Summary: Paul’s statement in verse 10 gives us good reason to believe that he was referring to known languages and not some “heavenly” language.
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE PASSAGE:
The story is told about three kids bragging about their fathers: The first one said, “My dad’s so smart he can talk for one hour on any subject.” The second one said, “My dad’s so smart he can talk for two hours on any subject.” Finally, the third one said, “My dad’s so smart he can talk for 3 hours and doesn’t even need a subject.” (Source unknown).
Paul’s statement in verse 10 gives us good reason to believe that he was referring to known languages and not some “heavenly” language. Each known language is different and yet it has its own meaning. No matter how sincere a speaker may be, if I do not understand his language, he cannot communicate with me. No one can be understood unless their messages are communicated in a manner that is meaningful to the listener.
In verses 12-15 Paul reminds the Corinthians that it is better to be a blessing to the church than to experience some kind of personal “spiritual excitement.” If a person is able to speak in a tongue (language) he is not familiar with, his spirit (inner person) may share in the experience, but his mind is not a part of the experience. The word “spirit” in verses 14-15 does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but to the inner person. If the speaker is to be edified personally, he must understand what he is saying and this requires an interpreter. This means that an interpreter needs to be present or the speaker himself has the gift of interpreting.
There is a proper place for the intellect in Christianity. In praying and singing, both the mind and the spirit are to be fully engaged (v. 15). When we sing, we should think about the meaning of the words we are singing. When we pour out our feelings to God in prayer, we should not turn off our capacity to think. True Christianity is neither barren intellectualism nor thoughtless emotionalism. All of this discussion emphasized once again the superiority of prophecy over tongues: prophecy needs no interpretation and can therefore be a blessing to everybody.
This is a reminder to me that when I speak, I need to say things in such a way that they can easily be understood, whether to my wife, my children or to those that I come in contact with.