Today, we will be studying I Corinthians 14:20-25, which is the heart of this particular passage. In this chapter, we have another in the long line of issues with which the Apostle Paul deals in Corinth. Here, he is correcting the carnal Corinthians on the basis of their misuse and perversion of the gift of tongues, or languages.
I apologize to those of you who were here last time, because it is so difficult to get any part of this chapter without getting all of it, but I'll do the best that I can to bring you into the context.
In the New Testament era, the true gift of tongues was the ability to speak a language which was unknown to the speaker but known to someone present. God had a very definite purpose in it, which we'll see later on in this lesson, but in the Corinthian assembly, they had taken the true gift and had twisted it for an untrue use. They also had added a counterfeit gift to the true gift.
It was common in the pagan mystery religions of that day, and I've supported that to you on multiple occasions, for the people to believe that they could enter into a state of frenzy or ecstasy. Consequently, they believed they could slip out of their body and commune on another level with a deity. And when they did that, they would speak to that deity in an unknown language; they would literally be talking the language of the gods. They believed that this ecstatic, self-edifying, supernatural phenomenon was a great act of devotion toward that god.
As was the case of the Corinthian church all the way through the book, every part of the world's system that they knew had come into the church. This area was no different. So basically, what we have in chapter 14 is Paul saying to them, "Number one, you are misusing the true gift, and two, you have brought in this counterfeit thing and doubly confused the issue." They were actually believing that the gift of tongues was speaking in ecstatic speech, ecstatic babel, gibberish, or whatever term you want to use. They were supposedly communing with God in a private prayer language.
So, the Apostle Paul writes this chapter, number one, to dispel the idea that the true gift is that kind of ecstatic gibberish. Number two, he wrote to make sure that when the true gift was exercised, it was exercised properly in the right context to accomplish the right purpose.
I Corinthians 14 is a very urgent chapter for us today because Charismatics are telling us all the time that it is necessary for us to have this experience in order to realize the full manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the full expression of His power in our lives. They're loudly crying out to us to have this experience, so we need to understand exactly what Paul is saying here. The Corinthian church, then, had taken the true gift and twisted its use. They had added to it a counterfeit gift, which just confused everything all the more. So Paul writes this chapter as a corrective, as he has the 13 prior chapters.
Last time, we talked about the position of the gift of tongues. It was secondary, and Paul makes it very clear that the position of the gift of tongues is secondary. Secondly, the purpose of the gift of tongues (which we'll look at today) is as a sign. Thirdly, the procedure for the gift of tongues is systematic. In other words, there is a very careful system in which God has designed this gift to function. We'll consider that next Lord's Day morning.
The second point: the purpose of the gift of languages, or tongues, is as a sign. Now, this is an exceedingly vital area of study, because if we can once and for all determine the purpose of the gift, then we will be very easy to evaluate what's going on today, or at any time in history, relative to this gift. It either fits the biblical purpose or it does not. Consequently, we can determine whether it's legitimate or not.
Now let me begin by reiterating what is often offered as the purpose of tongues, particularly today among our brothers and sisters in Pentecostal and Charismatic fellowships. They tell us that the purpose of tongues is primarily for personal edification and devotion. In other words, they say that it is to be used as a private prayer language because it builds you up and allows you to have devotions with God in a supernatural way, communicating in a language that is your own private language with God. We saw from our last study that that was exactly what the pagans thought about their ecstatic speech: that it was a private, self-building act of devotion to a god. That is precisely what Paul is denying insofar as the true gift is concerned. In a sense, he indicts them for that.
Donald Gee, a well-known Pentecostal, said, "The revealed purposes of the gift of tongues are chiefly devotional, and we do well to emphasize the fact." Larry Christenson, who is a more modern Charismatic Lutheran, says, "One speaks in tongues, for the most part, in his private devotions. This is by far its most important use and value."
They are saying, then, that speaking in tongues is a new way to have your devotions, a new way to edify yourself, a new way to build yourself up, a new way for you to have communion with God and experience something deeper and more meaningful than you could in any other manner.
In I Corinthians 14:1-19, Paul has shown that this is not true. In fact, he chides them for this. I showed you last time the most interesting Greek distinction between the singular use of glossaand the plural use. I showed you why I believe that when it is singular in chapter 14, it references the gibberish of ecstatic speech, and when it is plural, it has reference to languages, the true gift.
So in verse 2, we saw that Paul says, "He that speaks in gibberish, ecstatic speech, like the pagans, speaks not to men but unto a god," which is the literal Greek translation, "And in his spirit he is speaking mysteries." He is saying to them, "You are doing what is done in the mystery religions by people who are speaking to their gods. This is not the design of any spiritual gift, because all spiritual gifts are designed to speak to men or to serve others." In I Corinthians 12:7, Paul says that the gifts were given to profit all. So, they had misused this gift. All gifts are for others; my gift is for you, not me.
All the gifts are to be used to edify one another. The idea of self-edification is a perversion. It is nothing more than speaking religions to a deity, to a god, and not speaking to men, as the gifts of the spirit are designed to do. In I Corinthians 14:4, he again uses the singular (and I'm sure that's why the King James interpreters put 'unknown' in, because they recognized that difference - wherever it is plural, they do not put 'unknown'), "He that speaks in gibberish [the jargon of ecstasy] edifies himself."
Now, he is not telling them to do it for that purpose. We discussed how this concept of edifying, very often in the Corinthian letter, is bad. In other words, it's a bad, self, ego-building edifying. "He that prays this way is just building himself up," is what Paul is saying, and that's wrong. Because no gift is ever designed with the intention of selfish use. My gifts are for you, that's the point.
He says, "You are actually speaking in this gibberish for the purpose of building yourself up. But the truth of the matter is that your understanding is unfruitful, totally fruitless (verse 14), and nobody who hears you can even say, 'Amen' (verse 16). You are totally ignoring the people around you, you are selfish, your own mind is unfruitful, the people around you can't say, 'Amen.' As a result, I'd rather speak five words that others can understand, than 10,000 words in a foreign language" (verse 19). 10,000 isn't literal, it's murio, which is the largest number in the Greek numerical system that had a name. It would be like saying 'quintillion'. He is saying it had no point; self-edification isn't the point here. They were doing it for that, but that isn't his point. He almost seems to agree with them in verse 4 that they are edifying themselves, but that's only kind of tacit, taking them where they are. Then he takes them where they ought to be.
It's like in I Corinthians 6:12, where he says to them, "All things are lawful," and he's quoting their own phrase. In their liberty, they were going around saying, "All things are lawful! All things are lawful! I'm in grace; I can do whatever I want!" He's saying, "Well, all things are lawful," that's where they are. But by the time he gets to verse 18, he says, "Flee fornication." That's where he wants them to be. They may be concluding that all things are lawful, but God isn't. They may be feeling that this thing is edifying them, but God says, "That's not its point." That's the approach he's using.
So he has already dealt in great detail with the fact that tongues were never intended for the purpose of edification. I showed you last time that tongues can't edify the church in any way because the members don't understand what's being said. And even when they are interpreted, it is the gift of interpretation that edifies, not the gift of tongues. Further, tongues can't edify an individual because his mind is unfruitful. It can't edify the church, because no one knows what is being said. If someone is there who speaks that language, and it had its intended use and purpose, it would have to be translated so that it wouldn't be unedifying, so that the church would gain some benefit. But then again, it would be the gift of interpretation, not tongues, which edifies.
It isn't possible, then, that we can conclude that tongues can be defined as a self-edifying prayer language to God. In fact, if you study prayer in the New Testament, you will never find a verse that tells you to pray to God in an unknown language. In fact, when Jesus laid out the model for prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, He said, "Pray this way," and He told them how to pray. There wasn't any gibberish or ecstatic language involved. I certainly don't think that we can come up with a better model than that of our Lord Himself. People say, "But speaking in tongues is a method of praising God in a marvelous, new, free way." My response is this: the greatest time of praise, the greatest amount of praise will be offered in Heaven. Why, then, does I Corinthians 13:8 say that tongues will cease? If it's such a great way to praise, and praise is the very character of Heaven, why would this cease?
So, we can't conclude that the gift of tongues is for self-edification or devotion. That's just a thumbnail sketch of what we discussed last time.
Secondly, others suggest not that it's edification, but that it's for evangelism. Some people say that the gift of tongues in the New Testament was to enable somebody to preach the Gospel in another language. That sounds like a good idea, and I wouldn't deny that somewhere on a mission field, God may have given somebody the ability to speak a language he didn't know in order to give the Gospel to somebody in a very critical situation. However, that doesn't support the idea that the gift of tongues in the New Testament was to preach the Gospel to people who didn't understand. Do you know why? Because there are no illustrations of the gift of tongues being used like that in the whole New Testament.
You say, "What about in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost when they all spoke and everybody heard them in their own language?" Yes, but do you know what the multitude heard? They heard them speaking 'the wonderful works of God.' That phrase comes out of Judaism and simply means that they went over the great, historic things that God had done in the Old Testament. Why? To draw the attention of the Jewish crowd so that Peter could stand up and preach the Gospel to them in their language. So, rather than saying that the purpose of the gift of tongues was useful evangelism, you might say that it was a kind of pre-evangelism. It gathered the crowd and then the Gospel was preached.
So, Charismatics have suggested that the gift of tongues is for edification, while others have suggested that it's for evangelism. But those don't really fit the New Testament pattern. Thirdly, it has been suggested that the gift of tongues is the proof of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
In our study of I Corinthians 12, we discussed this at length, the view that the gift of tongues is the proof of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There are several problems with that. Number one, look at I Corinthians 12:13. Paul writes, "For by one Spirit were we all baptized." How many were baptized? All. Look at verse 30. "Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" What's the implied answer? No. The Greek form of this verse implies a negative answer; that's not a guess on my part, it's the Greek construction used here. Now notice, all are baptized, but all do not speak in tongues. You cannot equate those two.
Further, I would add this. In Acts 2:38, after Peter preached, he said, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ because of the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." 3,000 people responded to Peter's sermon that day. Do you know how many of them spoke in tongues? The Bible doesn't say that any of them did.
In Acts 4:31, Luke writes, "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." Does it say they all spoke in tongues? No! "They spoke the word of God with boldness." In Acts 2 and Acts 4, people were filled, people received the Spirit, but there were no tongues. You can't equate those two. It just doesn't fit.
You say, "John, if speaking in tongues isn't a sign of Spirit baptism, and if it isn't for the purpose of actually proclaiming the Gospel, if it isn't for evangelism, and if it isn't for the purpose of building myself up in a private way, what is the gift of tongues for?" Well, let's look at the text and find out.
Verse 20. "Brethren, be not children [stop being children] in understanding; however, in evil [kakia, general evil] be you children [infants], but in understanding be men." The word 'infants' is a younger word than the first word for children. The first word he used would mean a 5- to 10-year old, the second would mean a 1-year-old or less. "Brothers, stop being children in understanding. However, in evil, be infants. In understanding, be men."
Now this is a rather strong indictment, so Paul starts by calling them 'brethren' to conciliate them a little bit before he hammers them. The admonition, here, suggests that because of their misuse of tongues they were really evil. Let me show you what I mean.
Paul says that the Corinthians were 'children in understanding.' In other words, they hadn't really grown up to understand solid doctrine. They were like Ephesians 4, "Tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine." They didn't use their minds, their minds were unfruitful, just as it says in I Corinthians 14:14. They were not thinking through the right things, the biblical things, the things that they had received out of the revelation of God. Consequently, the Corinthians were 'children in understanding' rather than mature men with minds that grasped the truth.
The Corinthians should have been infants in malice and evil, but they weren't. You say, "What do you mean by that?" Well, a little infant has no evil thoughts or malice toward anybody. A little infant is full of love, gentleness, kindness, tenderness, care, and sensitivity. So Paul is saying, "Why don't you treat each other like that? Why don't you be little infants when it comes to the way you act with each other and be mature in your thinking, instead of being infants in your thinking and mature in your evil?"
You see, because of their selfish exercise of these gifts for the purpose of self-edification and selfish ego-building, they were ignoring the rest of the family of God, they were ignoring the congregation. There was total confusion; there was no room for any real teaching of the Word of God. The people who visited their congregation thought that they were insane; the people who were there couldn't get anything out of it. It was total chaos because everybody did his own thing.
What it really boiled down to was anti-intellectualism in favor of an existential experience, which is basically what we see happening today. A pervasive kind of anti-intellectualism has allowed the Charismatic movement to sweep into the area that the world has provided, the spirit of the age, and accommodate that kind of thinking. Paul says, "Stop being children and treating people unkindly, and start thinking like adults." After having said that and calling them to attention, Paul gives the purpose of tongues. If we can decide what this is, it would really solve our problems.
Verse 21. "In the law it is written, 'With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me,' saith the Lord. Wherefore, tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not. But prophesying serves not for them that believe not, but for them that believe."
Now if you never learn anything else about tongues, you can be sure about one thing: tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe. You know that. That statement alone is the heart of this chapter. That statement, in and of itself, should call any current so-called tongues to task, to deal with the reality of that statement. It couldn't be any more simple. "It is to them that believe not."
Now basically, the purpose of tongues as a sign is threefold. They are a sign of cursing, a sign of blessing, and a sign of authority. Let me show you number one: a sign of cursing. This is the primary thing. Maybe you've never thought about it this way, but this is, as I see it, what the verses here indicate. Let's look at verse 21 again.
"In the law," which can refer to the Pentateuch or the entire Old Testament, as it often does in Psalm 119, and also in Romans. "In the Old Testament, it is written," then he begins freely quoting Isaiah 28:11-12, "'With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people [referring to Israel]; and yet for all that will they not hear me,' saith the Lord." Then, having stated that Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah to Israel, Paul applies it. "Therefore," he says. "If that was true then, if that was the use in the time of Isaiah, then therefore tongues are," not were, but still are, "For a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not."
So, Paul draws a conclusion from the Old Testament text. The conclusion is that tongues are not for believing people, they are for unbelieving people. Notice this. It says in verse 22, "Tongues are for a sign." Notice the three little words 'for a sign.' In the Greek, that's hosteand hosteindicates purpose unto. The word is not saying that incidentally they are a sign, it is saying that tongues' purpose is as a sign to unbelievers. It is not an incidental thing. That particular expression 'for a sign' appears 10 times in the Greek Old Testament, and every time, it means 'purpose.' So the purpose of tongues is for a sign to unbelievers. What unbelievers? Well, the phrase 'this people' in verse 21 is referring to Israel, so tongues are specifically a sign to unbelieving Israel. That is carried right into the Corinthian situation.
Now, let me give you a little bit of background. In Isaiah 28, we find ourselves in the southern kingdom of Judah during the reign of King Hezekiah. The year is approximately 705 B.C. In 722 B.C., seventeen years earlier, the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken and destroyed by the Assyrians as a judgment of God on Israel's unbelief and apostasy. God had come in terrible judgment against the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.
Now in 705 B.C., the southern kingdom of Judah was also behaving in a terrible, disobedient manner. So God spoke to them through the prophet Isaiah to warn them that the same thing that happened to the northern kingdom is going to happen to the southern kingdom because of their unbelief and apostasy. That is the message of Isaiah 28:1-15. It is a warning from the prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah, that they are going to receive the same kind of judgment that the kingdom in the north received. In fact, it will be the Assyrians, or the babbling Babylonians, if you will, who will come in judgment against them.
Now, let's see how Isaiah approaches the problem. In verse 7, he finds the leaders of Israel, the prophets, and the priests, in a drunken stupor. "But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way." They had failed to fulfill their function as leaders because they were drunk. Verse 7 continues, "The priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink; they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink, they err in vision, they stumble in judgment."
Look at the ugliness of verse 8. "For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean." Isaiah finds them at some party in a drunken stupor, having vomited all over the tables. So he unloads his message of terrible rebuke and of coming judgment.
Do you know what their reaction is? They mock him, scorn him, chide him, and deride him. Look at what they say in verse 9, "Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Those who are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts?" In other words, "Who could he ever teach? Babies!" Why? "Because he always goes, 'Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.' He must think we're babies. He keeps repeating the same simple stuff over and over again."
So, they mock him. They don't appreciate his attitude, so they begin to sneer at the prophet and call his teaching simple and childish. Does he think they're babies, that he's got to repeat this same stuff over and over? But they never heard him. So, in verses 11-12, Isaiah speaks for God, and says, "For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people. To whom He said, 'This is the rest by which you may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing; yet they would not hear.'"
In other words, God says, "You wouldn't hear the simple, repeated, childlike message of Isaiah, so I'm going to talk to you in a language you'll never understand." He was referring to the babbling Babylonians who had already encompassed their city, who would take them out of their land, destroy them, slaughter them, and burn them. And when they began to hear that unintelligible language of Babylonia that they couldn't understand, they would know that the judgment of God had fallen. It happened in 588 B.C. Because of Judah's unbelief and apostasy, God brought a terrible judgment.
This wasn't the only time they had been warned. Back in the fifteenth century before Christ, Moses gave the following warning in Deuteronomy 28:49: "The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand." I believe that this warning could most likely have reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
So, in the fifteenth century, God warned them that when they heard a strange language it would mean judgment. And in the eighth century, God warned them through the prophet Isaiah that when they heard a strange language it would mean judgment. There was also a similar warning in the sixth century by Jeremiah, that great weeping prophet, "'I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel,' says the LORD; 'it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say.'" Jeremiah 5:15.
In the Old Testament, God had clearly pointed out to the people of Israel that when they were going to be judged there would be a sign. That sign was that they would hear a language they couldn't understand. Do you see?
When Paul quotes Isaiah 28 in I Corinthians 14, he is saying, "Look, just as when Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah said it, those languages are a sign to the unbeliever that God is about to act in judgment." That's what he's saying. "But what did it mean in Paul's generation?" you ask. Well, when they began to speak those languages on the Day of Pentecost, every Jew should have known that the judgment of God was eminent. Only 30 years later, in A.D. 70, the Roman Emperor came in and wiped out Jerusalem. And with it, the sacrificial system of Judaism, which ceased when the temple was destroyed and has never been restored. They should have known the judgment of God was going to fall.
If the judgment of God fell on the unbelief and apostasy of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., and if the judgment of God fell on the unbelief and apostasy of the southern kingdom in 586 B.C., then believe me, it will certainly fall on a nation that turns its back on and crucifies its own Messiah in the first century. It did. It seems to me that once the destruction of Jerusalem came in A.D. 70, the whole purpose for the gift of languages ceased. That's what the text says; that's not just my opinion. The gift of tongues was never intended to be something for a Christian, it was for a Jew who didn't believe, so that he might know God was going to act in judgment.
In Luke 13:35 Jesus said, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." And in Luke 21:20, He carried it a step further. He said, "And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that its desolation is near." Then in verse 24, "And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shalt be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles." In other words, Jesus was saying, "Hey, judgment is coming!"
All throughout the ministry of the apostles, judgment was coming on Israel. Jesus preached it; and the sign of languages again showed it. I think that is why Paul refers to Isaiah 28. In spite of that, at the end of verse 21, he says that they wouldn't listen. They wouldn't listen.
This purpose for the gift of tongues can be traced and verified in the book of Acts. In Acts 2, many unbelieving Jewish people were present. And later on in the book of Acts, when speaking in tongues occurred (in chapters 8, 10, and 19), even though in each case, those people become believers, yet the occurrence of this same phenomenon becomes a reinforcement of the reality to the Jews who saw and would tell their countrymen what had happened. Because in Acts 8, 10, and 19, where tongues occurred, there were always believing Jews present who would come back and report that they had seen the same thing.
So it was not only to link those new elements of the church with the Pentecost occasion and with the Jews there, but also to reinforce to the Jewish nation that indeed, God was going to judge. So first of all, the gift of tongues is a sign of cursing. I want to add something to that. It's also a sign of blessing. This is what I call a residual benefit of number one. Number one is the primary purpose for this gift: cursing. I haven't given you all the study on this, but just some of it.
The tongues of Pentecost were saying, "Look, God is not going to work through just one nation any longer. God is no longer going to speak just one language. God is no longer going to favor just one people. God is going to go to the world, and through the world, build His church." The Kingdom for all nations. You know, the very fact that they spoke in all those languages was God's way of saying, "It's all over for the uniqueness of Israel. I'm going to speak in the world's languages and build that church that is hidden in the Old Testament."
So tongues speak primarily as a sign of a curse on Israel. But notice, no sooner do I say that than I have to say they speak, too, of the blessing that is going to come to the whole world. You see, as Christ turned away from a rebellious people, He opened His arms to the world. So the gift of tongues becomes a sign of blessing, residually. Paul speaks to this issue in Romans 11:12 when he talks about the fall of the Jews becoming the riches of the world. Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel was temporarily set aside and yet, in their being set aside, we became beneficiaries as God reached out to us.
God's New Testament apostles and God's New Testament prophets suddenly burst out, spontaneously declaring the wonderful works of God in every language. Read Acts 2. This was an unmistakable sign that a transition had come - a curse on one hand, but a blessing on the other. Because even Jews could still come, couldn't they? 3,000 Jews were saved on the Day of Pentecost. So in a sense, while being a judicial sign of a curse, residually it was also a sign of blessing.
Thirdly, it was a sign of authority. This is tied up in it as well. Who were the great messengers who preached this transition? Who were the men of God who spoke of the curse and the judgment? Who were the men of God who spoke of the blessing to come to all nations? They were none other than the apostles and the prophets. And it was to them that God gave the ability to speak these languages as an authenticating, validating sign that what they were saying was indeed the truth. Because to the Jewish mind, the idea that God would act this way would be so shocking, so shattering, so incomprehensible, so stupendous, that there must be some kind of reinforcement that what they were saying was true. So God gave them the ability to speak these languages.
In I Corinthians 14:18, Paul said, "I speak with tongues more than you all." The gift of tongues authenticated Paul's position as an apostle, as well as the other sign gifts that he had. He even said, in II Corinthians 12:12, that he had, "All the signs of an apostle: signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds." So, the gift of tongues was a sign of authority to those who preached the message of transition.
A good way to remember this threefold purpose of the gift of tongues is to remember it as the ABC's of the purpose of tongues: A (authority), B (blessing), and C (cursing). The purpose of tongues is not private devotions, evangelism, or a proof of Spirit baptism. The purpose of tongues was unique. Once the event came, the transition was made, and the church was born, the sign was no longer necessary.
When I take a trip somewhere, I rely on signs to tell me how close I am to my destination. For example, if I'm driving north from L.A. to Sacramento, the first sign I see may indicate that I have 300 miles to go. The next sign may say, "Sacramento, 200 miles," then, "Sacramento, 150 miles," then, "Sacramento, 30 miles." Once I arrived in Sacramento, however, the signs stop. Why? Because the purpose for the signs, as they pointed ahead to something, ceased once the destination was reached. Well, tongues were a sign. They weren't a thing in and of themselves, they were a sign. A sign is to point to something. They pointed to a curse of God upon Israel. And once the curse came, the sign was no longer necessary.
Beloved, I don't have an axe to grind. I'm just trying to understand this the best I can. In verse 22 he says, "But prophesying serves not for them that believe not, but for them who believe." Boy, this is a long-range thing here. This isn't just for an unbelieving nation, this is for believing people through all the years of the Church Age.
In fact, the New American Standard Version has the phrase, "Prophecy is for a sign," in verse 22. They put it in italics, indicating that it's not in the original, but it's an unfortunate translation. Prophecy is not a sign! Prophesying isn't pointing to something, it is something in itself. Prophesying is the thing which edifies. Verse 3 says, "But he that prophesies speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." Verse 4 says, "He that prophesies edifies the church." And verse 1 says, "Seek that you may prophesy." You say, "What does it mean to prophesy?" It simply means 'to proclaim the Word of God.'
The Corinthian church was characterized by hysterical, selfish, self-centered, ego-building confusion. So Paul says, "Cut all that stuff out. Tongues have a specific purpose, for a specific time, to accomplish a specific thing. But when you meet together, seek to prophesy and proclaim the truth." It's far more important to preach the Word.
Did you know that there is absolutely no record in the entire Bible of anything ever said by anybody in tongues? Do you know why? Because it was a sign that was meant to pass away. It had no lasting value, even in a revelatory sense. But on the other hand, Peter calls the entire Bible 'a more sure word of prophecy.' You see, there's just no comparison between something that's a sign and something that is the reality.
So, tongues are a sign to unbelieving Jews, attached irretrievably to one point in redemptive history. They served well to show that Christianity was not to be distinctly Jewish, but worldwide. They served to corroborate and authenticate the speakers and the messengers who brought that message. And they served to show Israel that they had again rejected God in unbelief and apostasy.
People say, "Well, don't you think that tongues could have a purpose today?" We don't need to say that again today. If tongues were around, they would still have to have the same purpose. And what point would there be in signifying today that God is moving away from Israel to open the Gospel to the nations? He did that 2,000 years ago. That's fairly clear to us, isn't it? We don't need more information on that. It's already done.
Now, having stated the purpose of tongues, watch how Paul relates it to the assembling together of the Corinthians in verse 23.
"If, therefore," and what is the 'therefore' there for? To take you to the next step based on what was just said. Since this is the whole purpose of tongues, "The whole church be come together into one place," and I would just like to mention that there are some people who think the church shouldn't meet together except in homes and little private groups. This verse indicates that the church does come together in one place. "And all speak with tongues," and this is the true gift; it's plural here. If everyone used the true gift of languages, do you know what would happen? "There would come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that you are mad?"
Why would an unbeliever coming into the Corinthian assembly think that they were mad? Well, there are two reasons. Reason number one: if the person was a Gentile, he wouldn't understand the sign of tongues. Reason number two: even if the person was a Jewish unbeliever, the true gift of tongues wouldn't make any sense to him because of the chaotic way in which it was exercised. I tried to point out to you last time that that gift was used in Acts 2 when someone there understood the language. In verse 27, Paul states that when the true gift is used correctly, there would only be two or three people in the entire church who would speak in tongues, and each one would do it in order, not all at the same time.
So, when an unbelieving Gentile came into the Corinthian assembly, he said, "These people are mad!" The Greek word is mainomaiand it is a word that means 'frenzied.' Plato used this word to describe the ecstatic experiences that were involved in pagan worship. In other words, an unbelieving Gentile would enter the Corinthian church and say, "Hey, this is no different than the temple of Diana." And an unbelieving Jew who entered the church would say the same thing. You say, "But tongues were supposed to be a sign to the Jews." Yes, but if it was done in a chaotic fashion where everyone did it, it wouldn't mean anything to them, even if it was the true gift used in the wrong way.
So, the gift of tongues was a specific gift, to be used at a specific time, in a specific way, with a specific person in mind, with a specific intent. Apart from that, its significance is nonexistent. "On the other hand," says Paul, "instead of speaking in tongues in your assembly, prophesy."
Look at verses 24-25. "But if all prophesy [proclaim, prophemi, speak before others, speak the Word of God], and there comes in one that believes not, or one unlearned, he is convicted of all, he is judged of all. And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth."
Tongues are useless to edify either the church or an individual, and they're useless to evangelize. They were simply a pre-evangelism sign to a nation that it had been cursed. So Paul says, "Rather than speaking in tongues, make sure that you are proclaiming God's Word to edification, exhortation, and consolation. Then, when an unbeliever comes in, first, he will be convicted, he will feel guilty. Then he will be judged. The verdict will be rendered that he feels guilty because he is guilty. Then, all of a sudden, the secrets of his heart will be made manifest; his sin will become apparent. It will be unmasked. So then, in humiliation, with a sense of self-condemnation and self-hatred, he will bow on his face and worship God, and say, 'I have found the true God here in your midst.'"
In other words, "You're going to get results if you prophesy." He will see God, and say, "God is here." Beloved, don't we want that to be the case in our fellowship? Don't we want the people who come into our fellowship to see God? We don't want confusion. We want to be obedient to God's pattern. This is a thrilling promise to a church that exalts the proclamation of the Word of God. The impact will be tremendous. But a service of tongues will produce sterility in the congregation and confusion among the visitors.
The gift of tongues was very limited and very regulated, for a day and time that has long since passed. And what we're seeing today, I'm afraid, and I say this with love, but I'm afraid we are seeing the Corinthian perversion all over again. Now, I'm not questioning their motives, I'm just saying that they have the same approach to an individual, private prayer language that was characteristic of the pagan mystery religions. Beloved, I want to exalt the Word of God and lift it up, for therein lie the answers to everything. It is the more sure word of prophecy.
I hope you're devoted to the truth. Someone who I've been patiently discipling for three years called me recently and said, "John, I just had the greatest spiritual breakthrough I've ever had. Something just happened in my life that has dramatically transformed me. I finally understand what you've been saying to me for three years. I want the Word of God so much that it's consuming me." Of course, I was ecstatic on the other end of the line. Then he said, "I just want you to know that if somebody told me I would have to choose between my Bible and food and water, I would tell them to take the food and water and leave my Bible. That's the sustenance that I must have to live." Well, that's great, isn't it? God help all of us to be people of the Book - not seeking the experience but seeking the truth; fruitful in our understanding; and ministering to each other that which edifies and builds up. Let's pray.
Father, it's not easy to talk about these things, because so many dear people don't see this the way we do. In love and kindness to them, we don't accuse them of loving you or not seeking the best, but maybe just not knowing how because they've not been taught properly. Father, we pray that You would somehow use us to help those who are confused in this area. Help us, most of all, to be a loving blessing to all those who are in Your family. Thank You for the great love we've shared this morning in this hour: great music, fellowship, and the truth of Your Word. Thank You for every dear person here - every mom, dad, husband, wife, young person, single person, child. Father, I pray that in each life, the Spirit will bear fruit that remains, that Jesus may receive the glory. It's in His name that we pray, Amen.