Understanding Tongues 1 Cor 14:1-40

Understanding Tongues 1 Cor. 14: 1-40 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO

We have done a couple of radio broadcasts on tongues and Bro. Tony has done a Sunday school lesson on this doctrine, as well.  In this Sunday school lesson we will go through 1 Cor 14, subdividing the chapter into sections and dealing with each verse in each section, so that you can get an understanding of this often misunderstood doctrine.

Prophecy is preferred to tongues – 1 Cor 14:1-5

1 Cor 14:1 – Prophecy is to be desired more than all spiritual gifts.

1 Cor 14:2 – An unknown tongue is a language [Acts 2:6-8] unknown to the hearer [“no man understandeth him”], whether it is the native tongue of the speaker or a gift.  Since it is unknown to the hearer, the speaker “speaketh not unto men, but unto God.”  “In the spirit [the man’s spirit; not the Holy Spirit] he speaketh mysteries,” not because his speech is mysterious, but because no one understands him.

1 Cor 14:3 – A man that prophesies edifies (instructs, enlightens), exhorts (strongly urges), and comforts his hearers.

1 Cor 14:4 – speaking in an unknown tongue only edifies the speaker; whereas prophecy edifies the church. It is very important to notice that the speaker understands what he is saying.  In the modern tongues movement, the speaker doesn’t understand his tongues and, thus, cannot edify himself.  They don’t have a spiritual gift.

1 Cor 14:5 – Paul wasn’t against them speaking in tongues, but he preferred prophecy.  It is greater to prophesy than to speak with tongues, unless the speaker can interpret what he says for the congregation to understand and be edified.  A Spanish speaking Mexican, for instance, can interpret what he says if he is bilingual.

The problems with speaking with tongues – 1 Cor 14:6-11

1 Cor 14:6 – tongues are unprofitable to the congregation.  What profits them is:

  • Revelation – 1 Cor 2:10 speaking from the Bible what’s revealed by the Holy Spirit
  • Knowledge – Prov 23:12 speaking what the Bible says, like quoting scripture
  • Prophesying – 1 Cor 14:24-25 preaching the words of God
  • Doctrine – 2 Tim 3:16 teaching the words of God

1 Cor 14:7-8 – tongues are indistinct and uncertain.  They are not clear, unmistakeable, and specific.  Pipes and harps, on the other hand, give very distinct sounds so that you know precisely what’s played.  Trumpets used in battle blow certain sounds for various calls, i.e., reveille, assembly, charge, retreat, taps, and so forth.

1 Cor 14:9-11 – tongues are not easy to understand – you don’t know what they’re speaking, they’re just speaking into the air.  There are many voices and yet they all have “signification” (meaning, see v.11 “the meaning of the voice”).  If I don’t know what they mean then we are like “barbarians” (people from an alien land).  In other words, what he is saying means something, but it doesn’t mean anything to me.

The need for understanding – 1 Cor 14:12-20

1 Cor 14:12 – while the Corinthians were zealous of spiritual gifts, Paul encouraged them, rather, to seek to “excel to the edifying of the church.”  To do that they would have to:

  • 1 Cor 14:13 Interpret what they say in an unknown tongue so others can understand
  • 1 Cor 14:14-15 Pray and sing so that others can understand what they are saying and singing.  If they can’t be understood, their “understanding is unfruitful,” to the hearers.  “With the spirit” is not the Holy Spirit but rather the man’s spirit.
  • 1 Cor 14:16-17 Give thanks so that others can understand why they are blessing God.  Others can’t say “Amen” if they can’t understand them.
  • 1 Cor 14:18-19 Speak so that others can understand what they are saying.  Paul said that he could out talk anybody in Corinth with tongues, but that he would rather speak five words that others could understand than “ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.”
  • 1 Cor 14:20 Start talking and acting like grown men rather than children.  Children learning to speak often speak gibberish, don’t make sense, can’t be understood. 

Tongues are for a sign – 1 Cor 14:21-22

1 Cor 14:21-22 – Paul quoted Is 28:11-12 to show the Corinthians that Israel didn’t hear God when he spoke to them through “men of other tongues.”  And people weren’t going to start listening to them as they were speaking with other tongues.  Tongues are a sign to unbelieving Jews, for Jews require a sign to believe the Lord [1 Cor 1:22].** Prophesying, on the other hand, serves believers.

Tongues versus prophecy – 1 Cor 14:23-25

The unlearned and unbelievers seeing the whole church talking in tongues would say they are mad.  But the unlearned and unbelievers under the preaching of the word of God would be convinced, the secrets of their heart would be manifest, they would worship God and “report that God is in you of a truth.”  Truly churches in the modern tongues movement are a mad-house. 

Showing off spiritual gifts – 1 Cor 14:26

In Corinth, everybody wanted to speak and show his stuff, whether it was a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation or an interpretation.  And therefore the church wasn’t being edified.  So, Paul said, “Let all things be done unto edifying.”  So, he set up:

Rules set forth for tongues – 1 Cor 14:27-28

  • Men only – vs. 27 & 34, “any man” “let your women keep silence in the churches”
  • Not more than three, at a service – vs. 27, “by two, or at the most by three”
  • One at a time – vs. 27 “by course”
  • One interpreter – vs. 27, “let one interpret”
  • If no interpreter, keep quiet – vs. 28, “if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church…”

Rules set forth for prophesying – 1 Cor 14:29-33

  • Not more than three prophesying at a service – v.29 “prophets speak two or three”
  • Other prophets judge – v.29 “let the other judge” the truth of the preaching
  • One at a time, as led – v.30-31 “first hold his peace,” “one by one” so that all can be taught and comforted
  • Prophets must control their own spirits – v.32, contrast 1 Sam 19:20-24
  • Peace must be maintained rather than confusion – v.33, contrast v.26.
  • Women must keep silence – v.34-35, they’re not permitted to prophesy, speak in tongues or question.  See 1 Tim 2:11-12.

Closing comments – 1 Cor 14:36-40

1 Cor 14:36-37 – the Corinthians’ practice or experience with tongues did not establish the authority for the use of tongues in the church.  The things that Paul wrote are “the commandments of the Lord.” And these commandments supersede their custom.

1 Cor 14:38 – men and women who disagree with Paul are ignorant and most of them will remain ignorant.  So, Paul said, “let him be ignorant.”

1 Cor 14:39 – the Corinthians were “zealous of spiritual gifts,” [1 Cor 14:12], so Paul told them to covet the greatest gift “to prophesy.” See v.5.

1 Cor 14:40 – by following these commandments of the Lord they could “Let all things be done decently and in order,” and thus eliminate the “confusion,” [v.33].

**Note: The three times that tongues are spoken in the Bible, the audience is always Jews (Acts 2, 10, 19). In Acts 2:5, tongues were a sign to the Jews who didn’t believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.  In Acts 10:46, tongues were a sign to the Jews who didn’t believe that Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 19:6, tongues were a sign to a dozen Jews who had been discipled by Apollos (Acts 18:24-28) that they had received the Holy Ghost (Acts 19:1-6).  In every case, the hearers could understand what those speaking in tongues were saying and, therefore, there was no need for an interpreter.