18 “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.”
I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;
The Corinthians were not to get the idea that Paul did not value the gift of tongues, for he spoke in tongues more than all of them. It was Paul’s custom to go to the “Jews first” in a city he evangelized. Since tongues were a sign to Jews that the New Testament canon was valid (14:21,22), Paul probably spoke in tongues to validate New Testament truth he related to the Jews. Hundreds of Jews in the Roman Empire would have heard him speak in tongues.
yet in the church
The phrase “in the church” refers to the assembled congregation. This phrase is emphatic in the Greek. This is no contrast to speaking in tongues in private, for there is no place where the New Testament teaches such a doctrine – including verse two.
I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Paul’s value of the gift was not in its use but in its function. If speaking in tongues did not produce understanding, then it had little value. Edification is 10,000 times more valuable than the experience of speaking in tongues. “Teach others” implies understanding. Subjectivism hinders growth. Paul was preeminently a preacher, apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles” (2 Ti 1:11).
We should deemphasize anything that God does not place priority upon.
It is a shock to some people that God does not put priority on the miraculous and the unusual but on understanding. We need to be careful not to set upon a high pedestal something that God does not place there. Anything we do for the advantage of our personal popularity dislocates central purposes of the church. It prostitutes gifts for selfish reasons. The gift of exposition (prophecy) transcends other gifts toward this end. We misplace the emphasis that God places on tongues if we give it priority over exposition.