In the sermon this past Sunday, I defined the spiritual gift of tongues as the Spirit-empowered ability to pray, sing, give thanks, or speak in a language other than your own or one you might have learn in school. Paul speaks of tongues in different ways:
- In 1 Corinthians 12, he talks about various kinds of tongues
- In 1 Corithians 13, he mentions tongues of men and tongues of angels
- In 1 Corinthians 14, he talks of praying in tongues, singing in tongues, giving thanks in tongues, and speaking in tongues.
Clearly there is diversity to this gift. But how God Paul reign in the gift of tongues so that it is helpful? As we welcome diversity, how do we still stay close to Scripture? Here are 7 guidelines from 1 Corinthians 14:
- Tongues-speech is primarily directed or addressed to God – not to men (1 Corinthians 14:2, 28). Tongues, whether spoken or sung, are fundamentally worship, intercession, and communion with God. This means that tongues are not evangelistic. Even in Acts 2, the people heard the tongues-speakers praising God in their own languages. It was the preaching of the Gospel that lead to people placing faith in Jesus, repenting of their sin, and being baptized. The preaching of the Gospel should always have primacy in any gathering of Jesus’ church, and tongues can never replace that.
- Tongues-speech is not understood by others without interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:2). In light of this, Paul absolutely requires interpretation when tongues are spoken before others. More on the gift of interpretation in the later post.
- Tongues-speech is uttering mysteries about God (1 Corinthians 14:2). As a gift from the Spirit, it isn’t gibberish and pointless. It is an opportunity to praise God, speaking of His mysteries to Him.
- Tongues-speech primarily builds yourself up (1 Corinthians 14:4-5). And, yet, Paul encourages them to do it! Just because it primarily builds you up doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us to practice it (Jude 20-21). For example, we listen to sermons, read books, talk with others in our Home Communties, spend time in private prayer, and more as a way of edifying ourselves. Tongues can be quite the same way. Paul says he prays and sings in tongues when he is alone (1 Corinthians 14:14-15), and he thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than all of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:18)!
- The person who speaks in a tongue should also ask for the gift of interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:13). This does not mean that only the tongues-speaker can receive an interpretation. It is just one more way of Paul highlighting that the point is building up others when the church is gathered. And building up others requires intelligible, able-to-be-understood language. Within the same chapter, though, Paul also teaches that praying in tongues in private is fine without interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:28).
- Uninterpreted tongues-speech is a negative sign to unbelievers and does not draw them towards faith in Jesus (1 Corinthians 14:21-23). The Old Testament passages quoted here, along with Paul’s admonitions basically say that uninterpreted tongues will only create more stumbling blocks for unbelievers, hardening their hearts to the Gospel even more. Uninterpreted tongues are the opposite of drawing unbelievers to Jesus.
- Tongues-speech in a church gathering should be done orderly, one-by-one, with a required interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:27). If there is no interpretation, tongues-speech should be stopped (1 Corinthians 14:28). Some people assume that speaking in tongues means you lose consciousness. This isn’t true. Paul trusted that someone speaking in tongues could stop and start as led by a leader. It wasn’t out of control. Instead, it was orderly and peaceful. This no more removes the supernatural power of the gift of tongues than being aware of listeners removes the supernatural power in the gift of teaching.