As I revealed in the first blog of this series, my religious experience began in the context of a Pentecostal church, where I first learned of Jesus’ love for me. Previous to my accepting Jesus as my Savior, I had drifted away from Him, due in part to my parents’ divorce and the emotional upheaval it brought to our family.
My father introduced me to Jesus when I was a teen, and my conversion was real and a welcome relief from the life I had made so difficult by my own rebellious behavior. Many friends and family members noticed that I was a changed person, after inviting Jesus into my heart.
When I began to practice speaking in “tongues”, it seemed like a natural outgrowth of my newfound faith experience, and I was convinced that it showed that Jesus truly loved and accepted me.
It wasn’t until my marriage that I began to question whether “tongues” were needed, and whether they even represented the spiritual gift that my Pentecostal friends always claimed it to be.
Here are some notes I have taken on 1 Corinthians 14, a chapter that is considered scriptural proof for those who speak in “tongues”. My viewpoint has shifted gradually and dramatically over the years, and I am so grateful the Lord has given me new light on this important subject. I hope you will carefully consider what I have found to be liberating news about how we can know Jesus without speaking in “tongues”.
“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual [gifts], but rather that ye may prophesy” 1 Cor. 14:1
The specific instruction here in 1 Corinthians 14:1 is for the Galilean disciples and for any others whom the Holy Spirit gave the unlearned ability to speak the gospel to men of other languages. I think the reason God is encouraging them to prophesy is because prophecy is of no “private interpretation”, as stated in 2 Peter 1:20. Therefore, it would be unwise to let someone tell you his own interpretation of scripture, for the Holy Spirit will give the interpretation to those who are obedient to the Lord in all His commandments (Acts 5:32).
The Bible instructs us to prove all things, and to compare scripture with scripture, in order to determine if something is false or fake. We are also instructed in 2 Tim. 2:15 to study the word. Evidently, Bible study, following by prayer for guidance, is a preferred method of understanding prophecy.
“For he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth [him]; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries”. 1 Cor. 14:2
To use your “unknown” tongue (even an authentic language but unknown to the hearer) will be as if you are speaking only to God, because God is the only one who can understand you. In this situation, your “gift” will not be prophecy, it will not be a testimony, and it will certainly not be edifying, because it is not being understood by others in the church.
Do not use your gift of speaking in another language or even in your own language while in a church, where there is no one who speaks that language, no matter how zealous you are to share your testimony. It would be better to remain quiet. Otherwise, you will be speaking a mystery to those present who can’t understand you, and you will certainly not be edifying to the church.
“But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men [to] edification, and exhortation, and comfort”. 1 Cor. 14:3
To prophesy meant to speak in place of the Most High, like Jesus did when He said He spoke only those things revealed to Him from His Father in heaven. To prophesy meant that you were speaking a message from God to the listener to bring them edification, exhortation, and comfort. To prophesy was to give the testimony of Jesus, and can be thought of the same as preaching the gospel. Rev. 19:10 says, “…the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophesy”.
“He that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church”. 1 Cor. 14:4
Love is not self-seeking. We are instructed in James 1:26, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion [is] vain.” A vain person is in essence saying, “Look at me and the gift, that God gave to me”. This is basically boasting, and is definitely misusing the gift of tongues, like what was happening at the Corinth church.
“I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater [is] he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying”. 1 Cor. 14:5
Paul is asking the Corinthians to use their gift to convey the gospel in a language that is understood by those they are speaking to, unless someone is there to “interpret, that the [whole] church may receive edifying.”
Paul, a very educated man, knew many languages. Remember also that the church in Corinth was a very diverse, multilingual church, with many languages, or tongues, being spoken there.
Verse 5 makes it clear that it will be best, when it is your turn to speak, to use languages that are already spoken in your church, and if God has blessed you with an ability, like that of Paul’s (meaning his ability to speak several languages), then the church is blessed and edified. Paul is clear that unless someone is there to interpret a foreign language, the church will not be blessed.
This concludes the first part of my study of 1 Corinthians 14. It has become apparent to me over the years that this chapter, instead of supporting the “tongues” experience, has given me the very evidence I need to understand this particular spiritual gift as God originally gave it at that Spirit-filled event during Pentecost, following the resurrection of Christ.
I pray that you come to appreciate all the spiritual gifts, and cling to the true expression of them, as God gives you wisdom and understanding from His Holy Word.