Paul was a world traveler. Especially
endowed with the Holy Spirit, leader of a God-directed missionary
movement, he journeyed from country to country, conversing with other
nationalities in their native tongues. Would God limit Paulís gift of
tongues to only one foreign language? Knowing Christís desire to spread
the gospel to all the world, no doubt Paul really meant that he had the
ability to speak with more languages than all the others. His God
entrusted him with a commission unequaled in scope and importance, and He
would definitely not confine this great task to only one foreign-language
area. To say that verse 18 means that Paul spoke in many different kinds
of untranslatable soundsóis this not to depart from the sense of the
verses that precede it?
Furthermore, in verse 19 Paul explains
that (even though he speaks many languages) he would rather speak five
words with understanding than ten thousand in a language. Following this,
in verse 22, he makes a clear distinction between the roles tongues and
prophecy are to play in the church.
"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." Donít
demonstrate your language ability to fellow believers, he counsels here,
but reserve them for the unbelievers to show them that God has given you a
special blessing which enables you to preach to them in their own
language. Donít bring your tongues into the church, but prophesy
instead, for that is given for the benefit of the believers!
He thus contined, discussing a point
which no doubt had been in the center of the controversy: "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?" Verse 23.
"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." Verse 26.
Imagine the chaos that must have
prevailed within the Corinthian church. One group speaking foreign
languages, other members vying for attention to propagate a new doctrine,
others claiming to have a revelation or to interpret tongues while perhaps
a few true Christians prayed in quiet meditation. It is no wonder that
Paul questioned, "Will they not say that ye are mad?" A
spiritual chaos such as this can never be edifying, and his admonishment,
"let all things be done unto edifying" was more than necessary!
The situation confronting Paul unquestionably turned unbelievers away from
the church, and this he wanted to avoid at all cost.
Deeply troubled, Paul established
guidelines under which the Corinthian church would be allowed to practice
their spiritual gifts. Normally this counsel would not be needed, as
mature Christians would not consciously misuse a gift of God. The
Corinthiansí immaturity in spiritual matters, however, necessitated some
strict rules, and these Paul proceeded to provide.
"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. But if there be no interpreter, let him
keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let
the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If [anything] be
revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye
may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be
comforted." Verses 27-31.