Message # 53 | 1 Corinthians 14:2-25 | August 27, 2017

Introduction

Would you like to know the church’s most sinful blunder for the last 2,000 years? According to the group, Pentecostal Christian Evangelism, the early church’s rejection of tongues being the only evidence of Spirit Baptism “IS WITHOUT POSSIBILITY OF CONTRADICTION, THE MOST MONUMENTAL, THE MOST AWESOME, AND THE MOST SINFUL BLUNDER IN ALL OF THE ALMOST TWO MILLENIA OF CHURCH HISTORY!!”[1] John Schoenheit adds to this.

Schoenheit. speaking in tongues is the only absolute proof a Christian has that he is born again and guaranteed a parking place in Paradise . . . Speaking in tongues is the only valid external, tangible evidence in the senses realm that the internal, intangible gift of holy spirit was shed abroad in one’s heart at the moment of his new birth.[2]

I will admit, on behalf of us all, if this is the case – if these men are accurate – we have not only taken part in the church’s most sinful blunder, but we as well have no “valid, external, tangible evidence” that we are born again. At least that assumes you have not participated in tongues. Likely some of us have while most of us have probably not.

So we go to 1 Corinthians 14 to consider the gift of tongues. In so doing let’s not forget our primary purpose in this chapter.

Purpose Statement. As a church we want to build one another up, and this edification is completely dependent on clarity in communication.

To accomplish this, I desire to offer some observations concerning tongues from the context of 1 Corinthians 14. It is not my intent to take a lengthy period of time to determine whether or not the gift of tongues is for today. So then, with that said, let me offer at least a few cursory thoughts as to the ongoing nature of tongues. In summation, I don’t believe Scripture offers enough evidence to say definitively that any specific spiritual gift has ceased, but I think Scripture does offer enough evidence to support that the miraculous gifts are no longer the normal experience for believers today.

Arguments for cessation of tongues.

Let me offer just a few (probably oversimplified) arguments that would lead to the conclusion that speaking in tongues is not for today. (1) There is no record of someone (within the people of God) speaking in tongues prior to Pentecost. The Holy Spirit can be dramatically at work and not use the gift of tongues. The vast majority of history would attest to this reality. God could have withdrawn this aspect of the Spirit’s work and the Holy Spirit still be very effective and active. (2) Tongues is not prominent throughout church history. I say prominent because there is enough evidence to support that there have been small pockets spread throughout centuries of church history that supported the ongoing gift of tongues. But, these groups have always been small and typically on the fringe of Christianity. As well, the spiritual renewals that have come to the church through the past 2,000 years were led by men who did not speak in tongues, and their lack of speaking in tongues in no way seemed to hinder God’s mighty work through their lives. In contrast, primarily the groups who did espouse tongues often veered off into some strange extreme or heresy. (3) The gift of apostleship (and likely prophet) have been withdrawn from the church, and yet the work of the Spirit is in no way hindered. The gift of tongues could be similar. (4) However you interpret 1 Corinthians 13:8, you must conclude that at some point the gift of tongues will be done away with. “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Cor 13:8 ESV). If that If that day has not yet come, it will, and at that point the power of the Spirit is in no way hindered.

Four areas of misunderstanding

(1) Speaking in tongues is not, as is sometimes claimed today, a prominent spiritual gift. It is the least of all spiritual gifts and is the least effective in propagating the gospel. (2) Tongues is not a required sign of salvation. By its very nature, it was only given to a few believers, not all of them.[3] (3) Speaking in tongues is not proof of spirituality. “The church that seems to have exercised it the most was the least spiritual.”[4] (4) Speaking in tongues is not evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. In God’s redemptive story, he did allow for the Baptism of the Spirit to be accomplished at stages (throughout Acts) and was accompanied by tongues, but that was only for that moment in history and was not intended to be set as a pattern for following believers.

Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14

Tongues refers to human languages.

I desire to offer some direction in a debate that is very challenging and multifaceted. There is much debate as to whether or not the word for tongues refers to a human language or whether it can as well refer to something other than just human languages. Friberg defines glossa literally as tongue, the organ of speech and taste, or figuratively as “a means of verbal communication, language.” They go on to acknowledge that the word may as well refer to a religious technical term for “tongues-speaking” which may involve unintelligible ecstatic utterance or heavenly language.[5] This definition does not help the debate. So then, let me point out a couple things to direct us. The first is a newspaper article from May 31, 1901. In this paper, Charles Parham, who is considered to be one of the primary leaders in early Pentecostalism, writes about an event in which the gift of tongues will be conferred on many believers. He tells the reader that it will be the greatest event since Pentecost.

His [Rev. Charles T Parham] plan is to send among the heathen persons who have been blessed with the “gift of tongues” – a gift which, he says, no others have ever had conferred upon them since apostolic times. His missionaries, as he points out, will have the great advantages of having the languages of the various peoples among whom they work miraculously conferred upon them, and will not be put to the trouble of learning them in the laborious way by which they are acquired by other prospective missionaries.

[Parham went on to say] “ . . . There is no doubt that at this time they will have conferred on them the ‘gift of tongues,’ If they are worthy and seek it in faith, believing. They will thus be made able to talk to the people, whom they choose to work among in their own language, which will, of course, be an inestimable advantage.

“The students of Bethel College do not need to study in the old way to learn the languages. They have them conferred upon them miraculously. Different ones have already been enabled to converse with Spaniards, Italians, Bohemians, Hungarians, Germans, and French in their own language. I have no doubt that knowledge of Chinese, Japanese, the various dialects of the people of India and even the languages of the savages of Africa will be received during our meeting in the same way. I expect this gathering to be the greatest since the days of Pentecost.”[6]

We are going to look at Acts 2 in just a moment, but I wanted to acknowledge that even early Pentecostals believed that the gift of tongues involved actual human languages – not just gibberish. What followed was that these missionaries went out, endued with the gift of tongues, but soon came to realize that no one understood what they were saying. As a result, Parham had to recraft his understanding of tongues. Now turn to Acts 2 for an example of the gift of tongues.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. . . . 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. (Acts 2:1–14 ESV).

Let us draw a few observations. (1) Those in the upper room were the ones that spoke in tongues, not all the ones that were saved that day. (2) The tongues that were spoken were all known languages – not to the one speaking, but to someone else present. (3) Tongues proclaimed the mighty works of God but were not inherently evangelistic. The Gospel was proclaimed by Peter in a common language, not through means of tongues.

The benefit of tongues is primarily personal and not for others.

This is in contrast to prophecy which builds up others. “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself but the one who prophecies builds up the church” (1 Cor 14:4). This is not to say that tongues is self-centered but just that the value of tongues is limited to one’s own person, which leads us to the next reality concerning tongues.

Tongues is not nearly as important as the gift of teaching and prophecy.

Paul exalted the gifts that communicated truth rather than a sign gift. Tongues did not communicate any content, and this is why it doesn’t build up others. This conclusion is the intent of the question in verse 6 and the following illustrations up to verse 12.

[Question] 6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? [I’m not going to benefit you unless I communicate something of content that you can understand.]

[Illustration 1] 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?

[Conclusion] 9 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.

[Illustration 2] 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 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.

[Conclusion] 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. (1 Cor 14:6-12 ESV).

In the same way that a flute or a bugle are worthless if they don’t play an understandable melody line and in the same way that human language is worthless to another person who does not understand it, tongues is of no value to others within the church since it doesn’t communicate any understandable content. Therefore, you should strive to build up the church through other means.

Tongues is not primarily intended for the church context.

I say primarily because a few verses later Paul does offer an outline for the appropriate use of tongues in church worship. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God” (1 Cor 14:27–28 ESV). There are a few reasons for this prioritization.

(1) First and foremost, because tongues doesn’t build up others. This fact is stated numerous times throughout the section: “the one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself” (vs. 4), “I want you all to speak in tongues but even more to prophecy . . . so that the church may be built up” (vs. 5), “if I come to you speaking in tongues how will I benefit you” (vs. 6), “if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible how will anyone know what is said” (vs. 9), “you may be giving thanks well enough but the other person is not being built up” (vs. 17). Because tongues does not build up others, Paul concludes that it would be better if it were not a main part of the church’s time together. We can draw a fairly simple point of application. Paul is primarily concerned that individuals within the church, during the formal gatherings of church, are more focused on building up others than they are in what they get from the meeting themselves. We ought not enter our corporate gatherings wondering what we will get out of it but instead what we can do that will encourage others. Another way to say that, we ought not enter our corporate gatherings striving to enhance our personal experience but instead striving to enhance the value to others.

(2) Another reason that tongues is not primarily intended for the church context is that It will make other believers feel like foreigners. “Tongue-speaking in public worship is inappropriate . . . because it places many of God’s own people in the situation of feeling like foreigners in a foreign land and “not at home” in their own home.”[7] Paul writes in verse 10 – 11, “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.” This is why Paul concludes, “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Cor 14:19).

(3) Tongues are a sign of judgment to unbelievers. Unbelievers need gospel content offered to them not a sign of judgment. Paul draws our attention to a prophecy in Isaiah 28:11-12.

For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people, 12 to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. (Isaiah 28:11–12 ESV).

When Israel heard a foreign language in their midst, they realized that judgment was upon them for their disobedience. They didn’t understand any of the content when this foreign language was spoken. Instead the very presence of this foreign tongue was evidence of God’s judgment on their disobedience. In similar fashion, when they heard the foreign tongues in Acts 2, they realized that the Gospel had spread to a different group of people and their disobedience and rejection of their Messiah was publicly acknowledged. When the Gentiles in Romans 10 and the Roman Centurion spoke in tongues in Acts 19, the Jews realized that God was working in a new group of people. Each time, their rejection and disobedience was acknowledged.

So then, tongues is a sign of judgment to unbelievers of their rejection and disobedience. Paul directs us, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues . . . will [unbelievers] not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy [an unbeliever] is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:23–24 ESV). Therefore, tongues will not be helpful in the church context but prophecy will have magnificent results. While it is appropriate to communicate the reality of judgment on sin to unbelievers, it is more important that the hope of the Gospel is extended to unbelievers. The Gospel will never be communicated by means of tongues.

The primary place for tongues was to be in private prayer.

This conclusion may be drawn both through logic and the implications found in verse 13 and following. Let’s first consider the logic. Tongues only builds up the individual. It doesn’t build up others. Therefore it shouldn’t be a primary part of corporate worship. So then, where would Paul establish its primary place of use? Paul seems to indicate that tongues was to be done, primarily,  in personal devotion or private worship.  This seems to be one of his points in verse 13 and following.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 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. (1 Corinthians 14:13–15 ESV).

Minimally, if tongues were to be part of a corporate worship setting, it would need to be accompanied by understandable teaching and encouragement.

Conclusion

We may struggle at point within this passage. There are clearly some challenging verses. But one thing is clear.  As a church we want to build one another up, and this edification is completely dependent on clarity in communication. Therefore, like Paul we ought to prefer to “speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Why? Because it is with words that we can communicate the glorious Gospel of grace that Paul is going to shortly jump into in chapter 15.

Additional Quotes

Thiselton. The same fate befalls tongues. Here, however, we find the future middle παύσονται, to cease, to stop. This must surely call into question the notion that tongues are either, in Paul’s view, a language of heaven, or a paradigmatic way of expressing exalted intimacy with God. If this were so, why should they cease at the eschaton? [8]

MacArthur. The gift of prophecy was only partly used for revelation. In most cases it was used for proclaiming and interpreting what already had been revealed.[9]

BAXTER. Quest. CLX. May we not look that God should yet give us more revelations of his will, than there are already made in Scripture? . . . 1. That it is certain that God will make no other covenant, testament, or universal law, for the government of mankind or the church, as a rule of duty and of judgment. . . . 2. It is certain that God will make no new scripture or inspired word as an infallible, universal rule for the exposition of the word already written. 3. It is certain that God will give all his servants in their several measures, the help and illumination of his Spirit, for the understanding and applying of the gospel. 4. It is possible that God may make new revelations to particular persons about their particular duties, events, or matters of fact . . .  5. Though such revelation and prophecy be possible, there is no certainty of it in general, nor any probability of it to any one individual person, much less a promise. And therefore to expect it, or pray for it, is but a presumptuous tempting of God. . . . 7. Therefore also all sober Christians must take heed of rash believing every prophet or pretended spirit [10]

 

 

[1] Carson, Showing the Spirit, 166.

[2] Schoenheit, John. “What Is Speaking in Tongues and Why Does God Say to Do It?” Truth Or Tradition?, n.d. http://www.truthortradition.com/articles/what-is-speaking-in-tongues-and-why-does-god-say-to-do-it.

[3] Some may point me to 1 Corinthians 14:5 in which Paul writes, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues.” This is often twisted to mean something along the lines of “See. God wants everyone to speak in tongues, and if God wants you to speak in tongues you should speak in tongues and you have the ability.” There are a couple of problems with this logic. First, this misses the whole point of what Paul is saying in the chapter. He clearly is attempting to suppress the use of tongues. Secondly, this is similar to his statement in 1 Corinthians 7:7. “I wish that all were as myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” In this context Paul is acknowledging that he wishes everyone had the gift of singleness like he did because there were real benefits to that gift. He logically desired that everyone share in those benefits, but clearly Paul didn’t actually want everyone to be single. If he did, he would have been undermining God’s whole creation order. God intended for men and women to come together and procreate. If everyone were single, that would not occur. In the same fashion, Paul understood the benefits of tongues and he wished that everyone could enjoy those benefits, but in similar fashion as to chapter 7, he realizes that everyone has their own gift from God . . . and then goes on to acknowledge that even though tongues has some real value, he’d rather speak 5 coherent words than 10,000 word in a tongue.

[4] John F Walvoord, “The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143, no. 570 (April 1986): 120.

[5] Timothy Friberg, et al.  Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 99–100.

[6] Hawaiian Gazette, Friday, May 31, 1901. Accessed August 25, 2017. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025121/1901-05-14/ed-1/seq-2/

[7] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1121–1122.

[8] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1061.

[9] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 364.

[10] Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory (Complete 4 Volume), Kindle (Transcript, 2014) Kindle Locations 41437-41467.

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