Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians 14

Wait, Paul! Do You Want Us to Speak in Tongues or Not?

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.

by Scott

The tongue – Scripture tells us it can be a great blessing and a grave problem (James 3:1-12). And don’t we, especially I, know this truth.

But still, the tongue can be used for blessing. And I believe one way it can be used is not just through kind words of encouragement and comfort, but also through the oft-misunderstood gift of tongues.

We don’t really have much detailed instruction by way of Scripture of how this gift works. We have a some directives in 1 Cor 14, as well as examples throughout the book of Acts. But there definitely isn’t a guide that says: this is exactly how you do it!

And, again, I wouldn’t expect Scripture to give exhaustive commands about this gift, since it is not some kind of guidebook listing detailed instructions on the how to’s for everything it touches upon.

But here is where things get a bit sticky with the gift of tongues: In reading 1 Cor 14, it seems Paul tells us this gift is a beneficial gift to be utilised amongst God’s people. But on the other hand, it seems we’re told almost the opposite. It’s going to cause problems for non-Christians, so don’t use it.

Which is it? Continue reading

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Extraordinary Gifts

by Scott

Recently, I have seen some banter around the blogosphere which argues against the idea that the Spirit giftings of 1 Cor 12:8-10 should be considered any more special than other gifts mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, at least those found in places like Rom 12:6-8 or not too far along in the 1 Cor 12 passage, mainly some of those found in vs28-30. This argument normally flows from the cessationist sector, or those who believe these specific gifts are either not normal for today or have ceased all-together.

I actually understand the desire to keep all gifts on a kind of level ground, not making any of them more important than others. Quite like we want to steer clear of any two-tiered Christianity with the have’s on one side and have not’s on the other. This has unfortunately been created by some of our brothers and sisters in Pentecostal and charismatic circles. I know and it saddens my heart.

If anything, we are all one in Christ, as Paul argued adamantly in Gal 3:26-29.

But while I agree with this underlying focus and emphasis of non-continuationists on the importance of all gifts, I do want to clarify some things that come from the Pentecostal and charismatic circles of why we might emphasise the extraordinary nature of those gifts found in 1 Cor 12:8-10. Continue reading

The Great Non-Charismatic Trump Card

by Scott

Those who know me know I am a charismatic-continuationist. For me, at least with where I am heading in this article, this boils down to mainly two things: 1) I am committed to the reality that all gifts of the Spirit are still available to the church today and 2) I also come from a church perspective and heritage that has traditionally emphasised the importance of the times when the church gathers together in its varying ways.

But, I am also a teacher-theologian at heart. Not the most esteemed by any means. But the ministry gift of teacher seems to be the greatest measure of gifting in my calling in God.

Knowing this fact, I am continually thinking through the in’s and out’s of charismatic-continuationist perspectives and experiences. Sometimes the analysation can kick into overload.

Yet, the odd thing is that I have also experienced some very ecstatic things in my life (not always personally, though sometimes, but also with regards to others in various gatherings). I’ve reached a point in my life where nothing really shocks me. I think there are definitely some general guidelines we must take to heart as we gather together, and as a shepherd within a local church context I do consider my role of protection quite important and sobering. But, at least for me, I believe 1 Cor 14:33 has turned into the great non-charismatic trump card for many – For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

Or other versions might say God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

What can possibly happen for some of us is that anything outside of the more normal, structured order of service can easily be seen as disorderly. And this disorder, and confusion, are definitely out of bounds. Structure and regulation carry great import, and we find that 1 Cor 14:33 provides both the grounds for our stance and the subsequent comfort in guarding against anything out of order (or weird).

Of course, in some extreme cases, this verse has been used as a manipulative tool of control. Yet, this is probably few and far between. But even as this verse provides the grounds for comfort to our structure, at times it can still cause a little too much limitation.

You see, I’m always amazed at the Corinthian situation. I mean this church was nuts. ABSOLUTELY NUTS!

There was incest, people suing one another, gluttony and drunkenness at the Lord’s table and, of course, extreme abuse of the gifts of the Spirit. Though I have encountered some difficult personal situations in my younger life as a church leader, I have not come close to the Corinthian mess with which Paul had to deal.

So one can expect a heavy hand into their situation. For goodness sake, Paul desired that people would no longer fall asleep (die) because of their disrespect for the unity of the body of Christ at the Lord’s table (1 Cor 11:30). So, when we come to things like the gathering of the Corinthian ekklesia, Paul laid out some really harsh guidelines, though, interestingly enough, he did not ever shut things down for good.

With gifts of the Spirit, we see some restrictive guidelines laid out:

If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. (1 Cor 14:27-32)

By no means do I believe that Paul was laying out some command for all-time in that, if you have 4 prophecies come forth in your church’s gathering, then you are grieving the Spirit and disobeying God. Of course, if one doesn’t believe prophecy or tongues are still given and/or needed today, then we don’t have to worry about these instructions. But I do not believe Paul is limiting us to 2 or 3 prophecies or messages in tongues for all-time sake.

Then, following these instructive words to the Corinthians, Paul comes in with that great trump card: For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

As long as nothing comes out of order, out of place, out of the listed structure in the bulletin (we have a bulletin, but you might have it somewhere else), we can feel safe and truly comfortable. Yet, it is interesting that one of the names of the Spirit is that of Comforter (even if we want to translate parakletos differently from Comforter, the Spirit is still a Comforter). And so I suppose we should expect to be uncomfortable at times to know the comforting work of the Comforter. Possibly even feeling a little uncomfortable as we assemble together.

But we are told we serve a God who is a God of order, of peace.

Of course he is.

But sometimes I am very aware that the order and peace of God comes in different ways than what we would expect, or command. I suppose I can remind us of a few biblical examples:

  • Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years as a prophetic action pointing out what would happen to the Egyptians (Isa 20:1-4)
  • Hannah prayed so fervently for a son that Eli thought she was drunk (1 Sam 1:9-16)
  • When Nehemiah and Ezra read the Law to the Jews, they mourned and wept (Neh 8:9)
  • Jesus had a spitting ministry, or he healed people by use of saliva, sometimes mixed with mud (Mark 7:33; 8:23; John 9:6-7)
  • Following the outpouring of the Spirit, the onlookers declared that those speaking in tongues must have been drunk (Acts 2:1-13). As a side note, the behaviour identified with drunkness was probably not the activity of tongues, since the people understood what was being said in their own language, and no one speaks in another language by getting drunk. Rather, other behaviour must have exhibited other forms of strangeness.
  • Not to mention the varied reactions during exorcisms (i.e. Mark 1:23-28; Luke 4:33-35)

You see, when we examine the spectrum of the biblical text, we see tensions right across it. That’s because differing people were writing to differing groups in differing areas at differing times. And they definitely weren’t thinking about all the details of a 21st century global world.

So when it comes to our church gatherings, we cannot easily run to 1 Cor 14:33 and state it as a stamp of approval on how we are to see the order of God come into our midst. I think it would miss both the dynamic of God and the dynamic of the Scripture text.

Of course, the biblical text tells us that God is not a God of disorder, rather he is a God of peace. But the text, that same God-breathed text, also makes clear that our God is a God of ‘disorder’ at times. Shall we survey Genesis to Revelation? Or let’s just consider the bullet points above. I think Isaiah would have made a few of us blush. I suppose spitting on someone would not be considered the most well-mannered of actions.

So when the church gathers, there is no doubt in my mind there are things that the shepherds, the elders, must consider. Again, I am involved in such week in and week out. And I have had to deal with those awkward moments. Not a lot. But I have some. But I would never give up allowing people to pray spontaneously, prophesy, burst forth in a psalm, hymn or spiritual song, share a message in tongues, weep in repentance, or shout with joy exuberant all to make sure we never ever felt uncomfortable. I believe such would be a great grievance to God’s Spirit. And we would miss out on these instructions of Paul within the same Corinthian context:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor 14:26)

Did we catch that? – each of you has…..

Not just pastors and assistant pastors and worship leaders.

Of course everything must be done to build up. But we have to make space for such so that we can be built up.

In the end, there is no doubt that leaders are called to lead, protect, guard and wisely administrate (not in a secretarial way, but more in a leading way, as I believe the Greek word intends in 1 Cor 12:28). And sometimes we will need to bring an end to something that is causing disorder, we will have to correct, all with wisdom and grace.

But we will also, at times, need to allow for something a little ‘disorderly’ to happen that the Spirit might do the work that he and he alone can do. To stop that out of tune song, to stop the sobbing of repentance, to clamp down on prophecies, well, this could be just as disorderly than to allow for them.

I hope we can agree that there is no straight and hard line to this. But I also hope that, from now on, 1 Cor 14:33 is not simply seen as the fall back or trump card to protect us from what God might stir amongst his people in a somewhat spontaneous and unexpected way. Even if the spontaneity causes a little discomfort.

He is with us. He will lead us. He will give us discernment and wisdom. Let’s make some space for the body to be the body in our gatherings.

The Word/Message of Wisdom

by Scott

Within our local church context of Cornerstone, I have begun to pick back up on the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14. I had shared much back in the autumn time on the empowering of the Holy Spirit, as well as on prophecy and tongues. But I wanted to go back and look at the 6 other gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 – message of wisdom, message of knowledge, faith, healings, miracles and discerning of spirits.

Last Sunday I began by looking at the message of wisdom. So I wanted to post an article along the same lines.

Specifically, in 1 Cor 12:7-11, we read these words of Paul:

7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. Continue reading

The Tongues Conundrum (Part 8)

by Scott

Here is my next-to-last article on the subject matter of the gift of tongues. If you want, you can see the previous seven posts by clicking here. This particular post will deal with the gift of interpretation of tongues. The ninth and final article will share a unique account of some ministry friends of mine and their first ever experience with the gift of tongues.

I don’t believe I need to spend as much time on this gift, knowing that I covered some of its aspects in my thoughts on the gift of tongues. Hence one article. But, to begin, I give this summary definition to ponder: The gift of interpretation of tongues is the Spirit-enabling to interpret a message in tongues into the known language of the people so that they may enter into the meaning of the message and be edified.

When we get down into the few practical details Paul shares in 1 Corinthians 14, I believe this a helpful and clarifying definition for the gift.

Now we do read about the function of tongues in the book of Acts (i.e. the 120 disciples at Pentecost in 2:4, 11; Cornelius and household in 10:46; and the Ephesian disciples in 19:6). But we really don’t read about the function of the interpretation of the tongues in these 3 accounts. All we can do is speculate.

Some do try and differentiate between the tongues occurrences in Acts and the instruction for the local gathered church in 1 Corinthians 14. But I think such dichotomises things too much, quite like trying to distinguish between prophecy in 1 Cor 12-14 and prophecy Rom 12:6. The two are one and the same gift of prophecy. The tongues of Acts and of 1 Corinthians are one and the same gift of tongues (though, no doubt, the practical outworking of prophecy and tongues can be recognised, i.e., specific factors to consider between a large congregational gathering and a home group, etc).

Now, what we have going on in Acts 2, following the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, is an understanding of the tongues (differing languages) by the observers that were spoken by the 120 disciples. Luke records:

6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (2:6-11)

What is happening is that either 1) those who were speaking in tongues were speaking in the languages of the onlookers without ever learning those languages or 2) those who were speaking in tongues were speaking in their own language but the miraculous aspect was that the onlookers were hearing these people speak in their own languages. I have heard arguments for both, but I lean towards the former, #1.

And I think this links in with Paul’s explanation of how the gifts of tongues and interpretation function in 1 Cor 12-14. Hence why Paul says if the people only speak in tongues, people will not know what is being said. Plus, Paul implores the Corinthians to interpret the public messages in tongues.

Now, I don’t want to be so stringent as to say the latter, #2, cannot take place. I am sure it has happened. And it’s possible this is what took place at the Pentecost event recorded in Acts 2. But it seems scenario one that I mention above is the more likely option.

Now, here is a huge question we have to consider – Who can interpret the message in tongues?

There are two possible options: 1) anyone in the congregation, except for the one who spoke the message in tongues or 2) anyone in the congregation, including the one who spoke the message in tongues.

Some people might have a problem with option #2.

Why?

Well, it’s very possible that if #2 is an option, then these two gifts can be faked quite easily. I mean, think about it. You have a person who raises their voice in the midst of the congregation and speaks forth a public message in tongues. No one, in ‘the natural’, knows what has actually been said. Then, lo and behold, a moment later, that same person speaks forth the interpretation.

Could this not just be a fraud?

Listen, I have no doubt that these two gifts have been faked plenty of times. But we cannot let fear of fraud dictate our belief about these gifts (or anything God desires). What I find from some people is an extreme cynicism towards these gifts, questioning every thing that might have anything to do with mystery. But unless someone is present who knows the language of the tongue given (and that is not always, or normally, the case) then we cannot be 100% sure of whether it has been faked.

And I am glad we cannot have that 100% certainty. It strips the reliance upon the Spirit and his work, even his mysterious work. There is a measure of faith needed when functioning in any gift of God. And we find ourselves in such a case with these two gifts.

Now, those with the gift of discerning of spirits might be very helpful in such situations, as well as wise and seasoned leaders. But it is not always fool-proof. Still, I believe 99 out of 100 times, there will be a sense of God’s true and gracious presence when these gifts are put into practise in the way God meant for them to be.

But back to the focus of the question – Can the one who gives the tongue also interpret? I believe the answer is unequivocally a yes. I come to this conclusion from both Scripture and experience.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives this statement right in the middle of his instructions on the gift of tongues and interpretation – Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret (1 Cor 14:13).

I actually believe the first responsibility for interpretation lies with the one who speaks in the tongue. Paul desires edification. And so if someone wants the responsibility of sharing a message in tongues to the body, they need to also be willing to take up the sobering responsibility to ask God for the interpretation, and then speak forth the interpretation as He makes clear.

And I am confident that if a true message in tongues is given, then God will be faithful to give the interpretation that there might not be confusion.

That is my biblical backing for why I believe the tongues-speaker can also give the interpretation. But, if interested, I also share a very good example in my second article of how one person was used in both the gift of tongues and interpretation in the same gathering, also having the interpretation confirmed by someone else in the midst of the congregation who spoke the language that the tongue came in (Hebrew). And I also have been used in giving a tongue and soon afterwards bringing forth the interpretation as well. It’s not that odd or out of the question.

I want to make one final practical side note before closing out this post, one that might be disagreeable, but I see it as important to consider.

I believe we are called to not take on board some rigid view in regards to the practical function of interpretation following the message in an unknown tongue. What I mean is that, if the person giving the message in tongues speaks for a certain amount of time (i.e. 45 seconds), the interpretation does not have to be the same length of time.

This would be the same if, in our local church context within Belgium, I were to preach-teach in English and we chose to offer a translation in Dutch or French. Every half-minute or so I would look to pause for the follow-up translation. But, while my English statement might have taken 30 seconds, the Dutch or French translation might only come forth in 15 or 20 seconds. This is simply a practical reality when moving from one language into another.

In all, I would say the main purpose of the interpretation is to communicate the thrust of the message being brought forth in the tongue.

Now, this might seem overly ridiculous to consider. But I do know it is easy for some to move into a very extreme and stringent approach not only with the function of tongues and interpretation, but for all gifts of the Spirit. It must be this way and no other way. It must happen like this and not like that.

While I believe there are some generally helpful instructions on the gifts, especially starting in the New Testament, we have no detailed rulebook regarding all the in’s and out’s. And I believe God meant it that way, lest we try and dictate to Him when and how and who and where and how much and why things must function in a specific way, no questions asked. Like the Pharisees, we can easily apply more rules than God Himself.

Again, I believe the purpose in bringing the interpretation of the tongue is that we communicate the core of the message. Of course, if someone waxes eloquent for a couple of minutes in tongues and someone comes forth with the interpretation and simply says, ‘Jesus saves,’ then I would assume we have a problem. But I have not yet seen such happen. Still, I don’t think we are to sit around counting seconds or syllables, straining a gnat. Thankfully, wise leadership will be able to help practically facilitate the function of these two gifts, all for the edification of the body.

No doubt the gifts of tongues and interpretation are not the easiest gifts to consider nor allow people the freedom to function in them. Hence, the continued title of my posts – The Tongues Conundrum. The two gifts can be and have been faked (just as every other gift can and has been). But we cannot let this steer us from these two gifts that can and have been used for the building up, edification and strengthening of the church, and as I will share in my last post, even being used to draw people unto God Himself.