Do you ever find yourself in a group having a conversation when the discussion veers off into a subject you really would rather not talk about? Worse yet, somebody turns to you and asks a direct, probing question about the topic! You’re not sure how you want to respond and so you stutter and stammer, “Umm, yes, well, I, uhh, you see…” Tongue-tied.
Well, when you commit yourself to blogging on the entire New Testament, you can’t really pick and choose your topic. I would especially like to skip over the controversial ones, but First Corinthians is not cutting me any slack. The fourteenth chapter, yesterday and today’s readings, are primarily about the issue of speaking in tongues. And where I come from, that’s a controversial topic. But, I’ll address it with the two principles I have taught in my New Testament Survey classes: The principle of primacy of Scripture – before I ask what anybody else says about a topic, I must first ask what the Bible says about the topic, and the principle of plain sense – the majority of Scripture simply means what it says in common language for ordinary people.
Here’s what I understand the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 14 to say about speaking in tongues:
It was practiced in the Corinthian church. V.2
It is speech directed to God. V.2
Tongues edify the person speaking. V. 4
Paul is OK with tongues speaking. V.5
Paul values prophecy over tongues. V.5
Paul prefers the gifts that edify the whole church. Vss.6-12
Tongues should be interpreted. V.13
Tongues are a form of prayer and praise. Vss.14-16
Paul is thankful for his own tongue speaking. V.18
Speaking intelligible words is for more useful in the church than speaking in tongues. V.19
Over-emphasizing the value of tongues comes from childish thinking. V.20
Tongues are for the fulfillment of prophecy that unbelievers will not be drawn to God by language signs. Vss.21-22
Unbridled tongue speaking in the church looks like craziness. V.23
Prophecy is far more effective for transformational witness. V.24-25
Tongues speaking can be controlled by the speaker and must be interpreted. V.26-28
Tongues speaking is not to be forbidden, but everything is to be done decently and in order. V.39-40
This is what I hear Paul saying about the gift of tongues.
What do I think about speaking in tongues? What he said.
Pray: Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on us. Give us gifts as You determine. Empower us for Your purposes. Clarify and prioritize Your gifts that there would be no misuse or abuse of them among Your people. Break us of our self-edification, and cause us to build up the Body first and foremost.