First Corinthians 14 is dedicated to the truth about tongues. It was not only a major issue in the Corinthian assembly but, to put it mildly, is a major issue today. So we speak to the times as well as interpreting the Bible.
Let me begin by saying that, at the Tower of Babel, God confused the languages of men. The only other biblical incident that can rival that confusion of languages is the confusion of tongues at Corinth. They had so confused this issue of languages that God had given as a gift, they had so counterfeited it, they had so substituted the reality for the Satanic counterfeit that Paul had to write an entire chapter just to deal with that issue.
Now, if you've been with us in the past, you will remember that there is a true gift of languages. When God gave gifts to the early church, He gave them some miraculous gifts which were designed to be signs to authenticate the validity of the message of the new age. You see, God had spoken in the past to the fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. There was a new message, so to let the world know (particularly the Jewish world) that this was a new era and that there was new revelation and God was speaking again, there were attendant signs and wonders. One of those signs was the ability that the apostles, and some who worked with them, had to speak a language they did not know, under divine inspiration. That was the gift of languages or tongues.
We learned also that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak a foreign language. In Acts 2, it says everyone understood in their own language. Incidentally, the only time that the gift is ever even mentioned after the book of Acts is in Corinth, and there, because it was so confused and chaotic. But as we come to the Corinthian situation, we find that they had counterfeited the real gift of tongues and substituted a pagan, ecstatic kind of speech. The true gift had been confused with ecstatic tongues, which was the counterfeit.
Such ecstasies and ecstatic speech is very common in pagan religion. I'm not going to take the time this morning to go from one end of the world and one end of history to the present to prove that, but I want you to understand that. This is a very common thing in pagan religion. I was reading an article this week about how common it is among the Zulus in Africa, this kind of ecstatic, gibberish speech. We've discussed that in the past.
Let me give you a little background on the Corinthian situation. Remember that, for the most part, the Corinthian church had allowed the entire world system in which they existed to infiltrate their assembly. For example, they were all hung up with human philosophies (chapters 1-4), they had a hero worship cult just like their society did (chapter 3), they were involved in terrible, gross, sexual immorality (chapters 5-6), they were suing each other in court (chapter 6), they had fouled up the home and marriage and misevaluated that whole thing (chapter 7), they were all confused about pagan feasts, idolatry, and things offered to idols (chapters 8-10), they had goofed up the proper place of women in the church (chapter 11), they had misconstrued the whole dimension of spiritual gifts (chapter 12), and they had lost hold of the one great thing - love (chapter 13).
They had let the entire mass of the Satanic system that existed in their society infiltrate the church. And once it came in, with it came the pagan style of religion, with all of the ecstasies, eroticisms, and sensualities. They bought the whole bag, creating a confused amalgamation of truth and error. A modern parallelism would be that of Roman Catholicism, which is a combination of Christianity out of the Bible and ancient Baal worship and the Mother and Child cult, which was originally known as Ashteroth and Tammuz. The same thing occurred in the Corinthian church - it was paganism in part and Christianity in part, all melded together.
If you study the Greco-Roman world in the time of the Corinthian church, you would know that they had various priest and priestesses. People who were devotees of the gods would go to these great temples and worship these priests and priestesses. It was very common for a devotee to go into an ecstasy, which literally means 'to go out of oneself.' They would literally flip out and go into an unconscious state where all kinds of psychic phenomena would occur. They believed that when they went out of themselves, they literally left their body, ascended into space, connected to whatever deity they were worshiping, and would begin to commune with that deity. Once they began to commune with that deity, they would begin to speak the language of the gods. This was a very common practice in their culture.
The term used in I Corinthians to refer to speaking in tongues (glossaislalein) was not invented by Bible writers. It was a term used commonly in the Greco-Roman culture to speak of pagan ecstasy, going out of the body, connecting with the deity and, in a mystical way, beginning to speak the language of the gods, which came out as some gobbledygook and gibberish.
The Greeks even had a word for this ecstatic religious experience, and you'll be interested to know what it was. It was the word eros. Remember that word? We sometimes translate it as sensual love, but the word erosis a bigger word than that; it has a broader meaning. It means 'the desire for the sensual, or 'the desire for the erotic,' or 'the desire for ecstasy,' or 'the desire for the ultimate experience or feeling.' The kind of religion they had was an erotic, sensual, ecstatic religion, designed to be felt. In fact, you'll remember if you studied those religions, that when people went to those temples and visited those priestesses to worship, they would actually enter into orgies.
So the whole idea of erotic, sexual, sensual, ecstatic, and gibberish that went on with divine utterances - all was rolled into one big ball under the mystery religions, which had been spawned in Babylon, had come into the Corinthian society. I'm not going to take the time to read you all of the information on that, but there is tremendous historical information that tells us that this did occur.
I'm afraid that what has happened today in the Charismatic movement is just a reproduction of exactly what happened in Corinth. Because of a deadness in the church, because of years of ignorance of the true work of the Holy Spirit, because of a lack of really fine Bible teaching, and because of the dearth of anything really significant going on, people in the church began to reach out and to want to feel God and to sense reality. Satan's counterfeit came flooding in the door. And what has happened now is simply Corinth revisited. The church has married the system of pagan religion again. We have developed a sensual, feeling, experiential, erotic kind of approach to Christianity, only we call it the work of the Holy Spirit when, in fact, it is the counterfeit of Satan.
If you were to find time to talk with various people who have been involved in it, you would find that some of their experiences are very much in that way. They are very sensual, very feeling-oriented. I have a letter in my hand, which I won't take time to read, but probably will incorporate in the book. It's from a lady in our church who was sharing with me the amazing experience she had when they tried to get her to speak in tongues. There was lying on the floor, and all kinds of various things that occurred that were very much oriented toward the emotion and stimulation of feeling and not thinking and the mind, as the Word of God would indicate.
To give you another illustration, there is a pamphlet written by a former leader of the Pentecostal movement in which he gives a testimony. This is what he says:
"Finally, I went to the mission at 328 W. 63rd Street, Chicago, asking only one question, 'Why do I not receive the baptism? What is the matter with me?' The good friends prayed with me and said that nothing was wrong, I only needed to wait.
"Praise the Lord they were right. For the first time I knelt at the altar on Sunday afternoon, March 17, the power began to seize me and I laughed all through the following communion service. In the evening, about 11 p.m., I knelt with a few of the friends praying for me (Elder So-and-So placed his hands on my head for a short time, several times during the afternoon and evening). After some little waiting I began to laugh, or rather my body was used to laugh with increasing power until I was flat on my back laughing at the top of my voice for over half an hour. On rising, I found that I was drunk on the new wine, acting just like a drunken man in many ways and full of joy. On kneeling to meet the Lord again, I was suddenly seized with an irresistible power of beseechings with groanings that could not be uttered, asking the Lord to have mercy on me a sinner, and telling Him that I wanted to go all the way with Him.
"The power of this praying was too great for me to endure, and suddenly my eyes opened to see Elder So-and-So, who had been standing a few feet away, fall as though he had been struck. I was relieved, and in a few seconds was straight up in the air shouting, 'Glory!' at the top of my voice. Again kneeling, my eyes grew dark, and I was rolled over onto the floor, lying there for some time nearly unconscious. Then coming to and kneeling, I felt my jaws and mouth being worked by a strange force. In a few seconds, some baby gibberish was uttered, then a few words in Chinese that I understood, and then several sentences in a strange tongue. This turned into singing, and I did not again speak in tongues until Wednesday, three days later."
Now, what is going on there? All kinds of feeling experiences, all kinds of emotionalism, all kinds of sensual things in the broadest term of sensual, that is, apprehended by the senses rather than the mind. This was very common to pagan religion. Plato, who lived from 429-347 B.C., wrote in his Dialoguespage after page describing these pagan ecstasies of speech. This was not anything that belonged to Christianity. In Christianity, the true gift of languages was used only when somebody who spoke the language was present in order that it might be a sign that God was there and that God's people were speaking God's truth. Never was it intended to be confused with paganism.
As always, whenever God does something, Satan counterfeits it, doesn't he? That confuses the issue. So Satan's smokescreen to cloud the true revelatory work of the Holy Spirit in the early church were phony revelations, phony visions, and phony tongues. That's why the Apostle John said in I John that when somebody comes along and starts telling you they speak for God, you'd better, "Test the spirits whether they are of God." It's easy to fall prey to the phony. And because the Corinthians had decided to marry the spirit of the age, they became victims.
Now remember, Satan is called 'the god of this age,' he is called 'the spirit who energizes the children of disobedience.' Satan is the one who wants to be like God and appears 'transformed as an angel of light.' He wants to counterfeit reality and wants the church to buy a phony. That's his business. So we see in heathenism all that fake.
Here in Corinth, it had engulfed the church. I'm afraid the same thing is happening today. There are no ecstasies, no sensualities, no eroticisms, no going out of yourself ever associated in the New Testament with the true work of the Holy Spirit; never! In fact, in I Corinthians 14:32, Paul says, "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." In other words, nobody ever gives up his spirit, nobody ever loses control, nobody ever goes out of himself in terms of that which God has designed. That's why, at the end of chapter 14, Paul's final word on this subject was, "Let all things be done decently and in order." It's not the Holy Spirit's way to have everybody (verse 26) jumping up with their own psalm, doctrine, tongue, revelation, and interpretation, wanting to speak in ecstasy, wanting to have a vision. That's the confusion of paganism that has engulfed the church.
It was sophisticated stuff. The mystery religions of Babylon, which dominated the Corinthian culture during Paul's day, had developed all kinds of rites, rituals, vows, baptisms, animal sacrifices, feasts, fasts, ablutions for sin (like dunking in a frozen river or crawling on your knees for miles), ecstatic speeches, visions, and prophecies were all a part of it. And all of it had come to Corinth, and to assemble with the Corinthian Christians was to enter a situation of absolute chaos.
Do you know that chapter 12 says that people were actually standing up cursing Jesus in tongues, and people were saying, "Oh, it must be the Holy Spirit"? That's why Paul says that "The Spirit of God does not call Jesus accursed." It was confusion. "The wild frenzy of the Greek paganism became madness in the Corinthian church," says one writer. "And they, like the pagans, no doubt uttered their ecstatic speech with foaming lips and streaming hair."
Beloved, as much as I wish it weren't true, I'm convinced that what we see going on in today's Charismatic movement is the same kind of engulfing of the church in pagan religion. A counterfeit has been accepted because it impacts the emotions of people who sat, for a long time, in churches where they never got anything that changed their lives. So Paul writes I Corinthians 14 to correct it.
Let's study I Corinthians 14. I'm going to divide the chapter into three parts. Number one, the position of the gift of tongues. Number two, the purpose of the gift. Number three, the procedure for the gift. The position is in verses 1-19, the purpose is in verses 20-25, and the procedure of the gift is in verses 26-40.
The position is secondary. The purpose is as a sign. The procedure is systematic. Those are the three great things that this chapter says. We're only going to have time to look at the first part of the first point. The first point is the position of the gift. Paul wants to talk about tongues, and he wants us to understand its position relative to the other gifts first of all. Its position is secondary. He gives us a reason in the first 5 verses, and there are two others that we'll consider next week.
Reason number one. Why is the gift of tongues secondary; why is it less than the gift of prophecy? That's his comparison. Reason one is that prophecy edifies the whole congregation. Tongues is useless to edify. That's principle one. Prophecy is superior to tongues because prophecy edifies and tongues does not. Tongues, mark this, cannot edify; that's what he's saying in I Corinthians 14:1-5. There are two other reasons why its position is secondary, and we'll see those next week. I don't want to confuse you with them today, so we'll have to wait until next time.
So verses 1-19 deal with the fact that the position of tongues is secondary. Verses 1-5 state that it is secondary to the gift of prophecy because tongues cannot edify and prophecy can. Let me add a footnote. What is the purpose of the church when it meets together? It is very simple; its purpose is edification. At the end of the chapter, in verse 26, Paul says, "Let all things be done unto edification." At the end of verse 12, "That you may excel to the edifying of the church." In other words, the purpose of the church when it meets together is edification. For example, verse 4 says, "He that prophesies edifies the church." Verse 5 says, "That the church may receive edifying." All throughout the chapter, the same idea is repeated over and over. Verse 31 says, "All prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted."
It's the same thing over and over again: that you all be edified, that you all learn, that you all be built up. That's the whole point. The church comes together for edification, or to be built up. So Paul says, "Look, tongues cannot edify. Especially your kind, which aren't even the real ones." That's the basic proposition of verses 1-5.
"Follow after love, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy." This phrase 'follow after love' is really the end of chapter 13, isn't it? Paul is really saying, "I've just given you the greatest thing, and that is love. That's what you ought to chase." In I Corinthians 12:31, which is translated as an indicative because of the context, Paul is actually saying to the Corinthians, "You are coveting the showy gifts, but I show you a more excellent way. You're busy chasing the showy gifts, the ego-building, up-front, dramatic gifts, but I want to show you a better way: seek love." Then he gives them a great statement on love in chapter 13, which is almost parenthetical. In I Corinthians 14:1, he says, "Now, if you're going to earnestly seek something, then earnestly seek love."
He uses the word the Greek dioko, which means 'to chase, to run after, to pursue.' Oftentimes it is translated 'to persecute.' It is to be so vehement, so excited, and so energized, and so after something that you literally persecute that thing and dog its steps. So Paul says, "If you're going to chase, follow, or run after something, let it be love. But, "Continue desiring spiritual gifts." The word 'gifts' is in italics; it just says, "Continue desiring spirituals."
The word 'desire' could be translated many ways; because of its form, it could go a lot of ways. When you study the context, it comes out as an imperative. It comes out, I believe, as a continuous imperative, so that it would translate this way. "Pursue love," and then there is a dein the Greek, and deis like 'but.' It is not equating equals, that would be kai, it is adversative; there is a change here. So he is saying, "Follow after love, but continue desiring spirituals." It other words, "I'm not telling you to quit desiring gifts. You are pursuing showy things, you should pursue love, but don't stop pursuing gifts," or the spiritual realm, literally.
He's saying, "I don't want you to quit because you should want the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Spirit. I'm not saying don't have anything to do with gifts. I'm just saying to pursue love and continue to seek the spiritual realm, the realm of the operation of the Holy Spirit, the true things that the Spirit of God is doing."
Look at the end of the verse. "But most of all that you may prophesy." You see, tongues are secondary. Paul is saying, "When you come together to worship, instead of having the chaos, confusion, and gibberish of tongues, you should have the clarity of prophecy."
What's prophecy? We've studied that and I'll not take time to do it again. It comes from the Greek word propheteuo. It comes from the two words pro, which means 'before,' and phemi, which means 'to speak.' Literally, then, the verb propheteuomeans 'to speak before.' To prophesy is for someone to speak before somebody else. That's what I do every Sunday from the pulpit; I prophesy. You say, "I thought it meant to predict the future." No.
The idea of predicting the future never came along until the Middle Ages when the English word took on that meaning. That is never its intention in the Greek. Propheteuosimply means 'to speak before somebody.' So Paul says, "Instead of everybody shouting at the same time in ecstatic gibberish, somebody ought to stand up before everybody else and speak the Word of God." You see, that's what ought to be going on. Not the chaos and confusion of tongues, but the speaking of those who speak the voice of God.
Now, sometimes it was revelatory in those days. Sometimes it was reiterating revelation that had already been given. But the point that I want to make here is that the church was to come together to hear the Word of God spoken. Isn't that great? What we're doing this morning is right on that. I can promise if you come to Grace Community Church, you're going to hear that. You're not going to hear ecstasies and emotional expressions or any kind of free-for-all. But you will hear folks speak the Word of God that all things might be done unto edifying. We are to gather to hear God speak to us through men who have been given the gift of preaching and teaching to speak in His place. So Paul says, "Rather," or, "Most of all," or, "More than seeking tongues, you should seek that which is intelligible."
The obvious reason for the inferiority of tongues is that nobody could understand what was being said. The only time the gift of tongues was ever to be used was when there was somebody present who could understand what was being said (like in Acts), or when there was a connection to be made to Pentecost (such as in the repeated occasions in Acts). The gift of tongues was a sign gift, and was never intended for edification.
In fact, tongues were totally useless to edify. How could you edify someone when they didn't understand it? The only possible edification would come when someone understood or if it was interpreted so that they could understand. But its purpose was not edifying, that was not it. Its purpose was as a sign to show that God was speaking and that the prophets and apostles of the New Testament were truly representatives of the voice of God. Now notice verse 2, and this is important. Here is why tongues is secondary.
"For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God; for no man understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries."
Look at what he said: "For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God," and the Greek literally says, "But to a god." What Paul is saying is, "You people with your pagan ecstasies are not doing what all spiritual gifts were given to do, that is to speak to men. Rather, your ecstasies are speaking to a god, nobody can even understand what you're saying, you are all wrapped up in speaking pagan mysteries!" Do you see what he's saying? Those aren't the mysteries, the musterionof God that Paul gave, those are the mysteries of paganism. He that speaks in a tongue speaks not unto men.
Now let me give you a basic, bottom-line truth: all spiritual gifts are given for the purpose of ministering (or speaking) to men. No spiritual gift was ever given for God, but for men. All spiritual gifts are given to build the body of Christ by ministering to each other. God doesn't need us to minister a spiritual gift to Him - He's not incomplete! So Paul is saying, "You have fallen down on the very basic use of the gifts; their use is for men. What you are doing is not for men, it's for a god."
By the way, here you have the anarthrous construction, the absence of an article. Not the God or the true God, but it is better translated, I think, 'a god.' In other words, "You are out of yourselves, connecting to some god, speaking in pagan mysteries. And you have violated principal number one of spiritual gifts," which that they are to be ministered to other people. God doesn't need you to talk to Him in some ecstasy.
It's amazing to me that the modern Charismatic falls short at this very point. They repeat the same error and teach that the essential use of tongues is as a private prayer language to God. Well, that is exactly what Paul is condemning here in this passage. Paul is saying, "You've missed the point. This gift was designed to speak to men. But yours are some kind of communion with a god, speaking in pagan mysteries, and nobody knows what you're saying. God certainly doesn't want to be talked to like that."
It was never God's intention to be addressed in a language that is incomprehensible to the speaker. Go through the Epistles and take out every prayer prayed in the Epistles. When you are done, examine every prayer prayed in the Bible, and then check every prayer that Jesus every prayed. Then check every single thing that Jesus said about prayer and see if you find any word, anywhere, anytime that suggests that it should ever be unintelligible. You'll never find it.
In fact, Jesus said the exact opposite. In Matthew 6:7, Jesus said, "But when you pray, use not meaningless repetitions, as the pagans do." The phrase 'vain repetitions' is the Greek word battalogeo. The verb logeomeans 'to speak,' from which we get the word logos, which means 'word.' The prefix is battaand battais not even a word. It is a figure of speech that in English we call an onomatopoeia. It is the naming of something by a vocal imitation of the sound it makes. For example, we say that a bee goes buzz, or a zipper goes zip, or a plane goes whoosh. Those aren't words, they're onomatopoetic figures of speech. Well, battoisn't a word either.
What Jesus is literally saying in Matthew 6:7 is, "When you pray, don't say batta, batta, batta," or don't go to God saying, "Woosh, buzz, zip." That's the whole idea. That is not the kind of communication that God is interested in. That is what the pagans do. In other words, even in Jesus' time, He recognized a sort of stammering, stuttering gibberish being offered by pagans to their gods. He's saying, "That is exactly what I do not wish you to do when you pray to the Father." So, we are to pray intelligibly and "with the understanding," says Paul. Always, we are to understand what we say and to speak clearly to God.
When Jesus went into the Garden to pray to the Father, He didn't talk in some heavenly language. Why should you? When deity communed with deity, it was in a language that was clear. When Jesus stood by the grave of Lazarus, He prayed before He raised him from the dead. John heard every word of that prayer and wrote it down just the way He said it, clear and intelligible. John 17 is the private prayer between Jesus and the Father. It's all very clear, translated beautifully into English from the original language.
The carnal Corinthians (like current Charismatics, I'm afraid), with their desire for the showy, attention-getting, ego-building, emotionalistic gift of tongues, were using it as a badge of spirituality and saying, "Oh, I have reached such a spiritual plateau that I can now talk to the eternal God in my own private language." That is pure paganism! So Paul says, "You have missed the whole point. You don't speak to men with the true gift, but you're speaking to a god in some kind of mystery."
By the way, it was believed that these mysteries were hidden secrets that only the initiated could know. They believed that you only got those when you got into your ecstasy and went out of your body and connected up with your god, then you got these secrets. Beloved, everyone in the church is initiated. Everyone in the church has all the mysteries; there are no secrets. They had really missed the point. "Tongues don't minister to people, not the way you do it. Not your tongues, not your languages, because no one even knows what you are saying." But, verse 3, "He that prophesies speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort."
Paul says, "That's what I want you to do!" Because when you speak to men, three things will happen: edification, exhortation, and consolation. When you speak the Word of God, you know what will happen? Things will take place in their lives; they will be built up, first of all. Secondly, they will be encouraged to a new kind of behavior, and thirdly, people will be comforted in their agonies and their hurts. Instead of coming together and saying, "Batta, batta, batta," they were to hear the Word of God proclaimed.
Verse 4. "He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself, but he that prophesies edifies the church." Which is better? What is Paul trying to say? What's the point of the whole chapter? The point of the entire chapter is the edification of the church, not edifying yourself. Listen, beloved, we were not given spiritual gifts for ourselves. If a person takes a spiritual gift and uses it to edify himself, he has prostituted the gift. Because it's for others. It's only to build up the body of Christ.
You say, "John, it says in verse 4 that you can speak in an unknown tongue and edify yourself." Well, but that doesn't edify the church. That's the whole point. You say, "But if the tongues are translated, they edify the church." Yes, but it was the gift of interpretation that edified, not the gift of tongues. The gift of tongues is useless to edify the church, because nobody knew what is being said. That's what he said to the Corinthians. "With all of that going on, even if the real gift happened to be used, even if someone popped up with the real thing, it wouldn't edify anybody in and of itself. It would have to be translated. That's what he says at the end of verse 5, "Except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."
It's wonderful to know that when the true gift of tongues was used as a sign and when God did want to use the true gift, and it was used with other Christians present, God would always have somebody there with the gift of interpretation to interpret so that it would not go without meaning to the church. Because even when the true gift was used which couldn't edify, God gave the gift of interpretation so that the church would be edified. You see, God never wanted anything going on in the church that didn't edify and build up. The way the Corinthians were using the gift was chaotic. They had determined that it would edify the church in and of itself. It won't. When people use it for their own sake, they are trying to edify themselves.
That's the second perversion. Your gift was not only meant for men and not God, secondly, it was meant for men and not you. Yet Donald Gee, a well-known Charismatic, says, "The revealed purpose of the gift of tongues is chiefly devotional, and we do well to emphasize the fact." Larry Christenson says, "One speaks in tongues, for the most part, in his private devotions. This is by far its most important use and value." Now that is the very opposite of what Paul is saying. He is saying, "Your gift is not to speak to God, and it's not for you." The whole point is, "It's for them, for them, for them." So, if you seek to edify God, or yourself, you're out of line.
There's almost sarcasm here, when he says, "He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself." Paul has already knocked down that self-edification thing, he's already dealt with that rather pointedly. Go back to chapter 8 for a minute and I'll show you what I mean. Here we have a situation of meat offered to idols, and Paul is saying, "It's not wrong to eat meat offered to idols. But there are some weak Christians who think it's wrong, so don't do it or you'll make them stumble because they feel this is wrong."
In verses 10, he says, "For if any man sees you, who has knowledge [you're a mature Christian], sitting at the table in the idol's temple [eating the idol's meat], shall not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened [or 'built up, edified,' the same word that is used in chapter 14] to eat those things which are offered to idols, and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish?" In other words, it is possible to edify someone to his harm. Do you see the point? It's the same term.
So, edification can be for good or for bad. The point is that if you use a gift to build up the church, it's for good. If you use the gift just to build yourself up, it's an act of selfishness and that's bad. The word edify, then, can be for good or for bad, so you have to find some qualifying principles. Let's go over to I Corinthians 10:23.
"All things are lawful for me," if I had the gift of tongues, let's say, I could use it if I wanted. "But all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." Edify who? Verse 24, "Let no man seek his own [edification], but every man another's [edification]." Do you see the point? Paul is saying, "All things might be okay for you, but don't do them because they're okay for you, do them because they're going to mean something to somebody else." That's the point of all spiritual gifts. They're not for God and they're not for you, they're for the church. So Paul says, "When you come together, instead of everybody seeking his own expression and his own edification, love does this." I Corinthians 13:5, "Love seeks not its own." Do you see the point? That's what he's trying to say.
Gifts are not supposed to be directed to God, and they are not for self-edification. Tongues can't edify the church, though they may give you a little thrill. Even if those people had the true gift and they would use it on their own and get a sort of self-edification, Paul says, "That's a misuse of the gift. Use it for what God intended it to be. Otherwise, you may speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but if you are seeking your own edification, you don't have love. And without love, you're nothing more than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal."
Now finally in this section, Paul balances his strong words on the secondary nature and the uselessness of tongues to edify, by acknowledging that there was a true gift of tongues and that it did have a true place.
Verse 5. "I would that you all spoke with tongues." You say, "Why did Paul say that?" There are so many solid evangelicals who wish that wasn't in the Bible! Because the Charismatics point at it and say, "Look! Paul wanted everyone to speak in tongues!" However, we have to take this in light of other Scriptures. In I Corinthians 12:30, "Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" What's the answer implied by the Greek construction? "No!" And in I Corinthians 12:11, he says, "But all these gifts work that one and the very same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will." You say, "Why does Paul say, 'I wish you all spoke in tongues,' if he knows they can't?" Well, I believe that he is using hyperbole. Let me show you why.
In I Corinthians 7, Paul talks about marriage as a good thing. Then in verse 7 he says, "For I would that all men were even as I myself." In other words, "I wish you were all single." Now is that an actual divine mandate? No. That's wishing the impossible for the sake of emphasis, isn't it? Which is exactly what he is doing in I Corinthians 14. He's saying, "Hey, I'm not downplaying the gift of tongues. I wish that everybody could have the real gift. But we know, of course, that that isn't going to come to pass." You see, Paul is using hyperbole, against his strong words denying the primacy of tongues, to emphasize that there is a true gift.
But he says, "But much more that you prophesied." In other words, "If I had my way, it would be fine if everybody spoke in tongues; but if everybody was a proclaimer with the gift of prophecy, that would be even better!" But that isn't going to happen either, is it? He's just saying that if he had his way, he'd wish everyone had that gift. "For greater is he that prophesies than he that speaks with tongues." Because unless it is interpreted, the church can't be edified. Unless it's interpreted, it doesn't do any good to the church.
In fact, those people who think they have a great thing going with a private prayer language with the god, that doesn't do anything good for them either, because there is no knowledge of what's being said. Consequently there's no learning in the mind, and it's just sensual ecstasy, a feeling, an emotion. Christianity, beloved, has never been predicated on a feeling; never! So Paul says, "There is a true gift," which, as we saw from I Corinthians 13:8 has since passed away. Remember, it says tongues shall cease. "If you have the true gift, that's fine." It has its purpose, as we will see later, as a sign. "But when the church comes together, let it be to prophesy and to proclaim the Word of God."
What does all of this say to us? Two things. Number one, when the church comes together it is to hear the Word of God. Hey, we're right on target, aren't we? Second, we need to be careful to prevent pagan religious forms from infiltrating the truth of God's pure church, like they had.
There's an interesting little footnote here that's just kind of snuck in there. Notice in verse 2 and in verse 4 where it says 'tongues,' that the King James translators put the word 'unknown' in there. But in verse 5 where it says 'tongues, the word isn't there. Do you know why? It seems that the translators put the word 'unknown' in with the singular and left it out with the plural. Some Bible scholars believe that's because when Paul was using the singular, he was referring to their ecstatic gibberish (which was all one kind, a tongue, a gibberish) but when he refers to the true gift, it's languages. Like in Acts, where every man heard him in his own language. So in verses 1-4 he's saying, "Your false gift is all wrong." But in verse 5 he's saying, "The right thing is all right when it's interpreted in its place."
Beloved, let's be sure of these two things. One, that when we come together, that we hear the Word. Two, that we be on guard. Satan hasn't changed his tactics at all, and he always seeks to infiltrate the church. Listen, beloved. It is so dangerous to seek something that God is not giving, because you're wide open to Satan's counterfeit. Let's pray.
Father, thank You for our time this morning, as we've just shared from this text. We pray that somehow, Lord, these thoughts would find lodging in our hearts and bear fruit. Help us to deal with those who might disagree with us with great love and affection, and admonish them as brothers, as Paul said. Help us to hold fast to what we know is true; help us to seek, beyond all things, to keep the church pure and focused around the Word of God. We'll give you the glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.
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