We come to I Corinthians 14 in our study today; we have been in this book for many, many, many months now and we are in what has to be the most difficult chapter of the book, if not the most difficult chapter in the Bible, in many ways. I want to speak to you very carefully this morning to give you as clear an understanding of the difficulties of the text as I possibly can.
I want to begin by saying that I do not approach this text with any ulterior motive, but rather to try the best I can to understand what Paul is saying. I am not attempting to make this a message to speak against the current Charismatic movement as we have been discussing it in the last few months, but rather to simply teach you what the text is saying. We will draw some application as we go.
Now I know that it's difficult for some people to hold in their minds that I'm not personally attacking individuals who believe as the Charismatics believe, because we have been talking about this subject so much recently. Rather, I am only endeavoring as best as I possibly can to give a clear understanding of the things that are in the Word of God that speak to this phenomena going on today. So it is from the Word of God that I speak, endeavoring to understand God's truth, rather than some counter-attack against some who would have attacked me at this point. I have no ulterior motive, just the motive that you would understand the truth of the Word of God.
With that in mind, let's look at I Corinthians 14. This chapter brings us to the issue of tongues in the Corinthian church. Paul deals here with another manifestation of Corinthian carnality. As we have seen in past studies, the true biblical presentation of the gift of languages (or tongues) can be seen in Acts 2:6. In that passage, it was a known language, and the people heard it spoken in their own languages. That is the true gift of tongues - the miraculous ability to speak a foreign language which is unknown to the speaker, in order that he might communicate the truth of God in the language of someone present.
It also acted as a sign that God was present, by virtue of its miraculous element (that someone who didn't know the language spoke it), and it authenticated the message that was being proclaimed. We've learned that these were genuine languages understood by Jews visiting from many lands for the feasts in Jerusalem, as it occurred in Acts 2.
This is important for you to remember: this was an intelligible expression of the wonderful works of God in their own languages. You'll find that as you look at Acts 2. God was speaking; this was the beginning of the new age. The New Testament was to be written; many of the old things regarding Judaism, and things that God had revealed in the past, were going to be added to - altered somewhat in the marvelous new era of the New Testament. God was about to speak again, and what He was going to say was going to be hard for many of the Jews to understand. In order for God to authenticate that it was really Him speaking, He gave attendant signs and wonders to those who were His messengers, such as the ability to speak a foreign language they did not know in a miraculous way.
Now, there is no reason to think that this clear definition and purpose for the gift of languages ever changed. The Greek terms that are used in I Corinthians 14 are the very same words that are used in Acts 2. There is no new definition given, so that when we come to the time of the Corinthian church, the gift of languages is no different than it ever was. It is still the Holy Spirit-given, miraculous ability to speak a foreign language that a person doesn't know, but that someone present does know, in order to show them that God is there and He is authenticating the message.
The confusion comes because the Corinthians had corrupted this very simple and clear gift by misusing it and by mixing it with the heathen concept of speaking in the ecstatic gibberish which was so common to their culture. It was relatively easy for Satan to counterfeit the reality because of the cultural, pagan ecstasy that was so common to the Corinthian times. But keep in mind that the true gift was uniquely of God, living languages which could be understood by the people present when they were used.
On the other hand, ecstatic speech was much different. It was based on heathen superstition, ecstasy, eroticism, and sensualism, as we saw last time. It was speaking in a jargon unknown to anyone, supposedly believed to the the language of a god. They said that when you were speaking in that gibberish, you were having private communion with your god. It's meaning was never known to the devotee who spoke, because he didn't understand what he was saying; it was never known to the people who might have heard, because they had no idea what he was saying. So Paul says that they were speaking mysteries, some kind of sacred secrets with their god. That is the problem that had entered the Corinthian church.
They had corrupted the true gift into this counterfeit ecstasy. Even those who had the true gift, and incidentally, there were some in Corinth who had the true gift, no doubt, because I Corinthians 1:7 says, "You come behind in no gift." But even those who had the true gift were using the true gift in the wrong way, so the rest of the congregation was using the counterfeit gift. You have to keep those two things in mind as we study this chapter. Sometimes Paul is referring to the wrong, or the counterfeit gift, and sometimes he is referring to the wrong use of the true gift. That is something you must distinguish as we go through the chapter.
So in the Corinthian assembly, they had counterfeited, for the most part, this real gift and turned it into the ecstatic speech of the pagans. With its concomitant emotional excesses, it had begun to dominate the Corinthian assembly. So Paul is writing to separate the worship of false gods with the personal objective of self- satisfaction from the worship of the true God with an objective that reached out to others. In other words, we saw last time that the people doing this were very selfish and that the point that Paul wanted to get across was that they were to use whatever gift they had (if it was really a true gift) to minister to others, not as a selfish thing to minister some special, ecstatic blessing to themselves.
Alexander Hay said, "These believers, in their heathen days, had believed that when they spoke in a tongue not understood by men, not even by the worshiper, they were speaking secrets or mysteries with their god. They believed it was their spirit speaking. The benefit was received by the worshiper alone; no one else understood. The worshiper profited through the ecstasy of feeling aroused and the sense that he was really participating with the spirits in the inner circle. He had no thought for the building up of the other worshipers. Paul contrasts this selfish objective with the Christian objective. The purpose of the manifestations of God's Spirit is that the whole congregation be edified."
That's a summary of what we said last time. The purpose of true gifts is for others, never for yourself. The whole body is to be built up. In I Corinthians 12:7, the manifestation of the Spirit is given to profit all, for the profit of all, for the benefit of all. The gift of languages was for manifesting the truth of God to others; it was for speaking the truth of God in a language the unbeliever would hear, and he would say, "My this is amazing! That person doesn't know my language, and yet he speaks it. God must be speaking through him." Then, when the person went on to give the Gospel, or speak the truth as Peter did on the Day of Pentecost, there would be belief in their heart because they had seen that God was speaking by virtue of the wonders that attended the message.
Charismatics and Pentecostals realize that there is a difference between Acts 2 and what is going on in I Corinthians 14, and they usually explain the difference by saying that there are two kinds of tongues. They say that the tongues of Acts 2 are real languages and the tongues of I Corinthians 14 refer to an ecstatic, private, devotional speech by which one speaks in an unknown tongue to God personally and privately for self-edification. They recognize a difference and resolve the difference by saying there are two gifts of tongues.
I recognize a difference, but I resolve it by saying there was the true use of it in Acts 2 and the false use of it in I Corinthians 14. I Corinthians 14 doesn't talk about another gift; it talks about a perversion of the intended gift and its mixture with the heathen counterfeit. The Scriptures nowhere teach that there are two kinds of tongues speaking - one a language and one an ecstasy. The reason we know that is because the same term describes the gift in Acts 2 that describes it in I Corinthians 14. If God wanted to make a distinction, He would need to use another term, but He does not. It is the very same word. It is the normal Greek word for language. There is no reason to justify the selfish use of tongues as if it were some new, special gift.
In fact, I think for us to say that what the Corinthians had was the true gift being truly exercised is to counter-argue against the most basic truth of spirituality. The Corinthian church could never have been manifesting a true gift in the state in which they existed.
I'll put it this way: can a group of Christians who are worldly, divisive, opinionated, cliquish, carnal, fleshly, envious, strife-ridden, argumentative, puffed up, self-glorying, smug, immoral, compromising with sin, defrauding each other, fornicating, depriving in marriage, offending weaker Christians, lusting after evil things, idolatrous, fellowshipping with demons, insubordinate, gluttonous, drunken, selfish toward the poor, and desecrating the Lord's Table be expressing a true gift of the Holy Spirit?
Well, the answer is obvious. It would defy every single principle of spirituality if that were true. A believer either walks in the flesh or he walks in the Spirit. There is no argument about what the Corinthians were doing, they were walking in the flesh. If you have a problem with that, read chapter 3, or any chapter, for that matter. When you are walking in the flesh you are not manifesting a true gift in the true power of the Holy Spirit. It is a conundrum, it can't happen.
As you come to I Corinthians 14, you must not conclude that the Corinthians were exercising the true gift of tongues or you will violate every basic truth about spirituality and how the gifts operate. The only possible thing that could have been happening here was wrong, because everything else was wrong in their lives. Paul was really writing, just like he did in the first 13 chapters, to correct an error in the Corinthian assembly. He is writing because there is a serious disorder: the selfish, pagan use of ecstatic speech was being justified as if it was the gift of languages given by the Holy Spirit.
Apparently, even those who had the true gift had perverted it, and were using it to speak in their own private way, as well as in the assembly when unbelievers weren't even present. They were using it as a way to lift themselves up to a level of spiritual superiority. If there is one thing common to the Corinthian church, it is that they had let every system in the world engulf them and this is no different. All the rest of the stuff in their world had come into the church, why would not the world's approach to religion?
So this was a gift that was genuine in the Apostolic Era; believe me, the gift of languages is genuine. I received a letter this week from someone to whom I had written to ask permission to quote them in the book. They said, "We'll give you permission to quote if you are not against the gift of tongues." Of course, I don't know how I'll handle that, because I'm not against it. There is a true gift; I know what they mean, I know the spirit of what they say, but my position is that there is a true gift.
I'm not against that - God did give the gift of languages in the Apostolic Era. But as we saw, from I Corinthians 13:8-12, it has ceased. That's why this chapter is so hard for us, because for 2,000 years, the real thing hasn't been around and it's very difficult to reconstruct all the details concerning that thing. I daresay I read 50 books on this subject at least, and I have yet to find any two of them that agree on all the details. That's amazing, even among Evangelicals.
So this morning, I offer you my guess. There are some things that we don't have to guess about, but there are some parts here that we just don't have enough information about. One thing that we do know is that the Corinthians were carnal. Another thing we do know is they had allowed this cultural ecstasy to infiltrate the congregation. Another thing we do know is that the true gift was speaking in a true language to someone who understood it, and that is not what they were doing. So there will be some absolutes as we go along.
Let's go to the text. I told you last time that we'll divide the text into three parts; you can look at your outline for at least the initial element of it. You will find that part one of the text is the position of the gift of languages, and that position is secondary. Verses 1-19 speak to the position of the gift of languages as secondary. The next section is the purpose of the gift, and the next is the procedure. So we have the position, the purpose, and the procedure. We'll cover the whole chapter in looking at those, but today, we want to look at the position of the gift of languages. We said last time that it is secondary and the reason it is secondary is because of the fact that it is compared to prophecy, and prophecy can edify, but tongues cannot. So it is a secondary gift.
Notice verse 26; the end of the verse gives the key to the whole chapter. "Let all things be done unto edifying." In other words, the whole thrust of the chapter is, "Whatever you do, be sure that it builds up the body." That same phrase is repeated again and again. We saw it last time at the end of verse 4, "Edifies the church," verse 5, "That the church may receive edification," this is the point of everything. Verse 12, "To the edifying of the church." In other words, he again and again emphasizes that whatever you do should be done for the edification of the church.
Let's look at the position of tongues. We said last time that its position is secondary compared to prophecy, and point one, which we covered last time in verses 1-5, is that prophesying edifies the whole congregation. That is why tongues is secondary to prophesying, because prophesying edifies the whole congregation. In verse 1, he says, "Follow after love, and desire spiritual gifts, but most of all that you may prophesy."
Why? Because prophesying edifies the whole congregation. If you are seeking a manifestation of a gift of the Spirit in your assembly, you're to seek that which will edify the whole congregation, the best gift. Now, I want to point out one thing that you need to remember. In verse 1, Paul is not speaking about an individual Christian seeking an individual gift. He is talking about the assembly.
He is saying, "When the assembly meets together, the assembly should seek the manifestation of the gift of prophesying from whoever has that gift." You need to make this mental note. From chapters 11-14, Paul deals with the meeting together of the assembly of the Corinthian church. None of it has reference to a private time or a personal relationship with God. It all speaks to how they were to behave in the assembly.
For example, chapter 11 talks about how women were to behave in the assembly. Chapter 11 also talks about how they were to take care of the Lord's Table and the love feast when they met together. Chapter 12 talks about how they were to minister their gifts in the assembly. Chapter 13 talks about how they were to manifest love to one another when they met together. Chapter 14 talks about how they were to use the gift of languages when they met together. The whole context of chapters 11-14 is how to behave in the assembly of the church.
So, when Charismatic and Pentecostal people take chapter 14 and make the gift of tongues relate to a private devotional tongue, they are taking that totally out of the context in which it exists in the book, which is discussing totally the concept of meeting in the assembly, like we are this morning. What Paul is saying is this: "When you come together, instead of wanting the ecstatic manifestations and seeking this gift, seek that you may see prophesying, so that God may speak to you out of His Word."
Verse 2. "For he that speaks in an unknown tongue [ecstatic speech] speaks not unto men, but unto God ['a god' in the Greek]."
In the last lesson, I mentioned an interesting possibility. I'm not going to be totally dogmatic on this, but the more I study it the more I like it. Whenever the singular term 'tongue' appears, Paul may well be referring to the ecstatic gift. When the plural term tongues' appears, he's referring to the true gift. Now, the reason I say that is because there can only be a plural in 'languages.' There cannot be a plural in 'gibberish,' there aren't many kinds of gibberish, there is only one kind - gibberish. You don't say, "What kind of gibberish do you speak?" There aren't many kinds, there is just one. This may well be why the King James translators put the word 'unknown' in when the word 'tongue' is used in the singular. Perhaps they recognized this nuance in Paul's writing.
So, what Paul is saying here in verse 2, it seems best to me, is, "He that speaks in this ecstatic gibberish speaks not unto men, but unto a god." In other words, he is simply characterizing their particular phenomenon. "For nobody understands him," and that would include the true God, in a sense, because that's not God's kind of talk; but he's basically referring to people. "However, in his spirit he is speaking mysteries." Remember, the term 'mystery' was a big word in all the pagan mystery religions. He is saying, "When you speak in your ecstasies, you are not speaking to anybody." Right there is the first perversion, because all gifts were intended to build up somebody other than yourself. If they're not used to speak to men, then they are perverted.
Then he contrasts it with prophecy in verse 3. "But he that prophesies speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." So Paul contrasts their pagan, ecstatic speech with prophesying, which truly speaks the truth of God to the hearts of people. That's a tremendous contrast. Then Paul goes on to hit the issue of their selfishness in verse 4. "He that speaks in an unknown tongue [gibberish, ecstatic speech] edifies himself," and I don't take that to be a good thing.
I pointed out to you in the last lesson that in I Corinthians 8:10, there is an illustration of a bad kind of edification, of building somebody up only to a position where he will fall. We also saw that in I Corinthians 10:23-24, Paul says, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own [edification], but every man another's [edification]." Self-edification and the wrong kind of edification are already in Paul's vocabulary as negatives, so I think it's easy to see it here. What he is saying is somewhat caustic and sarcastic, pointing out their self-centeredness. He's saying, "He that speaks this gibberish is only building himself up," as if it's an ego-building thing, "But the one who prophesies truly builds up the church. So in the assembly, there's no place for this kind of ecstatic speech."
Verse 5. "I would that you all spoke with tongues." Now, notice the change. He stops the singular and uses the plural. "I would that you all spoke with languages, I wish you all had the true gift. But even beyond the true gift, I rather that you prophesied; for greater is he that prophesies than he that speaks with tongues [or languages], except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."
The true gift is alright if it's used in the right context, if somebody who speaks that language is there, and if it's truly interpreted for the church to understand. But apart from that situation, it has no purpose. So prophesying edifies the whole church; consequently, the true gift of tongues takes a secondary place. The false gift has no place at all. The second reason that tongues are secondary is, and it follows the first, tongues are unintelligible. We're going to fly a little bit here, so stay with me.
Verse 6. Here, he is referring again to the true gift, if we take that use of the singular and plural. "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues [or languages], what shall I profit you?"
In other words, Paul says, "Even if I, the Apostle Paul, with all the clout and all the godliness that I have, come to you and speak with the true gift of languages, what good will it do you? You speak Greek, you don't need me to do this." So he says, "Except I speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine, it has no meaning to you. It wouldn't profit or benefit you." What he is really saying is that speaking must be intelligible to the hearers, and since they all spoke Greek, there was no sense in Paul coming and speaking some foreign language.
It's amazing to me today that we have seen this one segment of the church put such an incredible premium on unintelligible communication that nobody, not even the speaker, understands. It's also amazing to note that many, many times when the so-called true interpretation is given, it can be indicated that it is, in fact, not a true interpretation at all. There are many, many testimonies to the effect that people have experimented speaking in Hebrew, or other known foreign languages, and the interpretation given was in no way related to what they said.
Somehow, today, we have made some kind of sacred cow, some kind of great, spiritual hierarchy out of people who are able to communicate to nobody. Paul says, "If I came and used the true gift, it wouldn't mean anything to you because you speak Greek." In verse 7, he begins to illustrate this point.
"And even things without life, giving sound, whether flute or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?"
The pipe here would be a flute, and the harp would be any kind of a stringed instrument. The flute and the harp were the most common instruments of that day. They were used at banquets, funerals, and religious ceremonies, so the Corinthians would understand what Paul was referring to. Notice in verse 7 the phrase 'things without life,' soulless, inanimate instruments which were known for beautiful music and the moods of joy and sorrow that they could create. These kinds of instruments, except they be played with a distinction in tone and rhythm, mean absolutely nothing. Notice the phrase 'except they give a distinction.' The Greek literally means 'unless there is a difference.' In other words, there has to be variation in sound to make sense. There has to be a studied, calculated variation. A flute or a harp makes sense only when there is meaningful variation in the sound.
For example, Mary Jane Duncan plays the piano beautifully. We have someone in our family who plays the piano, Melinda. She is 3 years old. She plays the same notes, hits the same keys, and you know what happens? After about 30 seconds, we tell her, "Melinda, mercy! Stop playing the piano!" Why? Because the lack of proper variation in the tones creates nothing but dissonance and chaos. That is what Paul is saying here. "Sound alone, even from a beautiful instrument, means nothing unless there is enough variation in the tone for somebody to understand the melody and the tune."
You say, "Well, what's the point of this analogy, John?" The point is, you can't be benefited or edified when you hear somebody speak unless there is an understood variation in the tone that communicates meaning. Paul says, "It doesn't do any good to do it any other way." Even the true gift of languages used with people who don't understand it is useless, to say nothing of the gibberish, which is always useless. He goes further in verse 8. "For if the trumpet [bugle] give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?"
Can you imagine what would happen if a bugler was supposed to blow the sound to prepare the troops for battle, and instead he got up and blew any old tune he wanted? The soldiers wouldn't know whether to get out of bed, go back to bed, put on their armor, or what. It's very obvious that the bugle has to have significant variation to have meaning. A military trumpet was the clearest and loudest of all instruments, but no soldier would have any idea what to do if it didn't blow something with significance.
Verse 9. He goes on to another illustration. "So likewise you, except you utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For you shall speak into the air." The only thing that will hear you is the air; that's all.
Paul's point is that there is absolutely no signification for gibberish ever, because nobody is ever able to understand it. The only significant time for the use of the true gift in the Apostolic Era was when somebody was present who understood the language. If it occurred in the assembly of believers, it would be translated in order that the believers might also be edified by it. It must be able to be understood, otherwise they were just blowing into the air.
Paul is really drawing some pretty satirical, sarcastic pictures for the Corinthians. Musical instruments that are so out of tune they can't be recognized, and an army bugler so incompetent that the army has no idea what's going on. Then he says, "That's about what's going on in the Corinthian assembly: pure confusion and chaos." Paul is trying to get these believers to recognize and realize that the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit are to proclaim the Gospel to the unsaved and to teach the truth to God's people. Or to authenticate those who will do both of those things. And that can only be done through intelligible words. So with irony, and some sarcasm, and much patience, and great illustration, Paul is trying to break through the barrier of ignorance, emotion, and superstition that exists in the Corinthian church.
He goes on to an illustration in the realm of language in verse 10. "There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.'" He's hammering the same point; he's like a farmer plowing the same ground because it is so hard. He just keeps saying the same thing again and again and again, hoping sooner or later, he'll plow it up.
"There are so many languages." They tell us today that there are probably 3,000. "There are so many languages in the world, so many kinds of voices." Incidentally, that is a very general term. 'Voices' simply means 'sounds.' The same word is used of instruments in verse 7, so it's a very broad word. "There are all kinds of sounds, but no sound is without meaning." Here, he is applying it to language, as verse 11 makes very clear. He says, "Therefore, if I know not the meaning of the sound [the voice], I shall be unto him that speaks a barbaros, and he that speaks shall be a barbarosunto me."
Paul says, "If you don't talk in a language that I can understand, we're two barbarians trying to talk to one another." In case you don't understand what a barbarian is, it is term for a foreigner. A barbarian was anyone who didn't speak Greek. So he's simply saying, "If you talk in that kind of stuff, we're just going to be incommunicado. We will be like two barbarians, neither of whom have a common language."
The word barbarosis onomatopoetic. It is a word that sounds like what it refers to, like buzz, zip, and hiss. An onomatopoetic word simply repeats a sound. Well, the word barbaroscomes from the repetition of the sounds "bar, bar, bar." In other words, Paul is saying, "If you speak like that, I won't know the meaning of what you're saying. It will be nothing more than saying, 'Bar, bar, bar, bar,' to me. I don't understand it; it doesn't make any sense."
The whole point, then, is the uselessness of unintelligible language and pagan gibberish. It had absolutely no signification whatsoever. According to verse 10, it was contrary to all the laws of sound and meaning. Everything has meaning, except for what they were doing. All languages communicate, except for their kind. And remember, they could have been indicted for the misuse of the true gift by speaking a language as if it were some great spiritual accomplishment and doing it when there was nobody around who would even understand it. It was only to be used when some were there who spoke that language. We'll get into that detail later in the chapter.
So no spiritual ministry can ever be accomplished with that kind of confusion. Unbelievers coming into their assembly would look around and say, "These people are mad!" (verse 23). In other words, they would see that the frenzy of the Corinthians wasn't any different than the frenzy of the worshipers of Diana. They would see that the Corinthians were going through the same kind of ecstasy that the pagans were engaging in in the temple. Consequently, they would see no difference between the Christian church and the temple of Diana. The second sub-point, then, that tongues are unintelligible, closes with the same point as the first. Look at verse 12.
"Even so you, for as much as you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that you may excel to the edifying of the church." Paul says, "Since you're so zealous of the gift, you so want the spirituals, and you so want the manifestation of the Spirit. If you do, then seek that which will be the true manifestation to truly edify the church."
Incidentally, this is how Paul ended the first part of this chapter in verse 5 when he said to seek, "That the church may receive edifying." That is the way he ends each of these points: seek that the church be edified. He's really dealing with their selfishness. The Corinthians came together, and all of them were seeking this ecstatic, sensual experience. And we still have that today. I think that's part of what is going on in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, that they are all seeking a personal experience. Paul is saying that's the antithesis of the spiritual gifts, which are to seek to edify the body.
So, the position of tongues is secondary because, first of all, prophecy will edify the church. A second reason why tongues are secondary is that tongues are unintelligible and consequently have a very limited use. Incidentally, that limited use was limited also to the Apostolic Era. A third reason why tongues are secondary is that the effect of tongues is emotional rather than mental. That's what he hits on in verse 13.
"Wherefore, let him that speaks in an unknown tongue [gibberish] pray that he may interpret." This is a very difficult verse to interpret, and I prayed many times as I read this verse, "Lord, may I interpret this verse; it is difficult." What does Paul mean when he says, "Let him that speaks in gibberish pray that he may interpret?" Well, let's look at it.
As we know from our study already, the Corinthians were speaking in a private kind of ecstatic communication with their god in the language of their god, thinking that they were praying to the true God and that it was truly of the Spirit. But praying in gibberish was never the intention of the gift; it was always the perversion. What Paul is saying is this: "Look, the one praying in gibberish ought to pray with the purpose of interpreting what he's praying." In other words, I think Paul is being a little sarcastic and saying, "Hey, you that are so busy praying in your gibberish, why don't you pray for something that will have some meaning to somebody?"
In case you think that's forcing the issue, read carefully through I Corinthians. You'll find that such sarcasm and irony is introduced on many, many occasions. In other words, "Let the one who is so anxious to pray in his private little language pray instead for the gift that's intelligible. While you're praying in your gibberish, ask God for something that the rest of the body can be benefited by, because what you're doing is so very selfish."
Somebody is probably saying, "You really pushed that interpretation into that verse." Well, there's only one alternative. The other alternative is this: "Wherefore, let him that speaks in an unknown tongue pray that he may receive the gift of interpretation." Now if we interpret it that way, the verse is saying that we can seek certain gifts, right? If we want the gift of interpretation, or any other gift, all we have to do is pray for it. Well, is that true?
I Corinthians 12:11 says that the Holy Spirit gives the gifts to whomever He wills. In I Corinthians 12:30, it says, "Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" What is the answer implied by the Greek construction? No! God never said that we can pray for any gift we want or that we can seek for any gift we want. This verse can't be saying that we ought to seek the gift of interpretation.
I'll show you another reason; look at I Corinthians 13:28. "If there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church." In other words, if somebody is going to use the true gift that some pagan present would understand, he shouldn't even use it unless he knows that there is an interpreter present who will interpret it. They must have known, then, who had the gift of interpretation, and to such the gift was limited. It was so limited that they couldn't even do it if that person wasn't there.
There is no way, then, that verse 13 can be teaching an individual to seek the gift of interpretation. The only other alternative is that Paul really riding them a little bit and saying, "While you're jabbering, why don't you pray something intelligent, like asking God for something that will mean something to us?" I hope that helps you understand the point.
Verse 14. "For if I pray in gibberish." Now that word is pneumaand I'd like to think it could be translated this way: "My breath or wind prays, but my mind is unfruitful." So you know what that is? Blowing air into the air.
The word pneumacan be translated 'spirit,' 'breath,' or 'wind.' Some would even say it refers to the inner feelings. Charismatics, for the most part, make it the Holy Spirit. That's really not fair, because it says, "My spirit prays," and they say, "The Holy Spirit is my spirit." Yes, but it's compared with 'my understanding.' So if the human understanding is on one end of the comparative, the human breath or spirit must be on the other end. They must be balanced carefully.
So Paul says, "If I'm praying in gibberish, my wind may be praying, but my mind is unfruitful." In other words, there is nothing beneficial occurring. There is no fruit-bearing. Tongue praying, then, or gibberish, is mindless. "If I pray in an unknown tongue, it's just my breath, or my spirit, or my wind, or my inner feeling, whichever term you want. It is just blowing air into the air like the heathen. I don't understand what I'm saying, you don't understand what I'm saying. I'm blowing air into air." So, the counterfeit gift just set up an emotional experience. It had no mental benefit.
Beloved, you know as well as I do that there is never a time in the Word of God when God wants us to be mindless. God never sets a premium on your brain being turned off - never. There is never a time when God wants us to function on pure emotion without understanding, never. What was going on in Corinth, then, was wrong. It was a mindless, emotional experiences that had no meaning.
In fact, in Matthew 22:37, Jesus said, "Thou shalt love the Lord, your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." To pray or sing in a tongue is useless - useless to you and useless to anybody else. It is mindless emotion.
Verse 15. "What is it, then? [What is my conclusion?] I will pray with the spirit [breath, wind, or inner part], and I will pray with the understanding also." Paul says, "When I talk to God, it's going to come from inside of me. I'm going to use my breath [ my wind], but I'm also going to use my brain. I will sing with the spirit [breath, wind, inner being], and I will sing with the understanding [mind] also."
Apparently, the Corinthians used to sing in ecstatic languages as well. Modern Charismatics sing in tongues, too. But Paul says, "I don't do that. What purpose does that serve, except to show off to everybody that I have a private prayer language that hooks me up to God in a special way?" It's very selfish. Paul says, "I'll pray with my breath and my mind, and I'll sing with my breath and my mind, not mindlessly."
Listen, you pray in English; God understands. You sing in English, and God understands. That's far superior than talking to God in some kind of gibberish, no matter what anybody tells you. God doesn't need that.
Here's an interesting footnote. The word 'sing' originally meant 'to play the harp.' Then it came to mean 'to sing to the accompaniment of the harp.' There are some people who say that the church shouldn't have musical instruments. The very word 'sing' originally meant 'to sing to the accompaniment of a harp.' That's the way it was used in the Septuagint, and no doubt, that's the way it was understood in the New Testament. So we do use instruments.
Verse 16. He says, "If I don't do it with my mind, else, when you shall bless," and he turns it over to the next guy now. "When you shall bless with the breath, or the wind, or your spirit," in other words, when you get into your thing there, "And you don't do it with your mind, how shall he that occupies the place of the unlearned say, 'Amen,' at the giving of thanks, seeing he understands not what you say?" You couldn't even have any 'Amens' going on!
Notice the phrase 'the place of the unlearned.' In the Greek the word is idiotes. Here, the word means 'ignorant,' and simply refers to somebody ignorant of the language being spoken. In other words, if you speak in tongues, the person who occupies the place of ignorance about the meaning of what you said can't even say, "Amen," at the giving of your thanks because he doesn't understand what you're saying.
Now, 'amen' is simply a Hebrew adjective that means 'true, say it, brother!' or 'so let it be,' or 'I'm with you.' And in the Jewish synagogue, saying amen was so important that you could hardly get your lesson done because of all the amening. Let me give you some quotes from the rabbis:
"He who says amen is greater than he who blesses." Here's another one: "Whoever says amen, to him the gates of Paradise are opened." Here's another one: "Whoever says amen shortly, his days shall be shortened; whoever says amen distinctly and at length, his days shall be lengthened." Consequently, do you know what happened in a synagogue? It was a contest to see who could amen the most to get into the Kingdom.
This was also common in the early church, though much more genuine. Now this was great to agree. There are people in the church today that, if someone says, "Amen," they say, "Who is that?" So Paul says, "Look, if all you have is blind, emotional ecstasy going on, nobody can even agree because nobody knows what's happening." Do you get the point? When we come together, our spiritual gifts are for everybody's benefit. And whatever you do that leaves somebody else out is wrong.
Verse 17. "For you verily give thanks well, but the other is not edified." You might be doing a great job. And if you happen to have the true gift, in your own heart you might be thinking, "Boy, am I thankful to God." But nobody else is edified, which makes it wrong, because you've missed the point of the assembly. You've missed the point of coming together.
Now somebody might say, "That's just why we teach that speaking in tongues is to be done in private." But that still misses the point of the gift, because it was never a gift to be used in private. The gift of languages was always to be used in the presence of somebody who spoke the language. What good would it do to speak in tongues in private? In verse 17, Paul says that even if speaking in tongues is done in public, it doesn't do any good unless somebody there understands what you're saying.
Verse 18. Now he does what he did earlier in the chapter. He says, "I've been kind of hard on this thing, and I don't want you to get the wrong idea about languages. I believe it is a true gift." So he says, "I thank my God, I speak with languages more than you all." In a sense he's saying, "If you're wondering if I'm a little on the outside and don't quite understand all of this phenomena, I just want you to know that I've probably spoken in tongues more than any of you."
Paul had the true gift of tongues. Since he was an apostle, he had the gifts of an apostle according to II Corinthians 12:12. He exercised those gifts, no doubt, as he traveled around. You say, "How did he use this gift?" Well, number one, I'm sure he didn't use it as a private prayer language. Number two, I'm sure he didn't use it in Christian meetings to show he was spiritual. And third, I'm sure he didn't use it for his own benefit.
Now, let me tell you how he did use the gift of tongues. He used it when he traveled to a place where there were people who spoke a foreign language. He was given the ability by God to speak that language, so that they might know God was present and a miracle had happened. Then he would speak the truths of God and they would be converted. Paul was a missionary to the Gentiles, so he might have had many instances in his missionary travels when he could have used this gift. It's interesting to me, though, that he ranked the gift of tongues so very low. In fact, in all of his ministry and in all of his writings, he never refers to using it, except here. And here, he doesn't even give an illustration.
Verse 19. "Even though I have that gift, yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." Paul says, "The true gift of tongues is fine for evangelizing pagans in a language they understand, and for showing them that God is present and that God is speaking. But in the church, I'd rather speak five words with my understanding, so that I might teach others, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
Now I want you to see something interesting. Five words to 10,000 words is not the ratio. The Greek word is murioi. And the reason that this word is used here is that it was the largest number in Greek mathematics for which there was a word. For example, in Revelation 5:11, it talks about the angels and says, "And the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." Well, in the Greek, it just keeps repeating the word murioibecause it was the word that represented their biggest number. In the English, verse 19 would be more accurately translated, "I would rather say five words with my understanding than quintillion words in gibberish." There isn't even a comparison. Paul would rather say, "I have something to say," and then sit down than say a quintillion things in gibberish. That's his point. Why? "Because nobody is going to learn, and I want to use my voice to teach others also."
So he concludes in verse 20. "Brothers, stop being children in understanding; grow up." We'll stop right there; grow up. In I Corinthians 13:11, he said, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things." This is the same idea.
Let me tell you something very important as I conclude. Does this passage tell us how to govern tongues in the church today? No, because they ceased. What does this passage teach us? First of all, it shows us that the modern Charismatic movement is simply repeating the same old Corinthian problem all over again. Now, I say that with love and great concern, but I believe that it's true. They use tongues in their assemblies today, they speak in gibberish, they do it for private self-edification, they seek the emotional experience rather than the intellectual understanding, they sing in tongues, they are absorbed in their own experiences, they glory in the unintelligible as if it were some secret communion with God, they do it among believers, and their missionaries do not have the true gift to reach people with different languages. So what I see there is a mirror of the Corinthian problem.
So what do we learn from this? Number one, learn to exalt the teaching and proclamation of the Word of God. We should come together to hear God's Word so that we can understand it. We should do whatever we do with whatever gift we have to build up someone else. We should never seek a selfish spiritual experience, never relish the emotional, but knowledge. We should watch out for Satan's counterfeits, and do all things with a clear mind that is open to God's truth. Beloved, the greatest tragedy arising from the modern tongues movement is that they miss the true work of the Holy Spirit.
Remember the dog in the ancient fable who, while crossing a bridge with a bone in his mouth, looked over the edge and saw in the water his reflection? The bone in the reflection looked so good, better than the one in his mouth, that he dropped the substance for the shadow and went hungry. I'm afraid that many of our dear friends in this movement have dropped the substance and the reality of Ephesians 5:18 for the shadow of a Charismatic experience, and they're going to go hungry. Let's pray.
Thank You, our Father, for our time this morning in Your Word. Thank You for every person here. Father, we know that many of our friends that are here this morning with us probably came with anticipation of a different message than this. I pray that the will understand that, as we study through the Scripture, You have a purpose in teaching us everything that You teach us. Father, I pray that You would minister especially to them through our fellowship, perhaps in spite of not giving the message that was needed in their hearts. Thank You for the love of the fellowship that we enjoy. We pray that as we dismiss, it will be with a renewed heart to love and serve You and to seek Your will for Your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.