I don’t know how typical this is for a blog to have so many parts to one subject. However, this is a controversial subject and it may take some time to really dig into. To be honest, I’d prefer to preach this rather than type it, but alas, I don’t have the “platform” for that yet, so I must make do.
I’m going to dive right in, so if you haven’t read the previous posts about tongues or aren’t familiar with this subject, this will definitely throw you a curve ball. So I encourage you to go back and read at least a couple of the posts before continuing.
I want to compare and contrast the church and personal use of speaking in tongues. I would use the terms public and private, but I think those are too general of terms. Public makes it sound like you are walking down the street or shopping in the mall and you start speaking in tongues and private makes it sound like you are trying to keep it a secret. Neither of which are very accurate.
After the book of Acts, speaking in tongues is not mentioned in great detail until 1 Corinthians. In chapter 12 verses 1-11 talks about “spiritual gifts” and in verse 10 specifically mentions tongues and interpretation of tongues. These gifts, which I won’t go into great detail here, are also widely debated amongst Christians. I believe that not any one person has a certain gift but that the gifts are manifested at the proper times in church settings. That’s not to say that there aren’t certain people who excel in one particular gift or the other, but I don’t believe that those gifts are limited in that way. I believe that any person who is baptized in the Holy Spirit has the ability to operate in any of those particular gifts if needed, but those aren’t anything we can “make” happen.
Now, real quick, don’t let my use of the terms “church or church setting” throw you off. The “church” is the entire body of Christ. Every single Christian is a part of the “church”. You don’t have to be in a building with a Pastor preaching to be in a church setting. Jesus talked in Matthew chapter 18 about this new thing called the “church” and verse 20 he said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” I personally believe that it takes no more than two or three people to be gathered together to constitute a church setting. Moving on…
I believe the Christians at Corinth didn’t fully understand the different types of speaking in tongues so Paul had to devote an entire portion of his letter to them explaining the proper uses. I want to also note here that in the King James Version, only the word “unknown” is in italics. That means it wasn’t in the original text but was added by the translators. Let’s begin:
1Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
- This is the beginning of Paul’s explanation of tongues. He starts by saying this because the Corinthians were using tongues out-of-order. Prophesy should be sought after more than tongues in a church setting if there is no interpretation, which we read Paul mentions this specifically later on.
2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
- Here Paul is saying that the most common use of speaking in tongues is simply communication with God. Prayer. That’s why you hear Christians refer to speaking in tongues as their “prayer language”. That’s what used for. Don’t be thrown of by “speaking mysteries”. That word mystery means something that is not obvious to the understanding. This type of tongue is not to be spoken to people.
3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
- The purpose or benefit of prophesy in a church setting is explained. To build up, encourage and comfort those who hear. Who couldn’t use some of that?
4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
- Here we get another benefit of the personal use of tongues. You build yourself up. It’s intresting…the first definition of edify,according to Strong’s, is “to build a house”. Prophesy by contrast is utterance in a known language (no need for an interpreter). So it’s better for a church setting so that many will be built up not just yourself.
5 I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
- This definitely shows the importance of speaking in another language, however, again, not in a church setting. Paul is speaking to the church, or the gathering of believers, in Corinth. So his instructions, especially in this section of the letter, are directed at believers gathered together.
6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
- The obvious answer here is that it wouldn’t do them any good. Again, he’s talking about his personal use of tongues. If he came to them speaking in another language with no interpretation, it would be of no use to them. So he contrasts that by saying in a church setting, speaking by inspiration in a known language is definitely more beneficial.
7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
- Here Paul compares using the personal side to speaking in tongues to something in the natural. At that time, it was common place for a city to use a trumpet as a warning signal to the city that there was something wrong. If the person whose job it was to sound the alarm made an unfamiliar melody, it would be confusing to the whole city. Likewise when someone speaking in tongues that is reserved for personal use in a public setting, it’s going to be confusing to everyone around them.
9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
- I think a great way to put this in our vernacular would be “you will be blowing smoke.”
10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
- Barbarian – one whose speech is rude, rough and harsh; one who speaks a foreign or strange language which is not understood by another; used by the Greeks of any foreigner ignorant of the Greek language, whether mental or moral, with the added notion after the Persian war, of rudeness and brutality. The word is used in the N.T. without the idea of reproachfulness. Those are the three definitions from Strong’s. So the point of Paul to use that name to describe someone who is using tongues out-of-order was dead on. I’m sure that’s how we as Christians sound today when we speak in tongues out-of-order…we sound like barbarians.
12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
- Just like he pointed out in the previous verses: we should be looking to build others up when we gather together. We shouldn’t be looking for ways to get attention. Unfortunately, speaking in tongues is a way for many people to shout “look at me!” However, he says that if tongues are spoken, then pray for them to be interpreted. I believe that the spiritual gift of tongues and interpretation as mentioned in chapter 12 are what God intended us to use in the church. If you do miss it and speak in tongues out-of-order, then at least, Paul is saying, pray to interpret so that everyone may be encouraged, not just yourself. Keep in mind that back in verse 5, Paul says that tongues with interpretation is greater than prophesy. Again, that’s why I believe we were given the gifts of tongues and interpretation.
14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
- Remember, back in verse 2 Paul mentioned that speaking in tongues is speaking mysteries. So your human understanding is not going to be increased at that moment. However, that’s not to say that it won’t at all. Remember, the personal use of tongues is another way to pray. Our understanding doesn’t always benefit when we pray in our native tongue right away either.
15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
- I believe Paul is referring to interpretation here. Just back in verse 13, he says that if you do pray in tongues, pray to interpret. So he’s saying if he is to pray or sing in the church in tongues he is confident there will be an interpretation.
16 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?17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
- Again, without interpretation, those that are around don’t’ know what you’re saying, so why would they give an amen (so be it) in agreement if they don’t know what was spoken? Sure you may give thanks to God in that language, but you’ve not built anyone else up in the process.
18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:19 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.
- That’s a pretty bold statement. Obviously Paul was a fanatic about speaking in tongues, but he also knew the proper place for them. He wants to do what is best for everyone. We should, as Jesus did, look for ways to serve our fellow believers. So if that meant he didn’t speak in tongues, then so be it. He would that others benefit rather than himself.
20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
- Verse 20: Grow up! That’s what I gather Paul is saying. They were like little kids left to themselves…what happens when kids are left with no direction? Things get out of control real quick. Verse 21 is Paul giving us the O.T. prophesy concerning this N.T. reality. Paul is also specifically referring to the tongues that occurred in the book of Acts. In my previous post, I touched on the fact that there were a specific type of speaking in tongues that were for unbelievers. That type of tongues don’t need and interpreter because its spoken in languages that the unbelievers will recognize.
23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
- This refers back to verse 10 and is apparently what the Corinthians were doing. Everyone was speaking in tongues in their services and it was not good. This would also seem to be a contradiction to verse 22, however it’s not. Verse 22 was speaking about the signs type of tongues and Paul is talking about them speaking in their personal prayer language. It’s that type of tongues that shouldn’t be used around unbelievers because they will think we are insane. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happened and is why there is so much confusion about speaking in tongues. I’ve watched “meetings” where everyone is going bonkers speaking in tongues and, yes, I agree with Paul…they appear to be “mad”.
24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
- Here is Paul going back to what he said at the beginning. Unless you have an interpreter, prophesy should be sought after in a church setting and he even gives a benefit to what can happen when it occurs.
26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
- There was obviously some selfish motives going on there, because not every single person in the church setting is going to have some type of psalm, teaching, tongues or revelation at the same time. They were zealous of spiritual gifts, yet they were still very new to the things of God and they took it overboard. Like I mentioned earlier about seeing meetings where everyone was speaking in tongues…that typically happens when people get on fire for the things of God and the moves of the Spirit. Children have to be taught to control themselves. We have to be taught the same.
27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
- All throughout this chapter, Paul is not forbidding the use of tongues in a church setting, just ones without an interpretation. He also refers again to our personal use of tongues, that it is speaking directly to God.
29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (Yes, I am skipping verses because 34-38 do not specifically pertain to my topic.) 39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Those were some great instructions for Paul to end that section with. So, to sum things up, speaking in tongues in a church setting (where there is preaching and teaching), needs to be followed by interpretation so that everyone may reap the benefits. It also needs to be done in an orderly manner as well as taking into account the likely hood of unbelievers in the midst. I’m not suggesting that we never speak in tongues around unbelievers since I’ve shown that there are tongues specific for unbelievers. However, we need to be sure that if we are about to publicly speak in tongues, that either we pray we will interpret or we must be sure that someone there will interpret, as in the gift of interpretations.
I realize this was a bit lengthy, but this is a very important chapter on the subject of speaking in tongues and I thought it best to approach it in a commentary style. This didn’t touch too much on the personal benefits of speaking in tongues or what the purpose of that is. There are other scriptures that go into more detail on that type of tongues and that’s what’s in store for my next installment, but this time I mainly wanted to show the use of the “church tongues” and how it differs from our personal “prayer language”.
If you’ve read all my posts on this topic, thanks for hanging in there. I sure don’t have it all figured out yet, so if you’ve got any insight or feedback concerning these posts up to this point, it’s most welcome.