In this chapter the apostle writes concerning the right use of spiritual gifts and prefers prophesying, or preaching, to every other gift.
(Vs. 1.) "Follow after that love to God and toward your brethren about which I have been speaking. Make love your aim, and at the same time covet spiritual gifts." Because love has the pre-eminence does not mean that we are to despise or neglect these gifts (2 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:13, 14). Of all the gifts, the gift of preaching the Word (the ability to open the Scriptures and the gift to explain the Old Testament prophecies, promises and types fulfilled in Christ) is of the greatest value to the church.
(Vs. 2.) The word "unknown" is not in the original Scriptures. It has been supplied by the translators. By a "tongue" Paul means a language not known or understood by most of the hearers. Suppose a person has the gift to speak or preach in another language (Acts 2:4-8) and, whether to show off his gift or for whatever reason, he uses that language to speak to the congregation. He speaks not to them, for they do not understand him. God understands him, for he is the Author of all languages. He may preach, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, great and wonderful mysteries, but it is of no profit, for no one understands him.
(Vs. 3.) He who preaches to men the gospel of Christ in the common language edifies men. There is an increase in knowledge and understanding. He exhorts them to walk in faith, obedience and holiness. He comforts the people of God who are troubled and burdened. God gives a blessing through the preached Word, but the blessing cannot come through a language not understood (Rom. 10:13-15; l John 5:20).
(Vs. 4.) He that speaks in a language not known by the hearers may warm his own heart and bless his own soul (if he understands what he is saying), but he that preaches in an intelligible language and style is a blessing to all who hear him.
(Vs. 5.) Evidently all did not have this extraordinary gift of the Spirit to speak in a language they never learned, and Paul says he would be happy if they did have it. However, more than this, he rather wished that they all had the ability to open and apply the Scriptures to men's understanding; for he who preaches and teaches the Word of God in a man's own tongue is more useful and important than the man who speaks in an unknown tongue, unless he interprets what he says, that the people might be edified.
(Vs. 6.) "Suppose I come to you speaking in a language you do not understand. What good would it do you? Unless there is a revelation of Christ to the heart, a knowledge of our sins, his mercy and his will of redemption, a telling forth of his purpose in Christ and the doctrines of grace, my ministry among you would be fruitless." Men cannot believe what they do not hear.
(Vs. 7-9.) When a person plays a musical instrument, he must play certain notes which are set in order according to a prescribed time, or no one will know the song he is playing. The trumpet was used by armies to sound charge or retreat. How will the soldiers know whether to charge or to fall back if there is no clear, understandable note sounded?
"So it is with preaching or teaching. If you speak in a language no one understands, he will not know what you are saying. You will just be talking into the air."
(Vs. 10, 11.) The whole earth was originally of one language (Gen. 11:1); but God gave them many languages (Gen. 11:7), so that now there are many tongues and languages, and the words in all languages are significant to those who understand them.
Therefore, if the language is not known to both speaker and hearer, they will be like foreigners to one another.
(Vs. l2.) The Corinthians were very ambitious of spiritual gifts; therefore, Paul advises them to concentrate on seeking those gifts and the proper use of them so that the church may be edified. "Seek to excel and abound in gifts for the glory of God and the good of the church."
(Vs. 13.) In 1 Corinthians 12:10 and 30 it appears that the gift to speak in tongues and the gift to interpret were distinct. Evidently a man could have one without the other. A man may be able to preach in another language and yet not be capable of translating it into the common language of the people. Therefore, if one speaks in another language, let him pray for the ability to interpret what he has said.
(Vs. 14, 15.) "If I pray in the assembly in an unknown language (whether I understand, as some think, or do not understand, as others think), my spirit (by the Holy Spirit within me) does truly pray. But it bears no fruit and helps nobody if no one understands me, nor does it edify me if I do not understand.
What is to be done then? Here is the reply: "I will pray with the influence and aid of the Spirit of God, but I will also pray in a language that I myself and others may understand what I say." The same thing is applicable to what we sing.
(Vs. 16, 17.) "If you praise God and render thanks led by the Holy Spirit, how can the man who does not understand what you are saying worship with you and say "Amen" to your prayer? You give thanks and are blessed, but he is not edified."