This is an exposition of 1 Corinthians 14 that we’ll walk through verse by verse to gain a greater understanding of what tongues are according to Scripture. We’ll see that there are multiple varieties and expressions of tongues, and all with their own particular benefits. I want to build your faith regarding tongues because I believe as new creation beings, God has given us a new language of the Spirit that is a powerful key to walking in the Spirit and unlocking the supernatural in our life. I believe every believer should be informed of this gift so they can take full advantage of it.
I first want to look at the different kinds of tongues because this will help us immensely when we work through 1 Corinthians 14.
Scripture reveals 2 kinds of tongues:
Known language tongues. Unknown language tongues.
Known language tongues are where the Holy Spirit temporarily gives someone the ability to speak a language they don’t previously know. The purpose of this is to reach unbelievers with a message from God in their own language. This kind of tongues doesn’t need interpretation since the language is already clear to the beneficiaries of this gift. A great example of this gift is in Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, where after the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit they began speaking in other tongues. The Bible says there were unbelievers outside (Jewish pilgrims and converts to Judaism), who were from all over the world, who were bewildered to hear these Jewish people speaking in their own native languages. This was a sign and a wonder that helped open them up to the Gospel and eventually get saved. This kind of tongues is God speaking to people.
Unknown language tongues is not any distinguishable known language on earth. This is a new spiritual language for born again new creation believers. When we are born of the Spirit and filled with the Spirit then our reborn spirit receives this new language of the Spirit. The Bible calls it speaking mysteries in the spirit (1 Corinthians 14:2). This language cannot be understood with the mind, only the spirit. The apostle Paul says that when he prays in tongues it’s his spirit praying (1 Cor 14:14). That’s why many refer to this kind of tongues as “praying in the spirit”. (Jude 1:20). If you try to understand it with your mind it will just seem very strange, but when you understand it from the spirit it actually becomes very normal. (1 Cor 2:14).
There are two kinds of these unknown tongues:
As a personal prayer language for the believer.
As a prophetic word when accompanied with a gift of interpretation.
Personal prayer tongues is when we speak to God, but prophecy tongues is when God speaks to people. The purpose of personal prayer tongues is to edify ourselves, and the purpose of prophecy tongues is to edify the Church.
So technically, there are actually 3 kinds of tongues:
When believers speak to God. (Unknown tongue, personal prayer language).
When God speaks to believers. (Unknown tongue, interpretation needed).
When God speaks to the lost. (Known tongue, no interpretation needed).
Now there are only 3 occasions in the Bible (in the Book of Acts) where we see believers speaking with tongues after being filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe if you look closely you will actually see our 3 different kinds of tongues in use.
1. In Acts 2 the believers spoke in the gift of known language tongues where it was God speaking to the lost outside.
Acts 2:1-6 “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.”
2. In Acts 10 we see the new Gentile believers speaking in tongues and magnifying God. This was the believers speaking to God in their new prayer language tongues.
Acts 10:44-46 “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.”
3. In Acts 19 we see twelve disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit who then spoke with tongues and prophesied. Their prophesying shows the direction of their tongues which was God speaking to people. This was most likely tongues with interpretation, which is prophecy or at least equal to it.
Acts 19:5-7 “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.”
Now you could argue that these three occasions involved known language tongues, however, in the last two cases there would have been no purpose for known tongues since everyone was already born again.
With all this in mind, let’s now take a look at 1 Corinthians 14, verse by verse, and see what else we can learn about tongues, as this is the most insightful chapter in the Bible regarding tongues.
The apostle Paul brought correction to the church regarding spiritual gifts and especially tongues. Why was that? Because the Corinthian church meetings were out of control due to an excessive and inappropriate use of tongues. Paul, as their apostolic spiritual father, had to correct them and bring order back to their services.
The problem with the Corinthians was that they were using tongues (and other spiritual gifts) in an individualistic and self-seeking way. This was not spiritual but carnal since the intended purpose of the gifts is to edify and bless the whole church. From the context it appears that many of the believers were getting up in the services and speaking in personal prayer tongues and then sitting down without any clarity or explanation. On top of that there was no protocol for taking turns but instead all spoke over the top of each other which resulted in chaos and confusion with no mutual edification of the church.
Now Paul’s response is not like most churches or leaders who deal with an excessive misuse of the gifts. Many people will just ban the gifts for a while or forbid them altogether in church services. We will see that Paul is much more spiritual than that and redeems the gifts through wisdom. He merely makes a few corrections in order to see the gifts being used for their intended purpose and flourishing once again in the Church.
1 Corinthians 14
Verse 1: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.”
The answer to abuse is not non-use, but proper use!
Even though Paul is about to correct them for their misuse of spiritual gifts, he doesn’t discourage them from using them. Instead he exhorts them to “desire spiritual gifts” and simply corrects and guides them how to use these the right way.
It’s such a shame when churches react to the abuse of the gifts and discourage their use in their church services. It seems Paul is different. He continues to place value on the gifts even with the risk of them being misused. Are we robbing the Body of Christ today of these gifts that are given by God to build up the Church because we are fearful they could be misused?
Have we relegated the gifts of the Spirit to only be used in homegroups, prayer meetings or one on one evangelism and banned them in our corporate church services because we are afraid things could get out of control or that people might think we are crazy?
The whole of chapter 14 is about using gifts in a corporate church setting, and here Paul gives us the method on how to set a safe environment for the gifts to operate effectively and appropriately in a church service. What is this safe environment?
“Love” is the safe environment because love doesn’t look to yourself but looks outward to others. Therefore, the gifts don’t become about ourselves but about others.
Love will cause you to desire the gifts that build others up and not seek to make yourself look good in front of everyone. Prophecy is a gift that does this. Why? Because prophecy is clear and everyone can understand it and be edified, as opposed to a personal prayer tongues that only edifies the individual whose praying.
Verse 2-4: “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.”
These three verses highlight the nature and differences between personal prayer tongues and prophecy, and therefore later why prophecy is more appropriate in a church service than personal prayer tongues.
The nature of these tongues is that it’s an individual speaking to God, in a language that is unknown to others (mysteries in the spirit), and which edifies that individual.
The nature of prophecy is that it is God speaking to people, in a language that is known and understandable, and edifies others people.
The difference between tongues and prophecy:
Tongues is people speaking to God, while prophecy is God speaking to people.
Tongues is unclear to others listening, while prophecy is clear and understandable to all.
Tongues builds up the individual, while prophecy builds others up.
That’s why in a church service prophecy is more appropriate than tongues because prophecy speaks to everyone to encourage, exhort and comfort, while personal prayer tongues is merely an individual having a private conversation with God that others can’t understand or benefit from. This is where Paul is going with all of this.
But before we move on, let’s take a quick look at what personal prayer tongues actually are and how we can benefit from their intended use.
Personal prayer tongues:
Verse 2 gives us the most insightful understanding about personal prayer tongues in all of Scripture:
“For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.”
This is clearly not referring to the gift of known language tongue, as on the Day of Pentecost, where God is speaking to man. These are personal prayer tongues where man speaks to God. How do we know that? Because these kinds of tongues, “no one understands”. If it were a known tongue then people could understand them if they could speak that language.
Now the reason no one understands is because, “in the spirit he speaks mysteries.”
To anyone listening “in the natural”, these tongues wouldn’t sound like any recognizable language but rather as though the person were speaking gibberish or gobbledegoo! However, though it may sound strange, they are not speaking a language that is without meaning. It’s just that the natural mind can’t understand it.
The word “mysteries” is the Greek word mystḗrion and it doesn’t refer to something that is unknowable. It refers to something that can only be known by revelation or by the Spirit.
As new creation beings, who are now born of the Spirit and have become a new species of being, it makes sense that God has given us a new spiritual language in order to communicate with Him spirit to spirit. Our mind has a lot more limitations than our reborn spirit has and tongues therefore help us go further into the spirit realm than our mind can take us.
Tongues are only strange to the natural mind because they are not a natural language but a spiritual language. They can only be understood in the spirit. That is why it says, “in the spirit he speaks mysteries”. We will never understand these tongues as long as we are trying to understand them with our natural mind. We have to understand them from our spirit as Paul seeks to help us to understand in 1 Corinthians 2:
1 Corinthians 2:9-14 “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Now those that are spiritually discerning can accept and understand that tongues is the prayer language of our spirit communing with God. Our mind won’t understand what is being said, but our spirit can know by revelation, unction and discernment what is being interacted between our spirit and the Holy Spirit.
There are actually three expressions of personal prayer tongues. Here they are along with their benefits:
Praying in tongues.
Singing in tongues.
Interceding in tongues.
Praying in tongues.
“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.”
This is an individual experience where you spend time alone with God praying in tongues. The purpose is twofold: it’s to spiritually build up your inner man/woman with God’s strength and help you to “get in the Spirit”.
When you get in the Spirit you become more aware of the Holy Spirit and in tune with Him. You start thinking the way God thinks and believing the way God believes. You start seeing what God sees and hearing what God is saying.
Jude 1:20 “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit…”
When John was on the Island of Patmos, he said that he was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s day and he hear a loud voice behind him, and when he turned around he saw and spoke with the glorified Christ. He didn’t hear and see Jesus with his natural eyes and ears, he heard and saw Him in the Spirit. (Revelation 1:9-20). In order for John to be able to hear and see in the Spirit, he had to be in the Spirit. That means that he had to do something to get in the Spirit because being in the Spirit is not automatic. In Galatians 5:25 Paul says, “Since you live in the Spirit, also walk in the Spirit.” If walking in the Spirit was automatic to all believers, then every believer would be walking around in the Spirit seeing and hearing God. Yet we don’t see this because it’s not automatic. You have to get in the Spirit. How? By praying in the Spirit. If we want more of the supernatural activity of God in our life then we have to simply spend more time praying in tongues and getting in the Spirit.
Luke 4 says that Jesus went into the wilderness full of the Spirit but came out in the power of the Spirit and began to minister powerfully. Many believers are full of the Spirit but don’t move in the power of the Spirit? What makes the difference? Jesus spend forty days in the wilderness doing nothing but being led by the Spirit and most certainly praying in the Spirit.
If you want to hear God and know His will more clearly, simply spend more time praying in tongues and getting in the Spirit.
If you want to move in the gifts of the Spirit then tongues is the key that unlocks all the other gifts! Praying in the Spirit will take you into the Spirit and the more you are in the Spirit the more you will flow in the gifts of the Spirit. A prophetic friend of mine told me he spends 2-3 hours praying in tongues before he ministers in a meeting. While he is praying in tongues the Holy Spirit will start telling him what He is going to do in the meeting and starts activating the gifts in Him to do it. My friend often sees incredible healings, extremely accurate words of knowledge and wisdom which often lead to many miracles and deliverances and numerous other gifts flowing. He says the key is praying in tongues a lot!
Singing in tongues.
Paul says he will pray with his spirit (in tongues), and he will sing with his spirit (in tongues). (1 Corinthians 14:15).
Jesus said in John 4:23-24 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Singing in tongues is simply worshipping God with your spiritual language and it helps you to go deeper in worship.
This kind of singing in tongues can be private or public. You do this on your own when you worship God but a whole congregation can also do this in a worship service.
On the Day of Pentecost and at Cornelius’ house, when the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, they lifted their voices together in tongues and magnified God. These kinds of moments are hard to manufacture in a meeting as they are Spirit led and spontaneous. They can be very powerful moments in corporate worship that lift the congregation up into higher places of worship and encounters with God.
Romans 8:26-27 “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
This is a different kind of praying in tongues. This is not the personal edification tongues. This is intercession tongues where the Holy Spirit takes us into a time of praying to see God’s will birthed in the spirit. It comes upon you almost as how labor comes upon a woman. These “groanings which cannot be uttered” are similar to the groans a woman experiences with labor pains in bringing forth a child. These verses are actually found in the context of giving birth. (See Romans 8:19-23).
Intercession prayer is giving birth to the will of God in our lives or on behalf of others.
Sometimes when you are praying in tongues, all of a sudden something shifts and a spirit of intercession comes upon you. Suddenly you are in labor praying for something the Holy Spirit is laying upon your heart to do with His will. This kind of praying can literally sound like you are in labor as it is tongues and groanings in the Spirit that cannot be understood in words. You must pray until you have the spiritual breakthrough. As with child birth you cannot give up halfway through, you must continue until there is a breaking through. This is a spiritual shift and release where a joy and peace comes into your spirit and you know you have the breakthrough. Childbirth is labor but as soon as the baby comes forth so does joy and peace.
Intercessory prayer is powerful and beneficial because as we breakthrough the will of God will literally manifest in the very situation we were praying for. If you are wanting to see certain breakthrough in areas of your life or other people’s lives, spend time in intercessory prayer and get some spiritual breakthroughs. Again, with the natural mind this will all seem strange, but to the spirit this is very normal and beneficial.
Intercessory prayer can take place privately and publicly. In fact, in a corporate prayer meeting I have experienced this kind of praying to be very powerful and effective. You can even do this in a church service, as long as you explain what is happening with clear instruction so people can understand what is happening, participate and be mutually blessed.
Paul commends Epaphras for praying like this on behalf of other:
Colossians 4:12 “Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
Through laboring in intercession, Epaphras was helping to bring forth powerful sons of God!
Now let’s carry on with the chapter.
Verse 5: “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.”
It’s no surprise that Paul wished the Corinthians all spoke in tongues, since it has such incredible benefits to the spiritual life of a believer. However, in the church Paul would rather they prophesied. Does this mean prophecy is more important than tongues? Of course not. Tongues was the very first thing believers did in the Book of Acts after being filled with the Spirit. This shows it’s very important.
But here Paul is saying that in a church service it is better to give a clear prophetic word so everyone can understand and be encouraged rather than a personal prayer tongue that will be confusing to everyone.
Unless of course these tongues are followed by an interpretation. In this case these are totally different tongues. These are now the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:7,10) where God is now speaking to people. Suddenly these tongues become equal to prophecy because now God is speaking to people and it is clear so that everyone can be mutually edified. These kind of tongues are acceptable and encouraged by Paul in a church service.
Now the fact that this kind of tongue requires an interpretation shows us that they are still an unknown tongue that requires a supernatural gift of interpretation for anyone to understand it. If it were a known language tongue, as on the Day of Pentecost, it wouldn’t require a gift of interpretation to understand it because people who spoke that language would already understand, it as they did on Pentecost.
Verse 6: “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?”
If Paul were to come to the Corinthians and get up and just speak in his personal prayer tongues it would have no benefit to them since they couldn’t understand what he’s saying. He would only benefit them if he came speaking a message that was clear. And if that point isn’t clear, he really drives it home with the next six verses:
Verses 7-12: “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.”
Again, I love that Paul doesn’t discourage the Corinthians for being zealous for spiritual gifts in their church services. Rather he instructs them how to use the gifts appropriately and effectively, and that is to use them in a way that is clear and understandable so they can edify people and not confuse them.
Verse 13: “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”
Here Paul is not forbidding speaking in tongues in a service, he’s just saying that if you do have tongues in a service it should be the gift of tongues with interpretation because the interpretation is what will make it clear what God is saying.
And again, is Paul talking about a known tongue such as on Pentecost or an unknown tongue that sounds like mysteries in the spirit that requires supernatural revelation to understand?
If we look at this logically we’ll see it’s clearly referring to an unknown tongue.
This is a tongue that requires supernatural interpretation. We know that because Paul says that if you speak this kind of tongue in the church you need to pray for the interpretation. This means the interpretation is a gift from the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t come from the natural mind or by knowing the language. If this was a known tongue then someone could simply translate it in the natural if they knew the language. They wouldn’t need to pray for the interpretation.
This is a very powerful kind of tongue and it’s equal to prophecy since it is God speaking to the church. These tongues are inspired by the Holy Spirit and the interpretation can only come as a revelation from Him.
Verses 14-15: “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.
Paul says all of this to help the Corinthians understand that they have a choice. They don’t have to spend the entire service praying in personal prayer tongues as though the Holy Spirit has overridden their will and is making them pray in tongues. No, they can use their free will to choose to minister from their understanding (native language) or from their spirit (tongues). Paul says, “If I pray in tongues, my spirit prays.” This is not the Holy Spirit taking control of you, this is you choosing to pray in tongues. The tongues are coming from your spirit, not the Holy Spirit.
Of course, if a gift of the Spirit manifests then that is coming from the Holy Spirit as He will and we can choose to respond to it and let it flow through us:
1 Corinthians 12:11 “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”
But this gift would manifest with an interpretation so that everyone can understand.
Paul is simply saying that they have a choice, and since they have a choice rather choose to speak things that are clear and people can understand than things no one can understand.
Verses 16-17: “Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.”
Paul is not saying that we don’t minister in the Holy Spirit in a service, or even that we don’t minister from our spirit in a service. No we need to minister in the Holy Spirit and from our spirit. But what Paul is referring to is when people get up and share a word in tongues that simply comes from their own spirit and is not a gift of the Holy Spirit. If we do that then we might be blessed but no one else will be because they don’t understand what we’re saying.
You can see that Paul is continually reinforcing that ministry in a church service should have clear direction and instruction and should be done to edify the whole church. It should not just be every individual for themselves. This leads to chaos, confusion and does more harm than good.
Verses 18-19: “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
Paul is not playing down tongues or discouraging their use. He loves tongues and again gives them great value and importance. When Paul says he speaks in tongues more than all of them he’s simply referring to his own private prayer tongue where he’s praying mysteries to God for his own personal edification. He’s saying if he had to choose between praying ten thousand words in these tongues or five words with his understanding in church, he would choose the five words so that everyone can benefit instead of just himself.
Verses 20-22: “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. 21 In the law it is written: ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,’ says the Lord.”
Paul basically says, in a loving way, “Grow up and stop acting like immature babies!” In fact, all of their tongues in their services are equal to a sign of unbelief and that they are behaving like infants who lack understanding.
Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11,12 where Isaiah gives a prophecy about Israel going into captivity by foreign kingdoms (Babylon) because of their sinful behavior springing from their unbelief in God. Hence people of other tongues will speak to Israel. As long as Israel is hearing these foreign tongues, it’s a confirmation of their unbelief. Isaiah says that even while they are going through all of this, they still won’t hear God. God was speaking to Israel through these foreign tongues and yet Israel couldn’t hear because of their stubborn immaturity.
Verse 22: “Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.”
Paul is effectively saying that to get up and speak in unknown prayer tongues in church is to treat everyone like unbelievers who can hear you but can’t understand what you’re saying. But to prophesy is to treat people as believers because they can hear and understand.
Verse 23: “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?”
Again, Paul isn’t referring to the gift of known tongues, nor the gift of unknown tongues with interpretation. He’s referring to personal prayer tongues.
If unbelievers came into a church and heard people speaking in gifts of known languages, they wouldn’t think they are out of your mind, they would merely think they are inconsiderate to be conducting a meeting in languages foreign to everyone. Or, if they could speak that language, they would be able to understand the tongue and hear God speaking to them.
If you had a lot of tongues with interpretation they wouldn’t think you’re mad either. They would think the language sounds weird but would appreciate that it is being translated, especially if God is speaking to them in a way they can’t deny.
But they would think you are out of your mind if everyone is speaking strange things that don’t sound like any language, and especially if there is no interpretation or no clarity of what is going on. It’s pretty obvious Paul is referring to personal prayer tongues and how inappropriate it would be to conduct a church service in them.
Verse 24-25: “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”
The reason prophecy will have a greater effect on an unbeliever than personal prayer tongues is because prophecy is God speaking to them in a language they can understand. In order for God to reveal the secrets of an unbelievers’ heart that unbeliever has to understand what is being said.
This also shows us that prophecy is actually a wonderful and powerful gift that has the ability to breakthrough to an unbelievers’ heart and see them turn to God! Surely this is to be encouraged more in church services. Every church should give importance and space to the prophetic if this is the effect it can have.
Verse 26: “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
Oh, for churches where everyone comes on a Sunday loaded with the Holy Spirit and ready to be used!
Wouldn’t you rather have to deal with the chaos of everyone wanting to do something all at once than having no one wanting to do anything? Here, Paul doesn’t discourage their spiritual zeal, he directs it. Instead of all coming with a prayer language tongue and the meeting not being edifying, rather all come with something that can bless everyone. You could come ready to move in the Spirit with a Psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation and so on. But whatever you do, let it be clear and with the purpose of edifying the whole church.
Verses 27-28: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.”
Paul now starts to give instruction on how to have multiple people ministering in the gifts but with order. Paul doesn’t discourage the gift of tongues but his instruction will help their tongues to be effective.
Here is the instruction:
Let two, or at the most three give a tongue, one at a time and then stop.
If you do more than that you’re going to lose track.
Then let one interpret.
You don’t need lots of people interpreting, one will do.
It doesn’t have to be the one who gave the tongue, it can be anyone.
It’s an interpretation not a translation. An interpretation is the meaning of the tongue that the Holy Spirit reveals, its not a word for word translation.
This is not a sermon, it’s a short, simple and clear revelation of the tongue.
If there is no interpretation, then it’s a sign the person was just praying in their prayer language tongues and was not a gift of tongues. They should rather keep that to themselves since it doesn’t edify the whole church. Or they themselves should pray for the interpretation and speak it to the church.
Verses 29-30: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.”
Notice that Paul has a pattern. It’s always two or three at the most at one time followed by a clear explanation of what was just said. It’s the same for a tongue as for a prophecy. Three tongues at the most and then the interpretation for everyone’s benefit. Three prophecies at the most and then let everyone judge or weigh up or process those prophecies.
Verse 30: “But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.”
This simply means wait your turn. Don’t just jump up and start speaking over someone, wait for them to sit down. There can’t be multiple people speaking over the top of each other.
It also could mean that someone is self-indulgent and is going on for too long while the Holy Spirit has moved on to someone else. In this case the first person needs to “keep quiet” and sit down. It’s always good if the leadership can help guide this along.
Verse 31: “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.”
Paul is not saying that every service everyone should prophesy. He is simply saying that it’s better to prophesy one by one so that everyone can hear. This is how to have effective prophecy in the church. Not everyone all at the same time where everything gets lost in the noise, but rather one clear voice at a time. That way all can hear, understand and be encouraged.
Verses 32-33: “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
I believe this means two things. Firstly, that we have control over ourselves, and secondly that there is accountability with the way we use the gifts.
My spirit is subject to me and I have control over it. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just take hold of you and make you do anything. He can only minister through you as you yield to Him. So, no one can blame the Holy Spirit for their weird, confusing and offensive behavior. If you allow the Holy Spirit, He will move through you powerfully, but you can switch it off anytime you want because you are in control of your own spirit. The Holy Spirit won’t just bypass your free will and control you in a way that’s beyond your control. At any point you can make Him stop because you are in control. You can’t say, “Well the Holy Spirit just made me speak in tongues for forty minutes in front of the congregation and then give five prophecies, another ten tongues and fifteen interpretations. There was nothing I could do the Holy Spirit just took over.”
No, you can stop that anytime you like because your spirit is subject to yourself. God is not the author of confusion but peace.
Also, your ministry gift is subject to other ministry gifts. It’s not a free for all. God has set divine order and authority in the church. People can’t just do whatever they want in a meeting. You need to be accountable and submitted to leadership in order to operate in true authority in the meetings. This is actually a very good thing. It’s God’s protection against chaos and against certain people taking advantage of the flock. Now the leadership may be useless but that doesn’t mean we can just bypass them and do whatever we want. If everyone who wants to prophesy honors the leadership then there’ll be safety and order and peace in the meetings.
This doesn’t mean that wild things can’t happen, it just means they won’t be weird, strange, confusing and fleshy. The Day of Pentecost was pretty wild in the Holy Spirit with fire and wind and what seemed like drunken behavior, but there was still the safety of leadership and divine order.
Then we have these next few verses…!
Verses 34-35: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”
Now woman don’t need to be afraid of these verses today, and men shouldn’t insist on them. This is extremely culturally specific for the Gentile churches who were coming out of idolatry and paganism that had cultures and practices that were causing disorder in the churches. If your church is dealing with the exact same cultural issues as the Corinthians then perhaps you could apply these verses but I highly doubt it. In any case it would be prudent to spend time thoroughly researching the reasons behind why Paul makes these kinds of statements before trying to apply them to the Church today. There are many other places in scripture that mention woman being used in ministry, and especially if you look closely. A couple examples:
1 Corinthians 11:5 & 11 “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved (cultural)…Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.
Also, God commands Adam and Eve (male and female) to rule and have dominion and subdue the earth. (Genesis 1:27-28). This wasn’t just to man but also to woman. The curse may have affected this but the New Covenant restores it as we see on the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:17 “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…And on My menservants and on My maid servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.”
Verse 36: “Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?”
This is more of a summary statement over all the corrections that Paul has just given them. What Paul means here is that the Corinthians are not the original and only church who can just do whatever they want without any regard for the Word of God. They didn’t make up the Word of God, they received it and they need to honor it.
Verses 37-38: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
If anyone is truly spiritual in the church or a true prophet they will recognize Paul’s words as commandments from the Lord. Instructions that are given to help them and they need to receive them and make the necessary adjustments.
Verses 39-40: “Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Paul’s closes this subject not leaving them fearful to step out in the gifts but instead encouraging them to do just that. After correcting so much chaos regarding tongues he then tells them not to forbid speaking in tongues. Many people are adamant today that you cannot speak in tongues in church at all. Paul says it’s fine as long as there is clarity, but rather desire to prophesy. His main point is that whatever you do make sure it is done decently and in order so that the church can understand and be built up.
~ Ryan Rufus.
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