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Speaking in Tongues: Principles for Today (1 Corinthians 14)

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1 Corinthians 14

Pursue love, and in this pursuit therefore earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that of prophecy. 2 For he that speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God. For no one understands, but in the Spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he that prophesises speaks to men, words of edification, exhortation and consolation. 4 He that speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he that prophesises edifies the church. 5 Now I would wish that you all speak with tongues, but especially  I wish that you should prophesy; for greater is he that prophesises than he that speaks with tongues, unless he interpret, that the church may receive edification. 6 But now, brothers, if I came to you speaking with tongues, without speaking to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching- what shall I profit you?.
   7 Even things without life which give a voice, whether pipe or harp, if they give not a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle, who shall prepare himself for war? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech easily understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, surely, many languages in the world and none is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaks a barbarian and he that speaks will be a barbarian to me. 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to excel in edifying the church.

Commands governing the use of tongues
   13 Therefore let him that speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding also. I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also. 16 Else if you bless with the spirit, how shall he that is in the place of the unlearned say the Amen at your giving of thanks, seeing he does not understand what you say? 17 For you truly give thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank God, I speak with tongues more than you all. 19 However in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
   20 Brothers, be not children in your thinking. Yet in malice be babes; but in thinking be men. 21 In the law it is written: By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers will I speak to this people, and not even thus will they hear Me, says the Lord. 22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe but to the unbelieving; but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving but to those that believe. 23 If therefore the whole church be assembled together and all speak with tongues, and there come in unlearned or unbelieving people, will they not say that you are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned, he is reproved by all, he is judged by all. 25 The secrets of his heart are revealed, and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed.
   26 What is it then, brothers? As  it is, when you come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. But let all things be done to edify. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let it be by two, or at the most three; and even then in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 And let the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern them. 30 But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence. 31 For you all can prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be exhorted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints,
   34 Let the women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also said the law. 35 And if they would learn anything, let them ask their men at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.
   36 What? Was it from you that the word of God went out? Or came it to you alone? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandment of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
   39 Therefore my brothers, desire earnestly to prophesy and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 But let all things be done decently and in order.


14:2 The gift of tongues was the ability to speak on foreign languages, as happened in Acts 2. Paul is here describing, and criticizing, what was happening in the church at Corinth.

14:6 To speak in a foreign language for the sake of it, just to show off, wouldn’t help anyone; they’d need someone with the gift of translating to translate back to their own language. The essence of what Paul is saying in this chapter is: ‘Don’t show off. Use whatever gifts you’ve been given to practically upbuild others, rather than abusing them to exalt yourself, to show off before others, to appear different and cool in the eyes of men’.

14:10 ‘Tongues’ refers to “languages in the world”, i.e. not ‘mumbo-jumbo’ but intelligible speech, as happened in Acts 2.

14:19 Whilst these commands refer to the use of the gift of languages [“tongues”] in a first century church, we can grasp the principle- talk to people on their level, in a way and style which is spiritually helpful to them, rather than talking on your own level to them, insensitive to their needs. The Lord Jesus taught the people God’s word as they were able to understand, not as He was able to expound (Mk. 4:33).

14:27 There were unlikely to be more than two or three language groups in the church audience, who didn’t know any of the other languages being used.

14:28 This isn’t obeyed in those churches which claim that ‘tongues’ are involuntary utterances.

14:32 Those who truly have the gift of prophecy will be in control of themselves and not out of their minds.

14:34 This command is specifically in the context of the use of tongues and prophecy; many churches today who claim to experience tongues simply disregard this.

14:37 Truly spiritual people will accept Paul’s commands here and not short cut or ignore them.