15 DAYS TO PENTECOST – THE GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT 4
TEXTS: 1 CORINTHIANS 14:12-33
REFLECTION: As there is great interest in the gifts of the Spirit, and in particular a fascination with the gift of tongues, we are examining what God’s Word teaches on the subject. Over and over the Apostle reminds us that the first and greatest goal of God’s people is the “edifying—or building up-- of the church!”
12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
To understand this passage requires some knowledge of the original language. Paul wrote in Greek. The passage, “my understanding” (v.14) is not clear to the modern ear. The dative form of “understanding,” would have been better translated, “understanding of me…” In other words Paul is teaching that if we pray in a language that no one else around us understands, then our spirit is praying but the “understanding of me” is unfruitful—those listening will have no idea what we are saying as we pray.
Paul urges the church to pray, sing, and bless the Lord in a language that those who are in the room will understand. Otherwise, those listening will not know when to say “Amen!”
There are times when the Holy Spirit intercedes for us “with groaning that cannot be spoken,” (Romans 8:26). At times we don’t know how to pray. We don’t even know what we should pray for. Yet the Spirit intercedes for us. When we can’t speak, He speaks for us.
When we can speak, and pray, and sing, and bless the Lord, it is best to do so in a language that those around can understand.
17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.
22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
Perhaps the most grievous misunderstanding surrounding the gift of tongues is the intended audience for this gift. Tongues are specifically not given to show other Christians that we are uniquely blessed or gifted by God’s Spirit. Tongues are explicitly given, “for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” (v.22)
To require that believers speak in tongues to prove that they are filled with the Holy Spirit is unscriptural. Sure those who were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost spoke in tongues. Of course the same gifts were given to the believers in Samaria and at the house of Cornelius. But in other places and at other times the Holy Spirit was given and there is no mention of the gift of tongues.
The Apostle Paul was direct. Tongues are for the benefit of the unbelievers. When unbelievers hear and understand the truth of God’s Word, they will be convicted and converted.
23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
32 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 churches of the saints.
The Apostle lays down specific instructions regarding the gift of tongues and Christian worship:
1. Let all things be done for edifying—building up the body of Christ.
2. Take turns if you are speaking in tongues—one at a time please.
3. Only speak in tongues if there is someone who can interpret—if there’s no interpreter there should be no one speaking in a language that the congregation does not understand.
4. No more than 2 or 3 prophets should speak in the services.
5. The Spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet—if it is of God then it is not proper to say, “I couldn’t stop,” or “I couldn’t help myself.”
6. God is not the author of confusion.
7. God is the author of peace.