Rules That Guide Speaking At Church (1 Corinthians 14:26-33)
- 14:26-28 Paul ask a question, “How is it then, brethren?” and then goes on to describe what their chaotic gatherings must have been like: each one has a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, or an interpretation. Then he clearly states, “Let all things be done unto edifying.” Edification is the goal of the gathering of every church. So Paul is basically saying, whatever your church meeting is like, if it isn’t edifying then it is wrong and it needs to stop. If anyone speaks in an untranslated tongue there are a few rules to follow: (1) Only allow two or three at the most to speak; (2) they should speak “by course” or successively, in order and one at a time; (3) finally they can only speak with interpretation. But if there is no interpreter, the person who has the gift of speaking in tongues must keep silent in the church. He can’t speak publicly. Instead he can speak to himself (meditate) and speak to God (prayer) silently—obviously with language you can understand not gibberish otherwise the problem is the same, it is unfruitful.
- 14:29-31 Another gift that was part of the church at that this time was prophets (Acts 13:1; Ephesians 2:20; 4:11). They also had rules to follow: (1) Only allow two or three to speak; (2) the other prophets were to judge what was said; (3) if one of the prophets who is sitting there and not speaking receives revelations from God, then the one who is speaking should hold his peace or stop speaking and allow the other to speak; (4) they must prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and be comforted.
- 14:32-33a To clarify any other confusion, Paul states that, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets”—meaning that each prophet can control himself. No one can say they can’t control what they are doing because of the Holy Spirits work in their life, etc. And finally, Paul explains the basis for all of these rules, the character of God—he states, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace”. Confusion, upheaval, disorder are not characteristics of God. Instead, peace and harmony are descriptive of what God is like. Therefore, in all churches of the saints, we should reflect God’s character.
- Conclusion: Edification is important (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Romans 15:2-3). It is the goal of meeting together as a church. When the church meets together, everything they do should not only edify but also be done in such a manner that it reflects God’s very character—that which leads to peace and not confusion. Speaking gibberish seems to be at odds with God’s character and not in line with it.
Authority, Decency And Order (1 Corinthians 14:34-40)
- 14:33b-35 As in all churches of the saints—meaning the following principles will apply to all churches—women should remain silent in the churches, because they are not permitted or allowed to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience—to be in submission—this isn’t a new principle but also mentioned in the law (1 Corinthians 11:3-15; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). Since the reason for them not to speak is because they need to be in submission, it seems this prohibition for speaking in church is focused on speaking in an authoritative manner, such as judging what the prophets were saying, speaking in tongues, or any kind of lead teaching or any type of speaking that brings down male leadership in the church. Thus, in this context, it would be a shame or disgraceful for women to speak in the church, So Paul tells them to learn by asking their husbands at home.
- 14:36-38 Paul is teaching the church with authority because he knows that some might not like to read what he is writing to them. Again he sarcastically ask them, “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?”—meaning were they the original source and authority for the Word of God, of course not. So Paul goes on to say that if any person thinks they are “a prophet, or spiritual” they should acknowledge that the things that Paul wrote unto them are “the commandments of the Lord”—they have the full authority of Scripture like the Old Testament. If anyone be ignorant—refuse to acknowledge this truth, we are to let him be ignorant—ignored, not acknowledge, not recognized (they are not to be a part of this discussion because they reject Scripture).
- 14:39-40 Finally, Paul ends the discussion by summing up his key points: (1) they were to covet or be zealous to prophesy; (2) they were not to overreact and forbid people to speak with “foreign languages” but it was to be allowed to accomplish its purpose as a sign to unbelievers and in church according to the rules—especially translation; (3) they were to let all things be done decently and in order.
- Conclusion: Paul’s teaching is authoritative and supersedes all human experience. Those who aren’t following what Paul has said are not obeying the commandments of the Lord. They weren’t to forbid tongues because it had a necessary purpose but also it wasn’t the gift that Paul told them to pursue—prophesy was.
Answering Hard Questions
- What if I spoke in tongues and it made me feel better and more joyful etc? This is your emotions and emotions don’t tell us what truth is. For example, you can listen to a good song but it has nothing to do with Jesus and it can make you feel good. We can’t just do things because it makes us fell better, energizes us, etc.
- You can say that tongues don’t exist today, but so many people around the world speak in tongues, how can you explain this? It is true that there are people all around the world claim they speak in tongues. But there are two type of tongues: false and true. “False tongues” are the gibberish nonsense that most people claim to speak. The problem is that these false tongues can’t be verified because they are not human languages. A person might claim the gift of “interpreting” but their interpretation can’t be verified either. This is convenient for those who want to speak in false tongues because there is no standard to be compared to. Thus, this also voids one of the purposes of speaking in tongues—to confirm the word that is preach with signs and miracles. How does speaking gibberish and someone claiming they can translate it confirm the word being preached? Miracles are supposed to be obvious supernatural workings of God that are undeniable (like healing a blind man, not healing someone with a cold). On the other hand, real “tongues” are authentic human languages and therefore they can be verified by the vast number of people who speak that language. How many people today claim to speak real “tongues”? Not many, because this claim can actually be verified. Thus, we most who claim to speak tongues today are just speaking gibberish.
- Doesn’t the Bible says to “forbid not to speak with tongues”? Yes, but it is referring to speaking in real “tongues” and not a false “tongue”. The Bible never encourages speaking in gibberish. We don’t forbid people to speak in real tongues, but we think it has already ceased people don’t have this gift. If someone want’s to speak at church in a foreign language they can if they follow the rules—especially that it needs to be translated.
- If I spoke in tongues before but now I am told it is wrong, what was I doing before when I was “speaking in tongues” and what should I do now? Hopefully, you are convinced by the Bible that there is a false way to speak in tongues. If you were speaking in tongues before and it wasn’t a real language then you were just speaking “happy gibberish” or just sounds from your current language that are often repeated over and over again (which Jesus gives us a warning against when praying in Matthew 6:7). You should recognize this and choose to not spend time in emotional babble, but instead focusing your efforts in prayer and Bible study with your mind fully concentrated on it.
- Why are tongues and prophesy compared? Both are gifts from the Holy Spirit, one means to speak in a foreign language supernaturally and the other means to speak God’s revelations supernaturally but not in a foreign language, thus in your native language—which is also the most likely the language of the people you are talking. So it is comparing “native languages” and “foreign languages” or “language understood by the hearers” and “language not understood by the hearers”. Thus, prophecy is proven to be superior in gift for communication, pray, praise and spreading the gospel.
- Are the tongues in Acts and 1 Corinthians that same gift of tongues? Yes, it is the same gift of the Holy Spirit and not two different gifts. A detailed comparison proves this.
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.