1 Corinthians 14:11-20
1 Cor 14:11 (KJV)
Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.

Here Paul is stating that unless there is language harmony between the speaker and the hearer, then both will be considered as barbarians. That term in ancient Greece referred to those foreigners who did not have understanding of the Greek language plus they were uneducated and cruel people. If the speaker does not speak in the tongue of the hearer, then that person who is hearing will gain nothing by the teaching. Speech is a powerful communications medium but when it is not understood, it is but futile and useless.

1 Cor 14:12 (KJV)
Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

Paul is stating that these Corinthians, even though they are very zealous for spiritual gifts, must use those gifts in the way that will edify the church. Building on verse 11, Paul wants there to be harmony between what is spoken and what is heard, this way there will be profit by both speaker and hearer. Having and using spiritual gifts are useless if they are not used for the purpose of edification of the brethren.

1 Cor 14:13 (KJV)
Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.

Paul wants those that speak in a tongues to be able to edify the congregation, therefore those who used tongues should pray that the message given them could also be interpreted by them so the whole church could benefit from the message. Keep in mind this was still the time when people received divine messages from God in languages they were not fluent in, an interpretation was needed so the congregation would understand the message. The interpretation of tongues and tongues were two separate spiritual gifts, but how great it would be if they were within the same person.

1 Cor 14:14 (KJV)
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

If a person is engaging the spiritual gift of tongues and has no understanding of what they are saying, then their spirit is doing the praying. It is a normal function that we operate through our understanding. For example, if we hear a sermon on missions, we will then have an understanding on missions and maybe the Holy Spirit might prompt a person to go to the field. The gift of tongues in the early church had bypassed the normal channels of understanding. The spirit did not automatically convey the meaning to another person’s spirit and that is why even the tongue speaker could not understand what was being said, never mind the others who heard. The spirit does not convey to another in the same way that our understanding conveys to others.

1 Cor 14:15 (KJV)
What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

Here Paul says that what he is going to do is both pray and sing in tongues but including the understanding. Paul was giving recognition to both the gift of tongues and the necessity of understanding the message which was given in tongues. Paul is teaching that both the spiritual gift and the understanding of the believer is necessary for edification.

1 Cor 14:16 (KJV)
Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?

Paul continues the discourse by stating that if you are praying with the spirit and not conveying the understanding, then how will those whom you are speaking to be able to give approbation to your prayer by saying, “Amen,” if they cannot understand what you are saying? The key to using this spiritual gift properly is to take what the Spirit teaches and translate that into understanding so all will be edified. Paul continually exhorts them to makes sure this gift is not abused but that it is used to the glory of God, and that will be accomplished by making sure that the understanding accompanies the tongues message.

1 Cor 14:17 (KJV)
For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

A person can praise the Lord in another language and that is pleasing to the Lord, since He is the creator of all languages, but the problem is that those who hear the giving of thanks are not edified, which carries with it the meaning of “built up.” Spiritual gifts are to be used for the furtherance of the Gospel but the hindrance to that is not conveying the message into a person’s understanding. If I went to Warsaw, Poland and handed out tracts in the Korean language, how would that benefit those who received it? But if I handed out tracts in the Polish language, then all would be edified, even though some would probably be angry.

1 Cor 14:18 (KJV)
I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

Paul was thankful that the Lord gave him the gift of tongues which would have been a great gift for a missionary. He probably had more opportunity than these Corinthians to utilize that gift, since he did much traveling and encountered many people of differing languages.

1 Cor 14:19 (KJV)
Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

Paul now gives his analogy. He would rather speak a smaller sermon in the understanding of his hearers rather than speak an eloquent sermon in tongues without anyone understanding it. Some in the Corinthian church were probably glorying a little in the fact that they could speak in tongues for a long period of time. Without understanding, they could speak for hours and it will be a futile message if no one understands.

1 Cor 14:20 (KJV)
Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

It seems Paul had changed his writing demeanor in this verse. Since there was this tongues misuse in the church at Corinth, there may have been much contention which was causing a lot of strife in the church. If someone got up in the church and spoke a long sermon in tongues just to show off, it would definitely raise the ire of many in the congregation. So Paul is hoping to quench any strife by telling them that they need to increase their understanding from the way a child understand things, through limited intelligence, into maturing their faculties for understanding. The word “malice” carries with it the meaning of “Ill will” or “a desire to do injury.” The proper understanding of spiritual issues shows an increase in maturity and would put away the childish practices which can destroy a church assembly.