“One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Cor 14:4).
Literally, the one who speaks in a tongue “constructs” himself. The one who prophesies “constructs” the church.
Just as prophecy builds the church – both inwardly and outwardly (1 Cor 14:20-25), so does praying in tongues build individual believers.
In 1 Kings 6, Solomon fulfills the prophetic word to David and builds the great temple, the house of the Lord. This is clearly the metaphorical background of Paul’s use of construction language in 1 Cor 14. Both tongues and prophecy are grace-tools that “construct” God’s house, the church.
So let’s look a little closer at the wisdom that built the temple. In 1 Kings 5:17-18, the workers cut stones from the quarry. Their cutting work was so masterful, that the builders in 6:7 did not need iron tools to cut them further in order to fit them together.
“The house, while it was being built, was built of stone prepared at the quarry, and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any iron tool heard in the house while it was being built.”
Think about that. As the stone masons put the stones together – for the building of the Lord’s house! – no one heard the sound of iron hitting stone. No hard clanking pierced the atmosphere as the masons finished the stones to form the walls.
Instead, a cool quiet suffused the construction process. I’m sure people in the city could hear the workers’ voices in the air, as well as the solid, natural tones of stones sliding and locking into one another.
But there were no harsh, metallic strikes. Iron instruments sat silently. Only stones spoke.
And wisdom. Divine wisdom.
The construction of God’s house created a unique sound – the sound of divine wisdom.
Yet it lacked the harsh clanking of man’s wisdom – a wisdom I fear we have mis-heard as the sound of normal church construction.
That’s how perfectly the individual stones were cut from the quarry and fashioned before getting into the hands of the masons. All the builders needed to do was fit them together. Then Yahweh’s stones united into a house to give him residence.
So, praying in tongues constructs the individual. To fit our analogy, praying in tongues “cuts” the individual building blocks so that each one will fit with the others. Praying in tongues serves to cut us away from the old quarry and fashion us to fit with others in actual, body-life relationships (versus attending weekly conferences).
We need personal, spiritual construction through tongues – like the cutting of stones.
Prophecy, then, constructs the church. Again, sticking with our analogy, prophesying to the gathered ekklēsia (sometimes including unbelievers), fits the cut stones together into a community – a spiritual family. Prophecy does the work of the masons who put the blocks together to enclose the majestic presence of God.
We need corporate, spiritual construction through prophecy – like the putting together of stones.
Tongues and prophecy work together to construct the King’s palace. Or to mix the metaphor for a moment, tongues and prophecy fashion the fresh wineskin that contain the new wine. Otherwise it will surely spill out.
When individuals pray in tongues abundantly in private, prophecy works better in public.
Solomon later advised, “Prepare your work outside. And make it ready for yourself in the field. Afterwards, then, build your house” (Prov 24:27).
So as we generously pray in tongues, the Spirit cuts and fashions us to fit with others. Then when the gathered community prophesies, those cut stones fit together cleanly and tightly as a covenant family. That will build a house worthy of the Lord (Eph 2:19-22).
How can God’s house be built his way without the activity of the Spirit through speaking in tongues and prophecy?
These gifts are crucial. Who pays attention to the apostolic texts? Who builds God’s house solely through the gospel and the Spirit? Are these the urgencies for those building the house of the Lord? Or are we more urgent about marketing our brand or drawing people to a competitive product?
All while tongues and prophecy are either ignored or given mere lip service – but implicitly discouraged. We simply cannot build God’s house without these gifts in generous operation. Why then do so many churches try?
Jesus is the foundation of the house. The gospel proclaimed, taught, and lived manifests the living Christ as the cornerstone of God’s temple. Tongues prepare the stones for one another; prophecy then fits them together. That is God’s simple, Christ-centered, Spirit-inspired wisdom for building his house.
Let’s be lavish in our private use of tongues in prayer, and let’s prophesy and share the gifts for edification when gathered.
Then let’s see what God will do.