In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul explains the role and function of the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. After teaching about the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul addresses these two specific spiritual gifts because the church in Corinth had become disorderly in their worship. The Corinthian church had an over-emphasis on tongues while under-emphasizing the importance of prophecy within the church. This chapter could best be summarized with the last two verses found in it: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues. But be sure that everything is done properly and in order”.
Paul begins this address to the Corinthians by saying, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy”. Other versions say, “let love be your highest goal”. At the conclusion of what many Christians call the “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul declares that we are to pursue love! After teaching on love, Paul gives the demand to pursue it and to let it be your highest goal! But Paul doesn’t leave us there. He says to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
Prophecy is one of those Christian-y words that oftentimes we use without really understanding it or what it means. In this context, Paul uses the term prophesy to describe a gift of Spirit empowered speech that strengthens, encourages, and comforts other believers. In verses 7-12, Paul then gives three analogies that explain the importance of prophesying within the church. The first analogy explains that nobody can recognize the melody unless each note is sounded clear. The second details that an unclear call to battle is useless, and the last analogy explains that language that isn’t understood, is useless to those who hear it.
Throughout this chapter while Paul is detailing the importance of prophesying in the church, he compares and contrasts it with the importance of speaking in tongues and the role it plays in the life of a believer. Paul says in verses 4-5 that the person speaking in tongues builds themselves up and that he desires for all to speak in tongues, but he gives an important note about speaking in tongues in verses-15 13. Paul says, “Anyone who speaks in tongues should pray also for the ability to interpret what has been said...I will pray in the spirit, and I will also pray in words I understand.”
As 1 Corinthians chapter 14 continues, Paul gives guidelines for maintaining order in worship. The Corinthians had become so focused on the spiritual gifts, that their worship together had become disorderly. They had become more focused on the gifts than they were the Giver of these gifts. Through this passage, he gives specific instructions on how worship should be conducted in the church.
One of the statements that Paul makes is that women should be silent during the church meetings, that is not proper for them to speak. This isn’t a principle that we are to believe literally. The Greek word for speak used here means, “to question, argue, or chatter”. Paul has already assumed the right of women to pray or prophecy publicly in 1 Corinthians 11, and when you look at the context of what is going on in that culture, we see that Paul is addressing the right to judge prophecy, which is something that was restricted to male leadership within the church. In ancient culture, women and men sat in different groups in the church, and specifically in the Corinthian church, there was a problem of women disrupting church meetings with questions that they had for their husbands. Paul explains that the women should wait to ask these questions for their husbands at home.
This situation, along with many others, is why Paul has to remind the Corinthian Church that all of these gifts are for the strengthening of the church and other believers. The Greek word used for strengthen means to promote spiritual life, maturity, and godly character in Christ’s followers. The ultimate goal through using the gifts of the Holy Spirit is that believers would become more like Christ. And the same is true for us today. Our goal is not to elevate spiritual gifts above the Giver. Our goal through utilizing the spiritual gifts is to draw us into deeper relationship and reliance on the Holy Spirit.