As we begin looking at this most important of chapters in 1 Corinthians, we are going to encounter a lot of wrong theology. This theology is because many people, particularly the false teachers of the Charismatic movement have placed undue theological emphasis on the words used without considering their context, their meaning, or what Paul was trying to say to a group of errant believers in the first century AD.
We will hopefully avoid that same error by taking those things into account.
What we are hopefully getting to sink in by the repetition of the concept every week is that these two letters that were included by the Holy Spirit in the canon of the New Testament were actually a series of FOUR letters that were CORRECTIVE in nature, and not treatises of theology like Ephesians or Hebrews, or Apologetic works like Romans. This means that we MUST take into account that context is important as to what is being spoke, to whom it is being spoken, and what Paul is driving at in actual essence, not just isolated bits and pieces of verses used at random with no regard for any of that, as Kenneth Hagin actually did in his book called Prayer. This is the chapter that he, and as a result, many other charismaniacs use to teach, justify, and otherwise propagate their false beliefs and practices, that sometimes include snake-handling, incidentally.
And beloved, if Paul felt that correction was necessary, it was. In what was it necessary? Well, everything, apparently, from dividing the body of Christ over teachers (even legitimate ones) to the uttering of nonsense syllables and calling this imitation the “gift of languages,” the church at Corinth needed help. In that spirit, after 11 chapters of instructions and corrections to their thought, in chapter 12, Paul told them of two lists of gifts (that we determined from the verbiage was not exhaustive necessarily), that covered many of the same gifts in the same contexts – that these gifts were given to people at the pleasure of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God Himself at their justification by faith. These gifts were given to specific people to build up the church by serving the community of people in it with them, however God has gifted you. The lists themselves had some crossover, and that was important in the dismantling of the doctrine that says the first one was for individuals and the second was for the church, one of the basic doctrines of the Charismatic movement. That was about the gifts themselves.
Then in chapter 13, we looked primarily at the motivation that should be behind the operation of ALL of those gifts, and that is what we defined as Agape Love, or the Love of God, that self-giving, self-sacrificing commitment to another by choice. We determined from our study there that if you were trying to do these things without that agape love, your efforts were wasted, since anything done outside of God’s love pertaining to these gifts was useless – that’s right, it was absolutely NO benefit either to the performer of the gift or the intended recipient (or any standing nearby I suppose). We also discussed how the gifts of Prophecy and Knowledge are on a sort of countdown clock to when we will not any longer need them – the eternal state of the believer. Tongues, by way of contrast to those gifts, along with the other sign gifts of miracles and healing stopped all on their own with the death of John, the last capital A Apostle, and so it was said through at least 500 years of church history from Clement of Rome to Augustine of Hippo. The latter of those two explained in his comments on Acts 2 that those gifts were only for the verification of those original Apostles. Although many dispute Augustine on this, it is also the historical position of the early Church Fathers, excluding Tertullian, who was carried away with Montanist error along with the other followers of Montanus, a second-century heretic that believed in extra-biblical revelation from God. In fact, we briefly saw that every one of the few times it has come up in church history, it was successfully refuted and it disappeared, up unlit the 17th and 18th centuries, when it evolved into something from outside of Christianity called New Thought under Emmanuel Swedenborg and a few others, until it was “discovered” by a sufferer of tuberculosis named Phineas Quimby, who came up with something called the Law of Attraction based on this New Thought to try to cure his own illness, a particularly serious case. From there, it was grabbed with both hands by one Kenneth Hagin, who is considered today to be the grandfather of the modern Charismatic movement. Apparently NOT an unassailable line of truth, is it?
This chapter this evening will now talk about how the Corinthians were misapplying the gifts of the Holy Spirit and what Paul was telling them was supposed to be the proper administration. This will take us the next two weeks to go through the chapter, because there are a lot of verses to handle, and last week we went long with just 13 verses to analyze. So here we go. I segmented the chapter as follows:
KV12: Seek to EDIFY the CHURCH, as opposed to just yourself
12: So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
1-5: Prophesy is better than tongues and reasons why
6-12: The reasoning behind all gifts and reasons
13-19: Seek others’ edification, not self-glorification
Bearing in mid that motivation of Agape Love that is the very nature of God from last study, let’s jump right into the chapter here.
KV12: Seek to EDIFY the CHURCH, as opposed to just yourself
12: So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
People have asked me, particularly Charismatics, why I’m always dogging on the movement. Some have tried to tell me that I’m bitter over my ejection from my first church, but I don’t think that’s it. I’ve had going on 34 years this year to get over that. I admit I was stunned at my ejection, but even at the time, I wasn’t angered. I think if I made any mistakes at all, it was that I didn’t talk about that experience with anyone. I suppose looking back, I just didn’t see it as a problem. It had a geographical cure, and it seemed sufficient. It still does, although I am a great deal more educated about what the Scriptures say about these things, and I am trying to share that now with anyone who will listen. I suspect after a few minutes of what is usually calm conversation on my end, and with varying degrees of self-control on the other, that the question is an attempt to throw things back on me and escape the knowledge that I am giving away, as it were.
Friends and brethren, I will state uncategorically for the record that I am not saying these things to make fun of anyone. I have been saved through the Charismatic movement in 1985, but I would like to think that it was the Lord that took me out of that place in His mercy because of some individuals that wanted nothing more than to know what the truth of the Scriptures was, and they somehow (I think it was the Holy Spirit working through them) communicated that same commitment to me, and love and need to pass that information on. I am not trying to make enemies here, although somehow I seem to find a way. I am speaking as a former adherent that as shown the truth of God, in the Scriptures, by God Himself one day in second-year university. He showed me what tongues really was, not that gobbledygook known as “ecstatic utterance” that they all see as some angelic language. For that reason, I have to define a couple of things before we get into the first paragraph.
First, we must look at what the origin of what they call “tongues” is. We have talked about it before, but it has just become critical to our understanding. Approximately 4 miles from where Corinth sat on that peninsula that has become famous for 300 Spartans that stood off a million-man army, was the Oracle of Delphi. It explains why they thought this babbling they did was some kind of divine language, and it can even explain why head coverings was an issue. You see, when someone wanted to pay a large sum of money for a favorable outcome to their journey, the Oracle was there to take your denarii. When asked to make a prediction, the young girl who was the current oracle was given a drink of something fairly intoxicating and then raised into a seat over a pit where noxious gasses were flowing out straight up at her. After a moment or two, she would begin muttering nonsense syllables that had they been translated would have been something like “Help me, I can’t breathe,” and then her MINDER heard and wrote down a translation for the mark (that’s what was really going on), who paid his sum of money and then left on his journey. Assuming the poor girl was still alive, they took her down from the chair and let her return to herself, and at least some level of sobriety (though they had to keep her drugged and disoriented I’m betting). She would do it again. If she died? It was an especially powerful prophecy. If it didn’t come true? The seeker did something to mess it up. And beloved, every Greek or Roman god represented had some similar thing going on. They all heard those nonsense syllables, and thought it was some kind of heavenly language. They all thought they were being super spiritual and talking to “God,” only now it was the “right” God. But we know now it wasn’t.
Besides, that is NOT what the Lord showed me about how tongues worked in the main. We have in Acts 2:4 the very first occurrences of people speaking on other languages in the New Testament as that gift of the Holy Spirit is distributed to all who were in the upper room, about 120 people. If one were to read through verses 5-17 and beyond, You will see that the Jews that were standing by and heard this sound were confused. It says that they each heard the believers who spoke IN THEIR OWN language. There was not interpreter necessary for this special case, because Peter was there to explain what was happening, and give the necessary interpretation so the message could be understood by those around. And what happened? About 3000 people became believers that day! Talk about starting off with a powerful sign. A similar thing happened in Acts 10 when Peter preached the Gospel to the Gentile Cornelius and His household. The new believers spoke in other languages at they had at first, and Peter required no interpretation, because he knew what they were saying. This too is a special case because this is the first time that the GENTILES were saved. The Ethiopian Eunuch wasn’t actually a gentile, he was a convert to Judaism, and does not count for these purposes. This also happened to Paul when he came across some disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. He found out that they were not really saved, and so he preached Christ to them and laid hands on these believers, and THEY began to speak in other languages AND prophesying. This showed that they had been filled with the Holy Spirit, it’s true, but it is a special case, in that it confirms Paul as an Apostle to the Gentiles. These are the ones that are always shown as proof that speaking in tongues is the evidence of salvation by the way, and we know that not every believer received this gift of speaking in other languages from Paul’s own words in chapter 12.
Further, it is often claimed that this ability to speak in other languages is in fact a speaking of a heavenly language, and people will claim that they only use it in their private prayer times to get around the strictures of this very chapter where there are limits on how many can speak it at once and how many on any given occasion. It is claimed that these are the language of angels. But what would the purpose of a heavenly language for just the angels be? It can’t be for intelligence purposes, because the enemy would know it too and be able to read all the communications, as it were. It can’t be for communication purposes with us, because every time we read of that happening in Scripture, the angel is always speaking the same language as the person being spoken to. To communicate with each other? About what? And why a different language? There are many on earth that would serve the same purpose, and it isn’t keeping it secret from us, because there is no need – e can’t see or hear angels if God doesn’t want us to, and that seems to be the vast majority of the time. I certainly don’t know that I have ever seen one. That doesn’t mean I haven’t, but how will I know? I can’t. So why would God, the author of languages (which He made at the tower of Babel), make some special language to pray to him that the one praying could not understand? That makes absolutely NO reasonable sense of any kind. I should add that there was a study done on these so-called heavenly languages. I can’t remember what journal it was in, and I would dearly love to read it if anyone actually knows, but the net upshot of the analysis done as that there was no similarity to any known language, and it did not actually resemble a language at all when reduced to the component parts, however that works. The authors of the study basically flat said that there is no evidence that this is any kind of language from anywhere at all. So much for the private prayer language.
I am aware that there are other people that will not agree with what I think about this. But I have had going on 34 years this year to consider this and research it. Surely God would have shown His servant if I were wrong. And before anyone starts yelling about how this is only my interpretation, I will ask you to stop and consider this. In that very statement, you are suggesting that my interpretation is wrong. I must ask on what basis you could say that, because I have been fairly thorough and conservative in my interpretations of Scripture here. For me, or in my opinion (and I will state it as such here), anyone that goes any further than I have in saying all we can know for sure is from an examination of Scripture, is just plain making stuff up, and that’s not what an expositor should do. There are serious consequences for those that get their interpretation wrong either by leaving stuff out, or by adding stuff. I take this seriously. If you want to have an off-air discussion, the by all means, but you better bring your Bible, and not use “I feel” or “I have experienced” for factual arguments. Now, on with the direct analysis of the text, bearing in mind that the goal of EVERY gift the Holy Spirit has given is the building of the church of God.
1-5: Prophesy is better than tongues and reasons why
Now, we have already shown in chapters 12 and 13 why saying that speaking in other languages is NOT proof of salvation (that should be your lifestyle, and that’s harder to fake), but to sum up, we have shown that the gift of being able to speak unknown languages ceased with the death of the original Apostles, so say ALL of the church fathers in the first 500 years or so of church history, save Tertullian, who followed Montanus in to error, and as sad as that is, it invalidates anything he might have said on that subject or related ones at a minimum. The Apostle Paul says that prophecy is better than tongues and explains why in the following passage. Let’s look at it a phrase at a time.
1: Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
- The very first thing Paul says ties back to chapter 13, and it is to pursue agape, or God’s Love, without which EVERY gift is useless. As you will recall from last time, the message of Paul was that at least some of the gifts that God gave us have end points. He used three specific examples, knowledge, prophecy, and tongues, and said that all three of those would end, and we even discussed the hows, and we will rehash that as we may have need. In fact, most, if not all of the gifts would be temporary and come to an end. The three that he mentioned that would endure were faith, hope, and love, and that the greatest of those was love. That’s the love that we should be pursuing, because it is the very character of God.
- However, Paul also said that in spite of that, we should pursue those spiritual gifts, In fact, he tells us to “desire earnestly,” which is the same language used in chapter 12:31, where Paul encouraged the saints to “earnestly desire” the greater gifts. It means to desire them with a fury, being jealous of them, with zeal. Here, he is calling them “spiritual gifts,” conveying the ideas of invisibility and power in the Greek. Speaking in other languages are here being implied as something that can be seen and faked, so it does not carry the same spiritual weight that any of the other gifts do, as are healings and miracles, by the way – all of the sign gifts are like this.
- No, instead, the ones that cannot be seen by miraculous manifestation are the gifts that should be so pursued with fury and passion, and in the words of the Apostle Paul himself, “especially that you may prophecy.” Recall our definition of prophecy – to speak the revealed word of God to people so as to effect change in their lives. This should never be split off from Scripture like the Charismatics do, by separating the “voice of God” from the “Word of God,” as they attempt to get people to believe their point of view. God’s voice IS His Word, nothing else. So if you want to hear God’s voice, read your Bible. And if you want to hear the voice of God audibly, read it aloud! And if you want to zealously and furiously pursue prophecy, you need to study God’s word. Yep ,all that in verse 1. And Paul is about to explain why Propecy is better than tongues!
2: For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.
- Paul begins with an explanation based on the audience of the use of the gift. Speaking in a language that is not known by the speaker or the crowd might be cool, but if no one knows what you are saying, the only one you are speaking to is God Himself. To this, we can understand that such a speech would have no point. Some will say that’s why someone should interpret the message – but in Corinth at least, this was not happening, and we have more to consider about this later – this belongs to that easy-to-fake category, and it has some caveats to it.
- However, in his charitable correction, Paul is assuming the best in agape love, as per chapter 13, and he is assuming a true expression of the gift of speaking in other languages. And to such a one, he is operating in the spirit, and he is speaking mysteries, things that God wants the saints to hear…and this raises the question, “Why would the Holy Spirit lead someone to speak in a gathering of believers in a language that no one understands, when it is clear this is information that the saint need and He wants them to know?” That seems a little self-defeating and stupid, and I do not think that God in any of His persons is a moron. In fact I know that because I am a moron, and I never see them at the meetings. Just kidding.
3: But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.
- By way of contrast, Paul now compares the audience of the exercise of prophecy. First, because it is said by a man who speaks the same language as his audience, the issue of interpretation becomes moot. And there is no longer of a mindless enunciation of a message that no one but God understands, all of the people that hear, including the prophet, are built up in their convictions by the message. See how Paul says it? This is for edification (literal building up), exhortation (strong encouragement), and consolation (strong comfort). There is no more faking any of those things if they are taking place in a real sense.
- This is not to say that people do not exist that speak false prophecies. They exist, and it is at least a partial reason for the gift of discernment, so we can tell the difference between the truth and almost-truth (also known as a lie). This is a different topic, and one we will take up again, but not now.
4: One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.
- Here it seems that the one actually speaking in another language actually understands the message he is delivering. That is why he is himself built up in his faith and convictions. However, the one exercising the gift of prophesy ALSO understands what he himself is saying – but so does everyone in the church, and they are ALSO strengthened in their faith and convictions.
5: Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.
- Here is one of the verses that Kenneth Hagin used out of context that I clarified on the night I was tossed unceremoniously out of the church by the man who taught me in grade six. Hagin took that first little bit and said that Paul was encouraging all believers to speak in tongues, meaning the ecstatic babble that they taught and not other languages. To understand how that is in error, we MUST understand what Paul said in chapter 12:30: “All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” Paul in this verse we have already studied indicates that this is NOT so, and that not all believers have this gift of speaking in other languages. That means Paul is not saying that here, either. Look at the word choices here. “I wish.” That word can be translated, “I would rather.” It isn’t something that Paul says is true, but it is something that he would be willing to see, but knows isn’t a reality. This would be like me saying, “I wish that the Winnipeg Jets would win the Stanley Cup this year.” I would indeed be willing to see that, but at least this year, I can see it is not going to be a reality. We often say “I hope” in this context, but this is the ACTUAL word used to express it in Greek – thelo. This isn’t the one that made me speak up, though.
- What does Paul rather that they would express as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit instead of the supernatural ability to speak other languages? That believers would prophecy – that they would speak the revealed will of God for people’s lives in a way that it will effect change! And remember, that revealed will of God is never going to be apart from his word, because there is no difference between the voice of God and the written word of God. That IS His voice, and one can demonstrate that from the Scriptures. The first mention of the 189 references or so to the “voice of God” is in Exodus 15:26 which reads, “And He said, ‘If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God [emphasis mine], and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.'” What it is referring to is the word that YHWH spoke to the children of Israel through Moses, not an individual voice. In that case, Moses what the “voice of God.” Another such passage is 1 Samuel 12:14 which reads, “If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God.” As it turns out, these things are in fact linked. When Samuel was speaking to Israel, and they were arguing for a King to be put over them against the wishes of YHWH, Samuel equated “His [God’s] voice with “the commandment of the Lord.” That would have been the written Law of Moses, by the way. So here is a place where they mean the same thing! Ditto 2 Kings 18:12, both are referring to the written covenant God gave to Moses. There are other passages where it adds the teachings of the prophets to the list of what is the voice of God (Dan. 9:10 among others). I can see very clearly that the voice of God IS the written Word of God. As to who THAT is, don’t make me refer to John 1:1-3.
- Something that should help you understand the importance of the Word of God to the people of god is this verse: Psalm 138:2 – “I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; for You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.” God has made His word to have the same significance and value as His name. The Ancient of Days, Almighty God, the Omnipresent, the Omniscient, the Omnipotent One – has made His every Word to reflect Himself to us. Do you understand? He has placed His Word, the Holy Scriptures, to be of the same strength, position, and significance as His name – the name that Israel, the ancient people of God thought of as too holy to spell out completely! God’s word is His bond. He says it, He will do it. Now compare that “voice of God as a still small voice” bit that is basically people giving themselves permission to do whatever they want. Beloved, it isn’t the same thing at all.
- That’s why, Paul tells us, that the one who speaks this Word of God is greater than the one that speaks in an unknown language unless an interpretation is given. That’s what this verse says.
The average Charismatic (and there are exceptions to this out there, I have come across a couple, and I respect them for their stands) basically just glosses over this chapter with their eyes because they do not take the time to read it and understand the terms. Maybe that’s poor teaching at the top, or maybe it is false teaching, but whatever the reason, it needs to stop. Beloved brothers and sisters in the Charismatic movement and elsewhere – pick up your Bible and read it! Try to understand what it says on your own without resorting to notes first. Notes is just someone else’s work. Do your ON! Be a Berean! You can join us at BereanNation.com if it helps. Don’t just take some other person’s word for it. Don’t even take MY word for it! Read it! It’s all there!
6-12: The reasoning behind all gifts and reasons
As you might expect, in the Scriptures, even reasons have reasons. All of these gifts were given for a reason, and we should have at least a passing familiarity with them. You have to understand that it is the DUTY of EVERY follower, that is disciple of Christ, to know what the Bible says at least roughly when it comes to the whole book, but we MUST know the New Testament, or if you like, and some of you will, the New Covenant as followers of Him who initiated it. After a basic understanding, you can dive as deep as you want, you will never find the bottom, but you will know the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, and it will make you a free person.
Paul isn’t done explaining things, by the way. He’s going to explain why tongues is an inferior thing to set your hopes and primary doctrines on in the very next verse, so let’s just jump in.
6: But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?
- Here, Paul is covering his bases a bit if you ask me. To me, it’s like he is saying, “Okay, I hear the question – Can’t we speak in unknown languages and still edify people with that? Well, asked and answered, no you can’t. What good is it if I come speaking a language that you don’t understand (and Paul could naturally – by my understanding, Paul spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and some Phoenician dialect – at least 5 languages), if you can’t understand me? And even if I was speaking in that unknown language, what could I actually say except some revelation God gave me, some knowledge He imparted to me, or open up some prophecy He gave either me or one of the other prophets, or to teach you doctrine?”
- I can remember the first time I ever sat in a church meeting. It was the Sunday evening service at Calvary Pentecostal Church – get this – on Brinkman Road, named for my great grandfather who used to own the property as part of the old farm that was gone by the time I got there. There I was, sitting with Greg, the fellow that brought me to Christ, and Brian, the fellow that was at least trying to disciple me, and the room got quiet. I had never been in a church service on a Sunday before, so I started watching what was happening. The Pastor took his seat at the front and bowed his head (Rev. Nehring in fact), I guessed (accurately) to pray. After a few moments, without any signal from anywhere as near as I could tell, EVERYONE started “speaking in tongues.” I tell you, the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and as a martial artist, I had to fight the instinct to drop into a defensive stance physically. After a few minutes, it stopped, and Pastor Nehring conducted a fairly normal service like I have been in elsewhere, and even preached what I remember as a decent sermon that preached the gospel, although this was a long time ago, and the details are harder for me to recall.
- That was my first exposure to the practice of “speaking in tongues.” I didn’t know what to make of it, though I had personally already “spoken in tongues” at the encouragement of Greg on the night I was saved. Brian asked me about it later that evening when we went out for fellowship. I told him then that I didn’t really know what to make of it, and that was the truth. It had put me into a defensive state, and as an abused kid, you adopt that a lot, and even then I knew that, so I wrote it off. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because a year or so later at university, I was reading my Bible and discovering what was wrong with what happened there. We’ll discuss the details of that as appropriate, and it will become appropriate in this chapter, which is why I tell this story. It certainly had no benefit, other than to make one feel good. And I’ve seen the end result of faith based on emotion and feeling personally. It’s not a pretty picture.
7: Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?
- Paul continues his statement. Paul is chiding the Corinthians here. “Look at nature,” he says, “particularly at a musical instrument. If you were to produce a sound on one, if you don’t produce a distinction [diastole, a difference] in the tones, how are you going to recognize what someone is playing? As a musician, I get this. Recently, I have been making a bit of a study of the Ukulele, a 4-stringed instrument of Hawaiian origin, and I have been figuring out how to play some famous riffs on it. I’ve figured out the first bit of Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, the first riff of Sunday, Bloody Sunday by U2. Like that. You have to figure out a progression of sounds that people will recognize or you’re just making noise. It is the same with this fake version of “speaking in tongues.” I mentioned earlier the linguistic study that was done on at least 20 versions of “tongues” and the conclusion was that for at least those 20 versions, it was not any kind of language from anywhere. And if people can’t understand what you are saying, then all you are doing is worth exactly nothing. Because God’s word never returns to him without accomplishing the purpose for which He sends it out, that makes that version of tongues less than worthless, meaning it did not originate from Him. One might well ask where it did originate. We won’t get into that, but in some cases, I think I know, and it’s decidedly not heaven.
8: For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
- And if it is some kind of instruction, who would be able to follow it, not understanding what was being played? The analogy used here is a military one. Can you imagine if the bugler was ordered to sound charge, and he played the command for retreat? That would be a bad day. Or what if he just played a series of random notes that no one knew? It would immobilize the army, and make it vulnerable to attack while it tried to figure out the orders. Now apply that to a message given in some language you don’t understand, and add the knowledge that this message is crucial for you to know. My friends, are you not in a similar situation to that army at best? And yet, they want to continue the practice. According to Clement, the Corinthians didn’t and cleaned up their act? What is wrong with Charismatics today? I suspect it is filling an emotional need that they have.
9: So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
- Now Paul is being plain. If you don’t speak in a language that someone can understand, how will anyone know what you are saying? You’re just making noise – you won’t be helping anyone with any wisdom from anywhere.
10: There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning.
- Okay, Paul says, you want to speak in unknown languages? Let’s get down to the argument. Here are a great many SOUNDS [phonee, sound; marginal rendering “voices,” NOT “languages,” as the NASB says, trying to sell Bibles to Charismatics I suspect] in the world, and all of them communicate some meaning. This is important. Paul is referring to the sounds that make a plain language here. He is NOT speaking of “tongues” per se here. He is speaking of the component parts of language itself, not the language as a whole, and this distinction seems lost on the translators.
11: If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.
- Paul is saying that if he doesn’t understand this language, the one speaking it will be a barbarian [meaning stranger] to him, and vice versa. If we can’t communicate with each other, we will be strangers to each other. We cannot hope to know each other at any level.
12: So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
- So instead of rattling out nonsense syllables at each other, instead seek to speak to people whose language you DO understand, and they understand yours, so that you may build THEM us, not just yourself. Take that zeal and furious activity that you perform in the pursuit of this “speaking in tongues” and put it toward speaking the word of God in a way that it will produce life-changing effects in each others’ lives!
Basically, Paul is saying that the real gold standard here is the building up of the church, the body of Christ. If you can’t do that in ways that speak the Word of God to people in a way that they can understand, and in a way that it will bring them to a point of decision with precision, then you should channel your energy into that pursuit instead of what you are doing now, which is speaking nonsensical non-language-of-any-kind including angelic. It isn’t a private prayer language either, but we’ll talk about that when we get to the appropriate verse.
13-19: Seek others’ edification, not self-glorification
Long-time followers of this study will know that here at BereanNation.com we believe that the building up of others in their faith and convictions is what is of paramount importance, not the constant giving of commercials of how good we are and how much so-called good we are doing in the community, online or otherwise. If you are using what you do as an excuse to make this kind of public commercial about yourself, you are somebody around here that we would not like to follow, or have in any staff capacity, because it is purely selfish in nature. According to a fellow named Thomas Watson (I think), Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever. No matter who came up with it, it is best seen in the pages of the book of Psalms, in Psalm 115:1 which reads, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.” Herein is reflected who is really worthy of all the praise and worship, and what a surprise, it isn’t us. So why is it that many Charismatics what to run around and pretend that they have these gifts like tongues (all of them), or healings and miracles (guys like Benny Hinn come to mind), when Augustine, after about 500 years of church history could say with virtually no disagreement of any kind at all that these gifts were simply to verify that an Apostle was in fact an Apostle, and that these gifts ceased with the death of John, the last Apostle with a capital A? I suspect it is because they want to be seen as the one with the gift! If I am right, then I can name every single one of them as followers of that son of hell named Simon Magus, who tried to buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit with money in Acts 8. Peter had some very unkind words for him a few verses later, and according to tradition at least, Simon Magus did not meet with a good end. Why? He wanted to be the one who was seen to be in control. There is a lot going on in the heart and mind of such an individual, but it is not our purpose to speak about that hear. Maybe we can have someone do a study on that for us. If anyone here wants to give that a crack, let’s talk about that after the study tonight.
Paul here prescribes a method with all the underlying motives for the believers at Corinth. We know from Clement of Rome that they must have taken Paul seriously, because there was absolutely no mention of this in his letter to them (which we have, by the way, it was written in AD 95). Without further rambling from me, let’s look at the text.
13: Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
- It’s like Paul is saying, “If you are going to insist that you absolutely must speak in an actual language spoken somewhere (we must assume here an actual valid expression of this gift is the intended meaning), then pray that God will also help you interpret it.” Why does one interpret? Well, then, as now, so that others can understand it. Paul has already explained this, but if the church isn’t built up in love, then nothing worthwhile is actually happening, and it is nothing more than self-aggrandizing, or “Hey, look what I can do!” Drawing attention to yourself as an agenda is NOT a Christian agenda, whether this involves speaking in tongues or telling everyone that you are the finance behind a church ministry. You are, according to Jesus in Matthew 6:2, paid in full, because your desire was actually for the attention of men, and the rewards and respect that come from that, instead of working the works of God.
14: For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
- Here is another of the verses that Hagin used out of context. He took this and said see? Paul prayed in tongues. First, that isn’t what this verse says, please not the conditional “if,” but what is Paul actually saying? He is saying that IF he were to pray in this supposed private prayer language as some have called it, then his spirit would be praying, but that his mind (which does not understand the syllables he is praying) would be “unfruitful.” The Greek here is a word that literally means “without fruit.” [akarpos, compound a the negative with karpos, the fruit or result or benefit]. Paul is here in context saying that even using this as a private prayer language of some kind has no benefit! Literally! THAT’s in the Greek! Sorry, Kenneth, his doesn’t mean what you said it means. And the next verse is the proof!
15: What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.
- This is Paul rhetorically asking “What is the net result of what I have said?” Or the equivalent statement we use around the BereanNation.com offices is. “What does that mean?” What it means for Paul is that if he is going to pray, he is going to pray using his mind, and NOT use a “private prayer language” of some description. Paul’s goal wasn’t to put on a show, it was to have his (and all those he preached to) have their minds transformed. He says as much in Romans 12:2! “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” We agree with Paul here. It is the renewing of one’s mind that is the paramount importance for the follower of Christ. This is not accomplished by the mindless use of a “private prayer language,” and Paul is saying that right here. Kenneth Hagin very grievously took this out of context to defend some pet doctrinal point of his own invention. Let us not here at the Berean Nation make that same error.
- Paul also spoke of singing here, and this is of particular interest to me as a cantor of sorts. In my investigations of Charismatic practices, I have encountered (in the “congregation” of Chuck Pearce, a hyper-charismatic) the practice of singing in tongues. Was this hat Paul was referring to? Possibly. But I think this extends to us in other ways. First, what kind of songs are we singing? Are they repetitive songs that tend toward mindless singing? If they are, I personally question their value as Christian songs. Second, how are we singing the songs we ARE singing? Are we letting our minds drift as we sing the words to say, Amazing Grace, because we know the song so well? That’s another version of not exercising your mind while engaged in the exercise of speaking to each other in Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.
- What is Paul getting at here? Paul is trying to tell the Corinthian, and by extension, us, that it is the exercise of our mind during thee participatory activities of the church that is the critical thing, not just the mindless singing for the umpteenth time of All Creatures of Our God and King. Saints, make it your business to engage your MIND in the process. I can’t remember who said this, but it was well said: Christianity is a thinking man’s religion. So think about what you are doing, and think while you are doing it. To do less is to fall into this Corinthian error.
16: Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?
- Paul gives a practical example of what he means. Assume someone were to stand up and speak in tongues, and speak a blessing from God over the congregation. How would the congregation accept that blessing? How would the “ungifted” say “Amen?” And I think this verse may be aimed at church leadership because of this phrase. The Greek word for ungifted is idiotes, and although we do get our English word “idiot” from it, it means something quite different here. It refers to someone wo does not have a professional knowledge of a subject. Its original meaning is “a private person” as opposed to a public official. In the church, this would refer to a general layperson as opposed to a church official, one in a position of leadership. So church leader, don’t be speaking in tongues before your congregation, or they won’t be able to say “Amen.”
- For the record, because of that United Methodist Moron that said “Amen and Awoman” after his prayer at the opening session of the US Congress, Amen is a transliteration into Greek from Hebrew of Omain, which simply means something like “let it be so,” or words to that effect. It is a very brief way of saying, Let the will of God be done. It has nothing to do with the sex of an individual.
- Again, this verse is striking the metal on the anvil while it is hot. Paul is pointing out topically and in context just how key the ability of both you and your congregation to understand what is being said to you is in the church. If you cannot be understood, there is no point to your sermon, prayer, ministry, song, whatever. And it conveys no benefit to your congregation or to an unbeliever in your midst.
17: For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.
- And that is Paul’s point. You can do all of these things, but it does not do what it was designed to do by God, and that is edify others for the building up of the church. Let’s say that I wanted to give these Bible studies in Esperanto. Does anyone on the call this evening speak Esperanto? Probably not. I picked Esperanto on purpose, because it is a made-up language. No nation on earth has ever actually had it as their national language. It sounds kind of like Latin, but isn’t. It was originally created for the preservation of knowledge of the human race. The Chinese for a while, I don’t know if this is still the case, were really big on publishing their scientific papers in Esperanto. I had to handle a couple of them as a professional editor back in the 1990s. It gave Jinette, our French editor, a fit – because NO ONE spoke Esperanto, and our policies at Research Journal said that we had to publish the peer-reviewed article, but we had to publish the Abstract in English and in French, because they are Canada’s official languages. There are many people that speak English that are familiar with Esperanto. There were maybe two Canadian French Speakers that can translate between French and Esperanto – and neither were available to do any kind of translation for her. I can tell you that SHE was not edified, and that had nothing to do with a Church or Christ. I remember having coffee with her. She was really frazzled. Her hair was actually wound in tighter curls than usual that day. She was a sight to behold. Poor kid.
- Now – can you imagine yourself sitting in a worship service or Bible study of some kind, and the speaker began to speak in Esperanto? If you’re like me, you would sit there politely, but you wouldn’t be able to say Amen anywhere, because you would not know what it said. You would not be built up in your faith or convictions, to be sure.
18: I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all;
- And this is the verse that made me speak out at that “bible study” in the summer of 1987. Twenty-year-old me couldn’t take anymore abuse of the English language, and my mouth uncharacteristically opened all on its own. My hand went up. Brian, who was kind of leading the time, acknowledged me. “This is all out of context,” I explained. “I just read this chapter this morning, and this isn’t what the chapter says at all.” I went on from my NIV at the time to explain the context and what Paul was actually saying, kind of like I have here, although then in a great deal less detail.
- What triggered my reaction is that Kenneth Hagin said that Paul did this more than any other believer, that is speaking in tongues, Hagin’s version of it, the nonsensical polysyllabic ecstatic utterance. And at face value, without any of the surrounding context from the chapter, Hagin used this to say that speaking in tongues has been in the church from the beginning, and then asserted that it was the only way to be spiritual as a Christian, and I already KNEW that wasn’t true. So what is Paul actually saying in context? We have to understand some things.
- I have already explained that the gift of tongues is the speaking of a known human language, and there is no logical reason it would be some heavenly language of angels, since God wouldn’t need it to understand them, and they wouldn’t need it to understand each other. And we know that they do, because Jude tells us that Satan and Michael, two angelic beings argued about the disposition of the body of Moses in his brief letter. I doubt they had trouble understanding each other, and THEY were from OPPOSITE sides of the heavenly conflict. We also know that the babbling nonsense utterance was a practice of Pagan origin, so it can’t be that. It has to mean human languages.
- I also already explained that it is posited that Paul knew at least 5 languages. Certainly he knew Greek, growing up surrounded by Greek culture and language. He knew Latin also, because He was a Roman by birth and it would have been a requirement. He was a Jew, and the son of two Hebrew parents, so he knew Hebrew. He was in Jerusalem and interacting with people there, so he would have spoken Aramaic. He was from Tarsus, a Phoenician city, and probably learned some version of that language. Even four languages would have made him a legitimate polyglot in his day – and in ours. What Paul said was literally true just speaking of the languages that he could speak normally. I’ve met people that can speak seven languages fluently, and English wasn’t one of them – and he spoke pretty competent English with me. Paul could speak more languages than anyone else. That is all he is saying. How do we know? His next statement has something to do with it.
19: however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
- Listen to what he says. IN THE CHURCH is the context of his remark. Some have taken this to mean that it is okay for them to use their ecstatic babble in their private prayer times only. To such individuals, I will refer them to my remarks on verses 14 and 15 of this chapter – those remarks can apply to private times as well as times gathered with the Church.
- And what does Paul say that HE wants, and he is modelling himself as an example here and throughout, whether as an individual or in the church? Listen to this phrase, and it is the phrase that I tried to explain (fairly competently actually) that should be the real focus of this text to that bible study group at Calvary Pentecostal Church, literally on Brinkman road – a street in my hometown that actually carries my own last name – and I cared about everyone in that room, in that congregation, even Pastor Jack, the oneness Pentecostal guy that thought you could lose your salvation. Paul said that HE WOULD RATHER SPEAK FIVE WORDS WITH HIS MIND for the purposes of instruction of others than to speak TEN THOUSAND WORDS IN A[N UNKNON] TONGUE. Why? Because Paul understood that the whole point of all the Gifts of God that the Holy Spirit, the third person of our Triune God, conveyed were for the building up of the church in love, not for self-aggrandizement at the whim of the gift’s recipient.
Now, with all of that said, I am absolutely compelled by the Holy Spirit to ask how this “speaking in tongues” of today’s charismatic movement is in any way consistent with God’s will and the practice of the genuine Christian faith, which as Jude says, was once for all delivered to the saints? I am also compelled to answer my own question – it is IN NO WAY consistent with Christian practice or doctrine as taught by Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude, Luke, Matthew, Mark, or the writer of Hebrews. Those are the writers of the New Testament, friends. And this is the very text that Kenneth Hagin used to proliferate his erroneous teaching regarding “speaking in tongues.” Beloved, we have some applications of our own here, we don’t just get to call out the Charismatics and feel good about ourselves here.
How is our practice of using our mind to engage in the church? Are we off in LaLa Land daydreaming while singing the hymns that were carefully chosen as part of worship? (Worship is a verb, by the way, you must participate.) Are we singing or listening to songs that are meaty in theology and speak about Christ and repentance and the joy that gives, songs that glorify Him, like that? Or are we giving our ears to repetitive songs that mention some generic “God” and the way He makes me feel, and drifting off to mindlessness? How about when we pray? Are we using other peoples’ prayers to perform rote service and repeating phrases or words without regard to meaning or the quality of our prayers? Or are we coming up with our own materials, or using others’ prayers appropriately at appropriate times, and using our mind and speaking our own words before God when we pray? I won’t embarrass anyone by asking for an answer, but God does know your hearts and what is behind your practice of Christianity, beloved. If it is wrong, we need to repent, turning once again to Him in faith and crying out to him to transform us by renewing our mind and making us the kind of people that serve Him or our own will with joy in our own words.