Speaking in Tongues and Prophecy

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

What should we know about spiritual gifts?

Paul summarized the central point of chapters 12-14, “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14.1).

To make the choice to give love and only love to everyone was the goal of one of my spiritual heroes. He learned that lesson first from Jesus and then from Paul.

Why should we strive to prophesy? And, what is the purpose of the gift of tongues?

The Gift of Tongues

Paul understood the gift of tongues to be an intimate prayer language.

He wrote, “For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14.2).

Paul knew that we need the help of the Holy Spirit in prayer. He taught about our need for help with prayer and the Spirit’s willingness to work through us.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8.26).

When Paul wrote that, “Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church” (1 Corinthians 14.4), he was not minimizing the value of prayer in tongues.

We will consider prophecy next, but for now let’s focus on prayer in tongues. Prayer in tongues is a spiritual gift, a prayer language to God. It builds up the spiritual life of person who prays in this manner.

Paul clearly wants the church to experience tongues as a gift of the Spirit. He wrote, “Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14.5).

My Experience with Tongues

I have many friends who pray in tongues as a part of their prayer language. I have not personally prayed in tongues, but on a few occasions the Spirit has caused me to weep in prayer in an way that is not a part of my inner makeup.

I have deep respect for many friends, whose prayer language (tongues) has drawn them into a deeper and more personal relationship with the Lord. They are also powerful people of prayer. That is the intent of this spiritual gift.

Unfortunately, there are a number of troubling issues with this spiritual gift. That is why Paul gave the church guide-rails to maximize the benefit and prevent the misuse of tongues.

The Gift of Prophecy

Let’s recall Paul’s central concern. He wrote, “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14.1).

At the top of the list is “love” and “that you may prophesy.”

Prophecy is best understood as a short statement of God’s will. It never contradicts or overrules the Scriptures, but gives clarity to the purposes of God.

The short statement, “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6.12) may have been a prophetic statement from leaders in the church.

The claim from “some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15.12) may also have been a prophetic utterance.

Both of those problematic statements needed Paul’s correction. The persons uttering these statements had mingled their own personal beliefs with what they uttered as God’s message for the church.

Never-the-less, Paul said that people should strive for the spiritual gift of prophecy. Why?

He wrote, “Those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14.3).

Again he said, “Those who prophesy build up the church” (1 Corinthians 14.4).

Once again Paul counseled, “So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14.12).

The proper use of prophecy builds up the spiritual and ethical life of the church. Without diminishing the role of teaching and preaching, prophecy accomplishes God’s will in ways that are central to this specific gift.

A Historical Example

The Quakers during the early years of our country are a striking example of the value of prophecy.

Denominations like Presbyterians and Baptists focused on preaching and teaching during those days. Preaching and teaching is often be shaped by the views of the minister.

The Quaker services were quiet assemblies, where people waited to speak until they “heard from the Lord.” When someone felt impressed by the Holy Spirit to speak, they communicated God’s message to the congregation.

What was the prophetic message of the Quakers? Slavery was wrong and needed to be abolished.

While mainline denominations taught that slavery was ordained by God, the conviction of the Quakers was that it was God’s will for it to be abolished.

The Quakers believed that God had spoken to them. This prophetic word changed their behavior, glorified God, and brought help to enslaved men, women and children.

A Central Message

The constant message in 1 Corinthians is, “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14.26).

Everything that takes place in the church should be filled with love and a desire to build up other people and God’s work in the world.

We should strive for a prayer experience that builds up our spiritual life. We should strive to hear clear the voice of God, as we encounter the troubling issues of our times.

May We Pray For You?

The Maywood Baptist prayer team is honored to pray for you. Please email me at bsprad49@gmail.com or private message me on Facebook. We will pray for you.


  1. When it comes to people, you can’t build up without love. Love doesn’t play favorites. Doesn’t degrade. Doesn’t marginalize. Whether it’s in our roles as parents, as employers, managers, or as leaders in the church, clearly Scripture tells us to love first….and in doing so, we will learn to build each other up through gifts. Sometimes, these gifts cause fear in a church body that doesn’t understand….but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

    Liked by 1 person

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