We come this morning to 1 Corinthians 13, and I really had intended to go further; but we didn’t get further in the first service, so we’ll stop where we did there just to keep our continuity. But this thirteenth chapter, without really me needing to say anything to you, is one that you recognize; and probably if you’re a Christian and have been for any length of time, you have a great deal of affection for and a great love for because of the tremendous impact that it bears on the greatest thing in all the world, which is the subject of love.
Some people have said that this has to be the greatest and strongest and deepest thing that the apostle Paul ever penned. It is called “the hymn of love.” It has been called a lyrical interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Somebody called it the Beatitudes set to music. It is a dramatic chapter. Studying it is almost like taking apart a flower. I’m not sure that when the flower is apart it’s as beautiful as it was before you did it; but you’ve got to do it to see in intricacy of God’s design. And so we’re going to play spiritual botanists for a few weeks and tear it up a little bit so that we can understand the beauties that are hidden beneath the surface.
What is exciting about the chapter is that it’s a breath of fresh air, in a sense, in the middle of this book. This book is so intensely problem-oriented, it is so negative in so many ways as Paul is attacking the Corinthian assembly for all of the misconduct and the immorality and the failures in their own lives to acquiesce to those principles which God had given for their blessing. And all of these things are sort of set aside as Paul just flies in chapter 13 on wings, as it were, in interpreting and sharing his Holy Spirit-given inspiration on love.
I can imagine that Paul’s amanuensis, or his secretary, who was taking this down in dictation must have done a double-take and looked into his face as he began to dictate 13 because of its dramatic change. It is so different from the rest of the book. It just is a tremendous change in style. It’s lyrical, it’s rhetorical, it’s just totally different than the rest of the book. He has been plodding through problem after problem with deep reasoning and carefully worded arguments and explanations and warnings, and all of a sudden he just hits the rhythm of chapter 13 and it just begins to sing. It’s kind of like a beautiful gem set in a setting, and the setting is fine and the setting is great, but the gem is what makes the setting. And so it is with the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians being the gem of the setting of the whole letter.
But I want to add this, that even though this particular chapter has been treated with a sense of uniqueness – and rightly so – and even though it’s been pulled out and isolated so many times, and preached on as if it were an entity in itself, dropped out of heaven without any connection to anything else, the real power of the chapter is found when you study it in its context. This chapter, I couldn’t make it mean as much to you as it means if I pulled it out and just taught it. Of course, I feel that way about every chapter in the Bible, but particularly this one, because I think it gets abused along that line so very frequently. People just pull it out and teach it, and they miss the power of it, because the power of it comes when you tie it together with the rest of the book – particularly with chapter 12 and 14.
You see, it’s in the middle of a section on spiritual gifts – isn’t it? – 12, 13, and 14. In chapter 12, he discussed the endowments of the gift, the receiving of the gift, the way God has put the gift together in the church, and the way He’s melded it all so it can function. So chapter 12 is the endowment of the gifts; chapter 14, the proper exercise of the gifts: this is how to do it, this is how to do it, this is how not to do it. And right in the middle is the proper energy, or the proper motive, or the proper power, or the proper atmosphere, or the proper environment in which the gift operates – and that is love. So it ties in. It’s part of the more excellent way.
Look at verse 31. Having given them all of the basics about how God has put the gifts in the church, and how they are to be content, and how they are not to feel inadequate and jealous and envious if they don’t have a showy gift; and how, on the other hand, if they do, they’re not to be proud, and selfish, and self-seeking, and boastful. And he says, “Instead of accepting what God has given, you are coveting the showy gifts.” That’s the Greek rendering. It’s an indicative, not an imperative. “You are continuing to covet the showy gifts. But I show unto you a” – what? – “a more excellent way.”
In other words, a more excellent way than coveting the showy gift is to be content with the one you have. A more excellent way than lording it over somebody because you happen to have the gift of speaking or teaching, or whatever, or languages. A more excellent way than being proud is to be loving, and that’s what he talks about in 13 as he describes in beautiful language the more excellent way, which is love.
The Corinthian church had the gifts. The Corinthian church had a lot of things going on, had a lot of activity, but without love it wasn’t excellent; it was counterfeit. And they were selfish, and self-seeking, and operating in the flesh. And so chapter 13 sums up the more excellent way; not conflict in the body, not struggle, not self-seeking, not pride, not even envy, not even jealousy. None of those things have a place, only love, only love.
Now really, as you talk about love, you’re getting into the very heart of Paul’s view of a spiritual life, because love is basic. We could spend weeks and weeks and weeks just about that subject. But what he’s really saying here is this – and I want you to get this, because this is the heart of everything: The truly spiritual life is the only life in which spiritual gifts can truly operate – okay? – and the truly spiritual life is not controlled by the gifts of the Spirit, it is controlled by the fruit of the Spirit. And you have to understand what I’m saying.
Let me say it again. Here are the Corinthians with all the gifts and none of the fruit of the Spirit. And what is the fruit of the Spirit? Galatians 5:22. What’s the first one? Love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. If you don’t have the fruit of the Spirit, then the gifts of the Spirit are functioning in the flesh.
It’s a simple process. The believer walks in the Spirit, the Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit, out of the fruit of the Spirit come the gifts of the Spirit operating in the power of the Spirit. And so it is then that if we do not have the fruit of the Spirit manifest, if love isn’t manifest – and maybe love is the fruit and the rest of those words just describe love in its dimensions – love is certainly the greatest according to 13:13 where he says “the greatest of these is love.” If there’s no love there, then what is coming off and what is being done is being done without the fruit of the Spirit; and if it’s being done without the fruit of the Spirit, it’s being done without the Spirit. It’s in the flesh, it’s fleshly, it’s carnal, it’s counterfeit. And so here are the Corinthians, they’ve got the gifts of the Spirit, and they’re doing their thing in the flesh without the fruit of the Spirit, and Paul says, “When it all gets done, you got nothing.”
Let me read you the first three verses of 13. Listen – and change the word “though” to “if.” The ean here in the Greek is better translated “if” and it reads like this: “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels and have not love, I am become a sounding bronze or a tinkling cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though – or if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains and have not love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned and have not love, it profits me” – what? – “nothing.”
He says all of the gifts of the Spirit and all of the activities mean nothing without the fruit, which is love. Love has to be the driving force, love has to be the motive, love has to be the guts of anything in the life of the believer. You see, it’s possible to have the gifts of the Spirit. It’s not only possible, it’s really true that we have the gifts of the Spirit. And it’s possible to have the gifts of the Spirit without spirituality. You see, having a spiritual gift doesn’t make you spiritual. They can function in your own energy in the flesh as you counterfeit them, or they can function in the power of the Spirit. And without the fruit of the Spirit, it’s in the flesh.
So here are the Corinthians. They’re up there prophesying, and they’re up there speaking in languages, and they’re out there supposedly healing people, and they’re out there doing all their things. The problem is there’s no love, which means there’s no fruit of the Spirit, which means the Spirit isn’t operating, which means the flesh is, which means it’s counterfeit. It’s a tremendously important thing, I think, for us to understand today that God doesn’t want us doing our own thing in our own power, and I think we know that. But let’s see how he unfolds this here.
“Love is the more excellent way.” Now in talking about the word “love,” I think we better define it, because our world hasn’t got the foggiest idea what the word “love” means. It’s a word that in our age cries out for definition. Now let me just give you some thoughts. The word, incidentally, in the Greek is agapē, which is the most grandiose concept of love, it’s the highest level of love, it’s the love that is associated with God. And that’s the term; and the question is, “What does it mean?” Well, let me tell you what it doesn’t mean.
The word “love” as it appears in the Word of God does never mean romantic or sexual love. The Greeks have a word for that, but it isn’t this word; and the word that they do have for that never appears in the New Testament. For example, when it says in Ephesians 5, “Husbands, love your wives,” it isn’t talking about romance. And yet how many sermons have you heard or how many books have you read where a guy says, “Husbands, love your wives,” and then gives four illustrations about opening the car door for her, or buying her flowers, and feeling the old romance and, you know, total woman and all that stuff? But that isn’t what it’s talking about. It isn’t talking about the romance and the sex and all of that. There’s a different word for that.
And another thing. “Love” in the Bible never means emotional love. He’s not talking about a tingly sensation. He’s not talking about sentimentalism. He’s not saying the greatest of these is sentimentality. That too is not scriptural love.
And, thirdly, the word “love” as it appears never means a friendly spirit of tolerance and brotherhood toward others no matter what the convictions are. In other words, it’s ecumenical love. The people who say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what anybody believes as long as there’s some common ground; we just got to love them all.”
Recently there was a certain prayer meeting, and certain people were there of other-than-Christian religions and faith, and somebody asked the director of it, who happened to be a Christian, on what basis they got together, and he said, “Oh, on the basis of love.” “Well, they don’t even believe the truth of the gospel.” “No, we don’t agree on that, but we do agree in prayer. We all pray, and that’s our common ground.” Even if we don’t pray to the same person, I guess, it’s okay. But, you see, that kind of friendly spirit of tolerance and brotherhood without any thought of conviction or doctrine isn’t what the Bible’s talking about.
And I’ll add a third thing: It doesn’t mean charity. And, unfortunately, by virtue of the introduction of the Latin term in the King James, we came up with love as charity. You have that in the old Authorized, charity all the way through. But it is not talking about, you know, giving your nickel to the United Fund; that isn’t the basic thrust of the chapter or of the term.
So if it isn’t romantic, or sexual, or emotional, or the friendly spirit of ecumenical tolerance, or charity, what in the world is love? What is it? Well, I’ll show you what it is biblically. Turn in your Bible to John chapter 3, verse 16. You remember this one. John 3:16. Now watch this work out. Now see if any of these other definitions fit.
“For God so loved the world” that He felt romantic about it? That He got a tingly sensation down His spine? That He had a friendly spirit of tolerance and brotherhood, no matter what they believed? That He gave to the United Fund? No. “God so loved the world that He” – what? – “gave His only begotten Son.”
What is love? Love is an act of self-sacrifice. Love is not a feeling. And biblically, you see this again and again and again and again: love is an act of self-sacrifice. There’s no such thing as agapé without action. There’s no such thing as agapé as a feeling, or as an emotion, or as a sensation. It is an action. And the sensation may or may not be there, but the action is there.
Go further to the thirteenth of John, the thirteenth chapter, and you’ll see the same thing. And you can support it on your own as you chase around in your Bible, you’ll see it’s continually this. But John 13:1, Jesus meets with His disciples for that last time – and we’ve studied this chapter – and he says, John does, “Jesus loved His own which were in the world, and He loved them unto the end.” Literally, in the Greek, He loved them to perfection, He loved them to the limits of love, He loved them all the way as far as love could go.
Now, then, in response to loving totally and loving purely and loving to the limit, what’s He going to do? Well, in verse 4, He rises from supper, lays aside His garments, took a towel, girded Himself, poured water into a basin, began to wash the disciples’ feet, and wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. He loved them, and His love took action. What did it do? It washed their dirty feet while they sat around and argued about who was the greatest in the kingdom, and who was going to get to sit near Jesus in the millennium; and they weren’t about to wash each other’s feet. Jesus stooped and did it, and loved them.
Now you go over to verse 34, and you find this thing really comes home hard. At the end of the same chapter, He says, “A new commandment I give you: that you love one another” – how? – “as I have loved you.” Now had He just loved them? By washing their feet. You see, it’s the same thing that He’s asking of us. Love is an act of self-sacrifice. It is an act of sacrificial giving. It’s washing feet. It’s giving your Son.
Go to John 15, verse 9 and you see it again. “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you. Continue ye in My love.” “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you.” How had He loved them? By coming into the world and dying for them.
Now verse 10: “If you keep My commandments, then you abide in My love.” In other words, love, then, toward God is the act of self-sacrifice of my will to do His Will; that’s it. It’s an act of self-sacrifice.
Go down to verse 13. Here is the supreme example. “Greater love has no man than this.” In other words, here is the greatest definition of love that is ever given; this is it. You want somebody to give you a definition of love? This is the greatest that’s ever been given. “A man lay down his” – what? – “his life for his friends.”
The greatest definition of love is an act of supreme self-sacrifice. That’s the way it always is in the Scripture. That’s the way it always appears. If you go to John, in the gospel of John, you see it in chapter 21 – we won’t take the time – you see the same thing with Peter. “You love Me, Peter, then follow Me, and it’ll cost you your life.” If you go to 1 John chapter 4 verses 8 to 11, “God loved us,” – how do we know? – “because He gave His Son to die for us to be the propitiation for our sins.” In other words, God’s love is demonstrated in an act of self-sacrifice; so is ours.
Now when we talk about love, that’s what we’re talking about. It is the act of self-sacrifice. It is humility. It is saying that I want to meet your need, that I want to do what God wants me to do. There’s no self-seeking in there. There’s no pride. There’s no selfishness. There’s no self-glory. There’s no vanity there.
But, you know, we can minister our gifts in pride to be famous. I can preach to be famous or try to be famous; might not work out too well. I can preach for fame, or success, or glory, or prestige. I can preach to be accepted. You can do the same. You can minister your gift because of peer pressure; everybody else is doing it and you feel you want to belong, so you crank up and do yours. You can minister whatever gifts you have to get out from under a divine obligation that’s bugging you, and so you’re paying your dues to God. You can minister your gifts so somebody will pat you on your spiritual back and tell you how great you are. So can I.
In other words, there are a myriad of other reasons or motives that we could have, but there’s only one that’s legitimate: I minister because I do it out of the sacrifice of myself to the Will of God and the sacrifice of my life to the needs of my brothers and sisters. That’s the only legitimate reason. Nothing else matters. And anything else adds up to zero. You are nothing, you are nothing, you are nothing. You’re nothing but noise, a banging gong and a clanging symbol. So that’s what he’s talking about.
Now let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 13, if you’re not still there, and now when he’s calling on these people to love, he’s saying, “Forget yourself.” When he said to the Philippians, “Have the same love,” he then defined it as “let each man look on the other and not on himself.” Be like Christ who thought it not something to hold onto to be equal with God but stripped it, became a man, humbled Himself, and died for us. That’s love. The love is the act of humility in service and self-sacrifice.
And, boy, this is what the Corinthian church needed, believe me, they needed it. They didn’t have a doctrinal problem. Do you realize that he doesn’t even mention any doctrine of any significance until he gets to the fifteenth chapter when he talks about resurrection? But up until that time, he didn’t have to straighten them out like he did the Colossians and the Galatians and so forth on their doctrine. These people had that, they just didn’t have love.
Now as we look at this chapter in terms of love, we’re going to see some very poignant things. The chapter falls into four parts, and we’ll be looking at these four parts over the next few weeks: the prominence of love, the properties of love, the permanence of love, and the preeminence of love. The prominence of love, we find in verses 1 to 3; the properties of love, in verses 4 to 7; the permanence of love, verses 8 to 12; and 13, that beautiful statement on the preeminence of love. But for today, we’ll just begin to look at the prominence of love; and he starts out by trying to show how important love is and how the Corinthians are wasting their time.
You remember the church at Ephesus? Remember what he said to the church at Ephesus: “You have this, and you have this; and you do this, and you do this, and you do this. But I have something against you, because you have left your” – what? – “your first love.” You got all that activity without any love, and it adds up to meaninglessness; and the church at Ephesus was removed from the face of the earth – wasn’t it? – never to be replaced again. And there isn’t one there to this day. The candlestick was taken away.
Now I want you to keep in mind that as we study these three verses in the next two weeks, remember that Paul is using hyperbole. In order to make his point, he exaggerates, and he pushes everything to its ultimate limit. For example, he says, “If I could talk with the language of men and angels” – if I knew angel talk – “it wouldn’t matter without love.” And he says, “If I had all mysteries, and all knowledge, and all faith, and bestowed all my goods, and gave my body” – in other words, everything is extreme, it’s pushed to its limits to make his point that it doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter what you know, it doesn’t matter how far you go. Unless love is the motive, it’s all nothing.
Now let’s look at what he says. And on your outline there, I gave you a whole list of things, and we only got to the first one. First one is this, in the first little section, verses 1 to 3: Languages without love are nothing. Languages without love are nothing.
Now verse 1 says: “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become a sounding bronze, or a tinkling cymbal.” Now this introduces us – someone said to me after the first service, “Why do you talk about the Charismatic people? Why do you talk about that movement?” Well, the reason I talk about it is because it’s in this verse that we have to talk about the gift of languages. And so we’ll attempt to talk about it from a biblical standpoint, not just bring up an issue to be fighting against a movement. I would feel very badly if what you got out of this sermon was we’re right and there’s a movement around that’s wrong. What you want to get out of this message is what God is trying to say to you here about the way you function within the body of Christ; that’s the key. But we will cover some other ground so that you’ll understand what’s being said, and you will have answers for those that might want to confuse you.
All right, having said all of that – which probably doesn’t make any sense to you, but does to me; I feel better – verse 1. We get into verse 1, okay? “If I speak with the languages of men and angels.” Notice Paul puts it in the first person; and that’s a good thing to do when you’re a teacher, so that you identify as one who is also a sinner saved by grace, and able to fall into any sin that anybody else could fall into. Paul says, “I, just like you, could do it without love. I could do it without love. I could use my gift of languages.”
And, incidentally, he did have that gift, according to chapter 14 verse 18, he said, “I thank my God I speak with languages more than you all.” So he said, “I could fall into this. I could have the languages of men and even talk angel talk; and if I didn’t have love, I would become a sounding bronze and a tinkling cymbal.”
Now notice the phrase “speak with the tongues or languages of men and angels.” In the first place, I like to translate the word there “languages” not “tongues,” because that gives some confusion that can be eliminated very quickly. The word is the word for languages, so we translate it that way. The gift of languages. Now he says, “with the languages of men and of angels.”
Now we have to stop here for a minute. We’ve covered every spiritual gift except this one; but now we’re going to have to cover it, because we’re getting into 13 and 14. And I didn’t want to create an issue when it wasn’t necessary to just talk about this gift; but now that we’re here, we’re going to need to get into it, so I want you to just kind of think along with me. We can’t cover everything today, some loose ends are going to be there; and if you’ll stay with us until we get to the end of chapter 14, you won’t need to ask questions, because we’ll try to cover all of them. But let’s just look at this idea of the languages of men.
What does it mean to speak with the languages of men? What is the gift of languages? We’ve seen all the other gifts, now we’re going to briefly look at this one, we’ll cover it in great detail in the fourteenth chapter.
But let me say this for this morning. The New Testament is exceedingly clear on what this gift was. There isn’t any doubt about it, I don’t think, in my mind there isn’t; and I think as you study the Word of God, you’ll find that it’s relatively simple to ascertain what this gift was. It isn’t that difficult. Let me take you to its first occurrence in Acts chapter 2 and see what it is, and get a basic definition. Acts chapter 2.
Now in verse 1 of Acts 2, we find that the great day of Pentecost had arrived, a great period of time following the Passover, a feast time, a time when Jerusalem was loaded with people who had come on a pilgrimage to the festivals. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” The 120 were gathered, waiting for the promise of the Father, which is the Holy Spirit to come; and the church was about to be born. And you know what happened. “There came a sound from heaven like a rushing, mighty wind and it filled all the house where they were sitting, and there appeared unto them cloven tongues like fire,” – some kind of a thing that appeared on top, sitting upon each of the individuals, looking like a tongue of fire; not necessarily actual fire but appearing as a fire, in the similitude of fire – “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other languages as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Here, the Holy Spirit descends. The Holy Spirit baptizes the believers into the body. The Holy Spirit moves into the lives of the believers. The Holy Spirit fills the believers; and to give evidence of that, there was a marvelous miracle that took place as they began to speak in languages under the uttering of the Holy Spirit.
Now, other languages. The word “languages” here is glōssa, it is the word for language. It is the normal, normative Greek word for language. They spoke other languages. Now there are some people today who say that the gift of tongues is ecstatic babble, it is a prayer language. I’ve even heard many who say it’s your own private language, you get your own language, your own private language. But let’s look into this and see if that is in fact true or not true.
“They began to speak with other languages.” Now what is this? Is it babble or is it not? Well, it’s easy to find out, just keep reading. “There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men out of every nation under heaven. And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, were amazed because every man heard them speak in his own language.”
There’s no question about the fact that they are languages. That has to be. “Everybody heard in his own language. They were amazed, and they marveled, and they said, ‘Behold, are not all these who speak Galileans?’” Now Galilee was, you know, that was like – those were like the hayseeds, you know, the hicks who lived in Galilee. I mean they weren’t connected to the highfalutin stuff in Jerusalem. And how could Galileans be linguists? I mean they don’t even have schools up there to teach this stuff.
“So they were just amazed, and they hear every man in his own tongue or language” – verse 8 – and then he lists them. What language did they speak? First, he starts in the east with the Parthians, and the Medes, and the Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia. Then he goes west to Judea. And he goes north to Cappadocia, and Pontus, and Asia, and Phrygia, and Pamphylia, and Egypt. And now he’s south in the parts of Libya, Cyrene. And then he gets very general in Rome, and Cretans, and Arabians. “And they all spoke in our languages the wonderful works of God.”
Well, it even tells you what they were; they were languages. What languages were they? They were the languages of the Parthians, the Medes, the Elamites, the Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, and on and on and on – languages. That has to be what he’s saying. “We hear them” – verse 11 – “in our own languages.”
What did they say? The wonderful works of God. Let me ask you this: How would they know it was the wonderful works of God if they didn’t speak it in their language? They wouldn’t know what it was. The fact that they knew what it was, the fact that they recognized their own language, it’s languages. It isn’t babble. It isn’t ecstatic speech. It isn’t everybody with his own private little thing that you do in the closet all by yourself. It was languages – bona fide human languages.
Now I want to show you that the gift of languages was always languages, and never anything else, because that’s an important point for you to understand, because that’s what the Bible says. Now I could probably give you about twenty or twenty-five reasons that languages are always in view; but we don’t have time to do that, so I’ll give you ten, briefly. Okay?
First of all, the word glōssa. The word glōssa, from which we get glossolalia, which is a word that’s found its way into English without being translated and means “tongues.” But the word glóssa means human language. It means human language. It always biblically means human language. New Testament, yes. Old Testament, in the Greek Old Testament, or the Septuagint, its meaning is “normal, bona fide human language.”
Only two times in the Septuagint does the word glóssa appear when it doesn’t mean normal human language; and those two times – Isaiah 29:24 and Isaiah 32:4 – it doesn’t mean ecstatic speech, it doesn’t mean pagan babble, it simply means a stammering or a stuttering. But the normative, except for those two occasions, is intelligent, normal human language. That’s the way it appears in Acts chapter 2, glóssa, because that’s what its normal meaning is.
Further, the word dialektos, from which we get the English word “dialect,” also appears in Acts 2:6 and 8. There you have the word “dialect.” Some of them heard in their own language; some in a dialect, which is a subgroup of a language. So they were speaking languages and dialects; that’s very clear. Those classifications would never be used if babble, or ecstatic speech, or some kind of spiritual gobbledygook, or the kind of pagan speech that was normative to pagan cults was being done. But rather they were normal languages and dialects known to the people who heard.
And then you hear people say, “Well, yes, we agree with that in the book of Acts. But as it goes along further, it changes.” No, it doesn’t change. If you look at Acts chapter 10, and verse 44 and following there, “The Holy Spirit fell on them who heard the word, and they of the circumcision who believed were astonished as many as came with Peter, because on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit; for they heard them speak with” – what? – “languages.” Now you can’t say, “Well, now, by now it’s turned into babble.” No. It’s languages; it’s the same word.
And further, look at chapter 11 verse 15. Peter reporting back to Jerusalem says this of that incident I just read. He says, “As I began to speak,” – in Cornelius’ house there, in chapter 10 – “the Holy Spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord that He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you’d be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ For as much then as God gave them the” – what? The what? – “same gift.” He gave them the – what? – the same gift. Peter said, “They got the same thing we got. What did we get? Languages. What did they get? Languages.” Had to be the same; it was the same thing. And it proceeds to be that way throughout.
So when you come to chapter 19 of Acts and you find a similar situation, again you can translate it “languages,” that’s its point. Chapter 19 verse 6: “And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came, and they spoke with languages.” Same term, means the same thing in the same book. There’s no reason to think it means babble.
So throughout the book of Acts, there is a complete consistency insofar as the fact that they spoke normal human language. And the point was, you see, once it happened in Jerusalem, the Jews said, “We received the Holy Spirit in this marvelous thing.” Well, God said, “That’s nothing; so did the Gentiles.” And He put the church together. “And that’s nothing, chapter 19; so did the disciples of John the Baptist.” And the Lord is giving all groups the same experience to weld the whole church into one unit; and it has to be the same.
All right, let me give you another reason that I believe it’s always languages. In 1 Corinthians 12, verse 10, you see this word, the end of verse 10, you see there genē glōssōn, kinds of languages. And then you see “to another, the interpretation of languages.” Do you see that? Hermēneuō, for you Greek students. It means “translation.” It simply means translation.
So notice now – stay with me on this – he gave the kinds of languages, and to another the translation of languages. That is the normative Greek word for translation, for translating. It can’t be babble then, because you can’t translate babble; it’s not any language. And so what people today have done, they say the gift of interpretation, and they try to interpret somebody’s babble. But the Greek word means translation, and translating is taking something in one language and putting into its equivalent in a known language. And you can’t translate babble. So the very word that is used demands that a language be in view.
Further, the word in chapter 14, “unknown” – do you see it? – unknown here and unknown there. It’s in verse 2, and it goes on, “unknown, unknown.” It’s always in italics. You know what that means? That means it was added by our friends on the King James committee, to whom we are not indebted for that particular act. But they added it, but it isn’t in the original.
Now I want you to notice too that in chapter 12, verse 10, you have “kinds of languages, kinds of languages, kinds of languages.” The word “kinds” is basically the word genos from which we get “genus.” And “genus” means a family, or a group, or a race, or a nation.
You can’t say there are kinds and races and classes and groups and families of babble, of ecstatic speech; there aren’t any classifications. But there are language families, aren’t they? Any of you who know linguistics know there are language families. There are national languages, racial languages. So it fits, it has to be language.
In chapter 14, verse 21, another reason we know it to be languages. “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.’” Now Isaiah predicted this – Isaiah 28:11 and 12. Isaiah predicted that men of other languages would speak to Israel.
You know who fulfilled that? The Assyrians. Do you know what they spoke? Assyrian. So the prophecy had reference to a known language, Assyrian spoken by Assyrians. And that is the normative standard. He says, “That’s the thing that’s happening today in the legitimacy of languages. It is another language being spoken to the people.” And it was normative to be a language since its example was a real language.
Look at verse 7 of chapter 14: “Even things without life,” – he says – “like flutes and harps, unless they give a distinction in the sound, how is it going to be known what’s piped or harped? And if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who’s going to prepare it to battle?”
Can you imagine the U.S. Calvary out to fight the Indians, and a guy just goes out and blows any old few notes he wants? They wouldn’t know what to do. It’s got to be “da-da, da-da-da,” or whatever they did. You know, “Hit the horses, guys,” you know. They knew what the deal was. It’s got to be the right thing. You get into the service, you know what means what. If the guy got out in the morning and just blew a few notes of his own choice, nobody would know what’s going on. It’s got to have structure; it’s got to have format; it’s got to have distinction.
And that’s the point that he’s saying. Languages has to have structural distinction to make sense, it can’t just be this pagan babble. And as I told you earlier, what had happened was, the Corinthians had translated the ecstasies and the babble and the speaking in these strange ecstatic languages that were no language; they had translated that into their church, and they had counterfeited the true gift of languages with this ecstasy that was tripping them out and turning their worship service into an orgy.
Look at verse 23 of 14. This is another very salient point; and we’ll be covering it in future detail. But it says, “If the whole church comes together to one place, and you all speak with languages, and somebody comes in who is unlearned or an unbeliever, will they not say you’re mad?” In other words, he says, “If you have all of this wild hysteria going on, if everybody’s up doing his own gig, you’re going to have some problems, because unbelieving people are just going to think you’re nuts. It’s not going to have any effect on them. Why?
Now, listen. The amazement element – and we’ll cover this in greater detail in the future. But the amazement element for non-Christian Jews attending their services depended upon the fact that the thing that was spoken was a real language, and then it was translated miraculously so that they would see it as a sign from God. In other words, the effectiveness of the sign of the language sign depended on its difference from the ecstatic babble that they were so used to.
So it had to be that in a Corinthian assembly, the genuine thing was a true language with a true translation; and that was the miracle. If all they heard was babble, they wouldn’t be able to say anything but, “This is just the same old pagan hysteria.” So this is a Spirit-given ability to speak a foreign language. Now you know what the gift was; and I’ll stop there in terms of definition.
Now when you bring that into today, people, and you take that as the format for what language is as a gift, and you put that today and match it up with what’s going on, you’ve got some problems; because, you know, I’ve been reading books in the last few months, books – and they tell you how to get your own prayer language. And you can have one that’s like nobody else’s; or if you want, you can share somebody else’s when you’re first learning until you develop your own, and on and on and on; and it’s ecstatic, and it’s babble, and it has no structure, and it has no grammar, and it is no language. You see, the problem is it just doesn’t fit. It just doesn’t fit.
William Samarin, a Ph.D. in linguistics and professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto, says this: “Over a period of five years, I have taken part in meetings in Italy, Holland, Jamaica, Canada, and the United States. I have observed old-fashioned Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals. I have been in small meetings at private homes, as well as in mammoth public meetings. I have seen such different cultural settings as are found among the Puerto Ricans of the Bronx, the snake handlers of the Appalachians, Russian Molokans in Los Angeles, et cetera. I have interviewed tongue-speakers, and tape-recorded and analyzed countless samples of tongues. In every case, glossolalia turns out to be linguistic nonsense. In spite of superficial similarities, glossolalia is fundamentally not language.” End quote.
Now here’s a man whose made a study. And there are many others that we could talk about; and what they say is that what you’re hearing today is not language. And I say, if it’s not language, then it’s not what the Bible says the gift is. It’s simply that. And I would also hasten to add that even if once in a while it is language, you better be careful, because demons are multilingual, and there are many counterfeits.
Now the question that always comes – and this gets us back into our verse, which we probably ought to do before we quit – 1 Corinthians chapter 13, verse 1. This gets us back. But this is the question that comes up. And as I’m speaking in love, believe me, this is a concern, not that you be browbeating somebody or lording it over or feel superior, but that we understand these principles, because this is God’s truth, and it deserves clear understanding.
But in verse 1, what they say is, “Oh, yes, we’ll accept that. Those are the languages of men. But what about the languages of angels?” He says here, “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels.” You see, there is an angelic language. You can go beyond the human and gain that angelic; and that’s the private, devotional language that’s your angel language. So you have both.
Well, let me answer that briefly, because time doesn’t permit us to go too far. But let me answer it very briefly. What is he saying? First of all, if you’re going to make angel talk here normative for the gift of languages, you’re going to have to work it into this verse, because it’s nowhere else in the whole Bible. There is no precedent anywhere. There is no mention any place of this. In fact, anytime an angel ever communicated with a man, he communicated in normal human language. The only kind of language we know about, apart from human language, is the language between the Holy Spirit and the Father recorded in Romans 8, and that’s groanings, which cannot be – what? – uttered. That is a silent language.
You say, “Do you think the angels speak a silent language?” Well, angels are ministering – what? – spirits. And spirits don’t have mouths, and neither do spirits have vocal chords. So you say, “Well, what do they have? Little feelers that send out messages like ants or something?” I don’t know what they have, but they have whatever they have. You can’t even find such a thing as an angel language.
Well, you say, “Well, what is Paul saying?” All you need to understand is this: He is not necessarily stating a factual reality; this is part of his hyperbole, this is part of his exaggeration, this is part of his push-to-the-limits. And you will notice throughout the rest of this, if you have your Greek handy there – and some of you that do; for the rest of you, don’t worry about it, you know. If you’ve got all that stuff, then you don’t need me, and I’m out of a job.
But, anyway, for those of you who do, you will note that there are subjunctive verbs that appear throughout verses 2 and 3. And subjunctive, when it’s used, indicates the improbable situation, or the hypothetical situation – better way to put it.
And so it’s a hypothetical thing. He is pushing it out to its limits. For example, he says in verse 2, “If I understand all mysteries.” Is that possible? Is it possible for Paul to understand all mysteries? All that’s ever been revealed by God? No. “And if I have all knowledge.” Is it possible for him to have the knowledge of every single fact in the universe? Well, that’s absurd. “And if I have all faith so that I could say, ‘Remove this mountain and it would be removed.’” Listen, if Paul had that faith, he wouldn’t have gotten sick climbing the mountains from Pamphylia to Phrygia, believe me. He would have just said, “Please?” you know.
No. He didn’t have all faith, all knowledge, or all mysteries. And, beloved, if he didn’t have it, I’m a long way from having it. See, the point is, he’s talking in limits. He’s making hypothetical situations here, and what he’s really saying is simple here. He is not saying that you could speak the language of angels any more than that you could have all mysteries, or all knowledge, or all faith. You couldn’t; those are beyond your limits.
But he’s saying even if you could, they wouldn’t matter without love. Why, if I knew all of human language and I could talk angel talk, without love it wouldn’t mean a thing. So that’s his point. He’s simply saying this gift used without love is noise. It’s just noise. It’s in the flesh.
The purpose of the gift of languages? You say, “John, what was its purpose?” We’ll get into that in chapter 14. Its purpose is very simple. It was a sign. It was a sign to Israel. The only time it ever had any meaning to a Christian at all was when it was translated; that’s the only time.
And then, people, how could you go into a corner and speak babble in the first place? That isn’t the gift. And in the second place, if you didn’t interpret it, it couldn’t have any edification. And yet people do that, and they say this builds them up, this strengthens them, this is their devotions. How? It isn’t the right gift as the Bible defines it and it doesn’t have translation, so you don’t even know what you’re saying anyway. It’s a sign.
So, you see, it isn’t for personal edification or devotion. As we shall see, it’s a sign to Israel – we’ll see that in the fourteenth chapter – and it’s a sign of God turning away from them to the church, the Gentiles. So no matter if you have the gift of languages, no matter how far it goes, “Even if you could talk angel talk, without love” – look at the end of verse 1 – “without love you are sounding bronze and a tinkling cymbal.”
You want to hear something interesting? I was reading three different books on the history of the time trying to find out what was going on in the pagan worship of that day. And you know what I found? This is very fascinating.
In the rites of Cybele and Dionysus – which were very common to that part of the world, two of their false gods. But in the worship of Cybele and Dionysus, there was speaking in ecstatic languages – listen to this – accompanied by clanging cymbals, smashing gongs, and blaring trumpets. Amazing. Amazing. He is saying to them this: “When you go about trying to operate your spiritual gifts in the flesh, no matter how good you are at it, no matter how far it goes, if love isn’t the motive, it’s a pagan rite, that’s all it is. It’s no different. It’s no different. It’s just paganism, pure and simple. No better.”
Unless gifts are ministered out of the power of the Spirit, through the fruit of the Spirit, in the energy of the Spirit, in accord with the Word of God written by the Spirit, it’s just pagan racket, noise, banging gongs, clanging cymbals, blaring trumpets. It’s just paganism. All you’ve got is paganism within the walls of the church.
Now, people, those are strong terms, aren’t they? Let me carry that to its logical end and I’ll close. The best speech of earth, the best orator, the most gifted person without love is nothing but racket. And we may go out to minister; if we do it in the flesh apart from the Spirit and the love that the Spirit generates, it is absolutely nothing; it means nothing. It is just paganism with Christian terminology.
And we can’t sit in condemnation of people in a movement we disagree with and say that they’re the ones that are pagan, because I’m afraid sometimes we’re the ones that are just as pagan, as we’re out there operating our gifts in the flesh too. God help us not to do that. It’s simple: we back up, we walk in the Spirit, He produces fruit. Out of that fruit comes the ministry of the gifts with the blessing of God. Well, let’s pray.
Thank You, Father, again this morning for a clear word to us. And, Father, as we talk about this this morning, may it be a reality in our lives that we have love. Teach us to love. Teach us to draw so close to You, to so touch You, that Your love transforms us, and transfers itself to us. Help us to love the way You love. Help us to see people the way You see them. Help us to weep like You wept. Help us to have broken hearts like Your heart was broken.
And, Father, we pray that we might be able to touch people in love, that we might be able to be obedient to You because we love You, that we might make sacrifices of ourself and our will for You and for others, that, God, the service that we render might not just be noise, it might not just be paganism, but it might be truly the work of the Spirit in the power of the Spirit for the glory of the Son. We pray in His blessed name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.