But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church…. In the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brethren, do not be children in understanding…. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:3–4, 19–20, 26—NKJV)

1 Corinthians 14 gives the key purpose for every local church—edify one another. In the early days of the church there was not a complete canon of Scripture. The Old Testament was to be had, for sure, but the New Testament, which reveals God’s design and will for this new thing on earth called “the church,” was far from complete. With each new epistle authored, God’s revelation was steadily being collected until it was finally complete with the death of the last living apostle. What were churches to do in order to know what God had in mind for his local churches until then?

God took care of the issue by allowing certain “sign gifts” to operate until the New Testament revelation was complete (1 Corinthians 13:8–13). Sign gifts were God’s gift to notify the Jewish people that this new church age had been instituted by their Messiah (1 Corinthians 1:22) and was God’s work. Among them was “tongue speaking” where communication of truth was miraculously facilitated beyond language barriers (Acts 2:6).

Do not fail to notice in the context of our text above that the gift of speaking in other languages was not the only gift, nor was it the main gift that Christ had granted to the needy, early church. Actually, tongues and its required partner gift of interpreting tongues is mentioned last in the grocery list of gifts which Christ granted to His church (1 Corinthians 12:4–11). A quick reading of the list identifies multiple gifts that every local church would need in order to know God’s will, discern who where authentic messengers from God bringing His Word, know what to do with the Word when it was delivered, and communicate that Word in the heart language of each hearer. We are blessed today with a complete New Testament and Old Testament. We can compare Scripture with Scripture and allow it to interpret itself so that there is no need for any of these gifts after the apostolic age came to a close (1 Corinthians 13:8).

The special “sign-gifts” are no longer necessary because the church’s real tools are now complete. We hold the truth in our hands, the Word of God. Truth is to be communicated in order to edify. Words are the way we do what we do to change lives for eternity. Our text calls it “prophesying.” When you see prophesying in the Scriptures, you will usually be able to determine from the context whether it is used in the context of “foretelling” or “forthtelling.” With the close of the apostolic age, foretelling came to an end and all that we do today is forthtelling, or proclamation of truth.

The way we handle truth in our speech is to be governed by the same mandate as the early church. When a believer speaks, whether to proclaim from a pulpit, to teach Bible lessons, to parent children, to win the lost, or to grow saints, he must use the moment as an opportunity to use the tools God has given for the purpose of “edification, exhortation, and comfort.” Each word is the sharing of the gift of building materials by which each hearer may build up his spiritual life.

Probably the best known parable of our Lord concerns the building of two houses (lives) upon two distinct foundations (Matthew  7:24–29). One was built upon the shifting sands, and when the storm came its collapse was great. The other was built upon the solid rock and it stood in the storm. It is harder to build on solid rock than on sand for certainly the house will be built with enduring permanence in mind. Just as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:9–16, no permanence is found in wood, hay, and stubble, but in gold, silver, and precious stones. Your words are to be Scriptural words of truth (Proverbs 25:11–12) handing durable building material over to every hearer so that they may be edified, exhorted and comforted. It is the employment of words like this that the Holy Spirit will use for the building up of lives for eternity (John 16:7–11). This kind of “prophesying” is illustrated in 2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10, Ephesians 4:12, Romans 14:19, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, and 1 Timothy 1:4–5. Allow the Holy Spirit to measure your words and dictate their use.

As Paul states, he would rather speak five words to teach others than ten thousand words that do not. Are you determined that at least one of your conversations each day will communicate at least five words of eternal value to someone else? This is the speech that is Spirit-led, the words with which lives are built! Trust and obey.