1 Corinthians 14b
1 Corinthians 14:20-22a… Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers…
In verse 20 Paul seems to pause for a moment, and with a great sigh he says, “Brothers, it’s time to grow up…” The only reason that he cares enough to tell them this is due to the fact that they are his “brothers” in Christ, and they are witnesses for the sake of Christ. When he tells them not to be “children in your thinking” he’s condemning their immature behavior in reference to the issue of tongues-speaking. The whole context is a condemnation against their misuse. They thought and acted like little children, yet they were adults who not only knew Christ but possessed all the spiritual gifts. He tells them “in evil be babes.” Just a child is innocent in his/her ignorance of the evil ways of the world, Paul wanted them as adults to be ignorant to the evils of the world. A rough paraphrase might say, “Your misuse of the wonderful spiritual gift of tongues-speaking is reprehensible. Stop acting like selfish children, and grow up! You should be ignorant of the wicked ways of the world and privy to the things of God.”
Verse 21 is a quote from Isaiah 28:11-12. The context of Isaiah 28, in relation to the problem of tongues in 1 Corinthians, has to do with the ancient Assyrians who were the dominating world power in the 8th century BC. Isaiah the prophet had warned the Jews that their disobedience would bring God’s judgment, and he was reminding them of the captivity their brothers had endured at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 BC because of their disobedience. The Assyrians were the “men of strange tongues” who had oppressed them. Because of their unbelief God sent that pagan nation against them as the rod of His discipline. Moses prophesied the same thing in Deut. 28:49 as did Jeremiah in 5:15. All of these prophecies of strange tongues coming from foreign nations were prophecies against the Jews because of disobedience. God sent pagan nations, who spoke in languages they did not understand, to judge them. The Isaiah quote then means that the gift of tongues was given to the Church as a sign of God’s judgment on Israel’s disobedience, specifically for their rejection of the Messiah – Jesus Christ.
So, per verse 22, the message of the tongues was given to show Israel that God had judged them. They were a “sign.” In the same way that the barbaric Assyrians spoke to Israel in foreign tongues as they took them into captivity – then later the Babylonians, so now, the Gentiles would speak to the Jews using the spiritual gift of tongues as a sign of God’s judgment against them for rejecting Christ. God had used the prophets to speak to His people in their own language, and they refused to repent. Now it was judgment time, and this appears to be the primary biblical reason for the gift of tongues.
Food for Thought
Note that Paul referred to the Corinthians in v. 20 as “brethren.” It is evident that the Corinthians were immoral, confused, and unorthodox in many areas of their lives, but Paul still addresses them as “brothers.” The mere fact that he wrote to them as he did means that he believed they were saved and that he loved them. But since their actions did not reflect Christ it was his responsibility to correct them. As professed believers in Christ they had put themselves under the authority of Christ and were accountable to other Christians. Paul’s tone is strong, but it’s strong because his brothers were defaming the name of Christ. Let it be your quest to lovingly correct false doctrine and all behavior unbecoming a Christian. But start with yourself.
The Purpose of the Gift of Tongues and Prophecy… “So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe” (1 Corinthians 14:22).
The gift of tongues had a threefold purpose. First, they were given as a sign of judgment towards Israel for their rejection of Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah had warned the Jews in the 8th century BC that God was going to send judgment their way in the form of a nation in whose language they would not understand (28:11-12). Moses prophesied the same thing in Deut. 28:49, as did Jeremiah in 5:15. All three prophets spoke of God’s judgment coming through men of strange tongues. All those prophesies were fulfilled when the Assyrians and the Babylonians carried Israel into captivity, speaking to them in strange tongues. God had used the prophets to speak to His people in their own language, and they refused to repent. So God sent pagan nations with strange speech to judge Israel. Even Jesus spoke in parables so as to confuse the Jews and keep them from understanding his message (Matt. 13). Now, the Gentiles would speak to the Jews using the spiritual gift of tongues as a sign of God’s judgment against them for rejecting Christ. It’s no accident that each time tongues are used in the Book of Acts Jews were present.
Second, tongues were used as a show of God’s blessing. Tongues served as a sign that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was for all nations where many different languages were spoken. Paul says as much in Galatians 3:28… “There is neither Jew nor Greek… slave or freeman… male or female… for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The transgression of the Jews in their rejection of their Messiah actually brought about salvation for the Gentiles (Rom. 11:11-12; 25-26). And the sign of tongues as a blessing is seen in Acts 10:44ff. as Gentiles were included in the church.
Third, the gift of tongues was also a sign of power that validated the message of the apostles and prophets (cf. 2 Cor. 12:12; Rom. 15:9). After the apostles and prophets pointed the way to the Messiah and had their message validated with the gift of tongues and miracles, the gift no longer had a reason to exist. This is why Paul said they would cease (1 Cor. 13:8). It would be like following directions to someone’s home. You pass the first landmark, the second, then the third – all are signs pointing you to the house. But when you arrive at your destination you no longer need any landmarks. You’re there! So it was with the gift of tongues as a sign of power. They pointed to Jesus Christ by validating the ministries of the apostles and prophets. Once accomplished through their ministries, they were no longer needed. The message was written down by eyewitnesses. We take it on faith or reject it based upon ignorance.
There isn’t a single word in scripture where tongues are spoken and interpreted. All references of their use are general, not specific. And the general message of tongues were never new revelations from God but simply about God’s mighty deeds (Acts 2:11). The purpose of tongues was never to teach but to point to Jesus Christ and the mighty works of God.
Prophecy, on the other hand, was never given for unbelievers as tongues was. Prophecy was given for believers. Though the English version above says that prophecy is given as a “sign” to believers, in the Greek text “sign” is not there. Prophecy is never called a “sign” in the Bible because it doesn’t point to anything. It isn’t given to point to anything, but it is given for edification – for the building of the church, Christ’s body. The gift of prophecy (proclaiming God’s Word) concerns inspired speaking in normal human language. It is given not as a sign but as edification for believers. Tongues was inspired speech spoken in a language unlearned by the speaker, needing interpretation, and given as a sign to unbelievers. Paul’s whole admonition was to strive after prophecy because it edifies the church. The Corinthians, however, were only concerned with themselves as evidenced by their tongues-speaking.
1 Corinthians 14:23-24… If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
When the church gathers for worship, if all begin to speak in tongues, those who enter who either do not possess the gift (the “ungifted”) or aren’t saved, they would believe the tongues-speakers to be lunatics. Since all do not possess the gift, they consequently cannot be edified by the gift. In Acts 2:11 it is noteworthy that those Jews who came to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost plainly understood what was spoken by Peter and the apostles who received the gift of tongues that day. Tongues were given to be understood, not to bring confusion.
If, on the other hand, in v. 24, a group of believers gather to worship God and to prophesy (preach & teach God’s Word) – if an unbeliever or another “ungifted” Christian should enter, then at least five things are said to occur. First, he is “convicted” by all. This word means “to show fault; to expose.” Upon just hearing God’s Word people are convicted. His Word truly is a double-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). The power of God’s Word is made manifest in the preaching of His Word. Preaching God’s Word is of utmost importance in corporate worship. Without it, there is no conviction, and without conviction from the mouth of God’s prophets we all die in our sins.
The second thing that transpires as a result of prophecy is that the convicted one is “called into account by all.” With their sins exposed and their lives full of humility before God, they stand to “account” for their sins. This word means to be “evaluated; questioned.” So following a conviction through the hearing of God’s Word we then stand before God in judgment as He evaluates us. No one can stand before God with their head held high. This is the reason He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for us. For when we stand before God in judgment we can only defer to Christ as having paid our penalty. He took our judgment for us.
In v. 25 the third thing that transpires upon hearing God’s Word prophesied is that “the secrets of his heart are disclosed.” The “secrets” (Greek kryptos) – the “hidden things” are laid bare and “disclosed.” At that point – a point every single person who breaths and dies will reach – no one and nothing can help them except the Lord Jesus Christ. He has granted forgiveness for the worst of sins to all those who place their faith in Him alone, apart from works, for salvation.
The fourth thing that transpires is worship. Those who go through this process can do nothing but “fall on their face” and worship God. The word for “worship” means “to do obeisance to.” What else can a person do who has stood before God full of sin and been forgiven of all? Nothing else but worship through obedience to His written Word.
The final event that transpires is prophecy. The person who receives God’s forgiveness goes out and “declares” the good news. To “declare” something is to proclaim a truth. So the whole experience is circular, beginning and ending with prophecy.
Food for Thought
Prophecy is that wonderful act that edifies the whole church. When God’s Word is preached and Christ’s name is proclaimed lives are changed for eternity. Funny thing about that… most Christians do believe this, but they won’t practice it or even attend a church that does. Messages about strong families and how to be successful in business and in relationships have their place, but it’s the pure preaching and teaching of God’s Word that really matters.
1 Corinthians 14:26-28… What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and let one interpret; 28 but if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.
A rough paraphrase of v. 26 might say, “Alright, so what does all this mean?” Paul then summarizes what the Corinthians had been doing in their assemblies. Some were singing psalms, some were teaching, some having revelations, some speaking in tongues, and some were giving interpretations of those tongues. This church was truly filled with spiritual gifts, and it is evident that they were using them but not for the building of the body of Christ. This is why spiritual gifts are given in the first place – to edify the body of Christ not the individual believer.
Everything listed in v. 26 is used for the worship of God. Even the true gift of tongues had a place in serving God, but these folks (and many today) were abusing them. Everyone was speaking at the same time resulting in absolute chaos in what was supposed to be orderly worship. No one was listening to the other, with the possible exception of a visitor to the congregation who was, no doubt, left to sit and look upon the mayhem in disbelief.
In v. 27 Paul doesn’t address the aforementioned “psalms, teachings, or revelations.” He only hones in on the speaking in a tongue and the interpretation thereof. He sets up the proper order for speaking in a tongue (the singular use here should be distinguished from the pagan utterance because the subject, “anyone,” is also singular, thus giving credence to the fact that Paul is here speaking about the true gift of tongues). The proper way to speak in tongues is four-fold. First, only “two or thee at the most” should speak. Second, each one should speak one at a time. Third, each one who speaks MUST have an interpreter. Fourth, if no interpreter is present the tongues-speaker should remain silent. God is a God of order so worship should reflect that.
Verse 28 is clear when it teaches that if no interpreter is present when others are speaking in tongues, then those who have the gift must remain silent. There is no use for tongues if no one understands, and understanding comes only from an interpreter. But notice where they are to remain silent: the church – the assembly of believers who have come together to worship. They are not commanded to remain silent outside of the church, but neither are they given the commission to use their gift of tongues freely outside the assembly. Paul says, “Let him speak to himself and to God.” The passage might move us to believe that Paul advocates a time of prayer in tongues with God, but that isn’t what it says. Furthermore, the spiritual gifts are never once used as a ministry to or for God. Those with the gift of prophecy don’t teach to God; those who administrate (or lead) don’t lead God; those with the gift of helps don’t help God. Neither do those with the gift of tongues use their gift to speak to God. God understands all languages, and the gift of tongues was given as a sign to unbelievers (v. 22), not as a way to pray to God.
Food for Thought
Our God is a God of order. He is extremely precise. He didn’t change through time or get old and become lax. God gave spiritual gifts for a reason, and they are designed to come together through the body of believers like the internal body parts on the human body. Some body parts, like the gift of tongues, once had a purpose (the umbilical cord) but are no longer needed. The remaining ones like prophecy must be orderly. Just as our mind is to control our tongue so too do the spiritual gifts work together under control and order to our benefit and to God’s glory.
Tongues and Prophecy Compared
I) The Function of Tongues: A Sign (vv. 20-23)
A) A Sign of Judgment
B) A Sign of Blessing
C) A Sign of Authority
II) The Fivefold Results of Prophecy (vv. 24-25)
A) Convicted: Life is Exposed
B) Called into Account: Questioned/evaluated
C) Secrets of Heart Disclosed: Hidden Things Laid Bare
D) Falls on Face to Worship: Does Obeisance
E) Prophesies: Declares God’s Power
III) The Formula for Tongues (vv. 26-28)
A) No more than two or three
B) Each in turn
C) Someone must interpret
D) Remain silent if interpreter not present
B. Tongues do not edify the believer (vv. 20–21).
Though some would suggest that tongues reveal mature believes, look at the Corinthians! They were “babes in Christ” and “carnal” (3:1–4); boasted of their “spirituality” (8:1–2; 10:12), yet had to be warned by Paul and taught in the most elementary manner. Mature believers have the Spirit and the Word and don’t seek emotional experiences.
C. Tongues do not win the lost (vv. 22–25).
In Acts 2, God gave the apostles the gift of tongues that they might share the Word with the Jews at Pentecost. It was a sign to the Jews that God was at work, fulfilling Isa. 28:11–12.
We find incidents involving tongues four times in Acts, and each time they give evidence to Jews present that God is working:
(1) Acts 2; tongues are evidence to the unbelieving Jews at Pentecost;
(2) Acts 8; evidence to the believing Jews that the Spirit had come upon the Samaritans;
(3) Acts 10; evidence that the Spirit had come upon the Gentiles;
(4) Acts 19; evidence that the 12 Ephesian men had received the Spirit.
*** But tongues would never reach the unbeliever for the Lord, especially the confusion of tongues that existed at Corinth. It was another Babel! Far better that the unbelieving visitor should hear a message from the Word, something he can understand, and then make his decision for Christ, than hear a confusion of messages he cannot grasp.
Additional Notes on First Corinthians 12–14
Some charismatics claim…
A. “There is a baptism of the Spirit after salvation.”
Some teach that it is necessary to “tarry for the power” in prayer and fasting, basing this on Acts 1 and Luke 24:49. But 1 Cor. 12:13 teaches that all believers have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ. This was true even of the carnal Corinthians! There are “fillings” of the Spirit after conversion, and we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18); but we are never commanded in Scripture to be baptized with the Spirit. There is one baptism that takes place at conversion, but many fillings of the Spirit as we daily yield to God.
B. “The evidence of this baptism is speaking in tongues.”
If this is true, then most of the Corinthians had never experienced the baptism, because not all of them spoke in tongues (12:10 and 30). Yet 12:13 says they were all baptized by the Spirit. Therefore, if the charismatics are correct, all of the Corinthian believers should have spoken in tongues; but they did not. John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit before birth, yet never spoke in tongues. Great saints down through the ages have never spoken in tongues.
C. “The gift of tongues is a mark of spirituality.”
Not at Corinth! This was the most carnal church Paul ever had to deal with. They were babes in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1–4). Instead of being a mark of deeper spiritual life, tongues are a relatively inferior gift that has little value to the individual Christian or the church collectively. It is possible to have spiritual gifts and not have spiritual graces, and 1 Cor. 13 clearly teaches this. The important issue is not how many gifts I have, but is my life like Christ’s and am I attracting people to Him?
D. “Tongues are for the church today.”
There is every evidence that several of the gifts were temporary. Prophecy, tongues, and knowledge (the imparting of immediate spiritual truth by the Spirit) seemed to have passed away with the completion of the writing of the NT. First Cor. 13:8–13 indicates that these gifts would pass away and no longer be needed. They belonged to the “childhood” of the church. Today the church’s life and ministry are founded on the Word of God. Read Acts 20:17–38 for a picture of the ideal NT ministry; here you will find nothing about tongues.
E. “A believer can benefit from tongues privately.”
But spiritual gifts are given for the profit of the whole church (12:7), not just one saint. There is no suggestion in these chapters that any gift is granted for the private enjoyment of the believer. In fact, in 14:13–15 Paul clearly states that the private use of the gift of tongues is not right. If there is interpretation, allowing the believer to know what is being said, then there can be spiritual benefit; but without understanding, there is no blessing. The private use of tongues is contrary to the letter and spirit of 1 Cor. 12–14.
F. “The gift of tongues ties believers together.”
There is a new kind of ecumenicity among Christians in the charismatic movement that says, “You don’t have to deny your basic beliefs to be a part of our fellowship.” But did the so-called “baptism of the Spirit” unify the believers at Corinth? The church was divided four ways (1 Cor. 1:10–13)! Yet all of the believers there had experienced the baptism of the Spirit (12:13)! There was discord, division, and dispute in the church; yet there was also the gift of tongues. It has been our experience that the emphasis on “tongues” and “Spirit baptism” divides the church instead of unifying it. The “tongues Christians” think themselves superior to the others, and then trouble starts.
G. “It makes no difference what terms you use as long as you have the experience.”
This is a subtle lie of Satan. The very words of Scripture are given by the Spirit, and we must obey them (1 Cor. 2:9–16). It is wrong to confuse the baptism of the Spirit with the filling of the Spirit, for God has definitely separated them. We must base Christian experience on the Bible, and not interpret the Bible by experience. If we understand Bible words and truths, we will understand how to live the Christian life. Notice how many times Paul uses the word “ignorant” in writing to the Corinthians. “Be not children in understanding!” he admonished them in 14:20. It is possible for Satan and his demonic powers to counterfeit “spiritual experiences” for shallow Christians. But Satan cannot work where Christians understand the Word of God.