1 Corinthians 14:7-12

In 1 Corinthians 14:7-12 Paul continues to talk about how spiritual gifts should be used in the church. He particularly focuses on how the gift of tongues needs to be viewed. “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?” It may feel good for a child to bang on a piano, and they may like the sound, but for anyone else, it is unpleasant. Even so, someone talking to God with the gift of tongues may be blessed, but no one else is. “And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” The purpose of gifts in the church is to build up the body.

Paul makes it clear that speaking in tongues at a meeting of the church benefits no one else; it is simply putting sounds into the air, not words and ideas into the minds and hearts of others. “So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.” It may satisfy curiosity to hear someone else speak in tongues, but it does not edify spiritually. We may think it is “neat” to hear others speak in tongues, but that is more of a soulish curiosity than a spiritual edification. The purpose of gifts is to build up the body so tongues need to be utilized as they are intended by the Spirit.

Language itself is a gift from God. We can communicate with language because we are made in the image of God. “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” Knowing language is a gift from God, and all languages have meaning, we can trust that if we speak in the gift of tongues, God understands, even if no one else – including ourselves – can. But tongues are usually a one on one communication with God, not an edifying communication with the church at large.

Paul knows that speaking in tongues was a boost to the ego of many in the Corinthian church. That’s not why the Spirit gives gifts, so we can feel good about ourselves. He challenges the church to focus on gifts that build up the body. “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” Here’s the principle regarding tongues: The goal must be mutual benefit at church meetings. If there are tongues, there must be interpretation, so there can be edification. Guzik explains “If tongues are directed to God, how can a legitimate interpretation be edifying to others? The same way our reading of Psalms can edify. The prayer, praise, or plea of another unto God can identify powerfully with our own heart before God, and we can agree with what someone else says to God.”

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