Apologetics Index

Spiritual Gifts and Manifestations

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul addresses a number of problems associated with how the Corinthians viewed and used spiritual gifts.

According to Paul, it is a good thing to eagerly desire spiritual gifts.

1 Cor 14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

Paul not only encourages the pursuit of spiritual gifts, but he puts special emphasis on the desirability of the gift of prophecy. He does this in part because the Corinthians appeared to regard speaking in tongues as one of the highest gifts (and, perhaps, a sign of spirituality). Paul sets them straight:

1 Cor 14:2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.

When you speak in a tongue, you are not doing so for the benefit of others. You are speaking to God, not to men. Indeed, no one but God understands the tongue. This corresponds with Romans 8:26-27

Romans 8:26-27 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. {27} And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Thus, Paul says, when you speak in tongues, the Spirit himself is interceding for us "with groans that words cannot express." However, God – the one who searches our hearts – knows the mind of the Spirit. Communication is taking place "in accordance with God’s will."

As an aside: when you do pray in tongues, switch between praying in tongues and praying in your own language. More often than not you’ll discover that when you pray in your own language, you will be praying things you would normally not have thought of or prayed for. Revelation is taking place.

In verse 3, Paul then juxtaposes prophesy over and against tongues:

1 Cor 14:3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

While those who speak in tongues are having a private communication with God, those who prophesy do so for the common good of everyone present. Earlier, in Chapter 12, Paul had already stated that this is why manifestations of the Spirit are given:

1 Cor 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

To make sure the Corinthians knew what he meant, Paul sums it up again is verse 4.

1 Cor 14:4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

To edify means "to build up." When Paul talks about the value of prophesy in the Church, he states:

1 Cor 14:5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.

Thus, Paul makes the following points:

  • He would like everyone to speak in tongues
  • However, he prefers that – when gathering with other Christians – everyone prophesies
  • The person who prophesies is "greater" than the one who speaks in a tongue, unless the one who speaks in a tongue interprets the tongue.

1 corinthians 14

Always pay attention to terms of conclusion, such as "so that." In this verse, we see that both prophecy and interpreted tongues are for the edification of the Church.

The person who – in a meeting – prophesies is "greater" than the person who only speaks in tongues, because prophecy edifies the Church, while tongues edify only the person speaking them. Only when a person’s tongues are interpreted does the "greater than" distincition fall away.

1 Cor 14:6 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?

If you only speak in tongues, without interpreting the tongues, you are not building up the church. Your speaking in tongues is of no practical value to others in the church. That is, unless you interpret those tongues. Notice how tongues are interpreted. Paul says that if he came to a meeting speaking in tongues, he would not be of any help to the Church, unless he brought:

  • a revelation, or
  • knowledge, or
  • prophecy, or
  • instruction

In Paul’s list of spiritual gifts he mentions "various" or "different" kinds of tongues:

1 Cor 12:10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

In 1 Cor 14:6 we get a glimpse of what kind of "varieties" of tongues there are. One tongue may be interpreted with a revelation, another with a word of knowledge, yet another with a prophecy, and another with a specific instruction (perhaps akin to the word of wisdom).

Clearly, each one of those interpretations would benefit the entire church.

This is such an important issue, that Paul belabors the point, illustrating it in various ways:

1 Corinthians 14:7-12 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? {8} Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? {9} So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. {10} Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. {11} If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. {12} So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

It is interesting that Paul says we should "try to excel." Spiritual gifts are given freely, and in various measures. In Romans 12 we read:

Rom 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.

Thus, we see that we have gifts according to the grace given us, and that the gift of prophecy, for example, should be used in proportion to our faith.

Most gifts come with a learning curve. Therefore, we should continually try to excel in the gifts we receive – always with the aim to build up the church.

1 Cor 14:13 For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.

"This reason" refers to the fact that the gifts are to be used to build up the Church.

1 Corinthians 14:14-15 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. {15} So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.

Here, again, we see the same things we discussed when we looked at verse 2.

1 Corinthians 14:16-17 If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? {17} You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

The NIV’s "those who do not understand" is better translated with "unlearned," or the NASB’s "ungifted" (those not versed in spiritual gifts). If you speak in a tongue, without it being interpreted, others do not understand what is being communicated, and can therefore not agree with it, nor are they edified by it.

1 Corinthians 14:18-19 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. {19} But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Paul does not want the Corinthians to disregard speaking in tongues, so he lets them know he himself speaks in tongues.

1 Cor 14:20 Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.

He always encourages the Corinthians to be mature rather than childish. In Chapter 3 he called them "babes in Christ," explaining why they should not be immature. In Chapter 13, while encouraging them to pursue love, he sets the example of doing away with childish things. Here, again, he tells them to be mature – this time with regard to their thoughts about spiritual gifts. The gifts are not given for show ("I am more gifted – or more spiritual – than you are"), but rather for mutual edification of the church.

By the way, I believe it is OK if someone prays in tongues under his or her breath — and thus is clearly not addressing the church.

1 Corinthians 14:21-22 In the Law it is written: “Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord. {22} Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.

Many Jews did not accept the Gospel. Paul sees in this a fulfillment of Isaiah 28:11ff.

1 Cor 14:23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

Much of what is said and done in church meetings may be hard to understand by outsiders. That is not surprising, for even the word of the cross is – to those who are perishing – foolishness:

1 Cor 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In fact, Paul says:

1 Corinthians 2:4-5 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, {5} so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

In Paul’s days, the demonstrations of the Spirit’s power were healings, words of knowledge, deliverances, etc. Nowhere in scripture do we see the Spirit’s power equated with uncontrollable laughter, shaking, or roaring. That doesn’t necessarily mean it did not or should not take place at all.

Then what do such manifestations mean?

Some believe that genuine “manifestations” occur during so-called "power encounters" in which, they claim, the Holy Spirit does a supernatural work of equipping, cleansing, healing or dedication. Thus, such manifestations are seen as outward signs that an inner work is taking place.

But they are not indications of extraordinary spirituality, a closer walk with the Lord, or a deeper level of experience (even though some people within the controversial renewal and revival movements sometimes make such claims).

Likewise, their absence does not indicate the Spirit is not at work, or that the person who does not manifest is less spiritual, less loved, or less blessed than the one who does.

In a way, such manifestations can be like uninterpreted tongues. They are for the benefit of the person receiving them, and not for the benefit of the entire body.

It follows that initiating, copying or otherwise manufacturing manifestations for any reason is useless and inappropriate. While we can and should yield to the working of the Holy Spirit, he will not be manipulated, so don’t try to make something happen.

These type of manifestations often occur as the result of trigger words. However, if and when they occur, manifestations of this kind should not be encouraged, focused on, or sough after. After all, the Bible focuses on manifestations that are for the common good :

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. {5} There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. {6} There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. {7} Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

It should also be noted that some manifestations can be demonic – intended to bring disorder, confuse, or deceive. The latter can (and does) happen when Christians fail to test such manifestations.

Unfortunately, this appears to be the case in some of today’s most vocal renewal and revival movements, such as the Toronto Blessing and the Pensacola Outpouring. There, manifestations are becoming increasingly bizarre (see this A-Z Apologetics Index entry on Manifestations), as are the "interpretations" given to them.

At the same time, some critics of the "Toronto Blessing" or other controversial renewal and revival movements tend to pay too much attention to the manifestations. Often, their focus is entirely out of balance (i.e. they have heard of people "barking", but though the practice fortunately is not wide-spread, their reports would have us believe nearly everyone involved in renewal and revival movements barks…).

Generally these critics are not in a position where they can

  • apply spiritual discernment – such as the gift of distinguishing between spirits (1 Cor. 12:10 ),
  • minister to and/or counsel those who manifest
  • notice whether or not fruit results in the lives of those involved

It is good to examine everything carefully, but critics do need to adhere to the same Biblical principles they wish to hold others to. Scripture says:

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; {20} do not treat prophecies with contempt. {21} Test everything. Hold on to the good. {22} Avoid every kind of evil.

Of course, this is true for proponents as well. Clearly, Paul indicates a balanced approach: while he instructs them not to put out the Spirit’s fire, he also tells his readers to test everything.

(NOTE: It is a good idea to examine what critics say. It never hurts to see a situation from a different perspective. This is especially important for people involved in today’s most controversial renewal and revival movements. Indeed, the increasingly bizarre manifestations, coupled with countless aberrant and heretical teachings ought to put up red flags for everyone…)

1 Corinthians 14:24-25 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, {25} and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

Here we see a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. A word of knowledge, that accurately exposes the secrets of a person’s heart, will be a mightly indication to that person that "God is really among you." Uncontrollable laughing or shaking, especially when done at inappropriate times (such as during the message) will not have the same results.

1 Cor 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

Here, Paul gives practical instruction. This is the application of what he has said so far. Whenever you come together (not just every Sunday morning), everyone has something to contribute. And all of it must be done for the "strenghtening of the church." Hence, whatever edifies the church is acceptable.

Notice that "a tongue" is included. However, Paul qualifies this in the following verses:

1 Corinthians 14:27-28 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two–or at the most three–should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. {28} If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.

Those who speak in tongues out loud — to the church — without interpreting their own tongues, must give opportunity for someone else to interpret. If it turns out that there is no one present who can or is willing to interpret, the ones who speak in tongues should cease to do so publicly. Instead, they can continue to speak in tongues quietly, as a means of communicating with God.

1 Cor 14:29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.

NAR New Apostolic Reformation

Paul introduces an additional rule. Remember verse 6:

1 Cor 14:6 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?

Paul now says that every revelation, word of knowledge, prophecy or word of instruction must be "weighed" or "tested." What test is to be applied here? First of all, the test of Scripture:

Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Does what is being communicated agree with Scripture? If not, then the message should be rejected. Here we see the importance of knowing Scripture.

A lesser, but handy test, is to see if what is being communicated is in line with what God is doing at the moment. For example: if there is a sweet, peaceful time in which God’s love and compassion are central, a harsh, judgmental word more than likely is coming from a person’s own heart and mind rather than from God. God is not a God of confusion.

1 Corinthians 14:30-33 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. {31} For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. {32} The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. {33} For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (…)

The nature of prophesy – speaking forth the words of God (communicating God’s truths) – is such that those sharing could easily go on and on. Too, our own nature is often such that we like to hear ourselves talk. We like to be noticed (and, if at all possible, commended on our spirituality, our profound insight, or even how deeply we were touched).

Paul said that whenever we come together everyone should have something to share. Ideally, who shares at what time is determined by the Holy Spirit himself. He moves freely from person to person, distributing to each one gifts to be shared for the common good:

1 Cor 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

1 Cor 12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

Thus, all present should be sensitive to the leading and the moving of the Spirit.

That’s quite different from how church ‘is done’ nowadays. A church meeting in which there is an ‘audience’ that spends most of the time listening to one speaker give a sermon or teaching is not anywhere close to being a ‘New Testament church.’

1 Corinthians 14:33-36 (…) As in all the congregations of the saints, {34} women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. {35} If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. {36} Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?

Much has been written and said about the place and position of women in the church. A discussion of these issues is not within the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that Scripture and history show women experiencing and expressing the gifts of the Spirit, and using them for the edification of the Church. These verses are to be interpreted more in the cultural and specific setting to which they were addressed than in a general manner.

1 Corinthians 14:37-38 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. {38} If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

Paul expects his letter to have an impact. He writes with apostolic authority.

1 Cor 14:39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 1 Cor 14:40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

In closing this issue, Paul again encourages prophesy, and – to make sure the Corinthians do not go overboard – he tells them not to forbid speaking in tongues.

Based on everything he has shared on the subject, he states that everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

Anton Hein

This entry, first published on October 28, 2996, was written by Anton Hein, founder and team member of Apologetics Index.

He lives and works in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with his wife, Janet.

Anton’s interests vary from Christian apologetics to reading murder mysteries. When you spot him in his native environment he is usually either drinking coffee, taking photos in and around Amsterdam, concocting home-made Mexican salsas, or building and maintaining websites.

Anton can be contacted via our feedback form, or directly at anton@dutchintouch.com

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Category: Spiritual Gifts
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First published (or major update) on Thursday, May 15, 2014.
Last updated on July 07, 2024.

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