A careful reading of 1 Corinthians 14 reveals that the essence of speaking in tongues is communicating to God through prayer or praise. Verse 2 establishes the theme, “he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto to men, but unto God…” Understanding this truth alone helps decipher what Apostle Paul is truly addressing in this chapter. Let us examine speaking in tongues in this chapter.
Verse 2: “For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God: for no man understands him.
The text is very clear ~ speaking in tongues is clearly designed to be communication to God. It is not naturally designed for men to naturally understand the language being spoken. Those who heard tongues in Acts 2 understood what was being spoken, but that seems to be the exception according to this passage. Why? “for no man understands him.”
Verse 3: But he that prophesies speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
Paul is merely contrasting the nature of speaking in tongues with the nature of prophesying. When on speaks in tongues, one is speaking to God. When one prophecies, one is speaking to man. Because of the specific nature of these gifts, he now begins to explain why he is addressing the issue. He begins by expressing the end result of prophesying, mainly, when one prophecy’s to people, the people are edified, exhorted and comforted.
Verse 4: He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself; but he that prophesies edifies the church.
The contrast continues, but the theme is the same. Speaking in tongues is speaking to God. He is now sharing what the end result of speaking in tongues is ~ edification of one’s self. Some people get hung up with this because they do not understand the context. The context is still prayer. Paul has shared so far that speaking in tongues is prayer, and when one prays, one is edified. Anyone who has spent much time in prayer knows intimately how it edifies your soul. There is almost nothing like it. Yet, there are those who actually attempt to teach that speaking in tongues must be bad since it edifies self. If speaking in tongues is so bad, the these people need to ask the question why Paul claimed to speak in tongues more than those who were speaking in Corinth. He says quite clearly, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all” (1 Corinthians 14:18). However, Paul continues the contrast between the two gifts by showing that when one prophecies it edifies the entire church.