It is difficult to make this passage applicable to current church challenges unless it was a fellowship full of new converts who were all experiencing the joys of speaking in tongues and shouting out words in an unknown foreign language during church services! The worship at the church in Corinth seemed to often descend into a competition over who could speak loudest and who could rattle off most words in an Angelic language!
Paul is here comparing two spiritual gifts. Firstly, as has just been mentioned, speaking in tongues. This phenomenon was very common in the Early Church and was highly coveted. The use of it could be dangerous as the speaker could easily become proud of their abilities and it was generally induced by entering into a state of self-hypnosis and hysteria. This may be spiritually enriching for the orator, but is useless for the rest of the congregation and a barrier to those seekers entering the church for the first time. Interestingly, however, Paul states that he speaks in tongues more than anyone else at the church in Corinth!
Against this, Paul brings in prophecy, which may also be considered to be preaching- a forthtelling of the will and the message of God. This is useful for the whole gathered fellowship of God's people and Paul summarises its uses:
1. Its aim is to build up, to increase a person's knowledge of Christian truth and their ability to live as Christians.
2. It must aim to encourage. Nearly everyone struggles with something and the plan is for each and every person to walk out of the church at the end of the service feeling better about their position with God and His love for them.
3. It must aim to comfort. Beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of their sadness.
Two timeless principles emerge from studying this rather esoteric passage:
1. WORSHIP MUST NEVER BE SELFISH. All that is done in it must be done for everyone.
2. WORSHIP MUST BE INTELLIGIBLE. Ultimately, what satisfies one's mind comforts the heart and only what one's mind can grasp can bring strength to my life.