Proverbs says a soft answer turns away wrath. James 3 says that the tongue is a fire which can set a whole forest ablaze. 1 Corinthians 14 says to not forbid speaking in tongues, yet it also gives a long list of qualifications. With all these words about the tongue and tongues, how should we proceed?
Our words have incredible power for building up or tearing down.This is true in general and it is also true with the spiritual gift of tongues. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he learns that this gift was making divisions worse, and so he gives some important words about that gift and about how we use our tongues.
In Sunday’s sermon, I took the first step in trying to explain 1 Corinthians 14 and I spent my time focusing on the main point: build one another up in love by means of your spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. I defined what prophecy and tongues were, but I made most of the applications related to how we use our tongues. Next week we will finish up the chapter, and in two weeks, Lord willing, we will return to the whole chapter to answer questions about this confusing and often misapplied spiritual gift.
1 Corinthians 14:1–25
1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
- What is context and why does it matter? What is the context of 1 Corinthians, and how does that inform our reading of 1 Corinthians 14?
- What is the main point of 1 Corinthians 14? Or at least, what was the main point in Pastor David’s sermon? Do you agree? Why or why not?
- In 1 Corinthians 1, why it helpful to spend more time on the command to love, build one another up, and use our speech for edification? See 1 Corinthians 14:1, 12. What did you learn about using your tongue from 1 Corinthians 14?
- Is it helpful or confusing to relate the spiritual gift of tongues to division of languages at Babel (Genesis 11), the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2), or even the taming of the tongue (James 3)? How so? (Remember: tongues are a gift that can be controlled, see 1 Corinthians 14:28, 32)
- How can we best apply 1 Corinthians 14 today? What are ways we might not apply 1 Corinthians 14? How are you currently using your gifts to build up others?
- What are ways we promote individualism in the church? What are ways we can grow in building others up?
- What questions do remain as you study 1 Corinthians 14? What experiences have you had with tongues? What verses are most troubling (or important) to you in 1 Corinthians 14?
For Further Study
Horrible Christian Trinkets
- The Mizpah Necklace — if you are looking for a Christian verse taken radically out of context or a horrible necklace to seal the death of your relationship, try this. (Listen to the first two minutes of the sermon for context).
Books & Sermons
- The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop
- When the Church was a Family by Joseph Hellerman
- Life Together — a sermon series on the “One Anothers”
- A Family Affair: What would the church look like if it put we before me? by Joseph Hellerman
- One Anothering: How the Church Does Life Together
- Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists (pt. 1): The Church’s Three Foundational Offices and Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists (pt. 2: The Church’s Three Foundational Offices — these two posts (with a third forthcoming) explain the rationale for why the early church needed miraculous and revelatory gifts.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds