Tongues and Prophecy

This must be the week of thinking and talking about spiritual gifts around my house. My wife Jenny and I had a discussion about tongues on Sunday and just last night sister Chelle and I were wrestling with the role prophecy plays in the church today. I have said it before, but I really dig when I am wondering about something or trying to understand something and the answer is given to me. I can’t emphasis enough the value of offering an earnest prayer to God for wisdom and revelation when it comes to studying the Bible or trying to understand the questions you have. Time and time again on the heels of that prayer I feel like God has provided answers for my inquires. I say this to encourage you who may have questions to seek God and be on the lookout for His response.

So back to prophecy and tongues.  I was saved by Jesus in a Charismatic church where public utterance of tongues was a part of the service. To be honest, I really enjoyed that church because it seemed that the focus was truly on seeking the Lord and being open to His will and His empowerment of every believer to be effective members of the Kingdom, but there were times when I was uncomfortable in the service because of the “manifestations” of the Spirit, especially tongues. Years later after my wife Jenny and I were married we visited a charismatic church while looking for a place to worship. During the worship service there was a healthy dose of tongues. Not surprisingly, Jenny left that church pretty well freaked out. In my Christian experience, I have fellowshipped with believers who embraced spiritual manifestations and I have fellowshipped with others who reject their validity. These experiences have left me wondering what, if any, place tongues and other spiritual manifestations have in the modern church.  Fortunately, this subject is addressed in the Bible. Manifestation of spiritual gifts is the subject of Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 14, and while normally, I would just work with one or a few verses, I think there is value in working through the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 14 to get a grip on what Paul is teaching.

To put a framework in place for Paul’s teaching, we have to keep in mind that Paul is writing to Christians. Additionally, he has established, in Chapter12, the ideal that all Christians will be endowed with spiritual gifts and that it is each believer’s  responsibility to develop and exercise these gifts for the good of the church as a whole. Paul’s focus in chapter 14 is to instruct his church specifically how to handle the gifts of prophecy and tongues when they occur in a corporate worship service.

1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (ESV)

14 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.

In these verses, Paul begins his teaching by reminding the believers to “desire the spiritual gifts”(v.1). I think this is a key starting point because it is an exhortation for all of us to seek out how we have been gifted. Paul then moves to drawing a distinction between tongues and prophecy. The major ideal he is teaching is that these two gifts are both valid yet they have different purposes.  He finishes this section by reminding his church and us that edification of the church comes through prophecy more so than through tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:6-12 (ESV)

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.

In this section, Paul gives the reason why prophecy is more edifying for the church. He demonstrates well that regardless of how heartfelt or Spirit-led tongues may be, if no one in the church understands what the person speaking in tongues is saying  it is ultimately of no benefit to the church.

1 Corinthians 14:13-19 (ESV)

13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to 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.

Here I think Paul really drives home the importance of what should happen when we worship together. You can see in these verses that one of the mains goals of getting together as a group to worship our Lord is to build one another up. He reiterates that if I am praising God in a language that no one can understand, how can those outside of myself join in that praise with me? I think it is also key to note that Paul says that we can use our minds to engage in worship. I think often times we reject the mind and forget that God gave it to us for service to Him in the same way He gave us our emotions or physical bodies.

1 Corinthians 14:20-25 (ESV)

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.

Paul now calls the church to be mature. In verse 21-22, he gives reference to how tongues were used at Pentecost to proclaim the Gospel to unbelievers, but he points out that in the current condition it would be better for an non-Christian who is visiting a church to hear prophetic proclamations opposed to unintelligible utterings. The former is more likely to reveal that God is working in revealing Himself to the non-believer, where the latter may just come across as craziness.

1 Corinthians 14:26-40 (ESV)

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.

31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

This final push of Paul’s discourse is a call for orderly worship. He gives some practical instruction on how to handle tongues and prophecy. He instructs that a tongue is only valid if an interpretation exists and that a prophecy should be weighed in light of Scripture and by the Spirit of those gathered. I think the two key verses here are verse 33, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace”, and verse 40, ” But all things should be done decently and in order”.

In reflecting on this chapter and on the discussion of tongues and prophecy with Jenny and Chelle, I can’t help but realize that I have been ignoring both of these spiritual gifts. I think Paul’s teaching is clear that these two activities were present in the church of Corinth and I haven’t found any Biblical evidence to suggest that these gifts should be absent in today’s church. What I think from my own experience  is that many of the spiritual gifts are being suppressed because of  abuse and misapplication. Thinking back on my own charismatic experience I can confidently say that many times the Biblical instruction that Paul lays out here was not followed. I can understand why chaotic displays of spiritual manifestations can freak out those who are on the outside or those who are just beginning to grow in the faith, but I think we are equally wrong to dismiss them. This chapter challenges me to press into the Spirit and to try to better understand the gifts God has given to me. I think there is a balance between the overtly charismatic worship experience and the solemn worship experience that is found in todays churches. I feel that it is up to us to help strike that balance. We do it by identifying and exercising the gifts that God has endowed us with. I think each of use need to start in our own prayer closets and really seek the Spirit and allow Him to transform us with His gifts. I think that it is in this increased personal communion with God that we will become better equipped to represent our gifts and more fully bear the image of Christ’s bride when we come together in corporate worship.

Heavenly Father, thank you God for your call and your equipping. Father help us identify the gifts that you have given to us. Fill us with your Holy Spirit and help us to be open to His movements. Thank you for your Son. We pray in His name. Amen.


6 thoughts on “Tongues and Prophecy

  1. Bro you bring up some good points here, especially “I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” to me it shows how important Pual felt instruction was in the early Church, which BTW is something that seems to be lacking in today’s churches. Also the verse about women in the Church is tough but it is in there (biblical). The sad fact is in todays culture there are alot of households where the woman has to be the spiritual leader and over all leader of the household when the men fail to be men. Good post Bro!

    • Bro,

      That verse was really popping for me also. I think it demostrates the key roll we indiviudally play in the corporate expression of the church. It really challenges me to try and know my rolle at my church so I am doing my part to edify the body.


  2. Good thoughts here, Tony. My circle of influence is largely cessationist so the subject is largely taboo. It shouldn’t be. I think that rather mumbling on about some half-baked thoughts, I’ll just echo Chris’ sentiments and continue to meditate a bit on this post. Good stuff.

    • Brad,

      Thanks for the comment. Do you know any good resources that lay out the cessationist position. I wouldn’t mind checking it out. Gifts and their validity have long been a subject of interest for me.



  3. Your dealing with the subject of gifts – tongues, interpretation, and prophecy, was well done! I agree with you. I think the Holy Spirit is grieved when too much emphasis is placed on the gifts and emotional display. He comes to lift up and glorify Jesus – not to promote Himself.
    Many have had negative experiences through their encounters with Charismatic worship.
    We were young and inexperienced during those days of the Pentecostal re-newal. We made a lot of mistakes in our zeal to go deeper into the things of God. Such a hunger we had. We wanted to experience it all.
    Hopefully we have grown and learned this “balance” you speak of.
    Hopefully we have learned to keep our eyes on Jesus – not manifestations – no matter how pure and beautiful they may be. It must be Jesus first.
    The Pentecostals are maturing – although we have fewer gifts in operation in our services – we have learned the greater value of using the prayer language in private worship and intercession . We need to use this precious gift for the interceding of lost souls, not for entertaining the flesh as did the Corinthian Church.

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