The Trouble With Tongues

The spiritual gift of tongues is not one which I claim to understand.  I have never spoken or prayed in tongues.  I have only experienced speaking in tongues once in a worship service.  To be honest, I was a little freaked out.  Some say that speaking in tongues is no longer necessary.  They believe that tongues have stilled.  They point to the previous chapter in 1 Corinthians as evidence that tongues have ceased because God gave us His Word in the form of the Bible.  I am not sure.  This is one of those very difficult to interpret passages for me.
There is another part of 1 Corinthians 14 that I find it difficult to understand:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. ​ – 1 Corinthians 14:34 (NIV)

Why would Paul say this?  I believe that verse 35 gives us the reason:

If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. – 1 Corinthians 14:35 (NIV)

This ​ whole chapter is about orderliness in worship.  It seems as though there was quite a bit of chaos when the people gathered for worship services in Corinth.  ​There would be people speaking in tongues without an interpreter.  Women would be disruptive as they asked questions of their husbands during the service.  Paul wraps it up in verse 40 with: 

…everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. –  1 Corinthians 14:40 (NIV)

​​So let us not fuss and fight over which gifts have ceased and which are still in effect.  Instead, let us heed Paul’s words and be respectful of our worship services.  What is interesting about this passage to me is that we had one of our senior saints stand up and testify yesterday during my sermon.  Should I have stopped him because he was “out of order?”  I sensed the Holy Spirit moving in our service and I know that it is the Spirit who prompted him to get up and speak.  He didn’t stand up to speak for his own glory, but rather to encourage others.  He didn’t get up to talk to be disruptive.  Instead, he wanted to testify to God’s goodness and his love for his church family.  It was a very special moment in our service.  I think that in discussions of orderliness in our worship services, we should always try to be sensitive to the movement of God’s Spirit and follow God’s Word as our guide.

1 Corinthians 14

New International Version (NIV)

Intelligibility in Worship

14 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written:

“With other tongues
and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
but even then they will not listen to me,
says the Lord.”

22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

Good Order in Worship

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.


2 Responses to “The Trouble With Tongues”

  1. 12.31.2009 at 2:37 PM

    the verse about gifts of the Spirit ceasing in 1 Cor is about the return of Jesus not the giving of scripture. Since Jesus hasn’t returned the gifts are still in effect. Tongues edify the individual. It is not what you say but what you pray in your spirit. I agree we use scriptures on order for our own comfort.

  2. 12.31.2009 at 3:32 PM

    The women of 14:34-35 are out of order because what they say is shameful. Yet in 14:26 Paul addresses all his readers as “brothers,” and says they all have something to contribute during their (informal) gatherings (in homes). Since Paul includes “brothers and sisters” when he writes “brothers,” the sisters are included in all prophesying one by one (orderly) in 14:31. So perhaps the women/wives of 14:34-35 are not sisters but wives of brothers, who have been saying shameful things like “Jesus is cursed” (as in 12:3, the beginning of this section, chapters 12-14, on spiritual gifts). If they want to learn more about the truth, they should ask their (believing) husbands at home.

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