For years now, I have been pouring over the meaning of 1 Corinthians, chapter 14, in an effort to understand the phenomenon of speaking in “tongues” as currently practiced in Pentecostal churches, where I first received my spiritual training as a teenager.
The ecstatic prayer life I experienced seemed to be real to me at the time, but upon my examination of the scriptures, it became evident to me that the prayers I had been praying were not matching up to the standards in God’s word.
So now I will continue from where we left off in the chapter, and share more of why the gift of “tongues” failed to bring me closer to God. To my horror, I discovered that I was putting myself in danger of doing just the opposite. I was opening myself to a force that had the potential to bring me deeper and deeper into deception about who God is and what His will is for my life.
Notice that once again I use quotations marks around “tongues” to refer to that which is practiced in modern Pentecostal churches.
Otherwise, tongues, without quotation marks, indicates the spiritual gift of languages, such as in Paul’s day when “every man heard them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6).
“For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” I Corinthians 14:14 KJV
Keep in mind that the word unknown is supplied by the King James interpreters, thus its inclusion in brackets. In this case (in v. 14), Paul obviously means praying in a tongue other than one’s native language.
“What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the understanding also.” v. 15
“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? v. 16
The phrase “What is it then?” in verse 15 is another way of saying “What is the conclusion then?” Therefore we see that Paul goes on to restate the point he was making in the previous verses.
This conclusion would be that unless others understand and are equally blessed by our words of prayer and praise, we have accomplished nothing. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the church, not leave out those who have no way of interpreting the foreign language we are using.
How frustrating it would be for those in the congregation not to even know when to say “Amen”.
“For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.” v. 17
The will of God is for everyone to hear the gospel message. God is not happy when people are left to hear something that makes no sense to them, with the added danger that they may even be turned away by our witness.
Once again, we must assume that Paul is referring to actual languages of the day, as with the event described in Acts, chapter 2, where their praises resulted in the Lord adding ”to the church daily such as should be saved.” As Paul emphasizes repeatedly, edification of the church is the reason spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit.
“I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:” v. 18
Paraphrased, this verse might read, “I thank God that I am a learned man, being blessed in knowing several languages.” Paul was happy that he was able to converse with so many in their native language, as churches, such as Corinth, were often known to have very diverse congregations.
“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.” v. 19
Paul doesn’t miss a chance in emphasizing the value of understanding the gospel message and the importance of speaking it in a language that others will understand, in order to be blessed. To him, speaking five words with understanding would be better than ten thousand words that could not be understood.
The next passage in this study (v. 20-25) speaks about how the spiritual gift of tongues should affect the unbeliever. How are unbelievers affected by the practice of glossolalia or speaking in “tongues”, as done by charismatic Christians today? And how are the speakers themselves affected? I’ll share more with you on this topic in my next blog.