1 Corinthians 14:20-25

Growing in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
1 Corinthians 14:20-25
Intro: In this text, Paul indicates the gift of prophecy is superior to the gift of speaking in tongues. The phenomenon of tongues in 1 Cor 14, as in Acts 2, can be impressive to unbelievers by showing them that God is present. It can lead them consider the claims of Christ. But prophecy is often used to bring those same unbelievers to the place of conviction of sin and saving faith. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-39 that followed the tongues event of Acts 2:1-13 demonstrate this arranged order and the potency of a timely prophetic word. It can be a powerful channel through which God speaks to individuals.

Paul is continuing his argument against the use of uninterpreted tongues speech in the congregation by pointing out an additional problem it causes. He has already noted that uncontrolled tongues in worship does not benefit anyone – whether believers or not-quite-believers (vv.16-17). Can it alienate these seekers, who are asking questions about the Gospel, even further?

Paul outlines 3 major truths:


1 Cor 14:20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.

Here, Paul calls on the Corinthian Christians to think maturely. They should consider themselves to be adults in Christ. They must not be controlled by evil motives in their appraisal of tongues.

“in malice be babes” – it is proper to be innocent, even infantile – uninvolved and in experienced – regarding evil (malice).

illus: What does this say about the entrenched compromise of even Christian parents, who long ago jettisoned the idea that they can/should protect their children’s innocence? Is this a word from heaven to bring back the guardrails of Christian morality?

Paul is not saying that speaking in tongues is infantile.

The childish thinking is the failure to recognize that speaking in tongues in public worship without interpretation does not benefit the congregation. It is the self-oriented, childish seeking of attention that Paul is condemning.

Children prefer the amusing to the useful, the brilliant to the solid. And this is what the Corinthians were doing by their unbalanced preference for speaking in tongues in their worship gatherings.

“Children love anything that shines or moves or makes noise. Many modern Christians have the same mentality. They would rather be made to feel than to think. They fall too easily under the spell of virtually anyone with charm. It shows lack of maturity in the things of the Spirit.”

A more mature perspective would consider the impact of these gifts on others; not only those immediately within the church, but also others in Corinth who might be confronted by the Gospel.


1 Cor 14:21 In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord.

This is a partial quote from Isaiah 28:11ff.

Since the Israelites had despised the clear word of the Lord spoken to them in understandable words by their prophet, God would speak to them afterwards through the foreign tongues of an invading army.

It was undeniable judgment: (a) for not valuing the message of truth (b) for walking in darkness. They were adults who should have known better!

Isa 28:9 “Whom will he teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts?

The larger context of Isaiah 28 indicates that the Lord will only teach those who are no longer nursing from their mothers. That is, those who are not spiritually children.

Isa 28:10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.

There may be a sort of imitation of glossolalia in v.10. The verse may be nothing more than a string of nonsensical syllables that might come out of the mouth of a babbling baby (“saw lāsāw, saw lāsāw, qaw lāqāw, qaw lāqāw, zeêr sām, zeêr sām”).

Judah: “You’re treating us like children!” God: “Ok, I can do that.”

The next verse, which Paul quotes here in 1 Cor 14:21, describes this as stammering in a foreign tongue.

Isa 28:11 For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people,

Here was the impression Isaiah’s preaching made on the inhabitants of Judah. Their eyes glazed over. Their minds wandered. They daydreamed. They zoned out. It was as if the prophet were speaking a foreign language to them.

Then Isaiah rebukes them. He outlines the graces for which they were missing out.

Isa 28:12 To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” and, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear.

What a tragedy to be near the Word of the Lord when it was proclaimed, but not be able to understand it, especially if th

It is a severe judgment to be unable to understand God’s Word when it is delivered.

Isa 28:13 But the word of the Lord was to them, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little,” that they might go and fall backward, and be broken and snared and caught.

As a judgment against the hardhearted people of Judah, God spoke to them in a foreign tongue they could not understand, because they would not hear the truth in their own tongue. He hid Himself from them because of their rebellion/indifference to His Word.

1 Cor 14:22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

Tongues are a sign for unbelievers; prophecy is for believers (not a sign).

Here the word “sign,” in view of the Isaiah quote, surely means a sign of judgment that they are out of touch with God.

It could not be a sign of grace or God’s mercy. It had to be the opposite. This was a negative warning sign of impending judgment much like what the Lord Jesus called “the sign of Jonah.”

Luke 11:29 And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.”

Luke 11:32 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.

This is the effect of uninterpreted tongues on the not-yet-Christians who have been visiting the church meetings in Corinth. They cannot respond appropriately but can only say that tongues speakers are strange.

It is not possible for them to understand what is being communicated. It misrepresents God and makes Him seem cruel.

What kind of God mocks outsiders who visit by keeping them from understanding what is being said?

By contrast, prophecy is said to be “for believers.” Here, Paul notes that whatever is communicated in prophetic words serve the body of Christ by encouraging or admonishing the believers in the meeting.

Prophetic words for believers in the gathered church warn us, exhort us, teach us, encourage us, and comfort us.

In this sense, prophecies are not primarily intended in the worship service to address non-Christians.

However, compared to unintelligible words in tongues that remain uninterpreted, prophetic messages, as a secondary effect, may indeed lead to the convicting of sin and turning to God of an inquiring seeker!


1 Cor 14:23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

Paul imagines the whole church is assembled (it’s high attendance Sunday!), with everyone speaking in tongues – this is the complete fulfillment of the wildest dreams of those in the church who saw tongues as the most desirable of the gifts.

Some of the “uninformed” wander into the church meeting or they could have even been invited (the seeker; the inquirer; unbeliever who has begun to show interest in the Gospel). The result would be a disaster.

The impression of a massive concert of tongues made on non-Christians, whether seekers or crusading atheists, will be to convince them that Christians are crazy.

“Will they not say you are out of your mind?” Paul asks.

It is a total defeat when those who are interested in the claims of Christ are repelled by the selfish, unrestrained hysteria of uninterpreted tongues in a Christian meeting.

These seekers will leave without hearing the message of God’s love and grace in Christ. What a tragedy. It is a complete failure.

On the other hand, the effect of prophecy is different.

If prophetic words are given in clear language and seekers/unbelievers attend the meeting, they will hear God’s message of salvation and comfort and hope.

1 Cor 14:24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.
1 Cor 14:25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

Prophetic words also have the potential for soul winning. The gift of prophecy can be quite evangelistic.

We should probably see in vv.24-25 a partial description of Christian conversion. Paul describes how prophecy can positively affect outsiders. It convicts them, challenges them, and reveals the secrets of their hearts with astonishing results!

God can use all the words spoken by prophetic people to persuade unbelievers that He is real. God can also use those same word to pierce the hearts of the unbelieving about their own guilt before Him.

“he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.”

The effect of the gift of prophecy on the seeker is twofold:

(1) He will be convicted of his sin

John 16:8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment

(2) He will be urged to examine his status before God because his heart/his past will be laid open for inspection

Those things he fondly imagined to be hidden away in his heart he finds reproved and judged, and he can only ascribe this to the activity of God.

John 4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
John 4:17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’
John 4:18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
John 4:19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.”

John 4:25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
John 4:26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

“And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”

This is a scene imagined over and over by Israel’s prophets in the OT…like this one in Isaiah which says Gentiles from Egypt and Ethiopia will come and prostrate themselves before Israel confessing YHWH to be God.

Isa 45:14 …They shall walk behind you, they shall come over in chains; and they shall bow down to you. They will make supplication to you, saying, ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other; there is no other God.’”

Therefore, when the church authentically exercises the gift of prophecy, we become the instrument through which God accomplishes a foretaste of His Last Days conversion of the nations.


Even though the gift of prophecy is for the congregation, it can have a powerful effect on seekers because it is supernatural, and it can be understood.

(1) “You are out of your minds”
(2) “God is truly among you.”

Which one is obviously our goal? We must commit to edifying church meetings if we want to receive response #2.

Paul sees the gift of prophecy as a powerful tool of evangelism, but he sees the gift of tongues in public worship as a hindrance to making the Gospel understood.

Since the Tower of Babel, strange tongues have been a judgment from God on willful unbelief, while prophecy makes believers out of unbelievers.