Summary: In today's lesson we learn that tongues are a sign for unblievers.

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We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.

One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of spiritual gifts. Let’s learn more about that in a message I am calling, “Tongues Are a Sign for Unbelievers.”

Let’s read 1 Corinthians 14:20-25:

20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:20-25)


Chapter 14 in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians is a very important chapter. The Apostle Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy. The church at Corinth was very confused about the proper use of the spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy, not unlike some churches in our own day.

In the first five verses the apostle compared prophecy and tongues, and concluded that prophecy is superior to tongues. We learned that Paul used the word “tongue” in both the singular form and the plural form throughout chapter 14.

Paul used the singular form for “tongue” in verses 2, 4, 13, 14, and 19 to indicate false tongues, the kind of tongues similar to pagan ecstatic utterances.

Paul used the plural form for “tongue” in verses 5, 6, 18, 22, 23, and 39 to indicate true tongues, a language that is understandable.

The only exception is found in verse 27, where the singular form of “tongue” is used to refer to a single man speaking a single genuine tongue (or language).


In today’s lesson, we learn that tongues are a sign for unbelievers.

Let’s learn about this as follows:

1. The Exhortation Regarding Thinking (14:20)

2. The Prediction Regarding Tongues (14:21)

3. The Purpose of Tongues (14:22a)

4. The Purpose of Prophecy (14:22b)

5. The Effect of Tongues (14:23)

6. The Effect of Prophecy (14:24-25)

I. The Exhortation Regarding Thinking (14:20)

First, notice the exhortation regarding thinking.

Paul began his exhortation in verse 20 by addressing the Corinthians as “brothers.” It is interesting to me how often he called them brothers in this letter. He did so 38 times in this letter, far more than in any other letter. First Corinthians was a very difficult letter for him to write, because the apostle was trying to persuade confused, disobedient, self-centered Christians to obey God’s Word. And so he often appealed to them with this tender word, “Brothers.”

So, Paul exhorted them in verse 20: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

Paul urged the Corinthians not to be children in their thinking. When it came to evil, he urged them to be infants, but in their thinking, they were to be mature.

For Paul, the Corinthians’ preoccupation with tongues was a sign that indicated their spiritual immaturity. They fixated on the temporary supernatural sign gifts—“childish ways” in the grand scheme of things—failing to hold a correct understanding of spiritual gifts.

Of course, the Bible sometimes commends childlike—not childish—attitudes in believers. Jesus presented a child’s trust as a model of faith. Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 10:15, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

In 1 Corinthians 14:20 Paul insisted that believers should be as naïve as infants in regard to evil. But Paul did not want believers unaware of evil however. He knew that Christians were to be as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16). The ideal is that Christians should be inexperienced in and separated from evil, and that they should not know much about it.

Nevertheless, while Christians should be innocent regarding evil, Paul insisted that believers should still be mature . . . in their thinking. In other words, regarding biblical doctrine and practice, Paul wanted the Corinthians to be mature in their perspectives.

Here again, as in previous paragraphs, the apostle urges believers to grow in their faith. Christianity is a religion that requires careful, attentive thinking. I urge you to get involved in some form of Bible study with other believers so that you can grow in your faith. Frankly, you will not grow much as a Christian until you are involved in an accountable Bible study with other Christians.

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