THE TRUTH ABOUT TONGUES

1 CORINTHIANS 14:1-25

The year was 711 B.C. Dark times had fallen upon the land of Israel. From the north, the mighty armies of the Assyrian Empire, led by Sargon, had ravaged most of the known world.

Only ten years earlier, they had swept down upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the ten northern tribes. The Israelites had fought valiantly, but their defeat had been inevitable. Those who had not perished by the sword or by the siege-induced famine were taken captive. There was a holocaust in which thousands were slaughtered, mutilated and subjected to indescribable horrors. The few survivors were taken away into a foreign land. The Northern Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist.

However, the appetite of the growing monster that was the Assyrian Empire had not been satisfied. Now the Assyrians were casting their eyes to the south where lay the tiny southern kingdom of Judah. It was in this context that Isaiah proclaimed the world of the Lord.

1 Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
And to the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
Which is at the head of the fertile valley
Of those who are overcome with wine!

2 Behold, the Lord has a strong and mighty agent;
As a storm of hail, a tempest of destruction,
Like a storm of mighty overflowing waters,
He has cast it down to the earth with His hand. (Isaiah 28:1-2)
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Isaiah pictures the Assyrian Empire as merely a tool of destruction in the hand of the Lord. The Assyrian king is nothing but a pawn on Godís chess board. He may be strong and he may be mighty, but he is also an unwitting agent of God. It is God who has planned the strategy and the tactics that have been used against Samaria.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel has been guilty of turning away from the Lord. As a result, God has passed judgment upon them and has sent the Assyrian hordes to punish them.

Israel has not been alone in her sin. The priests and the prophets of Judah have also fallen from the Lord.

7 And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink:
The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink;
They reel while having visions,
They totter when rendering judgment.

8 For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place. (Isaiah 28:7-8).

Because of her sin, Judah will be judged in the same way that Israel was judged. Even now, the same armies that destroyed Israel are preparing to march against Judah. In His grace, God continues to give His word to them that they might repent.

9 To whom would He teach knowledge?
And to whom would He interpret the message?
Those just weaned from milk?
Those just taken from the breast?

10 For He says, "Order on order, order on order,
Line on line, line on line,
A little here, a little there." (Isaiah 28:9-10)
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The plea goes out. Who will listen to the word of the Lord? Who will learn His teachings? If not the learned, then perhaps the unlearned. If not the aged, then perhaps the infant. If not the strong, then perhaps the weak.

If Godís people continue to reject His message and if they refuse to repent, then He will bring a sign against them. It will be a sign of condemnation. It will be a sign of judgment.

Indeed, He will speak to this people
Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue (Isaiah 28:11)
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The word "stammering" is misleading. It has been suggested by some that it refers to a guttural type of language. It will be in contrast to what would have been considered the smooth, poetic flow of the Hebrew language.

This is a prophecy. Notice what it says. God is going to speak to the nation of Israel. But He is going to speak to them in a new way. Godís word is going to be proclaimed to them in a way by which it has never been proclaimed before. It will be proclaimed in the guttural speech of a foreign language.

12 He who said to them, "Here is rest, give rest to the weary,"
And, "Here is repose," but they would not listen.

13 So the word of the LORD to them will be,
"Order on order, order on order,
Line on line, line on line,
A little here, a little there,"
That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared, and taken captive. (Isaiah 28:12-13)
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Notice the purpose clause in verse 13. It tells WHY this particular sign is to be given. It will be given so that judgment will come against the Jews. It will be given so that they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared, and taken captive (28:13).

For hundreds of years, the Jews had heard the message of God from their own prophets and in their own language and they had refused to believe. But there is coming a time when God will send them prophets who will preach in foreign languages. In that day, if they continue in their unbelief, then they will fall under judgment.

14 Therefore, hear the word of the LORD, O scoffers,
Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem,

15 Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we have made a pact.
The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by,
For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception." (Isaiah 28:14-15)
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This condemnation is made against the rulers of Jerusalem. They are the ones who have placed their faith in man instead of in God. They are the ones who are trusting in their political deals and in their secret treaties to deliver them. They will be brought down. They will be destroyed. Why? Because they have not believed. Because they have scoffed and the provision of God. Because they have trusted in man rather than in God.

Therefore thus says the Lord God,
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,
A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed." (Isaiah 28:16)
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This is a Messianic prophecy. There is coming One in whom the Jews can trust. He will be the place of safety. The one who believes in Him will not be disturbed. Will the Jews believe in Him whom God has sent? Or will they trust in their own treaties and covenants with surrounding nations?

Jesus quoted from this same prophecy as He stood before the chief priests and elders of Israel. For three years, he had been traveling through the nation and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and calling on men to repent and to turn to Him. But the nation had rejected Him. The elders of the nation were plotting to kill Him. Before the week was out, He would be betrayed and delivered to be crucified. As He now stood in the Temple, He quoted from this Old Testament prophecy.

42 Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, ĎThe stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyesí? 43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it. 44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust."

45 And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. (Matthew 21:42-45).

Jesus refers to Himself as the chief cornerstone. Though the leaders of the nation of Israel have rejected Him, He will ultimately rule and reign over the kingdom. Those who rejected Him will themselves be rejected. Those who judge the Son will find themselves judged and the kingdom will be given to others.

They did not have long to wait. The sign of that judgment was seen within two months of the time when Jesus spoke these words.

Picture the scene. The city is alive with rumors. It has been whispered through the streets that Jesus, the Galilean rabbi who had been put to death has been seen alive again. Jerusalem is crowded with pilgrims who have come from afar to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. From every corner of the ancient world, Jews have gathered together on this day. They have come to partake in an experience of worship. They are about to get a lot more than they expected.

A sign is about to be given. It will be a sign of judgment. It will be a sign of condemnation on those who have not believed. It will be a sign of languages. It will be a sign in which the Jews hear the word of the Lord proclaimed in a foreign language.

And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4).

What are these "tongues"? The word "tongues" has both a figurative as well as a literal meaning. The literal meaning refers to that part of the anatomy that is utilized to lick ice cream cones. It describes the literal tongue.

The figurative meaning describes a language that is spoken through the utilization of the tongue. This is the meaning that is in view here. They began to speak in other languages. Their audience were people from all over the world and these people began to hear the message of Christ spoken in the languages of their homelands.

5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language.

7 And they were amazed and marveled, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." (Acts 2:5-11).

The passage is very specific in identifying these tongues as having been specific languages. There were Jews gathered from all over the world. Most of these Jews were bi-lingual. They would speak two and even three languages. But the last thing they ever expected to hear was the languages of their homeland being spoken here in Palestine and especially to hear those languages being used to declare a message from God.

This is not the only instance in which the miracle of tongues was manifested. Twice more the book of Acts records incidents in which this gift was manifested. In each case, tongues was given as a sign to those who were unbelieving.

There were Jews who heard the message that day and who turned to Christ in repentance. But there were many more who remained in their unbelief. They heard the message of the gospel preached foreign tongues, just as Isaiah had promised, but they did not heed the warning. Within forty years, they were to see the judgment of God, just as their ancestors had seen a similar judgment hundreds of years earlier. Within forty years, the Roman legions under General Titus would march against Jerusalem, burning the temple and hauling the inhabitants away into a captivity from which they would not return.

It is in this context that Paul writes his epistle to the Corinthians. The sign of tongues is still being manifested. In the manifestation of this sign in far-off Corinth, a problem has arisen. It is connected to the problem that we saw in the last two chapters. It is a problem in the lack of unity and in the lack of love.

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Paul teaches that there are many different gifts, but that each are no less a part of the body

Paul points out that having and exhibiting various gifts is not nearly so important as having love

Paul deals with the specific issue of the use of tongues in the church and how it is better to do that which edifies others

In each of these sections, there is an underlying theme of the importance of the unity of the church in our utilization of various spiritual gifts.

 

PROPHECY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TONGUES

1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. 4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.

5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:1-5).

Up to this point, Paul has mentioned the gift of tongues only in passing. Now he turns specifically to this gift. Yet he does so in a round-about way. He does it by calling upon the Corinthians to pursue love.

  1. The Priority of Love: Pursue love (14:1).
  2. In the previous chapter, Paul dealt with the supremacy of love. The Corinthians were inclined to put a lot of other things in first place. They were impressed by knowledge. They admired strength. They chased after what they considered to be the best spiritual gifts. The one thing that they tended to ignore was the thing that they should have made a priority -- love.

  3. The Place of Spiritual Gifts: Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts (14:1).
  4. Paul told the Corinthians to make love the most important thing. But this does not mean that he wanted to be understood as saying that spiritual gifts are not important. Spiritual gifts are from God. That makes them good and to be desired. They are only bad when they are used without love.

  5. The Call to Prophesy: Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy (14:1).
  6. Paul wants to put a special emphasis on the ministry of prophesying. He does this for a reason. He does it because he wants to de-emphasize another ministry. He wants to de-emphasize the gift of tongues.

    Paul does not want merely to give the Corinthians a list of negatives. Christianity is more than a list of doníts. Christianity is positive. And so, before he lists any negatives, Paul first begins with a positive. Before he says what he wants you to avoid, he tells you what he wants you to follow.

    Paul calls the believers at Corinth to emphasize a ministry of prophecy. What is a ministry of prophecy? It is a ministry that does the same thing that the prophets did.

    The prophets of the Old Testament foretold the future. That is why they were called prophets. By the same token, there are a number of instances in which men and women in the New Testament were able to foretell the future. This was a gift that was given to certain believers.

    This is a part of ministry within the church that ought not be neglected. Christians are people of prophecy. We look at the world around us with all of its troubles and we know how it is going to end. Have you ever heard someone tell a joke that you had already heard? It didnít take you by surprise because you already knew the punch line. We are people who know the punch line. We know that Jesus is going to come back and make all bad things good. He is going to turn all of the wrong things to right. One of the things that ought to be happening in our churches is that we ought to be reminding each other of these truths.

    The prophets also had another ministry. They proclaimed Godís future truth, but they also proclaimed Godís present truth. They looked at the world around them and they pronounced Godís answers to the worldís problems. They spoke to the issues of the day.

    This is another ministry the church needs to take up today. All too often, the church has faced critical issues by ignoring them and hoping that they will go away. But the church is not here to ignore issues. The church is here to proclaim Godís answers to the problem issues that plague the world. In the midst of a land that is crying for answers, we too often are stuttering.

    We have been entrusted with the answers to the questions that the world is asking. What we need to do is to speak in a way in which the world can understand us. We need to speak Godís message in the language of our culture.

  7. The Problem with Tongues: For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries (14:2).
  8. The Corinthians had heard about the gift of tongues and they were impressed. They decided that it was just the thing they needed to spice up their church service. They began to speak in tongues within the meeting of the church.

    What was the source of these "tongues?" Was this a supernatural gift of miraculous languages as is described in the book of Acts? Or was this a Corinthian counterfeit in which certain prideful believers stood up in the service and began to speak in languages that they had previously learned? Or was this some other type of language speaking?

    We are not told. That is okay because the teachings that Paul gives can apply to any type of tongues. It can apply to the use of a supernatural gift and it can apply to the use of foreign languages within a bi-lingual community.

    Here is the point. When a man stands up in church and begins to speak in a language that no one else in that church understands, what he is saying is a mystery to everyone.

    God understands. There is no language spoken by men that God does not understand. But there are a lot of languages that are a mystery to me. I am only edified if I understand what is spoken.

  9. The Advantage of Prophecy: But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation (14:3).
  10. One who speaks out in the same way that the prophets spoke will produce something that speaking in different languages can never produce. You can speak to me in German all day and it will not do a thing for me because I do not understand a single word of German. A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Germany and to speak in a German church. There was a problem. I donít speak German. And so, as I stood up in the pulpit to speak, there stood with me a translator. He happened to be, not only my brother in Christ, but also my brother in the flesh. He is fluent in German. I spoke in English and he translated my words into German and everyone who was present could understand one of those two languages.

    One of the problems with the church today is that it all too often is speaking in a language that the uninitiated do not understand. We use words like "justified" and "redeemed" and "born again" and, unless we are careful to interpret our terms, then it could well be that we are speaking in vain.

    It is like the two little old ladies who sat in church every Sunday. "Isnít he a wonderful preacher?" asked the one lady. "He certainly is. I canít understand a word he says, but he certainly knows how to preach!"

    We need to make Godís truths clear. We need to speak in a way that can be understood.

  11. Prophecy and Tongues in Contrast: One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church (14:4).

There is a sharp contrast presented in these verses between these two ministries of prophesying and speaking in a tongue.

One who Prophesies

One who Speaks in a Tongue

Speaks to men

Does not speak to men

He is understood by men

Only God understands what he is saying

He edifies and exhorts and consoles

He doesnít benefit anyone but himself

Edifies the church

Edifies himself

There is a principle here. It is that spiritual gifts and abilities have been given for us to edify one another. My spiritual gift was not given to edify me. It is designed to edify you. Your spiritual gift was designed to edify me.

This means that if you are not using your spiritual gifts, then I hurt as a result. Your spiritual growth is important to me because it will benefit me. My spiritual gift is important to you because it will benefit you. We have a vested interest in each other. It ought to result in us being concerned for one another.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF SPEAKING WITH UNDERSTANDING

6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?

7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.

10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:6-12).

The purpose of language is the communication of thought. That is very basic. It means that if words are spoken that do not communicate and idea to those who listen, then the speaking serves no useful purpose.

There are a lot of people today who engage in something they call "tongues," but which bears no resemblance to the tongues that are described in the New Testament. When these people babble away, they have no idea what they are saying and nobody else has any idea what they are saying.

  1. Speaking must be with Content: But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? (14:6).
  2. Speaking in another language merely to be speaking in that language is plain silly if you do not have something to say. Paul is concerned that believers have CONTENT to their speech.

    Christians ought to have something to say. We have been entrusted with the truths of God. We have been commissioned with a message. We have been given revelation and knowledge and prophecy and teaching.

    Paul says, "It doesnít matter in what language I am speaking if I am not also relaying revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching. It is not the use of a language that is significant, but the content of what I am saying that is important."

  3. Even Lifeless Soundmakers have Content: Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? (14:7).
  4. Paul illustrates the truth of communication with content by looking at the realm of music. What would you think if you went to a concert and the pianist merely pounded on whatever keys he desired without any thought to rhythm or harmony?

    I must admit that there are certain styles of music that I appreciate over other styles. But all music produces a distinction in the tones. If it did not, then it could not rightfully be called music.

  5. The Example of a Bugle: For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? (14:8).
  6. In the ancient world, orders on the battlefield were relayed through the blowing of a trumpet. One note was blown to order a charge. Another was sounded for the retreat. There was still another for taps. What would happen if the bugler sounded taps in the middle of the battle? There would be people trying to go to sleep as the war raged around them.

  7. The Application to our Speech: So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air (14:9).
  8. When I was in high school, m younger brother took up the trombone. At least he attempted to take up the trombone. Today he is a professional musician, but not on the trombone. He doesnít play the trombone today and I canít say that he really played the trombone back then, though he tried.

    There are few things in this world that sound worse that one who is trying to learn to play the trombone. There are no clear notes. There is just a lot of noise going on in every direction. By the same token, unless speech is clear and understandable, then it is just a lot of meaningless sound.

  9. Speech implies Meaning: There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning (14:10).
  10. The problem with the tongues-speaking that was going on in Corinth was not that there were no significant things being said. The problem was that they were not saying those significant things in a language that could be understood by those who were present.

    If I were to stand up and to read the New Testament to you in Greek, I would be saying some very significant things. But the significance would be lost on you because it would be Greek to you.

  11. Meaning needs to be Understood: If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me (14:11).

The Greeks considered anyone who did not speak Greek to be a barbarian. Greek had become the common language in Paulís day. Even in Rome where the official language was Latin, Greek had become the language of the marketplace. Bi-lingualism was the order of the day. Someone who could not speak Greek was considered an outsider.

I am reminded of the story of the two China men who were talking in Chinese. A man walked by and heard them and said, "Hey, this is America. If you want to continue to live here, then you are going to have to learn to speak in Spanish."

The point that Paul is making is that if you do not speak in a language that people understand, then the significance of what you are saying will be lost to them.

The Roman Catholic Church used to conduct its mass in Latin, even though no one present was able to speak or understand Latin. People would walk into church and they would listen and they would not understand a single word that was said and then they would walk out again. This did not edify anyone. The reason you are to speak in church is to edify others.

Here is the principle. If there is no comprehension between the speaker and the hearer, then the speaking is of no worth.

 

THE NECESSITY OF INTERPRETATION

13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also. 16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:13-19).

Paul moves from the area of teaching to the area of application. He has shown the importance of speaking in a way that is understandable. Now he wants to apply it to the particular situation in Corinth.

  1. Interpretation is Necessary: Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret (14:13).
  2. Paul does not want to outlaw bi-lingualism in the church. Neither does he wish to outlaw the legitimate use of a supernatural gift. He does want believers to be concerned about making the truths they speak understandable to all who are present.

    There is a lesson that we ought to learn. Those of us who have been Christians for a very long time can find ourselves speaking in a language that is not understandable to all who are present. We find ourselves using terms like "born again" and "justification" and "reformed theology." We might as well be speaking Greek or Hebrew for all that is being communicated. That is not to say that such terms never ought to be used. But they should be interpreted. They should always be explained.

  3. Interpretation is Fruitful: For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful (14:14).
  4. What does this mean? Does it mean that a person who speaks in a tongue does not understand what he himself is saying? I do not think so. Paul has just said that his spirit prays. The problem is one of mental unfruitfulness. He has prayed, but his message has not been understood. It has edified no one.

  5. Interpretation involves the Mind: What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also (14:15).
  6. Paul concludes that he will not merely pray so that he can understand it and his own spirit is edified, but he shall pray so that others also will have understanding.

    When we open in prayer in our Sunday morning service, we typically pray in a common language. When we open our hymnbook to sing praises, we typically sing them in a common language. It is not that God cannot understand other languages. It is because we want all of the people who are gathered in the worship service to understand.

  7. Interpretation leads to Unified Worship: Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? (14:16).
  8. If you pray or sing or speak or bless in a language that you know but which the other people in the worship service do not know, then how will they be able to participate in your worship? How will they be able to say, "Amen," as the end of your prayer?

    The word, "Amen," is transliterated from the Hebrew. It is a Hebrew word that is writtern here in Greek letters. It is a word of acknowledgment and agreement. It signifies that what has been said is true. But you can only agree with what has been said if you know and understand what has been said.

  9. Interpretation leads to Edification: For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified (14:17).
  10. The reason that Paul wants people in the church to speak in a common language is not so that God might avoid confusion. It is so that men might be edified. It is for the sake of the person sitting in the pew next to you.

  11. More is not Better: I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue (14:18-19).

There is no record in the Bible of Paul having a supernatural gift of tongues. He did have other supernatural gifts. He was able to heal. He was given visions from God. He prophesied. But we know of no time when he spoke in supernatural tongues.

On the other hand, we do have some indications that Paul was conversant in multiple languages. In Acts 21:37, he apparently shows some knowledge of the Greek language. Just a few verses later, in Acts 21:40 - 22:2, we see Paul addressing a group of Jews in the Hebrew dialect. Furthermore, he was a native of Cilicia, a land with its own particular dialect.

It may be that, when Paul says that he speaks in tongues more than the Corinthians, that he is not making reference to a supernatural gift, but to a learned ability. Paul had been educated in the highest universities. He was learned in all of the wisdom of the Jews. He could speak Greek and Hebrew and perhaps a number of other languages. But he did not utilize this ability when he came to the Corinthian church. He spoke in the common language of the people.

 

THE PURPOSE FOR TONGUES

20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, "By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me," says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.

23 If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. (1 Corinthians 14:20-25).

The reason that tongues were being misused in Corinth was because the Corinthians had lost sight of their purpose. Many of those who participate in that which is commonly termed "tongues" today have also lost sight of the purpose of tongues. Why did tongues come about? What was their original purpose? The Scriptures do not leave us to guess. Tongues were given as a sign and as a warning of coming judgment upon those who did not believe.

  1. An Appeal to the Scriptures: In the Law it is written, "By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me," says the Lord (14:21).
  2. Paul quotes from the prophecy of Isaiah. It is found in Isaiah 28. It is a prophecy made to those who were in the midst of unbelief. It is a prophecy of a sign that would be given to those who had rejected the message of God.

    The Jews would receive a sign. They had refused to hear the message of God in their own language. Now they would hear the message of God in the languages of pagans.

    Those who had always been the guardians and oracles of God would now be given the words of God in foreign languages. It would be a sign of coming judgment. Even though they witnessed this sign, they still would not believe. They would willingly continue in their unbelief.

  3. The Purpose for Tongues: So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers (14:22).
  4. Tongues are not given to make Christians more spiritual. They are not given to give you a good feeling about your ability or your experience. They are given as a sign to unbelievers. They are given as a sign to those unbelievers who refused to believe the message of the gospel. They were given to unbelieving Israel as a sign of Godís displeasure. As such, tongues have no place in the meeting of the church.

    This is important to know. In many circles, it has become customary to view the speaking in tongues as a sign of spirituality. The very fact that the Corinthians were engaging in some sort of tongues-speaking is a sign that it might have been a sign of their lack of spirituality.

  5. The Purpose for Prophecy: but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe (14:22).
  6. Both tongues and prophecy are given as a sign. But they each have a different target audience. Tongues are given as a sign of judgment against unbelievers. Prophecy is given for the edification of believers. Tongues are a sign of judgment. Prophecy is also a sign, but it is a sign of hope.

    Tongues

    Prophecy

    Given as a sign to unbelievers (14:22).

    Given as a sign to believers (14:22).

    A sign of judgment.

    A sign of hope and salvation.

    The unlearned hear and thing that you are mad (14:23).

    The unlearned hear and are convicted so that they turn to God (14:24-25).

    God has given us some fantastic promises. He has told us that when we die and are placed in the ground, we will grow. He has told us that we will live forever with Him. He has told us that he will come back one day to make all of the bad things good.

  7. The Problem with Ungifted and Unbelievers: If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? (14:23).

This is similar to the reaction that the Jews first had when they witnessed the first manifestation of tongues. The scene was Jerusalem. It was the time of the Feast of Pentecost. They followers of Jesus were gathered together when there was suddenly the sound of a mighty rushing wind. Men began to speak in foreign languages. As the crowd assembled and heard them speak, these were accused of being drunk on new wine.

There is an application here that I do not want you to miss. It is not merely toward those churches and Christians of the charismatic persuasion. It is also for the rest of us. We have a tendency to speak in unknown tongues. It is the language of the church and of the Christian and of theology. We tend to use our own terms without regard to the ungifted and the unbeliever who might enter. We use terms like "justification" and "sanctification" and "born again." Those are not bad terms. They are good terms and they communicate some very special meanings. But if we do not interpret those terms into the language of the ungifted and the unbeliever, then we have failed to communicate and we might as well be speaking in Greek or Hebrew.

Here is the principle. If your words are not edifying to others, then you are misusing your words, no matter what language you think you might be speaking.


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