We’re in territory that I must admit I have little confidence to speak upon. I suppose I’m in kind of a weird position. I’m not one of those that believe that certain gifts such as tongues have disappeared. I have, for example, known a Japanese home church in which someone spoke in tongues, and they happened to be speaking Chinese which that person never studied. But at that church, there was someone actually there who did speak Chinese who interpreted. And they said it was words that were glorifying God. I’ve heard other similar stories as well.
That said, I don’t speak in tongues myself.
As for prophesy, I don’t believe as some do that it is merely “expository preaching.” When I look at prophesy, it seems to be much more than that. It was used as Paul describes in verses 3 and 31, for strengthening, encouragement, comfort, and instruction. Now this may sound like expository preaching because good preaching will do that. But I think the one main difference here is that good expository preaching comes from a careful study of the scripture. Prophesy, according to Peter, doesn’t seem to be that way. Rather, Peter wrote,
Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (II Peter 1:21)
And looking at this whole passage in I Corinthians 14, I think prophesy is dealt with in that sense of being carried along by the Spirit as they speak, rather than speaking from self-study.
Anyway, this whole passage is talking about the difference between tongues and prophesy. And Paul says here that the main difference is that when you pray in tongues, it really does no good to anyone except the person who is praying. (It edifies them somehow in the spirit). The exception to this is if what they are saying is interpreted.
Prophesy, on the other hand, is more useful in itself because it is spoken in the language that everyone knows. And so while Paul encourages the Corinthians to speak in tongues, he encourages them to be eager for the gift of prophesy even more.
He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. (5)
Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. (12)
I could say much more on this topic, and probably will in the next few blogs, but here’s the thing that strikes me the most of all that Paul says. The words we speak in the church are to be finely tuned instruments. And through those words, we should be strengthening, encouraging, comforting, and instructing others.
Those are the main functions of prophesy. But that should be the goal of all who are Christians. The gift of prophesy, I believe, augments the ability to do this by attaching special supernatural power to it. But whether we have the gift or not, those are the kinds of words that should be coming out of our mouths as we talk to the people around us.
How about you? Are your words doing these things? Do your words build up the people around you?