Clarifying Speaking in Tongues (part 2)
[1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 18-40]
In last week’s lesson we managed to get through the first portion of First Corinthians 14, and so today I will take up where I left off. You will recall my pointing out certain “teachings” within certain denominations, sects and even cults (God forbid) regarding speaking in tongues that are incorrectly being disseminated within and outside of the greater Christian church. Today I will continue to use the apostle Paul’s own words to instruct you all as to what is and should be considered to be orderly and reverent worship of Christ as the Son of God, as well as the original and correct definitions of the Spiritual gifts. I will begin at verse 18.
“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written: ‘Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord’. Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everybody speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!” (1Cor. 14, verses 18-25 NIV)
To put this in a nutshell (if that’s even possible with Paul’s writings), churches are not going to get any new converts or believers by prophesying, which means to accurately and decisively declare the Word of God. But, we can gain new believers and additional saved souls by speaking in other languages by speaking in the native language of those who are listening. A non-believer or first-time visitor will be able to clearly see and hear the Spirit of the Lord, with the Spirit being manifested in any one of a number of different ways according to the “gifts of the Spirit” that we went over last week. On the other hand, I have actually been in churches where people stood up and prophesied all at once, with no one there to interpret, assuming what they were saying actually made some sense in another language. I thought it was rather strange that up to several dozen people or more would be speaking in tongues all at the same time as if they were competing with each other in some childish game of spiritual leapfrog. This is nowhere near what the Bible says about speaking in tongues!
Needless to say, I did not go back to any of those churches, and if you stumble onto one of them in your search for a church home, don’t be shy about getting out of there at your earliest opportunity. Many of these speak-only-in-tongues-and-nothing-else churches, upon closer examination, turn out to be cults. I have had the misfortune of learning this the hard way, because it was just such a church that broke up my first marriage. So now you have been warned so you don’t make the same mistakes I made all those decades ago.
It is quite apparent from Paul’s writing in these few verses of chapter 14 that the Church has had a problem with these kind of denominations almost from the start. It’s just that Paul’s words so closely parallel my own experience with many of these so-called “charismatic” churches during my 22 years as a born-again Christian. The Word of God is not something to be taken lightly or trivialized over. The Bible is not just another book sold at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Each and every word within it is sacred, holy and sanctified and must be taken very seriously. Therefore I say that any teaching of the Bible that is inaccurate or misleading – assuming that the incorrect teaching is being done unknowingly – is a very serious matter indeed. And anyone who teaches the Bible in such a premeditated way so as to control and manipulate people, such as in a cult pretending to be a church – and unfortunately there are a disconcerting number of those as well – will be found guilty of apostasy at best, or blasphemy of the Holy Spirit at worst, when it comes our time to stand before the throne of Judgment. And Jesus said that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – where someone deliberately defames God or twists and perverts the Bible’s teachings in such a way as to enrich themselves or to do damage within the church, or who refuses to believe that Jesus was the Son of God – is the only sin that cannot be forgiven. And if Jesus said it, you had better believe it, because He cannot lie. I will now continue at verse 26.
“What shall we say then, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the Church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14, verses 26 thru 33 NIV)
It is clear from this quotation that the apostle Paul is giving the early church an example of what a church service should look like and how it should proceed. Everyone is to use the Spiritual gift that God gave them to the best of their ability and as they feel led by the Spirit. If someone is speaking in tongues, they should do so quietly to themselves unless there is another there to interpret. Prophecy, or proclaiming the Word of God as it applies at that moment in time, can be done without 2nd party interpretation, but praying in tongues aloud cannot, and should never be done in a disruptive or distracting manner.
The next two verses Paul mentions that, in his opinion, women should be silent in the church, with the conducting of the service being the exclusive domain of the men. First, let us keep in mind that these words were written nearly 2,000 years ago, and the world back then was a very different place – downright primitive by today’s standards, as were many of the people. But let’s also keep in mind that part of the message of the Gospel of Christ was that all humankind enjoyed unconditional equality in the sight of God. Jesus ministered to, healed and cured men and women alike, as it is well documented throughout all four gospels. So, I am going to respectfully (in God’s sight) decline to cover these two verses in this lesson on the basis that I, another follower of Jesus, do not share Paul’s opinion on this subject. I try to treat both genders equally as I live my daily life so that I might better emulate Christ who has saved my soul and who rules my life. Gender equality is more than an idealistic goal. It’s scriptural, as it is written: “You are all sons/daughters of Christ through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3, verses 26-29, NIV). And now I will finish up this lesson with the final few verses of chapter 14.
“Did the Word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, then he himself will be ignored. Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” (1 Corinthians 14; verses 36 – 40 NIV)
So, Paul is saying that what he is writing is the truth because he was led by the Spirit as he wrote his letters to the Corinthians, the Romans, Galatians and others that we will cover in the future. Anyone who refuses to go along with the order of worship as Paul has explained it will be ignored if they try to speak out of turn or otherwise unduly dominate the discussion within the service. “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”. We are all adults and so we should know what it means to be fitting and orderly in a service. And we should always do so out of a reverence for God that is highlighted by a sense of awe and worship. But there is one more important thing to consider. We don’t have to be in a church to pray to God, or to praise Him, or to worship Him. We as believers and followers of Jesus can praise, worship or pray to Him anytime and anywhere. To be at worship and to be giving God praise is the very essence of a Spirit-filled worship service, and it’s a frame of mind that we should try to be in every day. So let’s all work on this starting today, and use what we learn as we grow to live a better life for Jesus.