Summary: Without interpretation, words spoken using the gift of tongues are unrecognizable. If people do not recognize – do not understand the words that you are using, then your words will have no meaning to them. All of your speaking will be worthless.
December 1, 2002 1 Corinthians 14:6-20
“I recognize that!”
Our family did not go anywhere over the Thanksgiving holiday this year. In the past, we would drive however long it took to get us to either my family’s house or Tammy’s family’s house. In my case, it would take around 11 hours. Tammy’s was considerably closer at around 6 hours. But both trips were a great distance especially to the two young children riding in the back seat constantly asking how much farther it is. Eventually we would get so tired of them asking that we promised to tell them when we were getting close if they would just be quiet and not ask that annoying question anymore. When we were no more than 30 minutes away from our destination, we would tell them that we were getting close. And the most amazing thing would begin to happen, especially when the kids were younger. They would look out the windows and say, “I recognize that!” What made it so amazing was what they were pointing to when they began to recognize things. They weren’t pointing to buildings that were brightly painted and would naturally catch a child’s eye and be remembered. They weren’t pointing to a statue or unmistakable landmark. They were pointing at a tree 30 miles outside of Atlanta and saying, “I recognize that tree!” Or they might point to a cow in a field 15 miles outside Lynchburg, VA, and say, “I recognize that cow!” They might even point to a car speeding past us on the other side of the highway and think that they recognized that! The more that they recognized these things, the more excited they became. For them, recognizing these things meant that they soon would be with people that they recognized. Recognition carries meaning and significance with it.
That is Paul’s main message in the passage that we are going to meditate on this morning. Recognition brings meaning not only when you are traveling to the homes of relatives, but also when you are trying to communicate a message from God to people. If people do not recognize – do not understand the words that you are using, then your words will have no meaning to them. All of your speaking will be worthless. And Paul says that that was what was going on as people at the church of Corinth were exercising the gift of tongues in an improper way resulting in division rather than unity and growth.
Last week, we began a study on 1 Corinthians 14 and the gift of tongues. This is really part of a larger study on 1 Corinthians 12-14 in which we are trying to discover what makes a healthy church. In the first 5 verses of this chapter, we saw that the gift of prophecy – the ability to communicate a message from God in understandable and direct terms, is more useful than the gift of tongues within the context of the church worship service. Whenever you interpret this chapter, it is important that you remember that every directive that Paul gives in this chapter in regard to tongues relates only to what happens when the church meets together for worship. For that reason, we are not going to get into whether or not the gift of tongues is ever expressed as a personal private prayer-language between the individual and God. The gift of tongues is, as we said last week, the ability to speak a language that you did not learn whether that language is a language spoken among men or a language that only God recognizes.
As we look at vs. 6-20 this morning, I have two goals for us. The first is that we will be as brief as possible so that my words will not get in the way of what the Holy Spirit wants to say to us. The second is that my words will be so clear and touch so close to home that you will not be able to escape what the Holy Spirit wants to say and do in your life today. Listen carefully. See if you recognize the Spirit’s voice speaking to your heart.
1. Without recognition, there can be no profit. (vs. 6)
There are two clear teachings in this verse that all of us should be able to agree on. The first is that tongues alone has absolutely no profit for the gathered church. There are two possible ways that you could read this verse. “…if I come to …unless [in addition] I bring you…” With that reading, the real profit is in the teaching or the prophecy, not in the tongues. Or, “…if I come…unless [through it] I bring you…” Even if that is the real gist of what Paul is saying, for teaching or prophecy or knowledge or revelation to come through tongues, there has to be an interpretation. That’s what verse 5 taught us. There has to be an interpreter for tongues to have any profit for the church as a whole. Either of these interpretations could be the correct one. But both of them teach basically the same thing. If I or anyone else came up to this microphone and began speaking to you in a different language, because you can’t recognize what is being said through tongues, there is no way for you to profit from those words. It’s kind of like buying a bike that needs assembling. It may be the greatest bike that a kid has ever gotten, but he can’t ride it until it’s put together.