1 Corinthians 14:1-25
An Intelligible Faith
Having spoken of the priority of love, Paul now returns to gifts of the Spirit, specifically tongues and prophecy. As to the precise problem he is dealing with in the church at Corinth, it does seem that the proper use of the gift of tongues is the deciding factor; he uses prophecy, it seems, to offset tongues in his ensuing argument. Allow me to say at the beginning that I agree with those scholars who identify tongues in this passage not as an intelligible language such as was the case on the day of Pentecost when those Jews gathered from all over the world heard the apostles and others upon whom the Holy Spirit fell “telling in [their] own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). It seems instead that the gift of tongues these Corinthians experienced was not a known language but rather something inarticulate to human understanding. Before we criticize such behavior as nonsense, we must admit that Paul allows tongues as a genuine gift of the Spirit and even says, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” As to whether the gift of tongues is one of those extraordinary gifts that ceased with the passing of the apostles is another matter. But in the meantime let us confine ourselves to the Scriptures.
Paul begins this passage saying, “Pursue love,” and that should determine the meaning of everything else that he says. It seems that his chief concern is corporate worship and that what is said and how it is said therein must be intelligible to everyone around. This should go without saying but there were apparently some at Corinth (and in our own day) who think tongues is a matter for public worship. Paul citing Isaiah 28 shows that tongues is a matter for public worship, that is, if you want unbelievers to come in and think that you are crazy. Such a display will harden them to the gospel, and that is not what we want. Prophecy on the other hand, though primarily for believers, might bring unbelievers to repentance as they hear a word they can understand which cuts to the heart. In short, unless someone is present who has the gift of interpretation, tongues must remain a personal and private affair and not be employed in public worship.
Many splits have happened in churches in the past century over this gift often due to the same sin which plagued Corinth: people behaving in a childish manner insisting on their own way, either to use their gift of tongues in public worship regardless, while others disallow the practice altogether without a hearing. We must pursue Christlike love while we obey the teaching of the Scriptures—and these two never contradict one another.