1CORINTHIANS 14:1-25 (NIV – UK)
Intelligibility in worship
1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.
13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an enquirer, say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.21 In the Law it is written:
‘With other tongues
and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
but even then they will not listen to me,
says the Lord.’ [Isaiah 28:11-12]
22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and enquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an enquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’
Paul commends the way of love to us once more (v. 1) and then turns to how we conduct ourselves in our public worship – in our church services.
It can often be an unseen trap for a church to slip into being inward facing – not being sensitive of the ‘unbeliever’ or the ‘enquirer’. Every Sunday enquirers come through the doors of churches up and down the country. What do they see when they come in? What language are we speaking? Do they understand anything of what is going on in the service or have we become so inward facing that we only make sense to ourselves?
Speaking specifically about tongues and prophesying, Paul means to stress the importance of being, to some extent, outward facing in our church services – always having in mind that person who doesn’t yet know Jesus (v. 23). This is a principle that we can apply widely. Are we speaking a ‘language’ that outsiders can understand? Are we proclaiming Jesus in an accessible way? In all of this, Paul is very clear about the reason to be aware of the enquirer – he states it simply: So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’ (v. 25). The most loving thing we can ever do is lead people to the Risen Christ!
Question: How often do you think of the ‘enquirer’ during a Sunday service?