21 In the Law it is written: “With other 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 not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:21-25 NIV)
Much has been written about these five verses attempting to resolve the apparent conflict between verse 22 and verses 23 and 24. If you are interested in exploring this apparent conflict further the links below provide detailed explanations. Searching on 1 Corinthians 14:22 will bring up many more comments on this passage.
- https://thegospelofchrist.com/knowledge-base/tgoc–t2cat (best summary in my opinion)
- https://www.bibleref.com/1-Corinthians/14/1-Corinthians-14-22.html (helpful additional perspective)
- https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/archives/guzik_david/StudyGuide_1Cr/1Cr_14.cfm (Detailed verse by verse commentary by David Guzik )
I have no idea why Paul used words that we find so confusing today. Unfortunately, I think they distract us from his primary purpose in writing to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts. Their gatherings were to have purpose. The first purpose is that unbelievers would be convicted of their sin and worship God as a result.
We do not have the same kind of environment in our large gatherings, but the same dynamic can still be at work. When I am preaching, I work hard to ensure that I have a clear idea of what I believe the Holy Spirit wants me to say based on the passage of scripture being explored. However, since the Holy Spirit is also present in the presentation of the message it is possible that He is communicating through my words and the words of scripture to the heart of the hearers. When this dynamic is fully at work it is not unusual for someone to come up to me after the message and comment on how they were convicted of a specific issue during the message. Often, this conviction has nothing to do with the main idea I was attempting to communicate. I take this as a sign that the Holy Spirit was present and communicating and this is a good thing.
Falling down and worshiping God are the result of encountering God and fearing Him. As believers we should consider it a great privilege to gather together in the presence of God. We should desire that the secrets of our hearts would be exposed. If Paul says the unbeliever’s response to this experience is to worship God how much more should that be our response to the same experience. We have confidence in God’s grace and should consider the exposure of our sin a blessing as it encourages us to put that sin to death and become more like Jesus.
Speaking in tongues may be impressive and result in our being admired by our fellow believers. Prophecy is convicting and if God is using to me to prophesy the responses of my brothers and sisters will vary. In general, those with the gift of prophecy are not popular in the church because their words are convicting. Prophecy is God speaking through a person. Prophecy does not make me comfortable, but if I desire to know God, I want it even if the words hurt.