The key to this rather long chapter is the word EDIFICATION (which is found in verses 3-5, 12, 17 and 26). The word means “to build up” and thus it speaks of “spiritual growth.” Paul’s desire for the saints at Corinth was that their coming together would be for EDIFICATION, as well as to “glorify God.” He had learned that they were using some of their gifts for “self-glory,” which robbed God of His glory and robbed the saints of the ministry they needed to grow. This chapter is meant to reprove and correct them. Let’s take a brief look at the chapter. We will be using the New King James Version.

Verses 1-5: Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may PROPHESY. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who PROPHESIES speaks unto EDIFICATION and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but HE WHO PROPHESIES EDIFIES THE CHURCH. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you PROPHESIED; for HE WHO PROPHESIES IS GREATER THAN HE WHO SPEAKS WITH TONGUES, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive EDIFICATION” (NKJV).

Paul had just been speaking, in chapters 12 & 13, of spiritual gifts and love. Here he emphasizes that in order for love to truly be manifested, one must use their spiritual gifts for EDIFICATION. They were making so much of the gift of tongues (i.e. the ability to speak in a language they had never learned), but the use of that gift brought no edification to the church unless one was able to interpret what was said. In contrast, PROPHESYING (i.e. speaking the Mind of God) results in real EDIFICATION.

Verse 6: “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching.” Paul was really driving home the message that “speaking with tongues” was useless, for there must be “intelligent communication” in order for the saints to profit spiritually by what is said. In verses 7-12 he illustrates the need for simple-to-understand language “for the edification of the church.”

In verses 13-25 Paul lets them know that the gift of tongues has its place, as long as the language is interpreted. “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret” (verse 13). Even when praying or singing, it must be done “with the understanding” (verses 14-17). Paul himself had the gift of tongues and he thanked God for it (verse 17), yet he goes on to say in verse 19, “Yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” May we take this lesson to heart, dear fellow-believers, and only speak those words which God gives us to speak, that we “may teach others also.” Then he brings out the primary purpose of tongues, “Therefore tongues are FOR A SIGN, not to those who believe but TO UNBELIEVERS” (verse 22). Yet if unbelievers attend a meeting of the church and “all speak with tongues” they will “say that you are out of your mind” (verse 23). But if an unbeliever sees the church prophesying to each other, “he is convicted by all” and “will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (verses 24-25).

Paul closes the chapter (verses 26-40) by setting forth God’s order for the use of gifts. For speaking in tongues, it should be “two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret” (verse 27). For prophesying, it is also limited to “two or three” and “let the others judge” (verse 29). Why does God set these limits? Verse 33 supplies the answer: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.” He lays down one more rule of order in verse 34, “Let your women keep silent in the churches.” Some believe this means women were not to “chatter” or “interrupt the men who were speaking.” But Paul was teaching them that “women were NOT to teach,” as he said elsewhere in 1st Timothy 2:11-12, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” If the church would abide by these principles, God would surely be glorified and the saints would be EDIFIED. Verse 40 makes it abundantly clear that God’s order must be followed: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (269.3) (DO)