We’re looking at 1 Corinthians chapter 13. First Corinthians chapter 13, back to the great love chapter, and what fascination this chapter holds for us. We have already studied the first two emphases in the chapter, the prominence of love in the first three verses, the perfections of love in the next four verses, verses 4 through 7, and now we come to a section on the permanence of love - the permanence of love. And Paul opens this section on the permanence of love in verse 8 with a familiar, grand, climactic statement, “Love never fails.”
We have already learned that if you could speak the languages of men and angels and didn’t have love, you’d be a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. If you had the knowledge of prophecy and the gift to communicate and knew all mysteries and all knowledge and had all faith - those are all hyperbolic expressions - enough faith to move mountains but were void of love, you would be nothing. And if you made the ultimate sacrifice of giving all your possessions to feed the poor and surrendering your own body to be burned, it wouldn’t profit you anything apart from love. Such is the nature of love, that it is the preeminent virtue.
We have seen the definition of love. It is defined in fifteen statements about love that are all verbal statements because love can only be understood in action. Love is kind, is not jealous, does not brag, is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
And having said that, we come now to the permanence of love. Love never fails. Love lasts. It has to because God is love, and as eternal as God is, so eternal is that which is true of God. The reason for this chapter’s settling down in this letter to the Corinthians is that the Corinthian church needed to be brought to a new appreciation for love, a new concentration on love. They were, frankly, exhibiting the very opposite.
They were an unloving and rancorous and divided group of people. They lived in that wicked city - kind of the Vanity fair of the ancient world. They had come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but they had managed to hang onto old behaviors. It was life in Corinth that was marked by materialism, antagonism, competition, selfishness, hatred, sexual immorality, and on and on the list could go. Those things had been so embedded into their lives that they were having a difficult time shedding them. They were, therefore, not being wholly influenced, not being salt and light in Corinth; rather, Corinth was salting them.
They had behaved carnally - or, that is, they had functioned in the flesh. They had demonstrated worldliness. They were indulgent. They were selfish. They were contentious. They were vengeful. They were proud. They were compromising. The whole spirit of Corinth had still permeated the church. It was kind of evangelism in reverse. Instead of the church influencing Corinth, Corinth was influencing the church. And Paul’s letter (both his first letter and his second letter and at least two other letters not recorded in Scripture but mentioned in Scripture) addressed this influence.
He made it clear that what was happening to the Corinthian church was inexcusable. It happened because the church was feebly trying to resist the avalanche of corruption by carnal methods, and being unwilling to abandon its own cherished sins, put itself in a position to be seriously invaded and corrupted. It was so bad that the actual gifts of the Holy Spirit were being falsified and corrupted and counterfeited, as we find out in chapter 12.
And at the heart of all of this, Paul says, is the lack of love - the lack of love. This comes to clarity as you read through 1 Corinthians because you find out that what characterized these people really comes down to hostility toward each other. They resented each other. They split into factions against each other. They argued with each other. They sued each other. They shut each other out from their private groups. They sexually violated each other. They boasted against each other.
They even despised each other in marriage, they divorced each other. They had perverted the proper place of women. They had withheld food from those in need. They had corrupted the love feast. They had abused the Lord’s Table, offended each other, fought with each other for prominence, even in the use of spiritual gifts, so that their worship service was completely out of order and chaotic as they scrambled to get on top of the heap and be the most spiritual.
All of this is defined as loveless behavior. They were opposed to loving each other because they were so devoted to raising their own flag. This is a tragic situation in a church, when people are competing rather than loving, when they are proud rather than humble. As I told you last time, only humble people love - only humble people love. This is, then, an indictment of them in chapter 13. At the same time, it is a masterpiece inspired by the Holy Spirit through the pen of the apostle Paul.
Now let’s come to this section, verses 8 through 12, on the permanence of love. It begins with the statement, “Love never fails.” The rest of verses 8 actually through 13 telescopes into that statement or, if you will, comes out of that statement. The rest of this chapter is the reason for and the nature of unfailing love, as if the perfections of verses 4 through 7 were insufficient to declare the majesty of love, as if those perfections somehow were insufficient to declare the virtue of this love, the description now climbs to even greater heights. Love never fails.
Sometimes you read that translated, “Love never falls,” and it could be translated that way. What it means is it never collapses into decay. It never disintegrates. It will never be abolished. The literal meaning could be love never falls to the ground, perhaps like the petals of a dead flower fall because there’s no life left, only decay. Love never does that because there’s no decay in it. Love will outlast everything.
That tells us that love will be the dominant relational reality throughout eternal ages in the presence of God. Love never fails. This is a time word, that literally, love not even at any time fails. The word carries the weight of eternity on its back. Someday love will be the only thing left. Verse 13, “Now abides faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” It is the greatest because it is that which is eternal. Faith will disappear when all is sight. Hope will disappear when all is fulfillment. Love will never disappear. It is the one great thing that history doesn’t change and even death doesn’t change and even eternity can’t change.
There have been misunderstandings of this phrase, love never fails. There are those people who think that this has to do with some expression of human love that indicates to us that when you’re having problems, love always triumphs over trouble. That’s not Paul’s point. Some people think this means love will always succeed, it wins out in every situation. It sort of triumphs in human relationships. Well, it is true that love is the best of all virtues within the framework of human relations, but that’s not what Paul is talking about.
He would never make such a claim which was so easily disproved. He had seen love fail many, many times. He had seen love fail in people’s families, in people’s marriages. He had seen it fail in the church. He had seen people who named the name of Christ, who had embraced the love of God in Christ, who had had the love of Christ shed abroad in their hearts, as he describes it in Romans 5, who were characterized by an utter absence of love. Love surely had failed in their lives.
Even Jesus didn’t find love always successful on a human level. He treated everybody he met with unfailing love. He treated everybody he met with magnanimous and generous love, and it didn’t always triumph, didn’t always win. Paul’s love for the church didn’t always triumph their carnality. Our Lord’s love for people, His love for Israel, His love for the sick and the dying and the hungry and the poor and the needy and the demon-possessed didn’t always triumph over their love of sin, over their carnality, over their selfishness. They spurned it, walked out of His presence into the darkness of an eternally loveless existence.
Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler of whom the New Testament says, “And Jesus seeing him, loved him”? The love that Jesus extended to him in the conversation he had with that young man was not enough to overpower that man’s love of money. Love didn’t work with Judas. He betrayed Jesus with as ugly an action as could be conceived - a kiss.
Many a husband and wife can bear testimony to the failure of love. Many a mom and dad could bear testimony to the failure of love, having poured out love to their children and having their children turn on them, rebel against them, shun them and embrace everything they warned them against, severing the family, sometimes permanently.
I agree, Christian love has hope for success. It’s the best thing. If anything can triumph, it’s love. But it doesn’t always because it can be spurned and rejected. In basic Christian ethics, Paul Ramsey observes that, “I love you,” in this culture usually means “I love me and I want you.” One writer gives the account of a minister who received a rather hectic phone call from a young lady who said to him, “Pastor, what shall I do? There is a man who loves me so much that he has said to me that if I don’t marry him, he will shoot himself. What do I do?”
The pastor said, “Nothing, let him shoot himself.” Good advice because what the young man is saying is “I love me and I want you.” Such a threat is not love, it’s pure selfishness, pure lust, pure desire, or whatever ugly word you want to establish.
True Christian love is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t always succeed. That’s not the point here. He is simply saying that love as a reality lasts forever, not that it always wins, not that it always triumphs, but rather that it will never disappear in contrast to other things that will disappear. And in order to make that contrast clear, he picked some very, very important things.
Go back to verse 8 again. “If there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away. If there are tongues, languages, they will cease. If there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. Now, the Corinthians are very, very enamored by these spiritual gifts. The gifts that are indicated, you find back in the twelfth chapter. There were many gifts given to believers.
Go back to verse 7, “To each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good; for to one is given the word of wisdom; that is, a Spirit-given ability to understand wisdom through the Spirit. To another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit, the Spirit-given ability to know the truth, wisdom being to know its application. To another, faith; that is, to trust in the midst of challenging circumstances, coming by the same Spirit. To another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit. To another, the effecting of miracles. To another, preaching, proclaiming.
To another, distinguishing of spirits, discernment. To another, various kinds of languages. To another, the interpretation of those languages. The one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually, just as He wills.” They were especially enamored by those gifts which were public gifts, not the quiet gifts, not the behind-the-scenes gifts. They were drawn to those gifts which were public and which were obviously supernatural because they were connected to divine revelation or divine power.
And they were proudly using them and even falsifying them, counterfeiting them. Paul says, “You’ve got your emphasis on the wrong thing. These things are only temporary. Love is forever.” So what he says, then, in the verses that we’re going to look at, verses 8 to 13, gifts are temporal, gifts are partial, and gifts are elemental - temporal, partial, elemental. This is a very rich passage, by the way, a very rewarding one, and it draws us into a controversy so we have to cover it with some care. Okay?
Point number one. Gifts are temporal; love is eternal. What are you saying? Verse 8, “Prophecy will be done away, languages will cease, knowledge will be done away.” That is to say, those marvelous things, preaching, proclaiming the revelation of God, giving people the knowledge of divine truth, the miraculous gift of languages, those things are only for a limited time. They belong to the earth. They belong to a limited purpose and a limited period. Love is indispensable in the use of those gifts.
That’s why in verse 1 it says, “If you had human languages and angelic languages but didn’t have love, you’d be nothing but noise. If you knew the truth, knew all mysteries, if you had all faith, if you had the gift of prophecy, all knowledge, and had not love, you’re nothing.” So love is indispensable in the use of the gifts. In fact, the gifts without love are useless. The Corinthians actually prized the showy gifts. Go back to verse 31, and I want to remind you of that, 12:31. It says in the NAS, “But earnestly desire the greater gifts.”
That sounds like an imperative. Actually, in the Greek language, the form of the verb in the indicative is the same as it is in the imperative, which means you have to let the context determine for you whether it’s a command or a statement of fact. I think this is a statement of fact and it should read this way: But you are earnestly desiring the showy gifts. You are earnestly desiring the showy gifts. They had perverted them and counterfeited them to such a degree that people could actually stand up, purportedly under the influence of the Holy Spirit (according to chapter 12, verse 3) and curse Christ.
It would be under demonic influence if they did that, they could be that false where they were actually energized by Satan. You are earnestly desiring the showy gifts, then verse 31 says, but I show you a still more excellent way, a far more excellent way, and that is the way of love. Instead of parading proudly your display of supposed Spirit gifts, you should be characterized by love.
Well, he picks out three gifts prominent to the Corinthians, and each one is introduced to us by the same expression, “If there are” - “If there are - “If there are.” Or better, “Whether there are.” Whether there are gifts of prophecy or languages or knowledge, there is a more excellent way, and that’s the way of love. Love would bring those gifts into their proper use for their proper time.
Well, let’s look at them one at a time. If I have the gift of prophecy - the gift of prophecy. What is that? That’s an ability to speak for God. That’s (in the New Testament period) a revelatory gift. God would give a message and the message would be repeated. This is revelation. It also could be reiteration. Somebody who had the gift of prophecy could give a message from God for the first time or could repeat it later again and again and again and again and again, even as our Lord in His ministry introduced truth, revealing it for the first time and then through His ministry repeated it and repeated it and repeated it. It is the gift to speak.
The implication is to speak revelation from God for the first time as it’s being revealed or to reiterate what has already been revealed. This is a very important gift in the early church. Remember, there’s no New Testament, right? There’s no New Testament, it hasn’t come yet, hasn’t been written yet. It is in the process of being written. And, of course, 1 Corinthians is very early in the writing of the New Testament. Much of the New Testament hasn’t even begun to be written. And in that time, God communicated through those who were prophets.
I won’t take the time to expand that all through Scripture, but it is clear that there were in the church those men who were prophets to whom God was revealing His truth. They gave it to the congregation publicly when it was revealed and then, of course, they would reiterate it again and again.
What about knowledge? Verse 8 says that there is knowledge. If there is knowledge. What are we talking about here? Well, we’re talking really about divine revelation again. This is communication of truth that comes from God, spiritual knowledge, which you cannot know unless God discloses it. We’ve talked about that. The world is full of people who think they’re spiritual. They say, “I’m a very spiritual person,” as if they could ascend into the non-temporal spiritual realm and draw real, true conclusions. Of course, they can’t.
The spiritual world is closed to us, we have no access to it, only God can reveal it to us. And so, if God does that, you might say that there were people in the early church who had the gift of knowledge. God disclosed His truth to them. They could look at the Scripture, they could listen to the prophets, and they could draw conclusions concerning the truth of God.
Then there was this - tongues - again, a speaking gift. All three are speaking gifts and they were important in the church because they communicated to the church at its widest point. This is a speaking gift. This is the ability to speak languages you don’t know, miraculously, under divine power, a sign - a sign of authenticity. How do you know that the teacher is giving you something actually from God? How do you know that the church is really communicating the truth of God? How do you know the knowledge is the true knowledge of God?
Here is a sign that is evidence of supernatural inspiration, the use of languages unknown to the speaker and unknown to all the hearers, though perhaps known to some, as on the Day of Pentecost. There were gifts of interpretation so that what was spoken could be translated, but it was still a sign. The details of that gift are in chapter 14. That’s a study for another time, but you can read all the details of that chapter in the notes in the study Bible or in the commentary on 1 Corinthians. You’ll find it fascinating reading.
The point is prophecy, as important as it is temporary. Knowledge, as important as it is temporary. Languages, as important as they are temporary. That’s the point. Now, in our day, this has become a big issue - really has. There are people today who, in the middle of the evangelical church world, want to tell you how you can receive divine revelation. They believe there are prophets still who prophesy with direct revelation from God. You see them on charismatic television all the time. If you’ve been in the Charismatic church or Pentecostal church, you are very much aware of people who call themselves prophets.
God speaks, through them, divine revelation, new revelation. There are those who believe that supernatural knowledge, spiritual knowledge comes, that you can - as a believer, if you elevate yourself to a certain degree, can learn how to listen for the voice of God and receive from Him direct revelation. And, of course, it is one of the very core beliefs of the Charismatic movement, the Pentecostal movement, that languages are still in place, and this is called the gift of tongues, which is (in the contemporary form) not a language at all. None of it. But it is all a kind of non-linguistic gibberish.
But nonetheless, there are those today who believe that divine revelation is still coming through people who are prophets, divine revelation is still available to people who ascend to the particular format in which they will learn to hear God speak, and that tongues is still divine communication that comes to those who are quote/unquote baptized by the Holy Spirit.
Now, this is a big subject, but let me say this: We have to be careful that when we set aside the miraculous gifts and we set aside the revelatory gifts, we don’t necessarily set aside all the gifts because not all the spiritual gifts were miraculous and not all the spiritual gifts were revelatory. There’s a gift of faith. There’s a gift of administration. You read that in Romans 12 as well as in 1 Corinthians 12, and they’re different because these are just broad categories of spiritual giftedness.
In the church, some of us have the gift of teaching, preaching. There’s a gift of helping. There’s a gift that I think relates to prayer called the gift of faith. So there were in the early church both those gifts which were miraculous and those which were non-miraculous. They were all enablements by the Holy Spirit.
Now, Pentecostals and what we call non-cessationists say that all the gifts are still in. They’re all still operational. Cessation has not happened, that’s why they’re called non-cessationists. There will still be room for gifts of prophecy, gifts of divine, immediate knowledge from God, gifts of tongues and other forms of revelation. Others teach that all the gifts have ceased and none are operative today. So some say they’re all operative and they’re all available and some say no, none are.
Well, the right answer is some are gone and some are present. The ones that are still present are the ones that function in the life of the church in a non-revelatory way but are expressions of the Holy Spirit by which He guides and leads and nurtures and ministers to His church.
But let’s look at these three, and I want you to carefully look at the language here because it’s really important. Note an interesting detail in the passage. Knowledge and prophecy will be done away - will be done away. Tongues will cease. Different verbs with very strikingly different meaning. Change of verbs. First indication that tongues would cease before prophecy and knowledge is the change of verbs in verse 8.
Now follow this. The verb form used in relation to prophecy and knowledge will be done away is katargeō, Greek verb. It’s used, actually, four times in verses 8 to 11. And it should be translated “shall be set aside,” “shall be rendered inoperative,” or simply “shall be stopped” - “shall be stopped.” Something is going to stop prophecy and knowledge, something is going to put a quick and immediate and final end to prophecy and knowledge. That’s why that verb is used.
In the middle, referring to tongues, it says, “They will cease,” pauō, a completely different word. This is intransitive, it takes no object. It must be understood in this sense: It will cease by itself. The forms of katargeō, it will stop, are passive verbs. You know what a passive verb is? That declares that something will bring its end. It will be acted upon. But pauō, referring to tongues, is what we call in the Greek a middle voice; that is, reflexive.
Something will stop prophecy, something will stop this knowledge of all the mysteries, as it’s referred to earlier in the chapter, but tongues will cease by itself. So you’re intensifying the idea that the subject plays the role in the action. It literally ceases by itself.
So we have two very distinct points to make here. Prophecy and knowledge, they’ll be stopped by something acting upon them. Tongues will cease by itself. The Septuagint uses the middle form of pauō fifteen times to translate the Hebrew word which means to be at an end, to be accomplished, to be spent, to be finished, to be complete. I think the best translation would be like this: “Prophecy will be stopped, knowledge will be ended, tongues will cease by itself.”
Now, why is this distinction made? And it’s a very clear distinction. Why wouldn’t the same event that stops prophecy and knowledge also stop tongues? Well, there’s only one possible reason. The coming of whatever it is that stops prophecy and knowledge would stop tongues if tongues was still there, which means that they ceased by themselves previously. It is important to observe that tongues are not among the things which Paul predicts will be stopped.
Go down to verses 9 and 10. “We know in part, we prophesy in part.” Now he’s dropped tongues, all he’s talking about here is knowledge and prophecy. “But when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” So now we know what stops prophecy and tongues. What is it? The perfect. What is that? I’m going to tell you that.
When the perfect comes, it will stop knowledge, supernaturally given revelatory knowledge, and it will stop prophecy in the sense of supernaturally given revelatory prophecy, it will stop it. There is no further mention after verse 8 of tongues. Tongues are not among those things that will be stopped by the perfect thing because tongues will have already ceased by itself.
So knowledge, prophecy, tongues, temporary, that’s his main point. Something is going to come, which he calls the perfect thing, that will end knowledge and prophecy but before that, tongues will literally self-destruct, end on their own. So the gift of tongues will cease by itself. That’s what it says. The question is - let’s just take tongues for a minute - when? Well, we can answer that question. I’m going to answer it for you right now. The gift of tongues ceased, the ability to speak in language you didn’t know, as a demonstration of the fact that a supernatural Word from God was coming as a sign to Israel.
That because they wouldn’t listen when He spoke a language they could understand, as Isaiah prophesied, He would now speak in a language they couldn’t understand. It was both a judgment sign as well as a sign affirming those who spoke the true gospel, as on the day of Pentecost. But we know it ceased and it ceased in the apostolic era. Several things indicate this. Let me give you some things to think about.
Number one. Speaking in language is a kind of miracle. Speaking in language is not a kind of miracle, it is a miracle. I can’t speak a language that I’ve never learned, I can’t. I’m fairly committed to being a spiritual Christian. I’ve been around the Bible a long time, the Holy Spirit has dwelt in me for many, many years. I have experienced His blessing and His filling, and I will promise you I can’t speak anything well but English. It is a miracle to be able to speak a language you don’t know. It violates nature. It is a supernatural intervention. And the age of miracles has past - it has past.
This particular ability, this particular miracle ability, belonged to the apostles and those of their era. Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at first spoken through the Lord, confirmed to us by those who heard, and how did we know God was testifying with them? By signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit.” It was one of those supernatural, miraculous evidences that the apostles did speak the revelation of God. They were bearing witness. They were confirming that their message was from God, authenticating - validating it by these miracle signs, including the ability to speak languages they didn’t know.
The last recorded New Testament miracle - the last recorded New Testament miracle, Acts 28, is A.D. 58. According to 2 Corinthians 12:12, these are the signs of an apostle. Paul was the last of the apostles. First Corinthians 15:8, he says that. Now, some people say, “Wait a minute, there have always been miracles. There have been miracles through all redemptive history.” Not so - not so.
Actually, there have only been three great periods of miracles in all human history, just three. One in the era of Moses and Joshua - in the era of Moses and Joshua. Two, in the era of Elijah and Elisha. And the miracles in the era of Moses, we know - don’t we? - in Egypt, and Joshua going into the promised land. They weren’t like the miracles during the time of Christ and the apostles. There were miracles, but not anything anywhere near the volume of the apostolic era.
In that brief period of time, about seventy years of Moses and Joshua, in a brief period of time, less than a hundred years with Elijah and Elisha, there were some miracles. But during the time of Christ and the apostles, there was an explosion of miracles, the likes of which the world had never seen. Every period is short of a hundred years, significantly short of it. The New Testament era of miracles - which didn’t begin, really, until the ministry of Christ began at the age of thirty and was over three years later with a trickle effect for another twenty years or twenty-five years in the case of the apostles - was a very, very brief period of time.
Now, in addition to those three periods of miracles, there were selected judgment miracles. I would say the flood was a miracle, wouldn’t you? And, of course, before that the great miracle of miracles was the fall, a supernatural event in which God cursed the universe. That’s a miracle, that’s a supernatural act. Tower of Babel was a miracle when God changed everybody’s language. So you have judgment miracles scattered throughout redemptive history.
Miracles, however, as we know them in the ministry of Christ were not the norm. No prophet went through the land healing everybody, casting out demons - no prophet, not in the Old Testament anyplace. There will be a future time of miracles in the millennial kingdom of Christ. There will be one big miracle that launches the kingdom, the return of Christ, and the judgment of all the ungodly and the transformation of the Earth as the prophets describe it, literally transforming this planet, changing it dramatically and changing its inhabitants, even its animals.
And then within that great miracle that is the reverse of the fall to some degree, there will be many other miracles that will occur during the kingdom. In fact, in the book of Acts, it says people will prophesy again. They’ll have visions. God will communicate through dreams. There’ll be new ways of revelation. But until then, the age of miracles has ceased. Hebrews 6 even says that the miracles of Jesus - verse 5 - were a taste of the powers of the age to come, which means they will be common in the age to come, which is the millennial kingdom. And the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, that brief period of time of miracles, was merely a preview, a foretaste, a glimpse of the kingdom.
So first of all, the ability to speak in languages is a miracle and it belongs to a miracle era, which is limited to Christ and the apostles. Secondly, speaking in languages was a judicial sign to Israel because of Israel’s unbelief. Go down into the fourteenth chapter, verse 21, “In the law it is written by men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers, I will speak to this people. And even so, they will not listen to me,” says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign not to those who believe but to unbelievers, but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. Obviously, prophecy is for people who believe because it is speaking to them in the language they understand, the revelation of God.
Tongues, on the other hand (speaking a language people don’t understand) is a judgment sign. When God acted in judgment on Israel in 70 A.D. and the Romans came in, destroyed the city, destroyed the temple, massacred Jewish people, God’s judgment fell - God’s judgment fell. At that particular point, no further sign was needed. The sign of tongues was a sign to the Jews as had been prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 28 that because you don’t listen when God speaks the language you do understand, when God speaks to you in a language you don’t understand, know judgment is near. And tongues was that precursor to judgment.
Israel’s day of favor was ending. Jesus sat, as you know, outside Jerusalem, looked at the temple and said, “It’s coming down, not one stone will be left upon another, I’ll destroy it all.” One of the warnings that that destruction was coming was speaking in a language they couldn’t understand.
A third thing to consider when you think about this is that speaking in tongues faded, ceased, because it was an inferior gift - it was an inferior gift. I just read you verse 22 of chapter 14, prophecy is for believers, not unbelievers. Tongues is for unbelievers, not believers. I don’t know how people got tongues to be the sign of being a Spirit-filled believer. It was a misinterpretation of Pentecost, of course. Speaking in tongues faded because it was inferior. Verse 1 of chapter 14, “Pursue love.” This is the wrap-up on chapter 13, should be the last verse of chapter 13.
“Pursue love but desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy because one who speaks in a language doesn’t speak to men but to God.” Only God knows what you’re saying. No one understands. “But the one who prophesies speaks to men for edification, exhortation, and consolation.” Far better to speak in a language everyone understands. All the way down to verse 12 in chapter 14, Paul shows that tongues is an inferior means of communication. It is an inferior means of praise. He says that in verses 13 to 19.
It is an inferior means of evangelism. It is meaningless in praise. It is confusing in evangelism. It is inferior to speaking prophetically the Word of God so that all can understand.
And, of course, a fourth thing to think about is that speaking in tongues was rendered useless after the New Testament was complete. It was completed in - the end of the first century, in the nineties, when John wrote the final revelation. No more revelations to be added, right? No more revelations. This gift, like other miraculous gifts, of course, was intended for the infancy of the church, and once the New Testament was complete and in the hands of the church, there was no more need for divine revelation.
It was the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith, as Jude calls it. You don’t add to it or you’ll be added the plagues written in it. You don’t take away from it or the same thing will happen. So tongues had a very limited usage. It was long gone with all the rest of the miracles by the time you come to the final completion of the revelation and the New Testament is done.
Now, a couple of other points to make. Number five, speaking in tongues is mentioned in only the earliest books - only the earliest books. First Corinthians, very early in terms of the writing of the New Testament, very early, 57, sometime before that, that would be the latest date. The later books, Romans, Ephesians, et cetera, et cetera, no mention - no mention of tongues at all. Could it be that it had already ceased? “Tongues will cease.” Did they? They’re not a part of the church. They’re not a part of the epistles. After Corinth, you never hear anything about them. Only in Acts, only in 1 Corinthians - gone. They ceased.
And if you follow the history of the church, they not only cease in the New Testament to be referred to in the life of the church, but they ceased in the life of the church following the New Testament era. Speaking in tongues - listen - is nowhere alluded to, nowhere hinted at, nowhere found in the primitive apostolic fathers. Those are the teachers of Christianity who came right after the apostles. None of them refer to it. It’s a strange omission, if it’s still around. Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians right at the very end of the first century and discussed their spiritual problems but didn’t mention tongues.
The gift had stopped, no doubt, and so the abuse had stopped. When the true gift was gone, there was no reason to counterfeit it. The fathers themselves, the immediately post-apostolic fathers, they represented a wide geographical area. They were writing to practically every place in the Roman Empire where there were Christians. None of them - none of them make any note of tongues. Justin Martyr, who died in 165, his extensive travels and extensive writings in defense of Christianity never mentioned tongues. He lists some spiritual gifts, never tongues.
Origen, from 185 to 253, widely read scholar in all his voluminous works, never mentions tongues. In his apologetic against Celsus, which is very famous, he explicitly argued that the signs of the apostolic age were temporary and no contemporary Christians experienced any of the ancient prophetical gifts.
You move into the next era, Chrysostom in 347 and following, the greatest of all ancient Christian writers, according to some, his comment on the 1 Corinthians section is: “This whole phase is very obscure but the obscurity is produced by an ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, having such as them used to occur but now no longer take place.” The famous Augustine, in his comment on Acts 2:4, said, “In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believed and they spoke with tongues. These were signs adapted to the time for they behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit, that thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away.”
So the greatest theologian of the ancient church considered the remote practice associated with tongues to be part of the apostolic age. And by the fourth and fifth century, they didn’t even know what it was, it was so dead.
Now, one footnote, during that period there was a Montanus, M-O-N-T-A-N-U-S, around 150 and his follower, Tertullian, who claimed a gift - I hate to tell you, they were basically pagans. And Montanus was a pagan priest, supposedly converted to Christianity, who believed that he was the sole voice of the Holy Spirit in the whole world. And he was accompanied in his ministry by female priestesses who spoke in ecstatic speech. We know where that ecstatic speech came from. The church dismissed him as a heretic. He and Tertullian’s testimony are the last recorded mention of tongues in the writings of the fathers, and they were both heretics.
Now, the next eruption of tongues – 1685. It’s a thousand years before anybody brings it up. They’re no part of the Reformation. But around 1685, the gift of prophecy and ecstatic utterance was claimed by some persecuted Protestants in southern France. It was even claimed that very young children who know only the local dialect spoke in perfect French while in a trance. The group was soon discredited because of their night raids and military reprisals against their enemies and because all their prophecies went unfulfilled. So whenever tongues does show up, it shows up in a heretical, if not demonic, context.
The Jansenists were a group of Roman Catholic reformers opposed to the doctrine of the Protestant Reformation. About 1731, they held meetings at a former leader’s tomb at night, graveyard meetings, and reportedly spoke in ecstatic tongues. There was a group led by Mother Ann Lee, some of you heard of them, called the Shakers. She lived from 1736 to 1784. She regarded herself as the female principal in Christ - whatever in the world that means. Jesus, she said, is the male principal and she’s the female.
In 1776, a year noted for something more important than her, she founded the Shaker Community in Troy, New York. She taught that the second coming of Christ was fulfilled in her. She received a revelation that sexual relationships, even in marriage, were corrupt. It was said that in order to mortify the flesh, she instituted the practice of men and women dancing together unclothed, speaking in tongues, but never able to have a normal relationship. Needless to say, that movement had no children, so it died out. What a strange name. Mother Ann mothered no one, fortunately, as far as we know.
About 1830, there was a group called the Irvingites, Edward Irving, sad to say, a Scottish Presbyterian minister believed all the apostolic gifts should be evidenced. This group began to speak in tongues. Were soon discredited for the following reasons: revelations contrary to Scripture, prophecies unfulfilled, supposed healings followed by death, rumors of immorality, confession of leading members to fraud. Wow. The history of tongues since it ceased isn’t really very inviting, is it?
1901, the modern Pentecostal movement began. Started with a student at Bethel Bible College named Agnes Osmond who said she received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in tongues and the movement was born. It came to California - don’t they all? Don’t they all come here? Why? Because there’s nowhere else to go unless you want to get wet. So it all ends here. It’s like at the bottom, what’s left. 1906 in Azusa Street in L.A., the baptism of the Holy Spirit was claimed, speaking in tongues was claimed, and a revolution took place that produced Pentecostalism.
In 1960, the modern Charismatic movement was born in Van Nuys, down the street here, at an Episcopal church led by a man named Dennis Bennett. But the problem is, tongues had ceased, so what is this? What is this? By the way, the seeress, the prophetess, the mystic at Delphi, which was near Corinth, A.D. 44 to 117, spoke in tongues. It’s part of paganism. Gnostics spoke in ecstatic speech. Lucian in 120 to 198 reports such among the devotees of the Syrian goddess Juno.
Today there are priests and witch doctors all over the world, Haiti, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, speak ecstatic speech. Buddhist monks do it, Shinto priests do it, spiritists do it, but it’s never been a part of the mainline church since it ceased. Scripture says it’ll stop by itself, and it did. Then what we have today can’t be the real thing. This was a miracle for the Apostolic Era.
Some people say, “Well, you know, this is the latter reign.” The latter reign, they talk about. Joel 2, the latter reign. The former reign, they say, was the pouring out of the Spirit of Pentecost in the Apostolic Era. This is the latter reign that started in 1901. That is absolutely ridiculous. The former reign that Joel refers to is the riches of the Jewish kingdom under David and Solomon and the latter reign is the kingdom of Messiah. It’s not talking about tongues.
Well, if I’m beating you up a little on this, I’m doing that on purpose because you need to understand there are rational, biblical reasons to reject these things. So you say, “John, what’s going on?” Quickly, when people do this, what is it? Demons? Sure - sure. Demons can take over a human voice and talk gibberish. Very possible, very possible. But perhaps more common, learned behavior. You just learn how to do it. You go there, you hear people do it, and you do it. You turn it on, you turn it off mechanically.
For some, it could be a psychological phenomenon. They tell you to empty your mind, think about nothing, and just let your mouth go. I know people who live their whole lives doing just that. You can literally put yourself in some kind of an ecstatic state of intense emotion. It could be even under hypnosis. A lot of people can be hypnotized. Whatever it is, and it really doesn’t matter what the phony is, it’s not the real thing.
But then again, folks, that’s not the point, that’s just a footnote. The point is all sources of divine revelation will cease. Tongues ceased by itself. Prophecy and knowledge cease when the perfect thing comes. You want know what that is, come next week. But one thing never ceases. What is it? Love.
Father, thanks for a great day, wonderful fellowship, great time in your Word. Thank you for shedding your love abroad in our hearts. Thank you for pouring out your love here. Thank you for this loving congregation. May we who already have been taught of God to love, love even more. May we excel even more in loving each other, to your glory and to the extent of the gospel as they see our love. As Jesus said in the upper room, that they may see your love and know that’s the mark of true conversion. By our love, they will know that we belong to you.
You love us, we love you because you first love us. You shed your love abroad in our hearts. May we, by that love, show the world a supernatural kind of experience that will reveal to them the glory of the transforming power of the gospel to take selfish and unloving sinners and humble them and turn them into those who sacrificially love one another. May we enjoy the fruit of that love as we honor you. In Christ’s name. Amen.
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