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by Andre Watson.


1st Corinthians 14:4 says:

He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself; but he that prophesies edifies the church.

Once again, Paul is not instructing to use tongues to edify, or build yourself, but he is giving a sharp rebuke. Remember, we read in 1st Corinthians 12:7 that spiritual gifts aren’t for private use. This is a comment from Adam Clark’s Commentary on the Whole Bible:

The apostle’s meaning seems to be this: Whatever gifts God has bestowed, or in what various ways soever the Spirit of God may have manifested himself, it is all for the common benefit of the Church. God has given no gift to any man for his own private advantage, or exclusive profit. He has it for the benefit of others as well as for his own salvation.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible says:

The Spirit was manifested by the exercise of these gifts; his influence and interest appeared in them. But they were not distributed for the mere honour and advantage of those who had them, but for the benefit of the church, to edify the body, and spread and advance the gospel. Note, Whatever gifts God confers on any man, he confers them that he may do good with them, whether they be common or spiritual. The outward gifts of his bounty are to be improved for his glory, and employed in doing good to others. No man has them merely for himself.

And just so I can drive this point home, The People’s New Testament says this:

7-11. But the manifestation of the Spirit, etc. However varied these manifestations, all are for the profit of the whole body. No gift of the Spirit is for the benefit of the recipient. This is now shown.

So, if the gifts are not to be used for private advantage, then what does Paul mean when he says that speaking in a tongue edifies a person? I have known some ministers as I came up in ministry that would have a revelation. They would go on and on about having this revelation. When you ask them what it is, they would not reveal the revelation. They would tell us that they studied a long time, fasted and prayed for this and wasn’t going to give it up so easily. I found myself doing the same thing one time. It feels good to know something someone else didn’t. I felt like a big man, like I’m smarter than they were. Chapter 3 on 1st Corinthians speaks of the carnality of the church. As far as maturity and growth in the things of God, they acted like kids. Just as I did, and many people before me, they felt big about having spiritual gifts that other people didn’t. Paul said that among them were envying and strife, but the one thing that caused this was the divisions. There were cliques, groups, sets in the church. So, you have tongue speakers, which is the gift that was most showed off, who made themselves bigger and better than everyone else. They were boastful and proud. They “built themselves up” by speaking in tongues.

It amazes me how people that read the bible don’t read the bible. Ok, I know that sounds silly, however, it’s true. 1st Corinthians 14:2-4 talks about tongues and prophecy. Tongues is the ability to speak a different language that you have not previously learned. The gift of prophecy is the ability to interpret and teach the spoken, written and visual word of God. When you look at these passages, in between the ideas of tongues and prophecy is the word “but”. The word “but” is a conjunction that connects two phrases, sentences, or ideas together. It is a comparative conjunction (not this, but that). So, what was it comparing? It was comparing two things. In verse one of chapter 14, we are told to desire gifts, but the one to desire more is prophecy. The scripture then begins to show us the difference between the lesser gift, tongues, and the greater gift, prophecy. But that’s not all. If you take into consideration 1st Corinthians 12:7, we are also looking at a comparison of the improper use of gifts, tongues, versus the proper use of gifts, prophecy.