1 Corinthians 14:14-22
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.…
At this point in the discussion St. Paul refers to the distinction between the spirit and the understanding. Such a distinction must be recognized or his argument has no basis in the nature of the human mind, and, if there be no foundation in the laws of the mind for this difference between Spirit and understanding, the operations of the Holy Spirit in the two forms under notice are inconceivable. Man has a spirit - a power of introversion that withdraws itself from the avenues of outward activity; a capacity of absorption in its own thoughts and feelings as self related; a susceptibility to receive Divine influence as an experience restricted to its own intuitions and making the man himself the supreme object. Man, too, has an understanding, and its functions are to connect him with other men. But is there an impassable gulf between the two? Certainly not; the spirit may cooperate with the understanding. Left to its own ecstatic freedom, the spirit may soar and shine, but the flight is in loneliness and the resplendency unwitnessed. In this condition the body indicates occult activities that we do not comprehend, and its physiological expressions are, in a certain sense, "unknown tongues." On the other hand, this state may be translated from the unknown into the known by means of the understanding, and thus the latter, which was previously "unfruitful," becomes fruitful of thought and emotion in others. Prayer and praise will thus be mutual to spirit and understanding in the original party. No longer wilt these be dissevered forces, but coalescent for the common good, and the "unlearned" can intelligibly say, "Amen." What is worship without this true "Amen"? Response there must be; heart must go up to God with heart; and the glad "Amen" will be the assurance of this beautiful mutuality. The value of this single word cannot be measured. What a history it has! Far back in Hebrew life, when the psalms gave voice and sentiment to the thanksgiving of the nation; further back yet, when Israel wandered in the desert; in the land of promise, in the lands of captivity; heard in the acknowledgment of chastening and in the celebrations of returning light and hope; temple and synagogue, homes and booths, war and peace, repeating its loud echoes; and descending through the Christian ages with a deeper and more touching import, and everywhere an utterance precious to faith and sympathy, whether in lowly kirk or magnificent cathedral; - what a past this word preserves! "True or faithful," how could its meaning but survive in the long struggle of truth and fidelity for triumph in the world? And what honour comes to it when Christ himself is represented in the Apocalypse as the "Amen, the faithful and true Witness"! No marvel, then, that St. Paul felt the thrill of this "Amen" when he said that, though he spoke "with tongues more than ye all," yet he would "rather speak five words" with his understanding, and so teach others, than "ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." No higher estimate than this was ever put on practical wisdom. The best and profoundest utilitarian is the man who advocates utility on this high ground. St. Paul argued so warmly in behalf of the "understanding" because he felt so deeply the glory of the human "spirit." Hence the exhortation: "Brethren... in understanding be men," and this manliness is enforced by an appeal to Jewish history (Isaiah 28:11), wherein is seen the threatened judgment of Jehovah on those who despised the simplicity and truthfulness of Old Testament teaching. Then comes the significant "wherefore," followed by two ideas:
(1) the tongues are a "sign from God, and meant for unbelievers who have not hearkened to his words; and
(2) prophesying or teaching was a sign to believers, a token of blessing, an earnest for the future, a proof of God's interest in them; a sign in the one case of impending evil, in the other of good in immediate realization and good in future store. Would he not rather preach a gospel to belief than to unbelief? a gospel to hope in preference to apprehension? a gospel of exceeding great and precious promises, instead of a gospel of exceeding great and awful threatenings? Five words" to enlighten, cheer, inspire, the heart of belief and love outweighed "ten thousand" addressed as a rebuke and a warning to men who had willed not to hearken to God's voice. - L.
Parallel VersesKJV: For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.