John Wesley's Explanatory Notes
Verse 1. Follow after love - With zeal, vigour, courage, patience; else you can neither attain nor keep it. And - In their place, as subservient to this. Desire spiritual gifts; but especially that ye may prophesy - The word here does not mean foretelling things to come; but rather opening and applying the scripture.
Verse 2. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaks, in effect, not to men, but to God - Who alone understands him.
Verse 4. Edifieth himself - Only, on the most favourable supposition. The church - The whole congregation.
Verse 5. Greater - That is, more useful. By this alone are we to estimate all our gifts and talents.
Verse 6. Revelation - Of some gospel mystery. Knowledge -Explaining the ancient types and prophecies. Prophecy -Foretelling some future event. Doctrine - To regulate your tempers and lives. Perhaps this may be the sense of these obscure words.
Verse 7. How shall it be known what is piped or harped -What music can be made, or what end answered?
Verse 8. Who will prepare himself for the battle - Unless he understand what the trumpet sounds? suppose a retreat or a march.
Verse 9. Unless ye utter by the tongue - Which is miraculously given you. Words easy to be understood - By your hearers. Ye will speak to the air - A proverbial expression. Will utterly lose your labour.
Verse 11. I shall be a barbarian to him - Shall seem to talk unintelligible gibberish.
Verse 13. That he may be able to interpret - Which was a distinct gift.
Verse 14. If I pray in an unknown tongue - The apostle, as he did at 1 Corinthians 14:6, transfers it to himself. My spirit prayeth - By the power of the Spirit I understand the words myself. But my understanding is unfruitful - The knowledge I have is no benefit to others.
Verse 15. I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the understanding also - I will use my own understanding, as well as the power of the Spirit. I will not act so absurdly, as to utter in a congregation what can edify none but myself.
Verse 16. Otherwise how shall he that filleth the place of a private person - That is, any private hearer. Say Amen -Assenting and confirming your words, as it was even then usual for the whole congregation to do.
Verse 19. With my understanding - In a rational manner; so as not only to understand myself, but to be understood by others.
Verse 20. Be not children in understanding - This is an admirable stroke of true oratory! to bring down the height of their spirits, by representing that wherein they prided themselves most, as mere folly and childishness. In wickedness be ye infants - Have all the innocence of that tender age. But in understanding be ye grown men - Knowing religion was not designed to destroy any of our natural faculties, but to exalt and improve them, our reason in particular.
Verse 21. It is written in the Law - The word here, as frequently, means the Old Testament. In foreign tongues will I speak to this people - And so he did. He spake terribly to them by the Babylonians, when they had set at nought what he had spoken by the prophets, who used their own language. These words received a farther accomplishment on the day of pentecost. Isaiah 28:11.
Verse 22. Tongues are intended for a sign to unbelievers - To engage their attention, and convince them the message is of God. Whereas prophecy is not so much for unbelievers, as for the confirmation of them that already believe.
Verse 23. Yet - Sometimes prophecy is of more use, even to unbelievers, than speaking with tongues. For instance: If the whole church be met together - On some extraordinary occasion. It is probable, in so large a city, they ordinarily met in several places. And there come in ignorant persons - Men of learning might have understood the tongues in which they spoke. It is observable, St. Paul says here, ignorant persons or unbelievers; but in the next verse, an unbeliever or an ignorant person. Several bad men met together hinder each other by evil discourse. Single persons are more easily gained.
Verse 24. He is convicted by all - who speak in their turns, and speak to the heart of the hearers. He is judged by all - Every one says something to which his conscience bears witness.
Verse 25. The secrets of his heart are made manifest - Laid open, clearly described; in a manner which to him is most astonishing and utterly unaccountable. How many instances of it are seen at this day! So does God still point his word.
Verse 26. What a thing is it, brethren - This was another disorder among them. Every one hath a psalm - That is, at the same time one begins to sing a psalm; another to deliver a doctrine; another to speak in an unknown tongue; another to declare what has been revealed to him; another to interpret what the former is speaking; every one probably gathering a little company about him, just as they did in the schools of the philosophers. Let all be done to edification - So as to profit the hearers.
Verse 27. By two or three at most - Let not above two or three speak at one meeting. And that by course - That is, one after another. And let one interpret - Either himself, 1 Corinthians 14:13; or, if he have not the gift, some other, into the vulgar tongue. It seems, the gift of tongues was an instantaneous knowledge of a tongue till then unknown, which he that received it could afterwards speak when he thought fit, without any new miracle.
Verse 28. Let him speak - That tongue, if he find it profitable to himself in his private devotions.
Verse 29. Let two or three of the prophets - Not more, at one meeting. Speak - One after another, expounding the scripture.
Verse 31. All - Who have that gift. That all may learn - Both by speaking and by hearing.
Verse 32. For the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets - But what enthusiast considers this? The impulses of the Holy Spirit, even in men really inspired, so suit themselves to their rational faculties, as not to divest them of the government of themselves, like the heathen priests under their diabolical possession. Evil spirits threw their prophets into such ungovernable ecstasies, as forced them to speak and act like madmen. But the Spirit of God left his prophets the clear use of their judgment, when, and how long, it was fit for them to speak, and never hurried them into any improprieties either as to the matter, manner, or time of their speaking.
Verse 34. Let your women be silent in the churches - Unless they are under an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit. For, in other cases, it is not permitted them to speak -By way of teaching in public assemblies. But to be in subjection - To the man whose proper office it is to lead and to instruct the congregation. Genesis 3:16.
Verse 35. And even if they desire to learn anything - Still they are not to speak in public, but to ask their own husbands at home - That is the place, and those the persons to inquire of.
on the Whole Bible
Verse 36. Are ye of Corinth either the first or the only Christians? If not, conform herein to the custom of all the churches.
Verse 37. Or spiritual - Endowed with any extraordinary gift of the Spirit. Let him - Prove it, by acknowledging that I now write by the Spirit.
Verse 38. Let him be ignorant - Be it at his own peril.
Verse 39. Therefore - To sum up the whole.
Verse 40. Decently - By every individual. In order -By the whole church.