1 Corinthians 14:1-10
1 Cor 14:1 (KJV)
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.

Paul now enters the realm of language misuse in the church. Paul first tells them after his discourse in chapter thirteen, that they need to follow after charity in all their dealings . He next tells them to desire those spiritual gifts. This is important because too many Christians in contemporary times think that Christianity can survive only on love. This idea started creeping into Christianity in the early part of the 20th century, and along with the idea of love only came the great apostasy that began to rear its ugly head. Paul wants the Christians, us included, to be zealous for spiritual gifts. The word “desire” in the Greek means “zealous.” Now he wants them to be zealous for the purpose of using those spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit gave them. Every Christian has a spiritual gift and they are to use them for the furtherance of the Kingdom. Many think love is a spiritual gift, it is not, rather it is a fruit of the spirit. If we keep our spiritual gift dormant under the guise of “love” then we will become failures in our Christian walk. Our spiritual gifts are to be used in conjunction with charity, not in lieu of it. He then tells us that we are to use our spiritual gifts for the purpose of prophesying, that is to declare God’s Word in clarity. When 1 Corinthians was written, there were still prophecies being given by God but that ended when the Bible was completed about 41 years later.

1 Cor 14:2 (KJV)
For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.

Paul begins to speak concerning the issue of tongues. Tongues in the Greek is the word “glossa” which means a legitimate language. The translators added the word “unknown” here to further illustrate that if someone goes into an assembly and begins to speak in a language foreign to the congregation, then they are not speaking to the people, since they cannot understand it, but are speaking to God since He is the creator of all languages on earth. A person who is exercising their spiritual gift of languages, will be speaking the mysteries. The mystery that they will be speaking is not some hidden language with some esoteric meaning, rather they would be speaking the mystery of the Gospel.
(Eph 3:3-4 KJV) How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, {4} Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) The false tongue speakers of today try to get us to believe that their false tongues represent some kind of deep mystery known only to God. The tongues of today are nothing but babbling.

1 Cor 14:3 (KJV)
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.

When a person speaks plainly in declaring God’s Word, they are edifying the Christians in the knowledge of the Gospel, exhorting them which is building them up in the Faith, and comforting them with the comfort of the Gospel. This cannot be done if someone is speaking in a different language than the hearer can understand. It would be like a Christian coming to my home and speaking Swedish. I would not understand one word.

1 Cor 14:4 (KJV)
He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

If someone comes to a church and speaks in a language they do not understand, then they are edifying themselves, simply because no one else but the speaker understands the language. If a person speaks in the language of the hearers, then the whole congregation will be edified, which carries with it the meaning of “being built up.” I only understand English, so if someone comes to me and speaks a different language, I will not be edified at all.

1 Cor 14:5 (KJV)
I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

During this period, there was a supernatural gift of tongues whereby people could speak a language that they did not learn but were given it by God. Paul stated that he would like it if they all spoke with tongues. Why? So they could all be sent out to the country where the language they possessed could be spoken freely to expand the Gospel. Yet, Paul would still want them to prophesy clearly in the church to those who they were speaking to. Greater is the declaration of the true Gospel than the displaying of spiritual gifts. In this verse, he introduces the need for interpretation. In the tongues of Acts, these people did not need an interpreter as they heard the Gospel in their own languages. Here Paul is stating that for the church to be edified, they would need to have someone interpret what is being spoken. If a person came to my church to speak and only spoke Japanese, then for the church to be edified, I would have to bring in a Japanese interpreter, or else everything the speaker said would be lost to us.

1 Cor 14:6 (KJV)
Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?

Paul now asks the question, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will that profit you? If they do not understand what is being said, what good would it do them? How would they benefit from listening to what they could not understand? He then goes on to say that it would be profitable for them that if he spoke a revelation from God, or if he gave them a word of knowledge, or if he prophesied to them, declaring God’s Word, or gave them a doctrinal teaching in the language they could understand. Think about tongues with an interpreter as being like watching a foreign movie with English subtitles.

1 Cor 14:7 (KJV)
And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?

The pipe here is like a flute and of course the harp is a stringed instrument. Each has its own distinct sound but if they are detuned or damaged, they will not give the expected sound, and no one will know what is being played. As music must be played with proper harmony of chords and expression to gain the proper sound, so must the living Word of God be given the same outlet, or else people will not know the Word of God is being preached. If you do not understand the language being spoken, you will not know what is being spoken.

1 Cor 14:8 (KJV)
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

Now Paul turns to a military analogy. If the Commander of the troops orders an attack but the trumpet gives the wrong sound, then no one will prepare for the battle. The trumpet was both the warning of an impending attack and a preparation for attack. In ancient times, even up to today, the trumpet has military use. Depending on the sound of the trumpet determined what the army would do. If the trumpet gave an uncertain or indistinct sound, then the army would be in confusion. Confusion is a high mark in the modern charismatic church with all its uncertain tongue speaking.

1 Cor 14:9 (KJV)
So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.

Just as an instrument which is out of kilter which plays an indistinct sound so does the person who speaks in a tongue. Paul is now saying to use their tongue ( the physical member) to speak words that are easy to understand.
(1 Cor 2:1 KJV) And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. This not only means that we speak in a language our hearers understand, but we should also speak in words they understand. No preacher should be using words that are excessively difficult to understand. When they do that, they are, in essence, edifying themselves because those in the congregation who do not understand these big words, are not being edified. In both cases, the preacher will be preaching those words into the air, whether it is a language the people do not understand nor the excessively large words in their native language. The Christian’s responsibility is to preach the Word so the people can hear it and understand it.

1 Cor 14:10 (KJV)
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

There are many kinds of voices out there, basically he was speaking about the many languages at that time. In today’s world there are about 350 major languages with about 3,000 different dialects. Each language and/or dialect is significant to the people who speak it. To them, their own language has a distinct sound. In the movie about the slave ship, the Amistad, which really happened in 1839, when a group of African slaves took over the ship and wanted to head back to Africa but they wound up in Long Island Sound in New York. After they docked, they were taken into custody and since no one could understand them, the authorities took a few words from their language and sent people to the wharfs. These people would continue to call out these words in that language. Then a sailor heard the words and understood them. He then became the translator for this group, which eventually were allowed to return to Africa. The distinction of that language was heard by someone who helped them gain their freedom. No one could understand this group, even college trained interpreters. It was only when a native of this language heard it, he acted on it. Same with the Gospel. If the people cannot understand it, they cannot act on it. This is what Paul is trying to get through to this group.