Posts Tagged ‘tongues’

1 Corinthians 14:27-29

In 1 Corinthians 14:27-29 Paul continues educating the Corinthian church on the spiritual gifts. He doesn’t close the door on speaking in tongues in church, but he does make it clear that there are definite rules that need to be followed. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.” The first consideration is that everyone should come to church with a heart to build up someone else, not to be focused on what they can get out of the Body. Secondly, tongues are not the main event and need to be limited, and if they are allowed, need to be orderly and done with interpretation so the entire church can benefit.

So Paul does not prohibit speaking in tongues in a church meeting, though we remember he primarily has in mind the meeting of house churches. He will not prohibit it, because if the tongue has an interpretation, there is a potential for blessing others. Yet, he will not encourage it either. If it happens there are strict guidelines for how it must be done. It’s not driven by the individual but by the availability of an interpreter. “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.” Speaking in tongues in a church meeting that does not observe these Scriptural guidelines is wrong. It might be well motivated, it might be done with a good heart, but it is still wrong, because it goes against the plain teaching of the Bible.

Paul shifts to prophecy and also has some specific guidelines as to how that needs to be handled. Paul is more favorable to prophecy being part of what happens in church, but even then it needs regulation. The whole meeting should not be given over to prophecy, but only two or three should speak at any given meeting. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” And somewhat like tongues where an interpretation is key to it being of value to the Body, the gifts of the Spirit are never to be made the focus of congregational life. Worship and the Word are the focus, and the gifts flow under God’s direction around the focus of worship and the Word.

So it is critical that the words of prophecy be evaluated and measured by others. No “word from the Lord” should to be received without careful consideration by the leadership of the church present at the meeting. Even if an angel from heaven came with a message, it must be tested and judged. Everything has to go through the filter of God’s Word, as that is never changed. It should be judged according to God’s established, revealed word. God will never contradict Himself. It is wrong to assume anyone perfectly hears God, so it is also wrong to put too much trust and faith in a prophecy. Any word of prophecy is never intended to replace God’s written Word.

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.

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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