1Co 14:21-25 “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.”
In Paul’s first statement here, he paraphrases Isaiah 28:11-12. While some might argue that this was not a part of the law, scholars tell us it was common practice for the Jews to refer to the writings of the law and the prophets as “the law” since it all came from God. To grasp a fuller understanding of what Paul was saying, we need to consider this from Isaiah’s words: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.”
Isaiah’s use of the word that was translated as “stammering” is significant. This did not refer to someone whose speech was halting and broken, but rather it meant “a buffoon; also a foreigner: – mocker, stammering (see Strong’s). Isiah was speaking here of Israel’s being led into captivity because of their rebelliousness and being faced with foreigners to the commonwealth of Israel making a mockery of them and their faith. The LORD did this that Israel might be chastened because of His great love for them, and in their chastening they would again draw near to Him.
If we follow Paul’s use of Isaiah’s prophecy, then he is telling them that God brought them to “other tongues (foreigners)” as a result of their unbelief. He gave them prophesying that they might be turned from their unbelief and walk as believers should. Again, this is not to say that speaking in tongues is in itself a bad thing. As we can see on the day of Pentecost, the Jews had been so scattered that they spoke different languages by that time, and tongues were necessary that all present might hear the gospel, each in his own language (Acts 2:4-11).
Paul has again set the stage to bring the Corinthians back to a consideration of their insistence on speaking in tongues. They were apparently very dedicated to this practice and applied it often. From a practical standpoint, Paul calls on them to reflect on how this might affect those that did not have the gift of tongues or did not believe in the power of God. Think about how we would feel to walk into a room where a number of people were gathered and some were standing and speaking in Spanish, others in French, still others in Russian, etc.
These different speakers might all be learned men. They might all be very devout in their declarations. What they were saying might have value, but if we do not understand and there is no interpreter, then it is only noise and confusion (and God is not the author of confusion – v.33).
This is why Paul says it is better to prophesy (speak plainly by inspiration). When we speak (each in his turn – v.31) plainly, then one that does not believe may be blessed by God to hear the truth of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit working in his or her heart will convince them of their sinful condition and their need of a Redeemer.
They will discover that light of God that shines out of darkness to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2Co 4:6). Their desire will be to bow down and worship God in Spirit and in Truth. It will be their testimony that God is truly in your assembly and your worship because of prophesying with the Spirit.
May God give us the grace to desire to speak plainly in the power of the Holy Ghost that the lives of those around us might be changed by enlightened understanding (Eph 1:18)!