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The Issue of Tongues

The Issue of Tongues

Words of Faith 7-26-17

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2017

Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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1 Corinthians 14

   Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

[2] For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. [3] But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. [4] He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. [5] I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.

   [6] Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? [7] Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? [8] Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? [9] So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. [10] Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. [11] If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. [12] So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

   [13] For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. [14] For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. [15] So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. [16] If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? [17] You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

   [18] I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. [19] But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

   [20] Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. [21] In the Law it is written:

   "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord.

     [22] Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. [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? [24] But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, [25] and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"


       There was one spiritual gift that had been very disruptive to the church in Corinth. The gift of tongues is literally the "gift of languages". This was the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak in an unknown language or a language not known to the believer.

       There are really two different types of biblical "giftings" of tongues. In Acts 2, we see the Spirit enable people to speak in languages that they did not know but that were intelligible to others. In this chapter, Paul speaks about the ability given by the Spirit to speak in an unknown language that either requires interpretation or is a private language of worship and prayer.

       The expression of the gift of tongues had become disruptive in the Corinthian church. Some were acting "Super Spiritual" through the use of spiritual gifts. Worship was characterized by unintelligible ecstatic utterances and was bereft of teaching and exhortation. It must have been a big deal because Paul dedicated most of one chapter specifically to the practice of tongues and interpretation. He had already set the foundation of love in chapter 13 and set the priority of prophecy in the first verse.

       To add a just a little more confusion to this picture, speaking in unintelligible utterances was not uncommon in the Greek and Roman world. Female oracles were famous for ecstatic unintelligible utterances that were part of their pagan rituals and drug induced trances.

       Such utterances, which are practiced as apart of other pagan religions including voodoo, are sometimes referred to today as "demonic tongues" because they are not an expression of the Spirit of God.

       There are also expressions that might be described as "psychological tongues"-- where unknown utterances are manufactured, suggested, imposed or taught. The origin of these tongues is man and our fleshly desire to fit in or to appear spiritual.

       Here, Paul was talking about what we might call "Corinthian tongues"-- speaking in unknown utterances at the moving of the Spirit. These utterances were either an expression of praise and prayer or they had a prophetic message from God. The spiritual gift of interpretation of tongues was the key to these prophetic statements. Without an interpretation, the utterance was clearly something that should have been expressed privately.

       Paul drew out some comparisons regarding these gifts giving qualities of each expression. Tongues speak to God, are not understandable, edify the speaker, are commend by Paul, edify only if interpreted, and should be used in public worship only if interpreted. Prophecy speaks to people, is understandable, edifies men, comforts and encourages, edifies the church and is a "greater gift".

       Interpretation edifies the church, praises God, and brings revelation and knowledge. Without interpretation, an expression of tongues is like an instrument playing without pitch or time. The goal is clarity: If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?

       Paul went on to point out that the gift of tongues was a sign for unbelievers not for believers. But an expression of unknown tongues confuses the unbeliever if there is not interpretation. This is a gift that should be practiced with gratitude but the mind is unfruitful when it is practiced. The goal should be to excel in prophecy, or understandable inspired proclamation.

       So what shall we do? Paul exhorted the Corinthians to pray with the Spirit but also with the mind, sing with the Spirit but also with the mind and stop thinking like children. In regard to evil we are to be naive infants but in our thinking about these things we are to be mature adults.

       We trust that God is the giver of all gifts in His wisdom. We don't need to teach or manufacture a thing. Our next instruction regards worship. But for us, we need to trust that the Lord knows what He is doing. We are to receive with gratitude whatever gift He may gift. We are to pursue intelligible instruction and exhortation and praise God in the ways He leads us.


       Father God, open my life only to the genuine working of Your Spirit. Make my life a work of praise to You. Teach me how to glorify You in all things with clarity, maturity and love. In Jesus' Name.