Summary: In today's lesson we learn that only tongues that are understandable build up the church.
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 Need to Be Translated.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 14:6-19:
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:6-19)
In the beginning of chapter 14 in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul wrote about the position of the gift of tongues. In the first five verses the apostle compared prophecy and tongues, and concluded that prophecy is superior to tongues.
We learned in our last lesson 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 speech.
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 to hearers.
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 only tongues that are understandable build up the church.
Let’s learn about this as follows:
1. The Purpose of Tongues (14:6-12)
2. The Effects of Tongues (14:13-19)
I. The Purpose of Tongues (14:6-12)
First, let’s notice the purpose of tongues.
Paul began by indicating that tongues, in themselves, are unintelligible. He then used himself as an illustration, saying in verse 6, “Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” I want you to notice that “tongues” in verse 6 is in the plural form. That means that it is a genuine spiritual gift, and it is therefore an understandable language. Paul’s point is that even if he came speaking foreign languages, it would not be helpful to the Corinthian congregation unless they could understand what he was saying. The congregation would only be built up if he were to bring them some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching.
It is amazing that the Corinthian Christians valued private or public utterances that no one could understand. But they did, and the Apostle Paul was trying to correct their wrong understanding regarding the supernatural sign gift of tongues.
There are Christians in our day, like the Corinthian Christians, who also value private or public utterances that no one can understand. In some instances, what is claimed to be an interpretation has been shown to be wrong.
My favorite illustration of this was given by Dr. Charles Stanley, the well-known pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, GA. Dr. Stanley wanted to provide his large congregation with a vivid illustration of how some people misunderstand tongues.