There are many interpretations on how “tongues” “glossa-in the Greek” is used in the New Testament. One reason for this, as we shall see later, is that there are different ways or methods to use this gift from the Holy Spirit. Paul explains this gift thoroughly in I Cor. 14. This will be the text in which almost all aspects of tongues can be explained.
Before we go to 1 Cor. 14 however, I thought it might be beneficial to go through the whole book briefly, to show why Paul had to explain tongues to the Corinthians. It becomes apparent that while the Corinthians had full use of the spiritual gifts (I Cor. 1: 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.) they lacked maturity, to say the least. In fact, Paul had to first deal with serious sins in the church before he could teach spiritual truths.
As in any situation when working with people, we have to address the immediate issues before we can teach important lessons. This is the same with Paul and the Corinthians. There was fighting and bickering, questions on authority and immorality. Like dealing with children, these issues had to be addressed before one can teach or receive a Godly lesson.
This chapter starts with a greeting and deals with division in the church (10-18).
Pride and worldly knowledge is not true wisdom from God. ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise’ (vs. 19)
True wisdom comes from above and is taught by the Holy Spirit. ‘My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (VS. 4-5)
‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived what Gods has prepared for those who love him’-but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit’ (vs. 9-10).
Paul establishes his authority and questions their wisdom ‘You (the Corinthians) had to have milk, not solid food’ i.e.-they are still worldly’ since there is jealousy and quarreling among you’ (vs. 2-3)
‘if any one of you thinks he is wise by this age’s standard, he should become a fool to become wise’ (vs. 18)
Paul explains his apostleship and service to them. (Vs. 15) ‘For in Christ Jesus I have become your father through the gospel’ His service is not in his own strength. Probably one of the greatest verses on the most important teaching in His word, the Kingdom of God.
(Vs. 20) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
Paul uses this example is verse one to give practical lessons about immorality. (Vs. 1) ‘it is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you and of a kind that does not occur even among the pagans.
Another type of division among these brothers was lawsuits. (vs. 6)
(vs. 6) But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers!
Christians are so easily swayed into legalism. He explains the difference between legalism and righteous living. (vs 12) “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. * “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.
Having addressed divisions, false wisdom and immorality, Paul starts to teach lessons about Christian living. He explains certain aspects of marriage and divorce (vs. 1-40).
Paul explains food sacrificed to idols and the believer’s responsibility to other Christians (vs. 1-13)
Now Paul establishes his authority as an apostleship and service to them (vs. 1-27)
(9:1) Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?
He gives the example of Israel not heeding the gospel message (vs. 1-13)
‘God was not pleased with most of them, their bodies…(left) in the desert’ (vs. 5)
He teaches not to have an idol feast at the Lords supper. (vs. 14-22)
He explains how to deal with issues concerning unbelievers about meat sacrifices
to idols. (vs. 23-33).
Paul starts his extensive teaching on worship service and conduct in a church.
-the order of men and women in a service (vs. 1-16)
-the partaking of the Lords supper (vs. 17-34)
Paul then explains the spiritual gifts and how to be unified with them. (vs. 1-31)
The greatest chapter in His word on love comes ‘sandwiched’ between two chapters explaining to Pentecostal brothers how to live a Godly life.
(vs. 2) If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
(vs.13)And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Explanation given later.
This chapter is the most complete teaching in the word about tongues. It will be the majority of our study text.
Important issues about the resurrection of Christ, the body of Christ-which is His church (vs. 1-58)
There is an explanation on the collection for God’s people (vs. 1-4)
Personal request (vs. 5-18)
Final greeting and blessings (vs. 19-24)
First and foremost, Paul needed to restore order in the church of Corinth. As with any group, if there is chaos, tension and gossip, calm and peace has to be restored before any serious teaching can take place. Chapters 1-6 address all the above issues. Chapters 7-10 teach about Christian living. The deeper and serious teachings are discussed in chapters 11-16. He explains about worship service, the resurrection and finishes with general collection and blessing.
As noted earlier, the greatest chapter in the word on love is written in the middle of an explanation about spiritual gifts and tongues.
Lets start with a personal note.
For 12 years I spoke against tongues, I was wrong. I was right about the emotionalism (false spirit) and prideful ways in many Pentecostal churches, but wrong about the provision of what the Bible explains as ‘the baptism of the Holy Spirit’.
When I saw these churches converge at the local restaurant i.e. ABC Pizza., I saw lives that were full of self interest. They lacked true Godly love and humility (Phil 2:20-21). I did not want what they had. I believe when the lost see this, they feel the same way. Their example was matched with the ‘prosperity message’ that was taught by the same group in the media. Over time however, the Lord showed me I was right about their poor example, but wrong about speaking against His provision-the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Today I joke about having ABC Pizza 2000 years ago, for Paul found the same problems explained in Chapters 12-14.
We will see from the Word how ‘tongues’ is one part of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit’. Like a bicycle wheel tongues is just one spoke of this important provision from God. We will also see that tongues is either manifested in different ways, or the Bible makes some serious errors in teachings. We know the latter can not be true.
The Corinthians, as many churches today, used tongues inappropriately. There was disorder and an emphasis on self. Paul uses all of Chapter 12 to establish a unity of the gifts. (4-5) There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
(vs. 12) The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
Paul knew Gods gifts are dramatic ways to bring His presence and purpose to others. They are specialized, helping everyone from the lost to those in physical need. The Lord’s intimate love should be demonstrated when these gifts operate. Instead, as seen in the above chapters, everything but the Lords example in the church was being displayed. So between chapters 12-14, Paul gave the most eloquent teaching in the epistles on Gods love. He firmly tells the Corinthians love in the most important aspect of our walk.
(1) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
(13)And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I personally am so grateful to Paul for this teaching. Without the fear of the Lord in our hearts, and a desire to lift others up, the church would be as lost and those they witness to.
CHAPTER 14 -THE GIFT OF TONGUES
As mentioned earlier, tongues have been confused by many because they do not allow for the different manifestations of the gift. Listed below are the different ways tongues may be used. Like viewing a foreign sport, understanding their rulebook can be difficult. If you play the sport for several years however, the rules fall right in place. For many, using the gifts of tongues appropriately will make the seeming difficult verses easy to comprehend.
Note: As with anything we examine, when we first ‘take it apart’ it my appear confusing. Please ‘read through’ until we see how the Spirit uses God’s design for tongues in a simple-yet beautiful way.
CHAPTER 14 VERSES
1 ‘Especially desire prophecy’
Prophecy benefits the ‘church’ more than tongues used by itself
2 ‘For one who speaks in tongues speaks to God and not to man’
Tongues is speaking from an individual to God, not to others at all.
3 ‘Everyone who prophesies encourages men’
Prophecy is a gift, at least in part-to encourage the church.
4 ‘He who speaks in tongues, edifies himself, prophecy edifies the church’
Tongues edifies an individual, prophecy edifies the body of Christ.
5A ‘would like everyone to speak in tongues, but rather you prophecy’
Paul suggests everyone could speak in tongues, but prophecy is better, in that it edifies the congregation vs. 4.
5B ‘he who prophecy is greater than he who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified’.
Prophecy is equal to tongues when there is interpretation. At that point, tongues (& interpretation) goes from talking to God individually, to edifying the church.
6-12 ‘if I come and speak tongues, what good is it to you,…unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will you (someone) know what you are saying..unless I understand, I am like a foreigner.’ (i.e. someone with a different language who cannot understand what is being said in a service).
Tongues spoken to a congregation should not be used by itself; (vs. 5b) the gift of interpretation should accompany the public speaking of tongues ‘What good is it to you’ (vs. 6)
13 ‘Anyone who speaks in tongues should pray for interpretation’
Reaffirming the prior verses
14 ‘if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, my mind is unfruitful’
This verse is crucial to understanding one aspect of tongues. Christians should have a prayer ‘language’- through the Spirit in tongues that allows one on one prayer time with God that does not involve their native language.
15 ‘What shall I do, I will pray with my spirit, pray with my mind, sing with my spirit and sing with my mind’
Paul confirms a spiritual need to pray with his spirit (in tongues) and we also need to pray normally with his native language. Two distinct ways that we should pray. He indicates he can sing in this same manner (praising God)
16 ‘how can one among those say amen’
As established earlier, when tongues is spoken to a congregation, interpretation-in the native language needs to follow-so we can praise God and say amen.
17 ‘you were giving thanks (in tongues) well enough, but the other man not edified’
When speaking in tongues by itself, the others are not edified.
18-20 ‘I would rather speak 5 intelligible words that 10 thousand tongues’
Not referring to personal prayer in tongues vs. 2 & 4, but the public communication of tongues that does not include interpretation (prior vs. 5-12),
21-22 (Isaiah 28:11) with foreign lips and strange tongues I will speak to this people..tongues are a sign for unbelievers, and prophecy is for believers’
Tongues can be used to preach the gospel to foreigners in their native language.
If interpretation is needed in this case, it is not clear from this text.
23-25 ‘If the church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, unbelievers come in, will they not say you are out of your mind..but if everyone prophecy…the unbelievers heard will be laid bare, and he will fall down and worship God.’
Prophecy is for unbelievers and tongues are for believers. Vs. 22 an apparent contradiction that will be explained later.
26-28 ‘When we come together in a tongue…one must interpret, if there no interpretation, one should speak to himself and to God’
Congregational tongues should be interpreted, if there is not interpretation, we should speak to God using our tongues quietly. (prayer language).
29-33 ‘Spirits of prophets are subject to control of the prophets, God is not a God of disorder, but of peace’
Paul goes back to the whole theme of the chapter. Prophets (as well as others) can control their speaking and use the gift of tongues in an orderly fashion. If order and peace are not present, than God is not part of the service.
CHAPTER 14 DIFFERENT APPLICATIONS
In chapter 14, tongues ministers to all people. The lost, the believing individual and the whole congregation. Unless this gift is manifested in different ways, the Word of God would be in error, which is impossible with the Lord. Listed below are the different applications of the gift. Later we will explain how they easily come together with the help of Gods Word.
1. Paul instructs us that the gift of prophecy is greater than tongues…unless there is an interpretation. ‘5A he who prophecies is greater than one who speaks in tongues’ see also vs. 1, and 5A. ‘5B prophecy is greater… unless he interprets’ Simply put, tongues with interpretation are equal to prophecy.
2. Tongues edifies the individual and not the church ‘4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.’ See vs. 14,17,28.
Tongues and interpretation edifies the church’ ‘5B He who speaks in a tongue (with interpretation) church may be edified’.
3. Tongues prays from and individual to God ‘2 for anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God’ see vs. 4, 14, 17, 28.
Tongues speaks to the people ‘21 through men of strange tongues…I will speak to this people’ see also vs. 22, 24-25. With interpretation 5B, 26.
4. Tongues are a sign for unbelievers; prophecy is for believers, vs. 22
Tongues with interpretation is for believers (the church) ‘5b speak in tongues (with interpretation) so the church may be edified.’
5. ‘Prophecy is for believers vs. 22’
Prophecy is for unbelievers.. ‘vs. 22-25 but if an unbeliever comes in while everyone is prophesying…he will fall down and worship God’.
CHAPTER 14 EXPLANATION
As with all Biblical truth, if the teaching is correct, it will flow through the Word easily. Every scripture will fit into place. There will not be, as with so many incorrect teachings, extensive lessons on why the Word is not teaching what is plainly written.
If you are appropriately applying tongues in a church, let’s see what happens.
As the Spirit is flowing, many times we since the presence of God and we are urged to worship on a personal level. We cry out to Him and sing, praise and pray. We will naturally pray to Him in our native language, and also have a desire to use our prayer language and pray (and at times sing vs. 15) to Him in tongues. The believer may not know exactly what he is praying, but his spirit is edified. It should be used quietly and not disrupt a service. That is why there is no need for interpretation. Every Christian should apply both types of prayers. This form of tongues is between the individual and God. vs. 4, 5A, 14-15, 28.
A Christian in a service could also feel led to speak out and give a message in tongues. This is the gift on tongues to the congregation. Not everyone has this gift.
1 Cor. 12:10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
1 Cor. 12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
If the congregation is ‘in tune’ with the Holy Spirit, an interpretation in a native language will follow. Paul demands this for order and understanding.
1 Cor. 14:23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
When the message is interpreted, the church and not just individuals are edified. This edification is for believers in the church. vs. 5B
This is also why the message of tongues for the congregation and interpretation is considered equal to prophesy. They both minister to the congregation with a message they will understand. vs. 5B.
It is also possible that a believer with the gift of tongues would speak the gospel to the lost or to those with a different language-in their ‘native tongue’. This is how tongues could easily be explained as used for foreigners and to the lost, in this case-not to believers. This is what happened in Acts 2 . See vs. 21-22, and Isa. 28:11. It is not clear if interpretation is needed because the foreigners understand the message.
Prophecy, another gift where God uses a believer to deliver a message in a native language, is used to encourage the church (vs. 5) and also reveal the hearts of the lost when they visit a church service. (vs. 22-25).
With the beautiful out pouring of Gods Spirit in a service, all the ‘apparent’ contradictions and misunderstandings are easily laid to rest. RIP!. Tongues is for the individual (vs. 4, 5A, 14-15, 17, 28) when used as a prayer language and to the congregation (believers) when followed up by interpretation (vs. 5B). It is also for the lost when spoken to foreigners in their native tongue (vs. 21-22, Isaiah 28:11). Prophecy can be used for edification of the church (vs. 5) or to convict the lost (vs. 24-25).
Other Biblical Notes:
In I Cor. 12: 10&28. Paul use the term ‘different kinds of tongues’ when explaining this gift.
Paul makes a comment in this chapter (18-19) that He thanks God he speaks in tongues more that all- implying that our prayer language is a must. (5A I would like everyone to speak in tongues)
Note: See site map: Prayer-With the Holy Spirit
As mentioned earlier, I spoke against this gift for years, and I was wrong. While I was taught incorrectly in this area, the real fault was with me. You do not need the big car and be ‘glowed up in gold’ to have areas of pride in our heart. PR 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Bible college taught me several things, but lacked a most crucial step…how to be led by the Spirit.
I ask you as a brother and sister in the Lord to humbly go before God and seek the truth about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit-and this not just for yourselves, but for others. As the times grow more difficult and possibly chaotic, young believers will need every aspect of Gods presence and power. As a minister or doctor in the Word, we need to give the best medicine God has to offer, in this case, the provision of the Baptism of His Spirit.
This will not only give us one spiritual gift (tongues) but an ability to know the Lord in a greater realm.
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