Ahh, the controversy of controversies.
Talked about in 1 Cor 14:26-40, Paul gives some guidance to the Corinthian people who apparently had gotten a little too excited with tongues and interpretations. Ha, can you imagine? Hilariously, Paul advises them to keep it to “two or three,” in a corporate setting, and even advises them on the practicality of needing order. In fact, there are four major points I’d like to shine a light on today regarding this special gift. Hopefully, despite what you may have learned or not learned about this beautiful expression of the Holy Spirit, you can remain open to see what God has for you in this teaching today.
Unfortunately, regarding tongues, I understand that a few babbling idiots can leave the whole lump. Or should we say, make people who operate in spiritual gifts look like they’re a bunch of wacky people who drank the kool aid. (Shoutout to Hastings, NE for inventing it, by the way.) All this to say, unfortunately, tongues and interpretation may be the most neglected spiritual gift of them all.
But in reality, that’s not what tongues are at all. And again, while I’d looooooove to go into a long, drawn out conversation about this… I’ll try and keep today short.
First, I want to point out that the Gift of Tongues & Interpretation is vastly different than tongues for your own personal edification, exhortation, and comfort, aka, your prayer language.
So often people are afraid of speaking in tongues because, per my example before, they think it means that they’re flailing all around in a church service or doing things that honestly just don’t make sense for people who still have their minds intact. Or, they saw a YouTube video of someone spouting off nonsense in the middle of a church service, totally disrupting all sense of honor or order. You can also put me down for a “no thanks” on that one, sir. And that’s why I enjoy debunking these myths. Because in reality, speaking in tongues is one of the most important elements of life as a Christian.
So let’s separate the crazy from the real, shall we???
To start, there are two kinds of “tongues.”
- Speaking in Tongues
- Tongues & Interp.
Paul’s instruction concerning the use of tongues in the corporate gathering of the church comes in four parts.
First, “let there be only two or at most three” (v. 27a). There’s no definitive way to know if this means two or three total, during the entire course of the meeting, or two or three before you pause to let someone interpret, after which there may be more. I’m inclined to think it is the former.
Second, “each in turn” (v. 27b). Evidently the Corinthians had fallen into the habit of many people speaking in tongues simultaneously, such that no interpretation was possible and it was a loud and chaotic cacophony of voices that were of benefit to no one.
Third, “let someone interpret” (v. 27c). This would either be the person speaking in a tongue (recall v. 13) or someone who had the gift of interpretation who was known to the congregation. It can’t be someone who might spontaneously receive the interpretation at the very moment the person is speaking in tongues, for Paul obviously expects the person speaking in tongues to know in advance whether or not an interpretation was available. In fact, he says that if you aren’t assured of interpretation in advance, don’t ever start talking in the first place.
Fourth, in the absence of interpretation you can still exercise your gift, but do it in the privacy of your own devotional prayer life and your own private times of worship (v. 28). Clearly, the words “in church” and the words “to himself and to God” are contrasted. Thus speaking to oneself and to God means outside the meeting of the church, undoubtedly in private.
We now need to focus on what the gift of interpretation is.
If some things that Paul has said strike you as hard to grasp, there is one issue on which there can be no dispute, and it is this: If tongues are used in the corporate assembly of the church there must be an accompanying interpretation. Why? Because without interpretation no one is built up or strengthened spiritually except the one speaking in a tongue. Look again at Paul’s emphasis on our responsibility to build up or edify one another: 14:1-3; 14:12; 14:18-19; and 14:26.
I could go on and on about how much I love tongues, and what it does to break through burdens of anxiety, bring on the garment of peace and praise when we’re heavy, and how much it feels like plugging our Holy Spirit power into the wall outlet for the first time. But alas, that will have to be saved for another day.
We’ll see you tomorrow! Thanks for hanging with me and having open hearts towards the amazing things of the Spirit!