Agonizomai: 1Cor 14:1-4 - Another Tongue Lashing

Saturday, August 16, 2008

1Cor 14:1-4 - Another Tongue Lashing

1-4 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.

The pre-eminence of love as the founding motivation in everything is continued here where Paul says "Pursue love..." first, before adding "and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts." It is, after all, the giver and not the gift that we truly seek. It is relationship that is important, and not manifestation purely of and for itself. To pursue in order to obtain for oneself is the very antithesis of the sort of love Paul is speaking of. If we pursue Love Himself, then in desiring the gifts we shall want them, not for ourselves, but for the purpose of ministry to others, which is their true purpose. And which is plainly not the purpose demonstrated by the improper use of tongues in worship and fellowship in the Corinthian church.

And, as if to punctuate the relative unimportance of tongues as an edifying gift for the church, Paul exhorts the church to especially desire to prophesy. This is not, repeat NOT, speaking of that prophesy which foretells what God will do in the future, but the prophesy which forthtells God’s already revealed will in His Word. This is how the whole body is built up - by God the Holy Spirit gifting the church with people in whom the prophetic gift has been implanted - so that they may open up God’s Word to the church and discover to all the riches and glory of Jesus Christ, Who is what the scriptures are all about from start to finish. And it is the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit not to draw attention to Himself, but to manifest Christ to His people - and, in them, before the whole world.

Expanding upon the relative uselessness of tongues as an edifier for the whole body of believers (remember, the context is still public assembly and worship) in verse 4 Paul states the obvious - that a foreign language spoken to those who do not know it - though it may contain wonderful truths about Jesus - is unable to edify them. The language is not more important than the message. Information must be intelligible to the hearer or it is simply noise.

Now, some take the statement that "he who speaks in a tongue builds himself up" to mean that, by some mysterious spiritual process, a person speaking noises that he cannot himself understand is building himself up in the knowledge of God. That is, frankly, a gibberish all of its own. Human understanding is built up by comprehension, not by mysticism. Take the whole thing in context again and perhaps you will see sarcasm here - a device not at all alien to Paul. The emphasis of Paul’s point is to show upon whom the focus of the activity ought to be. People who sound off in unintelligible noise can have only themselves as a focus because, by definition, they are not edifying anybody else.

Let us say that the genuine gift of tongues is being manifested in the church. It is a gift of the Spirit of God. Can that gift be misused? Of course it can. The misuse says nothing about the Giver, nor of the validity of the gift - it says something about the recipient of the gift. A genuine tongues speaker, when sounding off in the congregation cannot be speaking to the congregation in any meaningful sense of speech unless they understand what is being uttered. But God understands all languages so what is being spoken, if genuine, is only a mystery to the surrounding congregation; it is no mystery to God. But tongues are not a gift to God, but from God for ministry to men. What use is it to speak to God without our own understanding of the truths that we are uttering about Jesus Christ? God already knows because He is the truth. We cannot know because we do not understand. The congregation cannot know because they do not understand. Where’s the benefit?

Again, communication in tongues is not meant to mystify, but to edify. Language communicates content to those who hear it. The gift of tongues communicates the wonderful things of God in Christ to real people who speak that very language. If there are none present, and no interpreter, then tongues are being used uselessly and the motivation of the speaker is suspect; under such conditions, it cannot be love that undergirds it all.

Note, tongues are and always were real languages. Babbling and gibberish and so-called heavenly or angelic language have nothing to do with the gifts of the Spirit and are either pagan infiltrations or misinterpretations of what the Bible has to say on the subject. In any event, majoring on this minor is itself an error - as anyone can tell from the very great pains Paul has taken to set the record straight here.


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