Speaking in tongues in church.
Question: What does it mean to speak in tongues during a church service? What purpose does it serve?
The Apostle Paul addresses these issues in 1 Corinthians 14.
He outlines the two-fold purpose of tongues:
The first purpose is what I call “Godward”. It is a tongue that is directed to God from man.
The second purpose is what I call ”manward”. It is a tongue that is directed towards man from God.
Underpinning all of what I am about to say are two major principles which, if carried out dutifully, will bring balance to the church. These are principles that not only applied to the first century church but to the churches of all ages. They are to pursue love and desire the spiritual gifts with a special emphasis on prophesying. It is love that makes everything balanced and working effectively and it is the spiritual gifts that demonstrate the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Church. In 1 Corintians 14 Paul says,
1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
Paul will go on to define what he means by “prophesy” but first he will outline what the first purpose of speaking in tongues is for the Christian:
2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
Did you see that? Speaking in tongues (Godward) is NOT into men but unto God. The meaning is plain. This is speaking to God. It is prayer. Clearly the purpose is not designed for mans understanding because “no man understandeth him”. These are “mysteries” spoken “in the spirit”. It is really quite easy to understand that speaking in tongues includes prayer to God.
Paul goes onto explain that the purpose of prophesy is to build men up. That is a work of the Comforter.
3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
So when one is praying “mysteries” to God they are building up themselves. When one is prophesying they are building up the church”:
4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
Now Paul brings in the purpose of the “manward” tongue:
5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
Did you notice that Paul places and exception clause. Pay attention to the exception clause. Prophecy is greater than tongues in all situations except in the circumstance where there is a “manward” speaking in tongues. In this circumstance prophecy is equal to a tongue that is accompanied by an interpretation. Why? The interpretation is given “that the church may receive edifying”.
So Paul later says that he really wants to see the church built up to achieving spiritual excellence:
12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
Paul again alludes to the “Godward” speaking in tongues. The understanding is unfruitful. These are mysteries. They are “Godward”. They are not meant for mans understanding! They are to accompany “understanding” prayer to God hence:
15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? 17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. 20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
So speaking in tongues are for a sign to believers and prophecy (which may include a tongue with an interpretation) is for unbelievers:
22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. 23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
Now Paul lays down the principles of Church order. It would be well for the Pentecostal Churches to reinforce this order:
26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
May this teaching bring spiritual wealth to your hearts.
May God richly bless you as you read.
James Joseph Doyle IV