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Understanding The Key To Communication - 1 Corinthians 14b

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1 Corinthians 14:6-25

Stephen Caswell © 2000

Understanding, The Key To Communication

It seems that some years ago the people of Texas were being plagued by a Mexican bandit who continuously slipped across the border and robbed their banks. His name was Jorge Rodriguez. He had become bolder and more successful, and yet they could never capture him before he hightailed it back across the border to his hideout in the mountains of Mexico. Finally, they had had enough of this so they hired a well-known detective and sent him down into Mexico to get back their money. He set off for the small town reputed to be the hideout of Rodriquez.

The detective found the small Mexican town, walked into the saloon, and, lo and behold, there in the corner was the man he was after, Jorge Rodriquez. "Aha!" he said, "I've found you!" and he pulled out his gun. "Where have you hidden the millions you have stolen from our banks in Texas? Tell me, or I'll blow you away!" At this point another man, Juan Garcia, who was also in the saloon, stepped up to the detective and said, "Sir, you are wasting your time talking to Jorge like this. He doesn't understand a word of English. He has no idea what you just said. Would you like me to translate for you.?" The detective said, "Yes, of course.

Tell him to confess to me where the money is or I'll kill him." So Juan Garcia turned to Jorge and jabbered away at him for a few moments in Spanish. There was much gesturing and chattering, and Jorge told Juan in Spanish that if he would take the man to the well that was just a mile out of town, climb down into the well, and remove the third brick, there he would find more than $3 million in gold. When Jorge was finished speaking, Juan, the helpful translator, turned around to the detective and said, "Senor, he says that he has absolutely no idea where the gold is. I'm sorry. Understanding is the first priority of communication.


Four weeks ago we saw that edification was the purpose of spiritual gifts. Because of this the gift of prophecy was superior to the gift of tongues. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to edify one another by using their spiritual gifts in a loving manner. He emphasized that prophecy was able to do this in a greater way because it was readily understood. However, Paul also explained that tongues could edify the Church if they were interpreted. Tonight I want to continue the theme on spiritual gifts and understand the gift of tongues. There are three points in tonight's passage.

I. Three Pictures of Tongues  II.The Practice of Tongues  III.The Purpose of Tongues

Firstly  Three Pictures Of Tongues

1 Cor 14:6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?


Eight times in this section, Paul uses the word understanding. It is not enough for the minister to impart information to people; the people must receive it if it is to do them any good. The seed that is received in the good ground is the seed that bears fruit, but this means that there must be an understanding of the Word of God. If a believer wants to be edified, he must prepare his heart to receive the Word. Not everybody who listens really hears.

But the hearer has no chance of understanding the message unless the speaker presents it clearly. Paul used three simple illustrations to prove his point that there must be understanding if there is to be an edifying spiritual ministry: musical instruments, a bugle call in battle, and daily conversation.

a. Musical Instruments

1 Corinthians 14:7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?


If a musical instrument does not give a clear and distinct sound, nobody will recognize the music being played. Everyone knows how uncomfortable one feels when a performer almost plays the right note because the instrument is defective or out of tune. Large pipe organs must be constantly serviced lest their reeds fail to perform properly. Imagine how well you would sing if Tony or Wayne played the piano and organ instead of our regular musicians. Their sounds wouldn't be understood and you could not sing to their tunes.

b. Battle Call

1 Corinthians 14:8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?


If the bugler is not sure whether he is calling Retreat! or Charge! you can be sure none of the soldiers will know what to do either. Half of them will rush forward, while the other half will run back! The call must be a clear one if it is to be understood. Again the sounds must be played distinctly if the message is to be understood.

c. Human Languages

1 Corinthians 14:9-11 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.

But this fact is also true in everyday conversation. I recall when I went to the Philippines with the Police Youth Club. I was confronted with a variety of local dialects there. I asked directions from some of the people and could not understand their answer. They couldn't understand me either. The result was frustration for all concerned. Unless the language is understood there can be no communication. 1 Corinthians 14:10 gives us good reason to believe that, when Paul wrote about tongues, he was referring to known languages and not some heavenly language. There are many languages in the world and each one is significant.

Each language is different and yet each language has its own meaning. No matter how sincere a speaker may be, if I do not understand his language, he cannot communicate with me. Analeisa and Mrs Becker both speak German fluently. They can talk to each other all day in German if they want to. But if you or I tried to share with them when they do we would have no chance. Paul concluded that if you don't understand the language being spoken then the speaker sounds like a barbarian or unlearned person to you. 

Understanding - Babblejargon

The following notice was sent home with some high school students: "Our school's cross-graded, multi-ethnic, individualized learning program is designed to enhance the concept of an open-ended learning program on the continuum of multi-ethnic, academically enriched learning, using the identified intellectually-gifted child as the agent of his own learning." One parent sent back a note which read, "I have a college degree, speak two foreign languages and four Indian dialects--but I haven't the faintest idea what you are talking about." Christian, how about your communication of the gospel? Is it so loaded with babblespeak that no one understands what you are saying? Clear communication requires understanding the language being spoken. The musician, the bugler, and the everyday conversationalist cannot be understood unless their messages are communicated in a manner that is meaningful to the listener.


Secondly  The Practice Of Tongues

1 Corinthians 14:12-15 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Having illustrated the principle of understanding, Paul then applied it to 3 different persons.

a. The Speaker

Paul first applied the principle of understanding to the speaker himself. Again, he reminded the Corinthians that it is better to be a blessing to the church than to experience some kind of personal excitement. If the believer speaks in a tongue, his spirit may share in the experience, but his mind is not a part of the experience. It is not wrong to pray or sing in the spirit, as long as you include the mind and understand what you are praying or singing. Note that the word spirit in verse 14–15 doesn't refer to the Holy Spirit, but to the inner person.

If the speaker is to be edified, he must understand what he is saying. What, then, is the speaker to do? He must ask God for the interpretation of the message. Paul assumed that an interpreter would be present or that the speaker himself had the gift of interpreting. 1 Cor 14:27-28: If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Of course, all of this discussion emphasized once more the superiority of prophecy over tongues: prophecy needs no interpretation to be a blessing to all.

b. Other Believers

1 Corinthians 14:16-19: Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Paul then applied the principle to other believers in the assembly. He assumed that they would listen to the message and respond to it. But if they did not understand the message, how could they respond? When someone prays or preaches in Church we can express our agreement by saying Amen at the close of it. Amen, means so be it! But how can you agree with something that you don't understand. The unlearned person was probably a new believer, or possibly an interested seeker. He could not be edified unless he understood what was being said. They may have meant well in using their gift but it didn't edify anyone.

Again, it was a matter of priorities. While Paul did not oppose the ministry of tongues, he did try to put it into a right perspective. Paul spoke in tongues more than all of them. Yet in the Church he chose to speak clear words that they could understand. Five distinct words accomplished more than ten thousand words that couldn't be understood. The issue was not quantity of words, but quality of communication. Paul always edified the Church. Therefore he spoke the language that everyone understood.

If Paul didn't speak in tongues in the Church, where did he use this gift? Probably in the Jewish synagogues and market places. The gifts of tongues was not given to minister to the Church but to the lost. Therefore Paul used the gift of tongues to reach unbelievers who spoke a foreign language. But the Corinthians were acting like children playing with toys. They didn't understand the purpose for tongues so Paul dealt with this next.


Thirdly  The Purpose Of Tongues

1 Corinthians 14:20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.


When it came to knowing about sin, Paul wanted them to be babes; but when it came to spiritual understanding, he wanted them to be mature men. Some people have the idea that speaking in a tongue is an evidence of spiritual maturity, but Paul taught that it is possible to exercise the gift in an unspiritual and immature manner. So, Paul told them to grow up. 1 Corinthians 14:21-22: In the law it is written: With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me, says the Lord. Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

a. Foreign Unbelievers


Firstly, foreign unbelievers. However, tongues did have a message for the lost Jews in particular: they were a sign of God’s judgment. Paul quoted Isaiah 28:11–12, a reference to the invading Assyrian army whose barbaric language the Jews would not understand. The presence of this tongue was evidence of God’s judgment on the nation. God would rather speak to His people in clear language they could understand, but their repeated sins made this impossible. He had spoken to them through His messengers in their own tongue, and the nation would not repent. Now He had to speak in a foreign tongue, and this meant judgment.

The audience who heard the apostles speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost were unbelieving Jews. Peter also warned them of the consequences of rejecting their Messiah. As a nation, the Jews were always seeking a sign. So God gave them one to!

At Pentecost, the fact that the Apostles spoke in tongues was a sign to the unbelieving Jews who were there celebrating the feast. The miracle of tongues aroused their interest, but it did not convict their hearts. It took Peter’s preaching to bring them to the place of conviction and conversion. As I mentioned earlier Paul used the gift of tongues more than them all, but not in the Church. Paul like the apostles on the day of Pentecost used the gift outside the Church to reach unsaved Jews and Gentiles who spoke a foreign language.

Quote from Harold H Hoehner.  The sign gift was to be used uninterpreted in a non-church context to authenticate the message and the activity of God and to aid in evangelism. But the gift of tongues in a church situation was always to be interpreted and was for the edification of believers. The Corinthians used the sign gift without interpretation in a church situation and this caused problems.


b. Local Unbelievers


1 Corinthians 14:23-25: Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.


Paul’s final application was to the unsaved person who happened to come into the assembly during a time of worship. Paul made here another point for the superiority of prophecy over tongues: a message in tongues could never bring conviction to the heart of a lost sinner. In fact, the unsaved person might leave the service before the interpretation was given, thinking that the whole assembly was crazy. Don't verses 23 to 25 contradict verses 20 to 22. No! The unlearned and unbelievers spoken of in verses 23 to 25 are local people. The unbelievers of verse 22 are foreigners that don't understand the local language. Speaking to locals in a foreign tongue only caused confusion. In fact when the whole Church spoke in tongues they left saying that the Christians were out of their minds. I have heard of this sort of thing today.

The principle of edification encourages us to major on sharing the Word of God so that the church will be strengthened and grow. The principle of understanding reminds us that what we share must be understood if it is to do any good. The private use of spiritual gifts may edify the user, but it will not edify the church; and Paul admonished us to excel to the edifying of the church. Following on from this Paul instructs them about order in the Church.

Conclusion Tonight we have seen how important understanding is to clear communication.

I. Three Pictures of Tongues 

Paul showed the importance of distinctive sounds for clear communication. Musical instruments played badly bring discord and confusion. An army requires a clear call if it is to advance or retreat. Paul's third illustration was human languages themselves. If you don't speak the language of the person that you are talking to they won't understand you. The only way to edify the Church is by speaking the language that people understand.

II.The Practice of Tongues 

Because understanding is necessary for the Church to be edified Paul insisted that the tongues be interpreted. Uninterpreted tongues brought confusion and disunity seeing that no else could understand it.

III.The Purpose of Tongues

In the closing verses of this section Paul explained God's purpose for tongues. Tongues were given to reach unbelievers, but not all unbelievers. Only those who spoke a foreign tongue to the Church.

In the last section of chapter fourteen Paul speaks about order in the Church.


2 Peter 3:17-18 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

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