(iv) SECTION FOUR: In Church, Only What Edifies (14:1-40)

Map of Corinth / Map of Corinth's Location / Picture of the Temple of Apollo / Outline Chart/ Read The Letter

Paul here emphasizes the need for EDIFICATION in the Church meeting by using the gifts in a loving and orderly manner. The Corinthians were all speaking in Tongues ecstatically and were really causing more confusion and harm than good. There are two very important principles that Paul reveals to us in this section. They are....

(1) The Importance of INTELLIGIBILITY (verses 1-25).

(2) The Importance of ORDER (verses 26-40).

We will look at each section individually...

(1) The Importance of Intelligibility (Verses 1-25):

Read the passage of Scripture first...


1 Cor 14:1-25

1Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

2For 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.

3But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.

4He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

5I 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.

6But 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?

7Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?

8For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?

9So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.

10There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.

11Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.

12Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.

13Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.

14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

15What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.

16Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?

17For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.

18I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;

19yet 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.

20Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.

21In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord.

22Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

23Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

24But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.

25And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.


In this section Paul compares the 'phanerosis' gift of TONGUES with that of PROPHECY. Is Paul saying here that Prophecy is the best gift and Tongues is the least ?

Basically, Paul is saying that the BEST gift in a church service is that which is UNDERSTOOD and is able to bring EDIFICATION.

Paul is not saying that Tongues should not be used (see verses 5 and 28) but that ,primarily, Tongues are GODWARD (see verse 2) and for SELF-EDIFICATION (see verse 4) and should mainly be for private devotions of which Paul did much (verse 18). But the issue here is IN THE CHURCH (verse 19) where there is the need for GROUP-EDIFICATION. PROPHECY is the best in this case because it is MANWARD (from God - see verse 3) and can be understood.

When, therefore would Tongues be the best option in a Church service ? Click here for the answer when you think you know what it is!

In verses 14 to 16 Paul is saying that in the context of a public Christian gathering there should be UNDERSTANDING. If you pray in tongues ('in the spirit') in a corporate gathering then it's best to interpret that prayer if it will otherwise cause confusion. This is particularly relevant when there is one who 'occupies the place of the uninformed' in the midst of the congregation. This means if one who is an unbeliever or not 'charismatic' (baptized in the spirit and moving in the spiritual gifts) in the congregation it would not be loving for the church members to launch off into unintelligible tongues without an interpretation.

Diagram showing how the Gift of Tongues works with and without an Interpreter. Without and interpreter the person speaking is edified but others have no understanding.

It is important to note that TONGUES is from MAN TO GOD whereas PROPHECY is GOD TO MAN. On interpreting a TONGUE it therefore should be in the language of MAN TO GOD. Therefore Interpretation of Tongues will be different to Prophecy in its content. Prophecy will be in the form of GOD TO MAN (eg. "My Children...") whereas Tongues will be about some aspect of God or some NOW message to the people about God's activity in the form of a herald talking about God's nature and activity.

There are TONGUES OF ANGELS (heavenly tongues not of human origin) and TONGUES OF MEN (foreign languages such as were spoken in Acts 2) - see verse 1. Prophecy can be either FORETELLING or FORTH-TELLING but should always have EDIFICATION and COMFORT as its goal.

(2) The Importance of Order In The Church (Verses 26-40):

Read the passage of Scripture first....


1 Cor 14:26-40

26How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

27If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.

28But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

29Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.

30But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.

31For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

32And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

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

34Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.

35And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

36Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?

37If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

38But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

39Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

40Let all things be done decently and in order.(NKJ)

In this section Paul shows that it is essential there is not any CONFUSION in the service as there was in the Corinthian Church.

In the Corinthian Church, not only was it a very noisy service with most people shouting in Tongues, but also the women were very vociferous and unorderly in Church due to their wrong idea of freedom as we have seen before. Because of this Paul gives guidelines for order in the Church (note that the advice Paul gives is in the context of the prevailing culture at that time).

Three definite sections can be seen here which we will look at individually...


(a) Variety and Edification Are Essential (Verses 26-28):

Here we see Paul giving a possible healthy scenario for a church service. He emphasizes the need for a variety of gifts to be operating (not just one as was the case in the Corinthian Church). Not only are a variety of gifts to be displayed but everything must be done in an ORDERLY fashion. But this order is God's order, not ours! Some services are so 'ordered' that the gifts are 'ordered out' of the service. The order spoken of here is that of having a sensitivity in the Spirit to use your gift as the Lord leads in love - often the use of one gift will prompt another to 'build upon' what has been accomplished with the previous gift. All must lead to EDIFICATION (literally a 'building up' of the congregation).

If Tongues are spoken at all what are the guidelines that must be followed ?

Click on the answer you feel is what this passage really means for today....

(A) Tongues in a Church service must be spoken in turn, no more than three altogether, with the expectation that an interpretation will be given.

(B) Tongues can be given whenever the person feels it coming (even in the middle of the preaching) in a Church service.

(C) Tongues should not be spoken at all in Church services as they will not be understood and will be distracting.


(b) Guideline For Prophecy (verses 29-32):

We see here that the guidelines for prophecy in a church service (as given by Paul are):

(i) Prophecies must be spoken in turn and no more than three are to be given in all.

(ii) The other prophetic leaders are to judge whether the prophecy is accurate, from God and in the right spirit. Each church needs a policy of how to deal with prophecies that are a bit 'off' and how to discern this.

(iii) Prophecies are to lead to encouragement of the people.

Remember, these are specific guidelines Paul gives for a specific Church but they are guidelines that make sense for modern day congregations too. It is wise then to assume that we can literally follow these guidelines in our Churches today !

(c) The Silence Of Women (verses 34-35):

Paul here clearly says that the women (specifically 'wives') in the Church are to remain silent during the service as it is not permitted for them to speak, they are to be submissive. If they want to ask any questions or say anything they must do so privately with their husbands.

The question is, does this apply in the Church today ?

We have seen that the guidelines for usage of the gifts can be applied to today's church as there are comparable particulars. However, for Paul's statements here about women in the church to apply to any church today there must be the following comparable particulars...

1. The prevailing culture is that women are submissive in public meetings by being quiet.

2. The church has been disturbed by many questions from women who have 'broken free' from the cultural restraints and are voicing their freedom. This has led to confusion among the members. Click here.

Obviously, in many churches today we do not face these problems. Paul was giving a solution to the Corinthian's particular problem. The principle that can be carried forward to any church in any generation is that women must not use their freedom in Christ to abuse cultural practices when in Christian meetings, thus disturbing the flow and order of the service. If women speaking in church does not cause confusion in a congregation and contributes to the flow of edification then it is not a problem!

(d) The Conclusion (verses 36-40):

Look through these concluding words from Paul and click on the links to see the Greek meanings.

The main points we have seen are that, in a Church service:


(1) There must be a VARIETY OF GIFTS.

(2) The gifts must be USED IN LOVE.

(3) The aim is always that of EDIFICATION.

(4) There must be ORDER in the service.

Again, the main emphasis of Paul's teaching is that the Church be in the place of being a 'light to the gentiles'. A Church service that has confusion will turn off the unbeliever, but a service that follows the guidelines outlined here will cause non believers who attend to fall on their knees and acknowledge the Lord! Always Paul has missions, outreach, evangelism on his heart, so should we. Let our Church meetings be places of the gifts being orderly and wisely used so as to mobilize the church to be a lighthouse to the nations.

You are now ready to go to the last part of Paul's epistle, his concluding words in Chapter 16. Click here to go to Paul's Concluding Words.

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