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Proper Use of Spiritual Gifts

14 It is good that you are enthusiastic and passionate about spiritual gifts, especially prophecy.[a] When someone speaks in tongues, no one understands a word he says, because he’s not speaking to people, but to God—he is speaking intimate mysteries in the Spirit.[b] But when someone prophesies, he speaks to encourage people, to build them up, and to bring them comfort.[c] The one who speaks in tongues advances his own spiritual progress,[d] while the one who prophesies builds up the church. I would be delighted if you all spoke in tongues, but I desire even more that you impart prophetic revelation to others. Greater gain comes through the one who prophesies than the one who speaks in tongues, unless there is interpretation so that it builds up the entire church.

My dear friends, what good is it if I come to you always speaking in tongues? But if I come with a clear revelation from God, or with insight,[e] or with a prophecy, or with a clear teaching, I can enrich you.[f] Similarly, if musical instruments, such as flutes or stringed instruments, are out of tune and don’t play the arrangement clearly, how will anyone recognize the melody? If the bugle makes a garbled sound, who will recognize the signal to show up for the battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak in a language that’s easily understood, how will anyone know what you’re talking about? You might as well save your breath!

10 I suppose that the world has all sorts of languages, and each conveys meaning to the ones who speak it. 11 But I am like a foreigner if I don’t understand the language, and the speaker will be like a foreigner to me. 12 And that’s what’s happening among you. You are so passionate[g] about embracing the manifestations of the Holy Spirit! Now become even more passionate about the things that strengthen the entire church.

13 So then, if you speak in a tongue, pray for the interpretation to be able to unfold the meaning of what you are saying. 14 For if I am praying in a tongue, my spirit is engaged in prayer but I have no clear understanding of what is being said.

15 So here’s what I’ve concluded. I will pray in the Spirit, but I will also pray with my mind engaged. I will sing rapturous praises in the Spirit, but I will also sing with my mind engaged. 16 Otherwise, if you are praising God in your spirit, how could someone without the gift participate by adding his “amen” to your giving of thanks, since he doesn’t have a clue of what you’re saying? 17 Your praise to God is admirable, but it does nothing to strengthen and build up others.

18 I give thanks to God that I speak in tongues more than all of you, 19 but in the church setting I would rather speak five words that can be understood than ten thousand exotic words in a tongue. That way I could have a role in teaching others.

The Function of the Gifts

20 Beloved ones,[h] don’t remain as immature children in your reasoning. As it relates to evil, be like newborns, but in your thinking be mature adults.

21 For it stands written in the law:

I will bring my message to this people with strange tongues and foreign lips, yet even then they still will not listen to me, says the Lord.[i]

22 So then, tongues are not a sign for believers, but a miracle for unbelievers. Prophecy, on the other hand, is not for unbelievers, but a miracle sign for believers.

23 If the entire church comes together and everyone is speaking in tongues, won’t the visitors say that you have lost your minds? 24 But if everyone is prophesying, and an unbeliever or one without the gift enters your meeting, he will be convicted by all that he hears and will be called to account, 25 for the intimate secrets of his heart will be brought to light. He will be mystified and fall facedown in worship and say, “God is truly among you!”[j]

Guidelines for Use of the Gifts

26 Beloved friends,[k] what does all this imply? When you conduct your meetings, you should always let everything be done to build up the church family. Whether you share a song of praise,[l] a teaching, a divine revelation, or a tongue and interpretation, let each one contribute what strengthens others.

27 If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two or three,[m] one after another, with someone interpreting. 28 If there’s no one with the interpretation, then he should remain silent in the meeting, content to speak to himself and to God.

29 And the same with prophecy. Let two or three prophets prophesy and let the other prophets carefully evaluate and discern what is being said. 30 But if someone receives a revelation while someone else is still speaking, the one speaking should conclude and allow the one with fresh revelation the opportunity to share it.[n] 31 For you can all prophesy in turn and in an environment where all present can be instructed, encouraged, and strengthened. 32 The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.[o] 33 For God is the God of harmony, not confusion,[p] as is the pattern in all the churches of God’s holy believers.

34 The women[q] should be respectfully silent during the evaluation of prophecy in the meetings.[r] They are not allowed to interrupt,[s] but are to be in a support role, as in fact the law teaches.[t] 35 If they want to inquire about something, let them ask their husbands when they get home, for a woman embarrasses herself when she constantly interrupts the church meeting.[u]

36 Do you actually think that you were the starting point for the Word of God going forth? Were you the only ones it was sent to? I don’t think so![v] 37 If anyone considers himself to be a prophet or a spiritual person,[w] let him discern that what I’m writing to you carries the Lord’s authority. 38 And if anyone continues not to recognize this, he should not be recognized!

39 So, beloved friends,[x] with all this in mind, be passionate[y] to prophesy and don’t forbid anyone from speaking in tongues, 40 doing all things in a beautiful[z] and orderly way.[aa]


  1. 14:1 Or “that you crave spiritual things” or “that you crave spiritual realities.”
  2. 14:2 This verse makes it clear that the tongues Paul refers to are not known languages but Spirit-inspired utterances.
  3. 14:3 The Greek word paramythia (a hapax legomenon) could also be translated “soothing, calming speech” or “affirmation.” Paul does not describe prophecy here as predictive, but as influential to advance the spiritual welfare of the body.
  4. 14:4 See Rom. 8:26.
  5. 14:6 Or “intimate knowledge through experience.”
  6. 14:6 Paul uses these four ministries as examples of what builds up the church. Every congregation needs to focus on all four (revelation from God, insights of truth, prophecy, and teaching), as they are all necessary today.
  7. 14:12 The Greek word implies a boiling over with affection and emotion.
  8. 14:20 Or “brothers and sisters.”
  9. 14:21 See Deut. 28:49; Isa. 28:11–12.
  10. 14:25 Or “Truly God is in you.”
  11. 14:26 Or “brothers and sisters.”
  12. 14:26 Or “a psalm.”
  13. 14:27 This could be a Greek idiom (lit. by twos and threes) meaning “just a few.”
  14. 14:30 God wants a fresh word spoken to his people. The churches must allow God’s “now” voice to be heard and evaluated by the written Word.
  15. 14:32 The Aramaic allows for this translation: “The prophecies (spiritual words) of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” which could imply that the prophet is to be accountable with his/her prophecies. From the context it appears that the Corinthians were speaking in tongues and prophesying without regarding others in the body who also had prophetic words to share or a tongue and interpretation. This caused disorder and confusion in the church meetings, with people speaking up and giving their opinions about what was spoken.
  16. 14:33 Or “instability.”
  17. 14:34 Or “wives.”
  18. 14:34 Implied in the greater context. The theme Paul is addressing is unity and mutual edification, not simply the role of women. Women are permitted to speak in church, to prophesy, and to minister the gospel. See 1 Cor. 11:2–16; 14:31. Paul is apparently prohibiting interrupting the leaders as they evaluate prophetic utterances. It is likely that Paul was addressing a specific issue taking place in the church fellowship of Corinth with women interrupting the meetings with their opinions and questions about the prophetic words just spoken, possibly even words spoken by their husbands.
  19. 14:34 Or “speak.” Interrupting the meeting is implied when compared with 1 Cor. 11:2–16; 14:31; Acts 2:16–21; 21:9.
  20. 14:34 See Gen. 2:18–24; 3:16.
  21. 14:35 One interpretation of this passage is that Paul is quoting from a letter written by the Corinthians to him. They were the ones saying a woman should remain silent and Paul is responding to their questions. In other words, they were imposing a rule in the church that Paul refutes in v. 36. Some manuscripts move vv. 34–35 to after v. 40, which causes a few scholars to consider this as evidence of an early introduction into the text by Jewish scribes. The only two places in the New Testament where Paul writes about women being quiet or not teaching in the church are in his letters to the church of Ephesus (1 Timothy) and Corinth. Both cities were centers of worship to the goddess Artemis (Diana), where women had the leading roles of teaching and temple prostitution was commonplace. To the Galatians Paul writes that there is no distinction between believing men and women (Gal. 3:28).
  22. 14:36 Inferred by the rhetorical question and the disjunctive particle.
  23. 14:37 Or “a spiritually gifted person.”
  24. 14:39 Or “brothers and sisters.”
  25. 14:39 The Greek word zēloō means “a boiling fervor.”
  26. 14:40 Or “respectably.” The Aramaic can be translated “with the right design.”
  27. 14:40 This is the Greek word taxis, which can also mean “in battle array.” Here are some summary observations concerning believers’ gatherings: (1) When the believers gathered, they ate together and frequently observed the Lord’s Table. See 1 Cor. 11:7–33. (2) Men and women participated together and used their spiritual gifts. See 1 Cor. 11:2–16; 12. (3) The main purpose of gathering together was the mutual building up and encouragement of one another. See 1 Cor. 14:1–26. (4) Several people would speak in the meetings, and the leaders would discern and direct. See 1 Cor. 14:26–40. (5) Expressing love was more important than gifts, teachings, or prophecies. See 1 Cor. 13. (6) Everything was to be done in a beautiful way and in order. See 1 Cor. 14:40.

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