious. For example, Romans brilliantly shows the relationship of faith and works. Hebrews tells how to deal with the Jews and make them see that Jesus is their Messiah. Ephesians tells of the predestination of the Church class as viewed by God and their great future with Christ. Only the Gospels are repetitious, but the purpose is to show that out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, a thing is established (Deut. 17:6; 19:15).

1 Cor. 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

In the last few verses, Paul was saying, “Is not the advice I am giving you in harmony with Scripture? Won’t someone among you confirm that I am speaking truth to you? Doesn’t my advice make sense?” Then, after saying that the brethren were to consider speaking in tongues in a secondary sense, he added, “Do not misunderstand me. In giving all this advice on speaking in tongues, I am not trying to downplay their value but to put that gift in its proper place so that it will not be unduly magnified. If you can speak in tongues, pray to God that you will also be able to prophesy, or interpret, for tongues have to be explained to be of value. Let all things be done decently and in order.”

Today, at the end of the Gospel Age, we are in a gleaning period, and a danger is in wanting to be teachers instead of true Bible students seeking to sincerely know the Word of God.

Moreover, the very blessing of head knowledge can be misunderstood and given too much value, whereas what is needed is experimental Christianity, the making of the truth relevant to the lifestyle of our character.

(1979, 1997, and 2001 Studies Frank Shallieu)

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