1 Corinthians 14:13-17

In 1 Corinthians 14:13-17 Paul continues his teaching on spiritual gifts, and particularly around the gift of speaking in tongues. Within the church setting, tongues without interpretation don’t have value to the body. Therefore Paul tells those with the gift to pray that they can be interpreted if used in the church. “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret.” Paul suggests the tongues’ speaker himself prays that he may interpret. Then, the uncertain sound of unknown tongues need never be public, yet the whole church is edified by the interpretation of the tongue.

While speaking in tongues is given so a person can communicate directly to God and not to man, it doesn’t help the speaker to understand what they are praying. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” Speaking in tongues communicates with God on a spiritual level, passing by our personal understanding. My understanding does not benefit when I speak in tongues (it is unfruitful), but my spirit prays. It has purpose, but is not the highest way to connect with God.

So how does one actually speak in tongues? Guzik writes ‘everyone’s experience may be slightly different, but generally, we can make some observations:

  • It doesn’t happen as one just opens their mouth and God “takes over” their tongue
  • It doesn’t happen as they begin to wiggle their tongue and God “takes over”
  • It doesn’t happen as they are told to repeat a nonsense word or phrase faster and faster until God “takes over”

The language of tongues works much like languages we understand. A word or a sound occurs to our mind, and we vocalize that word or sound. In the gift of tongues, one simply continues to speak the words and sounds coming into their mind, trusting God is prompting them, and He understands what they say, and that in the Spirit what we say is perfectly appropriate for the moment.’

Paul is clear that he speaks in tongues, but also that it is done intentionally and under the right circumstances. Paul will use the gift of tongues, both in prayer and in song, and he will use it often. “Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?” Paul’s use of tongues was focused in his devotional life with the Lord. He knows that doing it in public doesn’t build up anyone. “For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.” And ultimately, the purpose of public gifts is the edification of the church, not the individual.

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