1Co 14:1-3 “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.”
As disciples of Christ, we should pursue charity with great zeal. Having the love of Christ one to another is, by His own declaration, the singular way for all of mankind to know we are His disciples (Joh 13:34-35). It is in this, more than doctrine or practice, that others see Jesus in us. However, that does not mean that doctrine and practice or not important.
As we follow after charity, we should be zealously affected toward spiritual gifts as outlined by Paul (1Co 12:28). As we consider Paul’s expression here, it appears that desiring spiritual gifts is directly connected to following after charity. If we truly have love one to another, then it stands to reason that we are going to desire spiritual gifts for the benefit of those that we love.
While all spiritual gifts are desirable, Paul says that there is one that should be preferred above the others. On the surface, we might be tempted to think that having the gift of healings or miracles would be the best gift to have. Why would Paul prefer that we desire the gift of prophesy?
There are a lot of people who think they would like to have the gift of correctly telling events before they come to pass. The Greek word translated as prophesy here has foretelling future events as one of its meanings, but it also means “divine” and to “speak under inspiration.” It is this area of prophesy, I think, that Paul is pointing us toward.
To speak under divine inspiration is in itself a miracle. Many of us have had the experience of going to church with some burden on our heart or some scripture that we have questions about. Without having had any opportunity (or maybe desire) to share that with anyone else, the minister of God stands up and begins to share the good news that shines a light on the scripture we were studying or eases our heart within the framework of God’s holy promise. We may experience what could only be called a healing in the very fabric of our lives.
There are some that believe an unknown tongue is one that is simply not native to us individually. In WWII, the Navajo Indians were instrumental in the war effort because their language was virtually unknown outside their own people. By making use of this “unknown tongue,” our military gained a great advantage. The only catch was that this unknown tongue was as confounding to us as it was to our enemies without an interpreter.
Whether you believe that the unknown tongue is a language that is not native to us or that it is not speech as men know it but divinely inspired by God, one thing is plain: it is not going to help without an interpreter. It is better to speak under the inspiration of the love of Christ plainly. In that way, men whose hearts have been prepared to receive the word can readily grasp what is said.
Speaking “over the heads” of others does not profit them. In certain circles, it might cause some to be impressed at our knowledge. However, if we have not strengthened, uplifted, and consoled our brethren because they do not know what we said, then all of our fancy words are of no help to them. If we have spoken of great mysteries in a way that only God can understand we have not edified His church.
When we are telling God’s people about the wonders of His love and grace, we need to remember Paul’s words in the beginning of chapter thirteen: though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels, without charity I am just making noise. Charity says I will testify to my brothers and sisters of the love and grace of God as I am led by the Holy Spirit. I will not confound them by speaking in a manner they cannot understand.
May God always grant to us the humility to prophesy unto the edification, exhortation, and comfort of His children!