The Big Idea
Two of the most common ways the Spirit is manifest in a gathered setting is through the gifts of prophecy and tongues. These are also two gifts that generate a lot of controversy, confusion or misunderstanding, particularly when they are not correctly used. In this chapter Paul gets to the heart of why God works through these gifts and how we can use them.
1 Corinthians 14
Tongues Is Something to Be Desired
Tongues is a language that is directed towards God, and though others might not understand what is being said, speaking in tongues builds up the person who is doing it. It is something that we should all desire (though the implication of 1 Cor 12:30 is that not all believers will have the gift) and that can be practiced in private or in public with interpretation.
Prophecy Is Something to Be Even More Desired
Unlike tongues, the benefit of prophecy is for others as well as the individual using the gift. The purpose is the ‘upbuilding, encouragement and consolation’ of those who hear. Because it is a word from God that is understandable to people, it can impact them right to the heart.
Using the Gifts In Public
The context is likely correcting misuse of the gifts in Corinth, and we should not that Paul does note discourage the use of the gifts but instead supplies some principles for how to best use the gifts in a public setting. The first of these principles is to think of the outsider – people who are not believers will join our gatherings, and it is important that what happens makes sense to them. This means that words in tongues should be kept to a small number and interpreted, and that space should be made for prophecy. The second principle is orderly participation. The idea is that the Holy Spirit will work through different people in the congregation to bring different contributions that bless the whole, and that these people should do so in a way that builds up, that respects the contributions of others and that is not overbearing.