TonguesPosted: October 14, 2009
Morning Reading for October 14 – 1 Corinthians 14:13-25
I began to speak in tongues spontaneously at the time I came in repentance to Jesus. It was in 1978, I didn’t know anything about it; had no experience of tongues and in fact, had never heard anyone even talk about it. The interest in tongues seems to have waxed and waned in the Christian circles I was part of – sometimes people thought that it was “necessary”, even essential; sometimes it was considered as just a passing emotional phase, like puberty. I never bothered too much with either opinion – speaking to God in tongues came for me at my spiritual rebirth and has therefore always been part of my spiritual walk. I must confess to never really getting into any theological or intellectual argument about tongues, it is just part of my spiritual walk and that’s that.
So then, this is a good exercise for me to look again at what the Scriptures say about tongues. Early on in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul tells us that “one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God”. Interesting – that’s sounds like prayer, doesn’t it? He then goes on to say that one who speaks in a tongue (implication that there are different tongues) “utters mysteries with his spirit“. It is a language of the spiritual dimension, an uttering of unseen and not understood things to God from the depth of his being. It is an ability to say words of deep worship and thankfulness to God. (verse 16,17) The third point is that one who speaks in a tongue “edifies himself“. You will remember from yesterday’s reflection that one who prophesies “edifies the church” ie he builds up the church. So then, tongue speaking is for personal spiritual upliftment.
Certainly these three aspects have been the unnamed focus of my own experience in tongue speaking. It is private conversation between me and God, it has given me (unknown) words with which to worship God (language is SO limiting!), and I have found myself spiritually stronger after my private times of secret conversation with God.
But there is another aspect to speaking in tongues – the public version. Does this change the meaning, the content and the purpose? I doubt it. Paul says that if anyone speaks in a tongue in church (in the gathering), there needs to be interpretation, “so that the church may be edified.” And he also says that the speaker himself should “pray that he may interpret what he says.”
In verse 22, it gets a bit confusing – “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers“. However, if we are to understand Paul’s injunction for the need for interpretation for a tongue spoken in church; and to interpret that as a way of turning the unintelligible tongue into a prophecy then we overcome the confusion. With interpretation the tongue can become a sign for the unbeliever, he will be “convinced that he is a sinner” (O woe is me, a man of unclean heart) and “the secrets of his heart will be laid bare and he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming “God is really among you!”
So, to answer my earlier question – Does the public version of tongues change the meaning, the content and the purpose of tongues? No! It is still speaking to God, it is still worship and words of thanks beyond our language limitations (partly interpreted) and it is still edifying (now to a wider group though) and it includes the possibility of supernatural conversion of unbelievers.
Like Paul, I thank God that I speak in tongues.