Corinth was a city in the south of Greece, and during Bible times, it was along the major trade routes of the Roman world and was a center of world commerce.  Because of all the influences from other lands with their false religions, and due to the heathen beliefs historically of Greece, Corinth had a poor reputation morally.  The Apostle Paul came there to preach, and soon a church was established in Corinth.  Unfortunately, and perhaps due to all the worldly influences, there did arise many problems and moral issues in the assembly there such that many were carnal, proud and self-centered. I believe that to understand 1 Corinthians 14, we must understand the discussion and issues in the chapters that precede this chapter.  Consider the carnal situation in this early assembly—the divisions, the tendencies to set some above others, general carnality in their morals, and a general lack of love in their interactions towards one another. This letter was an effort on Paul’s part to bring correction to the carnal conditions found there, and to give guidance to the local brethren as to how to walk like Christians, rather than like unbelievers.  

So, in 1 Corinthians  1:10-13, we read, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”

There were evidently some there who were very proud of their associations with certain highly regarded brethren, or perhaps with their own personal wealth or station, or perhaps with the spiritual gifts which they possessed. Regarding these gifts, there were some in whom was lacking that heart of love that might cause them to humbly accept these gifts as from the Lord, to be used for the building up of the body of Christ.  At the love feasts, the Corinthians were more concerned about eating and drinking, than about caring for those who had little. Some were puffed up about being within a certain group who were baptized by Christians that they regarded; some were impressed with having their spiritual gifts more than by using them appropriately and might have tended to look down on those who did not have such gifts. In response to this, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:29-31, “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”   At this juncture, Paul launches into chapter 13 where he tells the importance in doing all in the spirit of charity (love) for the blessing and building up of others, and not for personal gratification. 

So, now we come to the verses of your question: 1 Corinthians 14:1 “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.”  So, is one spiritual gift better than another?  Not at all.  The apostle himself spoke in tongues, and he did not forbid the use of this very important gift.  But the value of any gift is in how it is used to bless others (remember 1 Corinthians 13).  In Acts 2, the gift of tongues was a sign to unbelievers that the Holy Spirit had come upon believers, and that the church as the body of Christ had begun.  Those hearing this were amazed that they heard people from countries other than their own speaking in their own language, and many believed and were added to the body of Christ that day.  In 1 Corinthians 14, however, we are primarily speaking about the use of the gifts within the assembly, or church.  Look at how many times in this chapter the reference is to the church, and in this context, the primary motivation of the use of spiritual gifts is not to edify oneself, but the body of Christ. All is to be done in love.  Unfortunately, the Corinthians seemed more impressed with their gifts, and less interested in edifying others.  Thus, in verses 2-5, we read, “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. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 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.”

So, does Paul scorn or diminish the value of speaking in tongues?  Not at all.  In the proper place, this is a most valuable gift.  Who can tell how many times this gift helped a missionary to give the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those of remote lands? In verse 5, he clearly said that he wished they all had this gift; but more than that, he wanted them to use their gifts in a way that edified the church. The use of gifts in the church is the focus of chapter 14. The one gift was not more honorable than another, but the spirit of love or charity would beg us to use the gifts in the assembly in a way that blessed others and not just oneself.  Prophecy in the assembly would bless and uplift those in the assembly since these messages of truth from the Lord would be easily understood by all. The blessing to others in the assembly would be much more limited in the case of tongues, unless there was one to interpret.  (383.6)  (SF)