Some of you following along in your own bibles might notice that this next section is divided into two different topics, the first being from what we discussed yesterday and the second being a new theme altogether. Here Paul not only drives his point home but also expounds on the purpose of these gifts. He previously encouraged the Corinthians to seek out the gift of prophecy above all spiritual gifts and here he opens the discussion to explain that unless prophecy is used in its proper place and time as well, it is pointless.
13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. 16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. 18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
Yesterday I referenced the pouring out of the Spirit in the book of Acts. Paul explains here that the gift of tongues doesn’t really edify the church body, but rather shows unbelievers the existence of supernatural occurrences (just like healing and other miracles) and opens others up to the possibility of the existence of God and the spiritual realm. Therefore it is designed for pointing them towards God and joining the assembly of believers to find out what this god thing is all about. However, prophecy is different altogether.
There have been many “prophetic” claims of the second coming of Christ. Has anyone been able to understand why these are wrong? If you don’t even believe the spiritual realm exists in the first place, let’s set that argument aside for now and focus on what Paul is saying here in 1 Corinthians. Prophecy is to edify the body of believers. How does predicting the second coming help anybody? Some might say that it gives us hope for His return; but if we really do believe, then we already have that hope. The only reasons to predict or prophesy the return of Christ is to 1) scare others into believing or 2) to try to make a name for yourself. Don’t even get me started on the biblical backing to prove that nobody can accurately predict the second coming anyway! My point in all this is that prophets and their prophecies are supposed to be to strengthen the current body of believers, not to convince others to believe. We can’t convince people to believe anyway, so what’s the point?
We need to understand the point of these gifts in order to use and receive them properly. Spiritual gifts freak people out. They are unnatural and generally unexplainable unless you look at them from a spiritual perspective. Paul is explaining that everything has its place and purpose just like natural things. It is important, therefore, to pay attention to these uses and purposes so that we will not be deceived, others will not be confused, and we will act within the confounds of our own design.