1Co 14:18-20 “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.”
Paul had no intention of leaving the notion that speaking in tongues was forbidden, that it was in any way “bad,” or should be totally abandoned. It was not their use of unknown tongues, but rather their preference for such that Paul was admonishing them against. Paul obviously valued the gift of speaking in tongues, as is demonstrated by the fact that he gave God thanks for this gift.
Paul readily affirmed that he spoke with tongues more than the all the brethren at Corinth. Whether he intended this to mean that he spoke more languages or spoke in tongues more often, he was demonstrating to them that his admonition was not because he was envious of their abilities. He again brings the focus of his instruction back to what is most beneficial to the called out assembly of God’s children; to teach (or edify).
In verse fourteen of this chapter, Paul indicates that there were times when he prayed in the spirit but he did not understand what he prayed. Alluding back to that, he says that he preferred to speak a few words with his understanding than to give a long speech in an unknown tongue. Paul, who spoke in tongues more than all the others in his audience, said it was better to speak five words in the church with understanding.
When speaking with his understanding to the church, Paul taught the church concerning the word and will of God as the Spirit led. A fifteen minute sermon spoken with the understanding of both the speaker and hearer engaged was (and is) of greater value than an hour of sitting under the speaking of a language that goes over the head of its audience. As ministers today, we need to always pray that we minister in a way that edifies those with whom we labor. If we are not edifying God’s people, we are failing in what He has called us to do.
We are charged with the responsibility to be mature in our understanding. Paul evidently considered a desire and ability to edify the church as a sign of that maturity. Seeking to always have something new, something different, some ability that seems to make us stand out among our fellows is childish understanding. This does not edify, but often leads to malice.
It is good to behave like children when malice arises. We have all seen how that children can be angry with each other one moment and the next their love of fellowship and friendship sweeps all that malice away. Paul desired for the brethren at Corinth to put away their malice (divisiveness). This was best done by being devoted to edification through understanding.
May God bless us to be thankful for our personal gifts and yet prefer to use those that edify when we are gathered together before Him!