He especially stresses the proper perspective in regards to speaking in tongues (foreign languages). It appears, from his repeated and detailed references to it in this chapter, that some of the members were speaking in tongues during the assembly, without an interpreter. Nobody, apparently not even they themselves, knew what they were saying, thus creating confusion in the assembly. It appears further that in some cases a number of them were speaking in tongues all at the same time, creating even greater confusion.
Paul emphasizes that prophesying was more beneficial than speaking in tongues, unless an interpreter was present, for prophesying was teaching: “…for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification” (vs. 5). He continually drives home the importance of teaching, which could benefit all who heard (vs. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 19, 22, 24, 31). The emphasis on teaching in this chapter goes hand in hand with the focus of the previous chapter, wherein Paul emphasized their incomplete knowledge.
Paul admonishes, “yet 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” (vs. 19). He states further, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding” (vs. 15).
Christianity is a taught religion, and it is a religion that teaches. What is done in the assembly, when the church comes together, should be for the edification of all assembled. Understandable teaching can achieve that goal. However, when people are speaking unintelligibly, then those present cannot learn and therefore cannot be edified.
God is a God of order. As followers and worshipers of Him, we need to respect His will and conform our will accordingly. His standard must be our standard: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace…” (vs. 33).