1 Corinthians 14:1–19 (NKJV)
1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.1 Corinthians 14:1-5
Paul connects this chapter with the previous in his opening, referring to the need for love and spiritual gifts. He identifies the best gift, prophecy, and explains the reason it is preferred. Prophecy, of which preaching may be considered a part when inspired, is greater because it is a medium that is understandable by all. He compared prophecy to tongues, pointing out that tongues are valid, and even valuable, but more so for the individual speaking in tongues than for the body in general. The only time that tongues edifies the church is if there is a message in tongues and an interpretation of those tongues, so that all may know what was said. So tongues, valid and equally a gift, are more for the individual’s edification than prophecy, which edifies the body of the church.
6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.1 Corinthians 14:6-19
13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.
18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Paul goes further in his discussion of tongues, pointing out that uncertain sounds, whether a musical instrument or a call to battle, is not profitable for the purpose to which it is called unless it is distinguishable and certain. One cannot know what song is being played, or what the battle call means unless it is certain. This is the reason that prophecy, teaching, and other forms of revelation are greater than speaking in tongues for personal edification. While a group may rejoice together, speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance in a group, it is more advantageous for the entire body that one speak in a language understood by all, so that they all may be taught, encouraged, or blessed. Therefore, Paul says that he will purpose to pray with the spirit and with understanding, to sing likewise, and give thanks both ways. In so doing, he will be profitable to the whole body. While he is elevating prophecy and teaching above tongues, he is not discouraging tongues. As a matter of fact, he sums up the passage by thanking God that he speaks in tongues more than all of his readers, but points out that in the church he would rather speak a few words in a known tongue than then thousand in a tongue. In this, he will edify and bless the body more completely.
What is the end of this discussion, then? First, Paul supports the spiritual blessing of speaking in tongues. For one’s personal devotional life and their pray times, and even in church when the Spirit moves, spirit-filled believers should speak in tongues when moved upon by the Spirit. Do not quench the Spirit. However, do not take over a service or monopolize by speaking in tongues in a disorderly manner. When one speaks in tongues and it appears the practice is for seeking attention or taking over a service, that is not Godly and should be rejected. Do all things decently and in order for the glory of God. Second, the ministry of the word, teaching, preaching, prophecy, and messages in tongues that are interpreted are all means whereby God gives His word to the entire church assembled. This is how God delivers His truth and edifies (builds up) His body. Therefore, it is more profitable for more people. Third, Paul speaks to the need for a balance between individual edification and body edification. They both matter. They are both valid. They both come from God and glorify God in the proper context. So, seek for the gifts. Be decent, and glorify God in all that you do.