I Corinthians 14:1-5.
The gift of unification.
In I Corinthians 14 Paul explains the proper use of tongues in the body of Christ.
First we must note that “tongues” are languages unknown by the speaker but shared for the benefit of those who have never heard the message of Christ.
The Holy Spirit freely gave the gift of tongues to the Church. It is important to note that we are NOT speaking about unintelligible words; the message of the cross always makes sense.
Much confusion has developed around Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 14:2 where he says, “For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God: for no man understands him; howbeit in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” This is not that difficult to understand. First keep in mind that the gift of the Holy Spirit is KNOWN languages according to Acts 2. Paul says that, “the spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (I Cor. 14:32). If the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets then the gift of tongues is also subject to the speaker. If a person who has the gift of tongues, i.e., languages use their gift in a setting where no one understands the language spoken they will not be speaking to man but only to God who understands all things. In this case Paul urges the gifted individual to use an interpreter and if there is on interpreter, “LET HIM KEEP SILENCE IN THE CHURCH; AND LET HIM SPEAK TO HIMSELF, AND TO GOD” (I Cor. 14:28).
“He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself…” (I Cor. 14:4). To exercise a gift is a wonderful thing; but the point of receiving a gift from God through the Holy Spirit is to edify the entire body of Christ (I Cor. 12:7). If no one understands the language spoken only the gifted individual will be edified.
Because of the confusion that can occur during the use of tongues, Paul urged the Church to focus on the gift of prophesy, because, “he that prophesies speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (I Cor. 14:3).
Paul’s desire for the church was that they would excel in communicating the gospel through different languages, but if they could not always find an audience that understood the language shared they should focus rather on prophesying; “…for greater is he that prophesy than he that speaks with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying” (I Cor. 14:5).