God had given Paul the gift of tongues. That is, Paul could speak in unknown languages by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul was grateful for this gift and he expressed his thanks to God for it. Paul used his gift well, and he used it often.
During prayer, Paul did not always want his mind to direct his prayers; he did not want only to express his own thoughts. So instead, with the gift of tongues, his spirit prayed. As he did that, the Holy Spirit directed his prayers.
Paul also used the gift when he gave thanks to God. On those occasions, he often sang in tongues (14:15).
However, Paul did not consider it right to use the gift of tongues on every occasion. Especially, he considered it wrong to speak in tongues when he should teach other people about God. Tongues are unknown languages. When people cannot understand the message, they learn nothing.
God does not force anyone to speak in tongues. People who have this gift can decide when to use it. Paul had decided not to use it at church when he should be teaching people. It seems that many members of the church in Corinth were using the gift of tongues on such occasions.
Paul urged them not to do that. It was more important for them to teach the people who needed to know about God. If God was giving a message to the church, then it was necessary for people to understand that message (14:1-5).
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© 2014, Keith Simons.