1 Corinthians 14:1-5
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that you may prophesy.…
In the opening verse we have three ideas, viz. love as a virtue to be diligently sought and practised, spiritual gifts as objects worthy of desire, and prophesying as a gift among gifts to be especially prized. "Rather that ye may prophesy" is the formative thought of this chapter, and it must be kept in view by the reader, since it is explicit or implicit in every associated idea. But this leading thought is closely connected with the twelfth and thirteenth chapters, and this also must be considered by the reader. To understand the reasoning of the apostle in the fourteenth chapter and sympathize with the fervour of his exhortation in the "rather that ye may prophesy," remember that he is contemplating prophecy from the standpoint of love. How else, forsooth, could he regard it, either in the logic as bearing on intellect, or in the appeal as applied to experience, or in their united effect on Christian character? Prophecy, in the light here presented, is not simply a revelation of God's will and wisdom to others, but likewise a revelation of love as a conscious influence pervading, inspiring, controlling the soul of the prophet or teacher. It is a voice from God himself by the Spirit. It is a Divine voice, moreover, in tones and accents most truly, most thoroughly, human, became of tender sympathy with the needs of its fellow men and their dependence on it for guidance, help, furtherance, in the salvation of their souls. One of the aspects of love as the '"greatest" instantly comes before the eye Prophecy, in the case of the man so gifted, is an organ of his love, so that he teaches, not to enjoy the activity and brilliance of his intellect, or make in any way a demonstration of himself, but solely to benefit his fellows. Actuated wholly by brotherly sentiment, he comes down from the pedestal of complacent self regard, and values his endowment in the degree that he is able to take the common level, and thereby instruct and console his brethren. Why, then, should the argument in this chapter follow the eulogy on love so closely? One reason - the chief reason - we may suppose to be that the gift of "tongues" was overvalued, and, as a consequence, the capacity to teach was depreciated. Without disparaging the "tongues" when rightly used, St. Paul lays a very proper stress on teaching, and gives it the preference, on the ground that it allows a fuller, freer, more effective manifestation of love. "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. And so, too, now abide the "spiritual gifts," the gifts in general, "tongues" and "prophecy" m particular, but the "greatest of these" is "prophecy." The parallelism is complete. And how easily St. Paul glides from the chapter on love as the greatest among virtues to the chapter on teaching as the greatest among gifts! One would have supposed that, after such an effort of analytic and descriptive intellect and its interblending with emotional outgoings, there would be a rebound, a pause for nature to recover from an intense exertion; but this is not apparent. The strong man is still strong, the eye beams as brightly and the hand moves as firmly as before, and the eulogist of love passes into the eulogist of prophecy with no change other than that which the nature of the new topic necessitates. The argument in ver. 2 takes an antithetic form. There is speaking in an unknown tongue. The speech is not a communication of wisdom to others, but a mysterious activity that exalts the speaker above the ordinary sphere of self consciousness and is ecstatic. "No man understandeth him." There is the outward hearing on man's part, but no inward hearing. God is the only listener who comprehends him: "He speaketh... unto God;" "In the spirit he seeketh mysteries." The mysteries are things "which are hidden from the hearers, and sometimes also from the speaker himself" (Alford). Was language a sublimer function than we have comprehended? Are there uses of expressional power of which we know nothing? Are there utterances of intuition beyond our power to grasp? Is there some one vast generalization of speech as interiorily related to pure reason, under which, as fragmentary forms of embodied thought and as representations of the functional energies of the mental faculties, all the utilities of speech are classified? We cannot tell.
1. All we know is that the speaker here under notice speaks from his "spirit;" intellect, emotion, the entire nature, are simultaneously excited. Barriers between the faculties are broken down; speech is no longer merely philosophic, or poetic, or impassioned, but it is in some occult way the articulation of the spirit in its wholeness. No man ever said anything that he could look upon as the complete expression of himself. Before he utters his greatest thoughts, he is very hopeful of doing full justice to them; afterwards he is half abashed, deplores his shortcoming, and gazes with a feeling somewhat reproachful on the ideal that retreated afar. Now, in the instance St. Paul has in view, the speaker is under the perfected sway of his spirit, and he transcends the limits of habitual consciousness.
2. All we know is that this exceptional speaker utters "mysteries." And the "mysteries," out of whose deep solitudes the voice comes, remain mysteries; neither word nor tone, neither look nor gesture, gives any solution of the meaning. The secrets have taken on sound, but the sense is concealed, and the very sound is a deeper silence. And has not such silence its uses? Is it a mere image to the fancy that Milton gives when he so finely personifies Silence in paradise as pleased with the song of the "wakeful nightingale"? Or when Thomson breathes the invocation: "Come, then, expressive Silence, muse his praise"? And, in the present case, the sound falls back into silence, but, nevertheless, the "unknown tongue" is among "spiritual gifts," and fills its sphere in the spiritual economy of Christ's universe. What, then, is the object of St. Paul's argument? It is a question of, comparative worth, that he discusses. These Corinthians are fascinated by the tongues, and, in their passion for high excitements, have been led to exaggerate beyond bounds the ecstatic singularity of the "unknown tongue." This unhappy craving for morbid and tumultuous agitation, this delight in sensations and emotions, threatened the decay, ay, the destruction of spirituality. It was the spirit of man, indeed, but the spirit borrowing the impulses of the lower man, instead of holding itself aloof from a depraving alliance with ungoverned blood and nerves. The remedy of the evil was in a proper estimate of the gifts as relative to brotherhood and helpfulness of others. Therefore, "desire... rather that ye may prophesy." And wherefore? That ye may "speak unto men" with three ends in view, namely, edification, exhortation, comfort. To edify is to build up the whole framework of Christian character; to exhort is to incite to duty by timely, appropriate, and effectual motives; to comfort is to show tenderness of fellow feeling and be partners of the cares, burdens, and sorrows of others. What a blessed prerogative, to go forth from the isolations of intellect and from the selfish exclusiveness that our own anxieties and sufferings not infrequently bind upon us, and impart ourselves in large sympathies to such as in their weakness need our strength! "Himself;" there the benefit lies. Lifted to a lofty height, borne upward from one sublimity to another, rapt and entranced, it is still himself that is the party concerned. There may be quickening and ennobling; the immense realm within the soul, where the surprises of possible consciousness are dormant, may suddenly yield their resources and give the soul a new and astonishing sense of itself; yet, despite of all such results, it is himself, first and last. But he "that prophesieth edifieth the Church." A community gets the benefit, not the mere man "himself." Is St. Paul depreciating the speaking with tongues? Hear his hearty wish: "I would that ye all spake with tongues." In perfect consistency with this testimony to the worth of the tongues, he adds that he desires for them more ardently the gift of prophecy. Why this more fervent wish? Because the prophet or teacher is greater than the speaker with tongues not interpreted - greater because he builds up and inspirits and cheers his brethren more than the mystical speaker with "an unknown tongue;" greater because "it is more blessed to give than to receive" - L.
Parallel VersesKJV: Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.