It is probably one of the funnier moments in the 1998 comedy Rush Hour when the characters played by Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan meet for the first time. Chris assumes that Chan can’t understand him and Chan for his part plays that up. It leads to one of those moments where Chan uses it to get lose and start his own search for a missing girl. When considering this passage I have a lot mixed feelings as a former Pentecostal because I do not dismiss he notion of tongues, interpretation or prophecy it is just I have ‘grow up’ in my understanding of the passage to realize that the main point Paul is trying to make does not have much to do with any of them but that they are mostly the catalyst to his real issues.
The first real point in this passage is to be understood. He instructs the people to desire the gift of prophecy because that way one can be understood by the congregation. Paul’s point is that only when things are understood can their be any progress to reaching the lost and edifying the rest of the church. I think most people love to talk about the prophecy and tongues stuff which his there but over and over again Paul’s point is I would rather be understood than speak in tongues. Understanding is more important than anything that might be considered spectacular.
Why the need for understanding? Edification. It is very difficult for someone to be edified by someone’s ministry and gifts if you don’t understand them. He gives several examples of how a lack of understanding can lead to disaster and his point should be well taken. The point is that unbelievers will not be saved from things they don’t understand and believers will not be edified either if the direction from God is not clear. When it comes to the body of Christ in fact, being edifying and understood are more important the flash and fire of the spiritual gift.
The crossroad is clear – either be the kind of Christian that comes to understand that being understood and being edifying to others is more important than impressing anyone with how many spiritual gifts the Spirit uses you to deliver. You can be the kind of believer that is looking out for yourself in the exercise of spiritual gifts or you can understand there is a bigger reason and plan that may not have you at the center of the spiritual universe of God. Just a thought, the choice is yours.