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1 Cor 14:24-25 (ESV):

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

What is meant by "the secrets of his heart are disclosed" (v25)? Does it mean that those with the gift of prophecy have revealed to them by the Spirit of God sensitive private information about the unbeliever's life that they shouldn't have known otherwise (e.g. secret information about his current situation, his secret intentions or things about his past that he hasn't told anybody)? I get this impression because verse 25 concludes with "he will worship God and declare that God is really among you", which to me sounds like an acknowledgement by the unbeliever that something extraordinary and supernatural is at work in that congregation. Something has to be so shocking in what people are saying to him to make him conclude that it must be God who is talking through these people.

This also reminds me of different instances when Jesus and the apostles demonstrated this ability to "see into other people's hearts" (for example, see John 4:16-19, Matthew 9:4, Acts 5:1-10, Acts 8:20-23, etc.). Is this what 1 Cor 14:24-25 is talking about?

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  • You seem to be attributing the ability and power of the Holy Spirit to men. If men speak in the Spirit and the Spirit uses what he has inspired in his power to convince of sin and his power to pierce the heart, then the honour and the glory is due to God, the Spirit, not to the 'supernatural ability' of men. – Nigel J May 10 at 14:28
  • @NigelJ - question edited, hopefully it is clearer now. – Spirit Realm Investigator May 10 at 14:31
  • You still seem keen to focus on the 'ability' of men. Nor is such a gift ever spoken of. It is the Spirit who reveals such things. He deserves the honour. – Nigel J May 10 at 14:32
  • @NigelJ - got it, edited once again. Let me know if it's fine now. – Spirit Realm Investigator May 10 at 14:37
  • Yes, that is more appropriate (in my own view). I think the 'disclosure' is within the person falling down on their face. The secrets of his heart are revealed to himself, this being the cause of such a casting of themselves before God. Now mine eye seeth thee : wherefore I abhor myself Job 42:6. (Close vote retracted.) – Nigel J May 10 at 15:36
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I believe the example referenced from John 4 demonstrates exactly the purpose Paul has in mind here. Let's compare the two:

From the OP:

he is called to account

From John 4:

16 Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.

--

From the OP:

the secrets of his heart are disclosed

From John 4:

17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:

18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.

--

From the OP:

he will worship God

From John 4:

23 ...true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth...

--

From the OP:

he will...declare that God is really among you

From John 4:

19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.

[He has her attention now]

25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.

[She's starting to get it]

26 Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.

28 The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men,

29 Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?

[She got it]

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What's the purpose?

Jesus' purpose here was not to show off spiritual gifts or divine abilities--notice that this call to repentance was done in private (see vs. 8). Jesus did on occasion call people to repentance more publicly (e.g. Matthew 23), but this appears to have been at least in part to protect innocent parties from sinful religious leaders.

Jesus wanted to help this woman repent, understand how to worship, and recognize that the Messiah and His message were here. His rather bold statement about her sins got her attention; Jesus then helped her connect the dots among truths she already knew, and bore plain testimony of the truth she needed to hear.

As noted in other answers, the purpose is not to humiliate someone, but to bring them to repentance. I agree with Dottard's assessment that the Holy Ghost "convicts" the sinner and pricks their heart in a way that human wisdom alone cannot. This is demonstrated in Acts 2:

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

Peter is clearly being directed by the Spirit in this chapter, and he spoke directly and effectively in a call to repentance that penetrated their hearts. The audience is now ready to act.

--

Not a cookie-cutter preacher

The "if" in 1 Cor 14:24 is important--this method of preaching repentance is appropriate if the Spirit directs. Paul himself acknowledged a few chapters prior:

To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor. 9:22, see also vss. 19-21)

--

Conclusion

Paul was willing to adopt whatever approach to preaching was needful in order to bring people to Christ--and in some cases that meant the method demonstrated by Jesus in John chapter 4.

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Note the astute observation of Jer 17:9 -

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

We also read in Eccl 12:14 -

For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

John says in John 16:8-10 about the promised Holy Spirit -

And when He comes, He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because they do not believe in Me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world has been condemned.

Thus, it is clear that part of the job of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin, even the hidden secrets of the heart. That is, when a sinner come to God, the Holy Spirit begins to reveal his/her desperate need because of the sinfulness of the heart and how much the person needs forgiveness and reformation.

Thus, when a person comes to God and confesses, they see themselves for what they are - a sinner in need of Jesus and how much Jesus can do for them. This is all impossible unless the secrets of the heart, hidden sins are revealed to us in all their horror of sinfulness.

We are all great sinners but Christ is a much greater Savior, and the Holy Spirit a great convictor of both sin (John 16:8-11) and the efficacy of Jesus as Savior (Acts 4:12).

Barnes notes this in commenting on 1 Cor 14:25:

And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest - Made manifest to himself in a surprising and remarkable manner. He shall be led to see the "real" designs and motives of his heart. His conscience would be awakened; he would recall his former course of life; he would see that it was evil; and the present state of his heart would be made known to himself. It is possible that he would "suppose that the speaker was aiming directly at him, and "revealing" his feelings to others; for such an effect is often produced. The convicted sinner often supposes that the preacher particularly intends "him," and wonders that he has such an acquaintance with his feelings and his life; and often supposes that he is designing to disclose his feelings to the congregation. It is possible that Paul here may mean that the prophets, by inspiration, would be able to reveal some secret facts in regard to the stranger; or to state the ill design which he might have had in coming into the assembly; or to state some things in regard to him which could be known only to himself; as was the case with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1, seq.); but perhaps it is better to understand this in a more general sense, as describing the proper and more common effect of truth, when it is applied by a man's own conscience. Such effects are often witnessed now; and such effects show the truth of religion; its adaptedness to people; the omniscience and the power of God; the design of the conscience, and its use in the conversion of sinners.

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  • We are all great sinners but Christ is a much greater Savior - very well said, +1 – Hold To The Rod Jul 3 at 22:49
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1 Corinthians 14:

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

The point is not to embarrass or humiliate the newcomer but to convict him to worship God by prophesying moral truths. His heart here refers to his own conscience. The prophesied truths reveal the secrets of his heart to his conscience. Upon conviction, he falls on his face, confesses his secret sins to God, and rejoices in God's forgiveness.

Does it mean that those prophesying are revealed by the Spirit secret information about the unbeliever's mind or his past that they couldn't have known otherwise?

No, not if this secret information will push him away from God. The point is to draw him closer to God by convicting his heart/conscience.

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