Over the years, I have often been asked my opinion about speaking in tongues.
My response has been to invite people to prayerfully and carefully read 1 Corinthians 12-14.
I also ask them to filter out the previous teaching that they may have already heard.
— For my Baptist friends I ask them to take seriously Paul’s desire that everyone would speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14.5).
— For my Charismatic and Pentecostal friends, I ask them to consider the fact that the Holy Spirit distributes gifts as he chooses (1 Corinthians 12.11), and that not all people will speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12.30).
I believe a humble reading of these three chapters in 1 Corinthians will clarify much about speaking in tongues.
Paul placed great value on the gifts of the Spirit. They are God’s “tools” designed to build up the church.
The words, “build up,” are mentioned seven times in chapter 14, reflecting Paul’s desire for the members of the church to build up each other in love.
A unified, strong church increases the ability to reveal the character of God to a world that desperately needs him.
Paul appreciated all of the gifts of the Spirit, but he wanted them to be used properly in the church.
— 1 Corinthians 14.1-5 – Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.
For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit.
On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church.
Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.
One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
What exactly was Paul’s point about tongues?
(1) Tongues have two valid purposes.
(a) Tongues are a prayer language, where the person’s spirit communes with God. The speech is mysterious because the praying person doesn’t understand what they are saying.
Praying in tongues builds up the person who prays.
I don’t have the gift of tongues, but people who use tongues in prayer tell me that it has increased their intimacy with God.
Some of my Catholic and Episcopal friends believe that the Charismatic renewal has increased the personal nature of God within their denominations.
Liturgy that may seem dry and formal takes on a new dimension when the Holy Spirit breaks in with the gift of tongues.
Paul recommends the use of tongues as a prayer language.
(b) The second use of tongues is a spontaneous communication of God’s will to the church.
Paul discouraged the use of tongues in this form if an interpreter was not present.
(2) We are to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14.1).
Prophecy involves hearing from God and relating that information to the congregation.
A good example of the benefit of prophecy comes from the Quaker church in the early days of American history.
In their worship service, Quakers waited in silence for the Holy Spirit to impress one of the members with a message.
The clear prophetic message to the church was that God opposed the practice of slavery. Quakers believed that the message was from God and became some of the first opponents of slavery in our nation.
While the Quakers heard from God and responded, a Presbyterian minister in the South wrote a book that explained why slavery was acceptable from a Biblical point of view.
The Presbyterian minister is no more than a brief footnote in our nation’s tragic history of slavery, while the Quakers are credited with helping abolish the practice.
The prophecy that the Quakers received revealed the will of God. On the other hand, the preaching of the other minister was nothing more than an attempt to find Bible verses to support bad behavior.
Paul knew the value of the gift of prophecy and emphasized the need for it in the church.
(3) Pursue love.
Chapter 14 expands on Paul’s last word in chapter 12.
— 1 Corinthians 12.31 – But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Tongues are important to Paul, as we will see throughout this chapter. However, the church is admonished to pursue gifts that build up the body of Christ.
Above all, the church is to pursue love. How can we pursue love?
What if we were to frequently ask ourselves what is the most loving thing we can do and then do it?
What if we made this a daily practice? Would we increase our capacity to love?
Love is relational. If we desire to love God more, then our relationship with God needs to deepen.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on YouTube today. It can be found on the Bob Spradling channel.
Please email your prayer request to firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.