(1 Corinthians 14:2-5)
This chapter of Paul's letter to the Corinthians covers a great deal about speaking in tongues. In it we learn much about what speaking in tongues is, and what it is for.
There are many myths in the modern church about the gift of tongues and if people would read and understand this chapter, many of those myths would be torn down.
Speaking in tongues is important for the development of our walk with Jesus Christ. The gift is given to us for a very definite purpose, and this chapter covers a number of the aspects of that purpose.
So let us do some myth busting and see what this is all about in these few verses, and we will continue the discussion of tongues and the ramifications of having or not having the gift as we continue in the next few posts.
Speaking to God
The first thing that Paul shows us about tongues is that the purpose of tongues is to speak not to men, but to God.
This is contrary to what many churches teach about tongues where they suggest that the purpose of tongues in the early church was to enable the apostles to speak to foreign people's to spread the word of the gospel. Such a belief is false and that myth is shattered by the scriptures here which say;
For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. – (1 Corinthians 14:2)
It is quite clear here that the basic working of tongues and the purpose of them is for the Holy Spirit to speak to God, not to men. As Paul says quite clearly here, “…for no one understands him.” And because no one can understand what is being said, that is why the person, “…utters mysteries in the Spirit.”
No person can understand the tongues spoken by the Holy Spirit within them. When a person speaks in tongues they themselves cannot and do not understand what is being said by the Holy Spirit. Rather the Holy Spirit is speaking to God on behalf of the person.
Now while you may recall in Acts chapter 2 where the apostles first received the Holy Spirit and people ran together and heard them extolling the mighty works of God and prophesying in the many languages of the people's who had gathered, note that it was not the apostles and disciples speaking who understood the words of the Holy Spirit, but others around them who were able to speak and understand those languages.
You might think that this is proof of tongues being used to preach to other nations as is commonly believed. But that was not the case. When they first received the tongues it was such an impossible thing that these disciples could speak so many foreign languages that it was proof of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel that Peter quoted, not that it would be used to preach.
You will recall that when Peter stood up at that time to speak to the people gathered together to instruct them, he did not speak to them in tongues but in the native Hebrew or possibly the Greek language most commonly used so that they could ALL understand him. If he had spoken in say, the tongue of Cappadocia, then only those who spoke that language would understand.
So tongues are not for the purpose of preaching or to instruct others, but are for the purpose of the Holy Spirit speaking to God. And as we continue later in this chapter this becomes even more clear for Paul emphasises this point in the next paragraphs.
Tongues Build Up
So what are tongues for then if not to preach the gospel to other foreign people's? Paul gives us an indication in this section also where he says:
The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. – (1 Corinthians 14:4)
Now many people look at this verse from the perspective only of the purpose of prophecy. Prophecy is given to the church to build up the church. When a person prophesies in church it is the Holy Spirit speaking words from God for the purpose of guiding and instructing the church so as to upbuilding the church as a whole.
But that does not denigrate what Paul is also saying about speaking in tongues, and specifically when the tongues are used in private outside of the church gathering.
When a person speaks in tongues, as Paul shows in this verse, they build themselves up. This is one of the primary purposes of tongues for the individual: to be upbuilt when speaking in tongues.
Now when do you suppose a person would need to be built up? Well, any time a person is in a place where they are not built up they will need building up.
For example, if you are caught in the passions of the flesh or in an emotional state, if you are depressed, angry, upset, jealous, mourning, woeful, piteous, envious, tempted, lustful, under attack from the devil or in any weakened state because of the passions of the flesh, you will need building up. Any time you are down and weak for any reason you need to be built up.
And this is where the Holy Spirit helps us with the gift of tongues. When we speak in tongues in such weakened circumstances, the Holy Spirit builds us up and we feel these things lift away from us. Paul shows us this also in this verse in Romans.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. – (Romans 8:26-27)
See what Paul is saying here? When we are weak and especially when we do not know what to pray for to overcome our weakened situation, the Holy Spirit helps us by praying to God on our behalf with “groaning so too deep for words.” This “groaning” is the speaking in tongues, which is the Holy Spirit praying and speaking to God on our behalf when we are weak so as to build us up.
And we are built up as our spirits are lifted by speaking in tongues for the Holy Spirit intercedes for us to God to resolve the issues that cause us to be weak. We are strengthened in many ways as we speak in tongues because we are handing the issue over to God to resolve rather than trying to fix things ourselves. And we typically feel the angst replaced with a spiritual calmness as the fears or temptations or stressors are lifted from us as we speak in tongues.
Does this really work you may be wondering? Yes it does. The bible tells us this is what is happening and from the personal experiences of many whom I have spoken too, as well as from my own personal experience I can confidently say this is exactly what happens.
Speaking in tongues is given so that we can draw close to God and hand our situation over to Him for resolution. Speaking in tongues is prayer in the spirit and it is the Holy Spirit communicating with God on our behalf to build us up.
Tongues Are For Everyone
Now the final point in this section is another bit of myth busting because some people think that only certain people are given the gift of tongues. This has come from the verse in 1 Corinthians 12:30 where Paul said, “Do all speak with tongues?”
However we must look at the context of those words. When Paul was speaking about the gift of tongues in the verse above he was specifically speaking about the use of tongues in the church. There is a gift of tongues for use in the church and not everyone has THAT gift. Plus in the church setting tongues can and should be used only where there is someone who also has the gift of interpretation of tongues.
But the more common gift of tongues is the one given to the individual for personal praise, worship and upbuilding as described in the paragraphs above.
This personal gift of tongues is available to everyone. Everyone has the offer of this gift and it is given to people as proof of receiving the Holy Spirit, we see is Acts 2:4, Acts 10:44-46 and also Acts 19:1-6. In all of these examples when people first received the Holy Spirit, the sign that accompanied it was that they spoke in tongues.
Now Paul tells us,
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Thus, everyone who receives the Holy Spirit is given the manifestation of the spirit. They are given a sign as a manifestation to prove they have received the Holy Spirit and are now reborn as new creations in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells us how we can tell who is born of the Holy Spirit and thus shows us what the manifestation of the spirit is. He said,
7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” – (John 3:7-8)
What is the manifestation of the spirit and how will you know those who are born of the spirit? Jesus says you will hear the sound of the Spirit. What is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, that is, the sound of the spirit? Speaking in tongues.
So Jesus tells us that EVERYONE who is born of the Spirit will manifest the “sound” of the spirit.
Paul says that to EACH person is given the manifestation of the Spirit.
Now in this section of 1 Corinthians 14 Paul tells us that the gift of speaking in tongues is available to all people for he says,
Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. – (1 Corinthians 14:5)
Note the first few words where he says, “Now I want you ALL to speak in tongues…” Paul wanted everyone in the church at Corinth to speak in tongues. And that same offer is with us today.
Why did Paul want them all to speak in tongues? Because he knew how important tongues are to enable our walk in Jesus Christ. He knew that all of us would suffer and be tempted and be attacked by the devil and that we would need building up as we continued in Christ. Paul did not want to see people suffer needlessly, nor did Christ and nor does the Father.
That is why the gift of tongues is given to all people who receive the Holy Spirit. It is given so that they can fight the spiritual war with the weapons of the Holy Spirit, and tongues is a MAJOR weapon in the spiritual war that we are engaged in.
Tongues build up and destroy the weaknesses in our flesh and counter the attacks of the devil. Every Christian needs this gift to fight effectively.
Prophesy is for the church, but tongues are for the individual. Prophesy builds up the church,but tongues build up the individual. Both are important and both have different uses and purposes.
Seek tongues so you can grow in Christ and fight the spiritual war that raged around us. Seek prophecy also so that you can help the church grow and be strong, which will also help the individuals in the church to stand in the face of opposition.
And seek the building up that comes through speaking in tongues for it will help you greatly when you are being battered in this world. If you want to know more about this gift and how to receive and use it, please feel free to email me at the address on this website.