True love always seeks what is holy. We see this in chapter 13. This is how we can recognize love. Recognizing love is of the utmost importance. Everybody intuitively knows that we are all called to love. But what is it, that we may know how to have a sense of fulfillment? Love can never sin as defined by God. Unfortunately, love has been twisted into many different things that are not love. Love in marriage ends by being nothing more than a contract of mutual use. As long as the couple get a feeling from each other, then it is worth it, but when that feeling is no longer there, or if the person does not make me feel good, then they are beyond their usefulness. In this pagan society that we live in, love is about “what I get out of it”. It is actually greed, lust and turned into everything evil, rather than all that is good. I could easily see in the future that the experience of the pagan “love” would be distained as the reason a person suffers and even worse yet, without any fruitfulness. Love itself will be hated by all, because of our abuse of love. Yet we would be so blind to know the goodness of the real love Jesus is offering us.
Yet Paul exhorts us to “Seek eagerly after love” (14:1). Love should be the proper disposition to the gifts that God gives us. In this case, Paul is talking about the gift of prophecy. Whenever any gift is given, it is done not in self-interest, but in self-giving. Paul makes one distinction between a specific kind of tongues and prophecy. Prophecy is a message for others from God. Prophecy can come in the form of tongues. It is meant to build up the person and give them what they need. In that way, he builds up the people of God, the Church. Paul seems to prefer that a person ask to the gift of prophecy, so that a person may not build themselves up too much and not their neighbor.
But the tongues that Paul is talking about is a prayer that a person makes directly to God. It is a prayer that is inspired by the Holy Spirit “because he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (2). “No one understands him” but the one who it is intended for knows; for “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26). Yet a person with this gift needs to be careful that they are not praying something bad. Paul goes on to write about a person who can interpret what is said and then can be shared and build up the community. Paul does not have much use for speaking in tongues that are unintelligible, “if you do not utter intelligible speech because you are speaking in a tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will be talking into the air” (9). The intelligible meaning may not be understood by all. In fact, it may be just one person who understands.
This is where Paul encourages the person who speaks to have the ability to understand that the words do not go in vain (13-14). Paul wants the intellect involved and engaged (15). When the mind is engaged, they can be instructed, appreciate the prayers and affirm them with an “Amen” (16-17).
So there is private prayer in tongues that builds up the individual who is praying. But there is also public prayer in tongues that can help unbelievers believe. They can be challenged with this gift and come to know that there really is a God by witnessing to the miracle of tongues (24-25). It seems that people with tongues have spoken languages they did not know and instructed non-believers in faith. Tongues and prophecy can be intermingled according to God’s plan.
So Paul is instructing the people in tongues and prophecy in its proper use and context. Many people have questions about these things. This is a good start in knowing that such things do exist. They should be respected and treated in a mature manner (20). It is not something we decide happens; it is a gift from God. The giver is always greater than the gift. The gift of self, the one who is Love itself.