(1 Corinthians 14:20-25)
The church in Corinth had obviously asked Paul about the spiritual gifts for he was answering their various questions. Of most importance Paul was telling them that if they desired the spiritual gifts, they should seek those that would assist in the ministry and the building up of the church.
Now speaking in tongues is one of the most common of the spiritual gifts for it is the sign of the spirit given to those who have received the Holy Spirit, either through laying on of hands or where God has directly intervened to give them the Holy Spirit. Examples of both instances can be readily seen in Acts 19:1-6 and Acts chapter 2 respectively.
But what is most important about tongues, as well as all the other gifts, is knowing when to use them properly and in an orderly manner, and Paul speaks to this issue in this and subsequent sections of this chapter.
Tongues Are A Sign
As I have discussed in the previous posts, speaking in tongues is given as a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit. I have already covered some information in those posts about using tongues for the purposes of prayer, praise and walking in the spirit. Note what Paul wrote here,
21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. – (1 Corinthians 14:21-22)
Tongues are a sign for unbelievers. When a person speaks in a tongue it is firstly a proof to them that they have received the Holy Spirit, and also a proof to others of the same thing. When a person speaks in tongues there is absolutely no doubt that they have received the Holy Spirit as promised by God, for the tongues are the sign.
We know also that speaking in tongues CAN be used in church, but ONLY where there is someone with the gift of interpretation of tongues so that the members of the church can learn what is being said and thus the whole church may be upbuilt by the words. Where there is no one with the gift of interpretation of tongues, then tongues should not be used in church at all. However the dominant and primary reason for God giving the gift of tongues is not for communal use but for the individual’s walk with Christ.
Tongues In Church En Massé
Now what we see Paul discussing is quite important for it deals with a common practice in some Pentecostal churches today and it shows that what they are doing is wrong.
Paul is concerned that the church in Corinth may misuse the gift of tongues and so he is teaching them the proper way to use this gift. And we will see in the next sections why (see Vs. 33), for Paul tells them that “God is not a God of confusion.”
One often ethnics that MUST be avoided inthechurch at all times is confusion. It is not God who is the author of confusion but the devil, and where there is confusion he devil’s hand is at work. This it is important to stamp out any practice that may be confusing, and in the case of tongues Paul was very particular about what the church should or should not do. Note his words,
If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? – (1 Corinthians 14:23)
If the whole church were to stand up and start speaking in tongues all together, all you would hear is a cacaphonous babble. It would be a room full of noise with everyone babbling away I foreign languages that no one can understand.
Would such actions build anyone up? Would anyone learn anything? Absolutely not. And an outsider entering the church would think you are all nuts!
And this is what happens today in some Pentecostal gatherings. All the people stand and speak in tongues together and it is just confusion for all.
There is a very definite and valid purpose for the gift of tongues ordained by God, but it is not for mass babbling in the church. That is not what He intended the gift to be used for.
Prophetic Gifts In Church
However what Paul does go on to say is that if the whole church were to stand and prophesy. The prophetic gifts of the spirit, then an outsider would stand convicted knowing God is amongst you. Note his words,
24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 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 Corinthians 14:24-25)
Why? Because when speaking in prophecy it is the Lord speaking through the prophet in your own language so that you can understand, learn and be upbuilt. Nobody can understand tongues, but everybody can understand prophecy.
Which brings us to the key point and difference Paul is making between the two gifts: prophecy versus tongues.
Tongues are essentially and primarily for personal prayer and worship, whereas prophecy is essentially and primarily for communal worship.
Tongues are for the individual to help in their own day to day walk. Prophecy so for the church to provide guidance and encouragement to all the members of the church.
This is the key distinction between these two gifts. There are instances where tongues may be used in the church setting, as indicated above, but only where someone has the spiritual gift of interpretation. Likewise there are instances where prophecy is used for an individual rather than the whole church, as happened when Paul was told via prophecy that if he was to return to Jerusalem he would be arrested and bound. (Refer Acts 21:10-11)
If we keep this distinction in mind we can learn to exercise these two gifts, especially the gift of tongues, in a proper manner that does not promote confusion but rather uplifts and upbuilds. And we will see in the next section of scripture a partial template for how to run a church meeting, and especially the use of the gifts of the spirit in the meeting, in an orderly and upbuilding manner. The only thing that should be added to this template is the need to break bread to remember the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. But I will cover this in my next post.
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