The apostle here sums up the argument hitherto, and,
I. Directs them how they should sing and pray in public (1 Cor. 14:15): What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also. I will sing with the spirit, etc. He does not forbid their praying or singing under a divine afflatus, or when they were inspired for this purpose, or had such a spiritual gift communicated to them; but he would have them perform both so as to be understood by others, that others might join with them. Note, Public worship should be performed so as to be understood.
II. He enforces the argument with several reasons.
1. That otherwise the unlearned could not say Amen to their prayers or thanksgivings, could not join in the worship, for they did not understand it, 1 Cor. 14:16. He who fills up or occupies the place of the unlearned, that is, as the ancients interpret it, the body of the people, who, in most Christian assemblies, are illiterate; how should they say Amen to prayers in an unknown tongue? How should they declare their consent and concurrence? This is saying Amen, So be it. God grant the thing we have requested; or, We join in the confession that has been made of sin, and in the acknowledgment that has been made of divine mercies and favours. This is the import of saying Amen. All should say Amen inwardly; and it is not improper to testify this inward concurrence in public prayers and devotions, by an audible Amen. The ancient Christians said Amen aloud. Vide Just. Mart. apol. 2. propè fin. Now, how should the people say Amen to what they did not understand? Note, There can be no concurrence in those prayers that are not understood. The intention of public devotions is therefore entirely destroyed if they are performed in an unknown tongue. He who performs may pray well, and give thanks well, but not in that time and place, because others are not, cannot be, edified (1 Cor. 14:17) by what they understand not.
2. He alleges his own example, to make the greater impression, concerning which observe, (1.) That he did not come behind any of them in this spiritual gift: “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than you all (1 Cor. 14:18); not only more than any single person among you, but more than all together.” It was not envy at their better furniture that made Paul depreciate what they so highly valued and so much vaunted of; he surpassed them all in this very gift of tongues, and did not vilify their gift because he had it not. This spirit of envy is too common in the world. But the apostle took care to guard against this misconstruction of his purpose, by letting them know there was more ground for them to envy him upon this head than for him to envy them. Note, When we beat down men’s unreasonable value for themselves, or any of their possessions or attainments, we should let them see, if possible, that this does not proceed from an envious and grudging spirit. We miss our aim if they can fairly give our conduct this invidious turn. Paul could not be justly censured, nor suspected for any such principle in this whole argument. He spoke more language than they all. Yet, (2.) He had rather speak five words with understanding, that is, so as to be understood, and instruct and edify others, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue, 1 Cor. 14:19. He was so far from valuing himself upon talking languages, or making ostentation of his talents of this kind, that he had rather speak five intelligible words, to benefit others, than make a thousand, ten thousand fine discourses, that would do no one else any good, because they did not understand them. Note, A truly Christian minister will value himself much more upon doing the least spiritual good to men’s souls than upon procuring the greatest applause and commendation to himself. This is true grandeur and nobleness of spirit; it is acting up to his character; it is approving himself the servant of Christ, and not a vassal to his own pride and vanity.
3. He adds a plain intimation that the fondness then discovered for this gift was but too plain an indication of the immaturity of their judgment: Brethren, be not children in understanding; in malice be you children, but in understanding be men, 1 Cor. 14:20. Children are apt to be struck with novelty and strange appearances. They are taken with an outward show, without enquiring into the true nature and worth of things. Do not you act like them, and prefer noise and show to worth and substance; show a greater ripeness of judgment, and act a more manly part; be like children in nothing but an innocent and inoffensive disposition. A double rebuke is couched in this passage, both of their pride upon account of their gifts, and their arrogance and haughtiness towards each other, and the contests and quarrels proceeding from them. Note, Christians should be harmless and inoffensive as children, void of all guile and malice; but should have wisdom and knowledge that are ripe and mature. They should not be unskilful in the word of righteousness (Heb. 5:13), though they should be unskilful in all the arts of mischief.