The community of the Creator God and His Christ was not going to be divided or structured based on the abilities of teachers, ethnicity, wealth, or any other societal value, so it should certainly not allow for divisions based upon those things that are perceived to be randomly distributed gifts from that God and therefore even less appropriate as a basis for divisions than other societal constructs.
Consequently, the use of these gifts is to be modeled upon the example of their Lord, enacted on the basis of love and self-sacrifice, as demonstrated at Jesus’ meal tables, His socially flattening activities (reaching out to lepers, tax collectors, children, women, Gentiles, etc…), and His cross. Paul is adamant that these gifts are nothing without love and that they are of no real benefit unless they are being used to build up the entire community of believers, rather than just one or two people.
With his words that have opened the fourteenth chapter, as they build on all that has come before, Paul relativizes that which is the most prized of their spiritual expressions, emphasizing prophecy in its stead. Again, the contrast is stark. Not only does prophecy have an entirely different motivation and outcome, but it seeks to communicate in comprehensible language. This prompts a reconsidering of Paul’s insistence to “Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
Moving along to the sixth verse of this chapter, Paul writes “Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation or with knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” (1 Corinthians 14:6) Now, it is worthwhile to take this opportunity to point out that “prophecy” is not simply the offering up of words concerning future events. Prophecy is simply speaking the word of the Creator God or words about that God---that which reveals His character and teaches about His nature. In the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, prophecy is often linked to calling powers to account and sharing what are presumed to be the thoughts of the covenant God concerning the activities of those that are in positions of power and responsibility.
Likewise, one must not confine thinking about “revelation” to mysterious language, but must understand that the word that Paul uses is “apokalupsei,” or “apocalypse,” which basically means to “go behind the veil.” Apocalyptic language is not restricted to the book of Revelation (officially known as “The Apocalypse”), but can be seen throughout Scripture, as it is employed to provide gravity to a subject, as the one that employs apocalyptic language attempts to communicate what he believes to be the Creator God’s perspective on events.
Continuing with this thought, Paul writes “It is similar for lifeless things that make a sound, like a flute or harp. Unless they make a distinction in the notes, how can what is played on the flute or harp be understood? If, for example,” as Paul employs what would be a familiar example in his world (this is not necessarily a component of his eschatology), “the trumpet makes an unclear sound, who will get ready for battle? It is the same for you. If you do not speak clearly with your tongue, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air” (14:7-9). As part of his battle against divisions in the body and the improper honorific elevation of those that speak in tongues, Paul asks how, if distinct language is not used, if instructions are unclear, knowledge is not being passed along, and the ecstatic speaker is simply speaking into the air (catch the shaming that is occurring), then how is the body benefited?