SORTING OUT CHAOS
Most congregations today are likely to have little idea about the manifestation of the Spirit in a "service". Consequently, understanding some parts of these Corinthian chapters can be problematic for Believers today.
Such exhortations as these would be very unfamiliar:
"Let all things be done decently and in order." "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the congregations of the Saints" (1 Corinthians 14'40,33).
However, when these Believers came together they contributed individually with psalms, teachings, tongues, interpretations, revelations plus songs, prayers and ministering the Spirit's gifts.
In their eagerness they were uncontrolled, each one wanting to express their contribution. He sounds a little exasperated when he says:
"How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation" (v26).
TO SORT OUT: Which sign is for whom?
One thing has to be acknowledged. It seems that most of these Believers spoke in tongues. However, they were personal tongues (not named in v22-24). They are not for speaking out loud.
As Paul says:
"He who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God" and "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself". (However, it's likely that some were speaking their personal tongues out loud, adding to the disorder.)
In contrast, the tongues referred to in verses 22-24 are gifts of tongues which require interpretations. They seem to be the main contributors to the disorder.
Here's the passage that seems to present contradictions as to which is a sign for whom (words added in italics to clarify):
22 "... (speaking out with) tongues (with interpretations) are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.
23 Therefore if the whole Body comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues (without interpretations), and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all".
Along with these words about the ministry of tongues-interpretation and prophecy there is a Holy Spirit basic concern, the building up of the body of Christ. Paul says::
"I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the Believers may receive edification" (v4).
Although tongues and interpretation are a sign for unbelievers they will still edify Believers. And although prophecy is a sign for Believers it is still able to speak powerfully to unbelievers.
These two manifestations of the Spirit are not mutually exclusive.
To bring this disorder into order, Paul ministered the wisdom of God for these enthusiastic, admirable Believers:
"If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.
But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the Gathering, and let him speak to himself and to God.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.
For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged," verses 27-31.
This is "decently and in order".
There is a very encouraging characteristic that Paul has shown regarding this matter. It is that, where things of the Lord are misused, His way of correction is not stop doing it entirely but to direct them to "do it this way".
That's why he says:
"I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the Believers may receive edification" (v5). And
"What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding (v15).
What a man! What an apostle!