1Co 14:23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 1Co 14:24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 1Co 14:25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
If there is anything crystal clear in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, it is that unless you understand the speech of whoever is preaching or speaking in tongues and are being edified there is nothing profitable going on. To use this chapter to justify tongues without an interpreter or “private prayer language” in which you don’t understand what you are saying is to completely miss Paul’s point it seems to me. In vss. 14-15 Paul says plainly that if he doesn’t understand with his mind what he is saying in tongues, it is unfruitful; he doesn’t make any exceptions; 1Co 14:14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 1Co 14:15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
Vss. 23-25 go on to show that if someone comes into the service and all he sees is confusion, which in this context is people speaking in languages he doesn’t understand, he won’t know what is going on and won’t be able to be edified and glorify God. Instead he will think everyone has gone insane. It seems to me that we are justified assuming the same thing in many of the services of Charismatics in which the very same thing is going on. If they aren’t insane we can at least assume it isn’t a work of the Holy Spirit but another spirit. I mean, Paul says it himself, how else can you take these verses?
But it is vss. 24-25 that are even more important. Paul goes on to show why prophecy or the plain proclamation of the Word of God is much more profitable for everyone including a lost person who comes into the service. What these two verses do is remind us what the services are for and it isn’t emotional hoopla for its own sake. The clear proclamation of the gospel brings serious reflection of the state of one’s soul, conviction, repentance and proper worship and service of God. This is to be the goal of what we do in the services. Anything that doesn’t produce that is unfruitful.
And I would add that it isn’t just those that practice tongues that fail here. Many use music and entertainment and even preaching in the very same way. I have seen services where no one was speaking in tongues but the music had them dancing in the aisle and in an emotional state that had nothing to do with the truth of the Word of God. Unfortunately I have seen preaching that accomplished a similar state. I remember a preacher who had a big name in Fundamentalism preaching for us at a chapel service in college. He began by quoting Ecc. 12:13, closed his Bible and never referred to it again and proceeded to tell us story after story, joke after joke along with other antics that brought no conviction of sin or any exposition of any text at all. It did have everyone laughing and was a nice break from our classes, but preaching it was not. I remember a seminary student I knew telling me afterward that he literally had tears of sadness rolling down his face as he witnessed the spectacle. My point is that there are many ways to fail to edify God’s people and honor the Lord in our services and the one thing they have in common is to make light of or ignore biblical exposition.
The last part of vs. 25 seems to be important in this discussion, 1Co 14:25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. Again, the implication would be that if there is confusion and no edification, there is no proof that God is among us. The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Word of God in the language of those who are present. Proof of his presence is the understanding and application of the Truth.
Should not our goal in our services be to see the manifestation of the Holy Spirit? Where ever we read of the fruit of the Spirit it is always understanding and holiness, not emotional hoopla. 1Co 14:26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 1Co 14:33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. 1Co 14:40 But all things should be done decently and in order.