13 “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15What 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. 16Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.”
Every time we see a “therefore,” we look to see what it is there for. Paul continued to argue that speaking in a foreign language did not benefit or edify others (v. 12) who did not understand the language.
let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
The word “interpret” means translate. If there was no translator in the congregation, the tongues speaker was to pray to receive the ability to translate his language to the congregation so that he might edify the entire church. This does not imply that he should pray for the gift of translation.
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
Prayer by the tongues speaker in a foreign language did not give understanding to the tongues speaker. The tongues speaker’s human spirit may have prayed certain content, but his mind did not understand the language he prayed. “Understanding” refers to the thinking apparatus, so the thinking capacity of the person praying in a foreign language did not enable him to understand his own prayer.
What is the conclusion then?
Paul’s conclusion was that enthusiasm without understanding is of no value.
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.
Prayer and singing in the human spirit, as well as with understanding, are both important. We cannot pray in the spirit without understanding. “Understanding” is the organ of mental perception and apprehension, the organ of reflective consciousness. Praying in gibberish violates this principle. The implication is that the tongues speaker was to keep quiet if there was no translator.
Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?
“Bless with the spirit” refers to prayer. Listeners to a person praying in a foreign language cannot add an “Amen” (affirm it is true) to the prayer, because they do not understand the meaning of the prayer. No one can affirm our prayer if they do not understand it. This is clearly prayer of public worship in this verse.
The “uninformed” person is another believer who expects reciprocity to something he hears. The Greek word for “uninformed” denotes a non-speaker of the foreign language spoken by the tongues speaker. Public speaking and prayer in the local church must make sense.
John 4: 24God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.
Again, the theme of edification is the controlling principle throughout chapter 14. Church services are not about individualism.
Church is not about the individual but about the corporate group.
We should do nothing in worship that is self-serving. We should do everything for the edification of others. The idea of reciprocity is part of worship. People should not sit in church like bumps on a log but respond to what they hear!