Yesterday we looked at three simple instructions from 1 Corinthians 14:27, today we continue…
4. Tongues are only to be exercised in the church if they edify others. “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26). Everyone agrees. However, how are we edified? Paul is very clear: edification only occurs through understanding (1 Cor. 14:5-12, 19, cf. Rom. 12:1-2). This, of course, is why translation was not optional. If we do not understand, we cannot be edified. If something does not edify, it has no business in Christ’s church.
5. All tongues’ spoken messages must be obeyed. If the Holy Spirit speaks, we must obey (Isa. 66:2; Heb. 12:25), thus the need for discernment (1 Cor. 14:32). The implication of this truth is immense, because not only are tongues a gift of the Spirit, but their translation as well (1 Cor. 12:10). This is where things get tricky for the requisite tongues’ translator (Which could be the tongues’ speaker or another, 1 Cor. 14:13). If the translation contains any error whatsoever, or is a prophecy that fails to come true, or in any way contradicts the Scriptures, then the Holy Spirit cannot be the one speaking. This is why Biblical tongues cannot be fabricated in a way that obeys 1 Corinthians 14. I can’t speak for 10 seconds without making some sort of error with my tongue (Cf. Jas. 3:6), and if my tongue makes an error, I cannot truthfully claim the Holy Spirit was in complete control of it. Could you? And what would you call someone who attributed an erroneous quote to you that you did not actually say?
6. The tongues’ speaker must pray while speaking in tongues. If Paul didn’t understand what the Spirit was saying through tongues, then his mind was unfruitful and he could not be edified, therefore, he prayed (1 Cor. 14:14-15). This explains the somewhat enigmatic opening verses of chapter 14 where Paul explains why prophesy is superior to tongues: Everyone is edified through prophesy because everyone understands it. However, if an unknown ‘tongue’ was spoken, the only person that could possibly be edified by that utterance was the person speaking, and that if he was praying. Paul is almost sarcastically asking the tongues’ speaker: Do you go to Church to edify yourself? If so, please return to point 4 above. This also illustrates the explicit purpose of the gifts: the mutual building up of others, not of oneself (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:12; cf. 1 Pet. 4:10).
Now if someone has listened up to this point, they might be beginning to doubt whether all the tongues they have experienced are biblical tongues. So, it might be helpful at this point to offer a quick definition of tongues and their purpose:
Acts 2:6-11 is very clear that tongues were human languages that people understood, serving the purpose of transitioning to the new message of salvation quickly so that all could hear of Jesus before they died (Tongues are said to be a sign for unbelievers, 1 Cor. 14:22). Peter stood up and said that the salvation message had been appended: from that day forward everyone had to believe in the name of Jesus to be saved (Acts 4:12). Of course, if I was a Jew, I would want good reason to trust Peter over mighty Moses.
This is why God bore witness with the apostles and prophets through authenticating signs (We cannot lay claim to this group since not even the author of Hebrews does, Heb. 2:4; those were signs of the apostles, not of all believers, 2 Cor. 12:12; and that foundation was laid only once, Eph. 2:20). However, while God only used a few to authenticate the message, tons of Christians spoke in tongues so that everyone could hear quickly. Lastly, tongues verified even to perplexed Peter that salvation was being brought to the uncircumcised Gentiles, since they too bore the same sign (Acts 2:4; 10:45-47).
Of course, in my opinion, all these purposes have now been fulfilled since the canon is closed and sufficient. One wonders how anyone could claim a closed canon if the Holy Spirit is still speaking and translating today. Thus, I believe it is biblically impossible for tongues to be exercised today, and therefore the strategy of simply exhorting all charismatics to obey 1 Corinthians 14.
The three normal arguments against tongues being human languages:
a. Some use 1 Corinthians 13:1 to ‘prove’ that tongues are angelic languages (I hesitate to engage those who say this is necessary so that Satan cannot thwart our prayers, since an angelic language would, in fact, be Satan’s mother tongue). Rather, I think this concept is more easily refuted exegetically, since Paul is clearly not claiming that he was omniscient (1 Cor. 13:2), and therefore, cannot be claiming that he could speak in angelic tongues. Paul’s point is clear: I don’t care what tongues you claim to speak in, if you don’t love, you’re just making noise. (And let’s be honest, many of our charismatic brethren excel in the area of loving others, and we can learn from them).
b. The claim that Paul teaches in Romans 8:26 that the Holy Spirit uses our tongues to intercede is patently false since Paul clearly states that this intercession is ‘too deep for words’ = inaudible (ἀλάλητος).
c. The notion that ‘various kinds of tongues’, 1 Corinthians 12:10, means some angelic, some inerrant, some not-so-inerrant, is also easily explained since the word ‘kinds’ (γένος) generally means families and is only used by Paul in 1 Corinthians to speak of different families of languages (1 Cor. 14:10).
Now, if at any point in your conversation (which could take minutes or months) you feel like your charismatic brother is ready, I would encourage you to jump quickly to this last point. It is an unnerving thing to have your entire Christian world flipped upside-down. We need to be reminded that what we do have in Christ is so far surpassingly superior than external miracles that there is no longer any need to desire them.
For this I generally head over to John 16:7, where Jesus makes the remarkable claim that it’s better to have the Holy Spirit transforming our insides, than Christ working from the outside. “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away”. That’s an amazing statement. I, for one, would love to be healed, for my son to walk, to watch storms calmed, breakfast created, etc. It sounds pretty great having the Sovereign at our side. That is, until we realize that the crowds who experienced all His miracles were so wicked that even after being healed by Christ, they crucified Him… wait, that’s how wicked I am too. And external miracles are incapable of convincing someone to believe and be saved (Luk. 16:31), incapable of sanctifying us, only the Spirit’s Word has those powers (Ro. 10:17; 12:2), therefore God has given us a superior miracle, the internal transformation of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18)!
Finally, the Spirit’s work is observed primarily by His fruit, and not by His gifts. The Corinthians were known for having all the gifts (1 Cor. 1:7) and yet still being carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3). My prayer is that when people enter our churches, that they be wowed, not by external signs, but by internal Christ-likeness. Instead of a fascination with the external, may we invest all our time and energy seeking His image, to be transformed into His likeness, through the study and application of His Word, for His glory.