Understanding Speaking In Tongues (Part 4)

Interpretation Is Needed Or It’s Useless (1 Corinthians 14:13-17)

  • 14:13 Therefore—if the goal is church edification—then if a person speaks in an untranslated tongue he should pray that he may interpret—to clearly explain meaning to the hearers so that the church can be edified.
  • 14:14-17 Paul continues his sarcastic tone and once again points out the silliness using an untranslated tongue or gibberish to pray. If a person prays in such a manner, he is praying with his “spirit”—his inner being, passion, human spirit, heartfelt, sincere—but his understanding or his mind is completely unfruitful. So what should this person do? Paul simple says to pray with your spirit, but also pray with understanding. This means he should stop praying in a language we don’t understand because there is no comprehension. The same thing goes for singing. We are to sing with our spirit and with our understanding. Otherwise, when we sincerely (with the spirit) bless but we are speaking gibberish or an untranslated tongue, how will others (“he that occupieth the room of the unlearned”) agree and say, “Amen” when we give thanks? They won’t because they don’t understand what we are saying. We might be giving thanks well, but the others are not edified. 
  • Conclusion: Any believer who was given the gift to speak another known human language that they have never studied was to only use it within the church if it was interpreted into the language of hearers in the church. 

Only Speak What Can Teach Others (1 Corinthians 14:18-19)

  • 14:18 Just to make sure everyone knew that Paul was not against the use of real “tongues” he thanks God because he actually spoke with tongues more than the church at Corinth. The difference is that Paul used the gift properly and for the right reasons. (Note: There is no record in the Bible of Paul speaking in tongues, which is important to note because he had the gift and used it a lot, but it wasn’t important enough to write down.)
  • 14:19 Paul continues, even though he spoke with tongues more than those in the church he was writing to, he makes it very clear that in the church he would rather speak five words with his understanding, that by his voice he might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an untranslated language or gibberish.
  • Conclusion: Even though Paul spoke in tongues, he never misused it or chose to speak in a foreign language instead of speaking in the language of the hearers. To Paul the important part of any gift is the ability to teach others.

The Purpose Of Tongues (1 Corinthians 14:20-25)

  • 14:20 Pauls next step is for us to understand the purpose of why tongues were given as a spiritual gift. First, he chides the Corinthian believers for being children in their understanding. He tells them to be children in “malice”—(perverting moral principles) but to be men in their understanding—that is to be mature and think carefully about the situation that he is presenting to them. They need to grow up in the Lord.
  • 14:21 Then he shows them the prophecy about tongues, saying that in the law it is written (Isaiah 28:11-12), “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.” This was a prophecy that God was going to use people who spoke other languages (Gentiles) than that of Jews, and speak to the Jews, but they would also reject this message. This was fulfilled in Acts 2:3-12 (Jews) and 10:44-46 (Gentiles) when God gave men each different languages. (Note: Some languages the hearers could understand and some they couldn’t understand, which is probably the reason for them mocking, saying, “These men are full of new wine. ” From what we have already learned, if you don’t know what someone is saying, he is like a barbarian to you.)
  • 14:22 Therefore—because of the prophecy—tongues were for a sign to unbelievers not to them that believe. But prophesying on the other hand serves for them which believe not unbelievers (1 Corinthians 2:14). 
  • 14:23-25 Paul makes another comparison through a hypothetical situation. He says if the whole church comes together into one place and everyone is speaking with “tongues”—all kinds of different earthly languages probably at the same time—and there comes in those that are unlearned or unbelievers they will say that the church is mad—insane, uncontrolled emotion and chaos. This is obviously not the response that we want. So this was an example of misusing a real spiritual gift. On the other hand, if everyone was prophesying—speaking one earthly language, that of the hearers—and there comes in those that are unlearned or unbelievers, there is the opportunity that they may be convinced of all, judged of all, the secrets of their hearts made manifest and so falling down on their faces they will worship God and report that God is really among you. Thus, even though tongues was a sign to unbelievers, prophecy does a better job at evangelizing the unbelievers—it is superior.
  • Conclusion: The main function of tongues was to serve as negative sign to unbelievers. Thus, as tongues were properly spoken, it did positively edify the church thorough allowing people to hear in their own language the wonderful works of God—but don’t forget this fulfillment and blessing itself was the sign of judgment given to the unbelieving Jews. This also gives temperance to this gift.

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