Now that Paul has firmly established the superiority of prophecy to tongues because of the intelligibility of the former, the Apostle can move on to instructions for using these gifts in corporate worship. As we see in 1 Corinthians 14:26–32, the inferiority of tongues to prophecy does not mean that tongues should not be used in public worship. However, when they are used, guidelines must be followed, as is also the case with prophecy.
Again Paul stresses that spiritual gifts are given to build up the body of Christ (v. 26; see vv. 1–5), and it is evident from verses 27–32 that such building up cannot happen if the gifts are exercised in a disorderly way. Tongues must be interpreted, or those with the gift are to remain silent. Prophets and tongues speakers must not all speak at once but one by one, and the church is to evaluate what is said, either to make sure the spoken word conforms to the gospel or to identify who actually possesses the prophetic gift. This is done so that “all may learn and all be encouraged” (v. 31). This text, then, commends to us structured and orderly worship. Having a set order of service where pastors and other people speaking in worship take turns adds to the intelligibility of the service and contributes to the edification of God’s people.
That principle of intentional, structured worship is the key application for us today, since the gifts of tongues and prophecy have ended. The cessation of these so-called sign gifts at the end of the Apostolic age has been the historic position of the Christian church across denominations, though the rise of Pentecostalism in the twentieth century has called this consensus into question. Still, the cessationist position continues to best represent the biblical evidence. Hebrews 1:1–4 declares the finality of the revelation in Christ. So, we should not expect special revelation today, since there are no Apostles to speak for Christ, and there are no Apostles because there is no one alive who ministered alongside Christ or who can qualify as an eyewitness to the resurrection (Acts 1:21–22). Furthermore, when the Apostles speak directly to the post-Apostolic situation, such as in 2 Timothy, we find no call to look for new prophecies or for people to declare the mysteries of God in tongues (see 1 Cor. 14:2). The Holy Spirit is still at work in His church, but special revelation has ceased, and with it the gifts of prophecy and tongues, because those gifts are the means of giving that revelation.