Preoccupation with Tongues

Northern Chinese or Mandarin is the language spoken by most people on earth. An estimated 68% of the world’s population use it. However, the most widespread of languages is English. It is spoken by nearly 10% of the world in 34 sovereign countries. (Encyclopedia of Illustrations … More

Tongues

From the various gifts mentioned in chapter 12, the apostle selects three for discussion in this chapter. These are (1) prophecy, (2) speaking in tongues, (3) and interpretation of tongues. Paul compares and contrasts the Corinthians’ preoccupation with tongues and their apparent disinterest in prophecy. They apparently were quite proud of the fact that they could speak in tongues and were using it as a sign of spiritual superiority. Paul shows this gift is less important than others, and that it is not to be used in public at all, unless certain requirements are met. Spiritual gifts are beneficial only when used to help everyone. We should not exercise them to make ourselves feel good. “He that speaketh in a known tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church” (v. 14).

It is well to remember that Paul regarded tongues as the least to be desired of all the gifts of the spirit, and found it necessary to warn the Corinthian Christians against the abuse of this gift. It is unfortunate that our translators have inserted the word “unknown” into the text. The word “unknown” is in italics, meaning that it is not to be found in the original Greek text of the New Testament. So Paul refers here to one who is able to “speak in a tongue.” Other references to this gift are to be found only in Mark 16:17, Acts 2, Acts 10, and Acts 19. On the day of Pentecost the disciples spoke not in “unknown" tongues, but in actual languages.

Wolvoord and Zuck in their “Bible Knowledge Commentary” have this to say about the meaning of the word:  “Whether it was used literally of the physical organ or figuratively of human language, it nowhere referred to as ecstatic speech. If it is unreasonable to interpret the unknown with the help of the known, the obscure by the clear, then the burden of proof rests with those who find in this term a meaning other than human language.” Warren Wiersbe says, “From the very beginning of the church, tongues were known languages, recognized by listeners. The tongue would be unknown to the speaker and to the listener, but it was not unknown in the world.”

Application

I should never exercise any spiritual gift just to make myself feel good.

I Corinthians 14:1-9 (English Standard Version)


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