It is amazing how we make the Word say something different from it's intention when we either can't accept it or don't understand it. It's bad to do that when we are just an ordinary person but it is far worse when we are suppose to be Bible scholars. When we don't understand something we should not try to explain it away but ask God for better insight.
We are picking up where we left off in 1 Corinthians. We last dealt with 1 Corinthians 13, when Paul explained how it is possible to function as the Body of Christ. Now he is moving into dealing with some trouble spots. One of those areas was speaking in tongues.
I want to make it clear that I do not have a Pentecostal background. I was baptized by the Spirit at the age of 19 without understanding what I had experienced. My whole life has been a journey of discovery as God has led me from pillar to post, teaching me what it is to live by the Spirit. I had no personal experience with tongues until 10 years ago. I never had a problem with tongues but then again I had never hung out with anyone who spoke in tongues. However, I accepted what the Bible had to say about it.
I realize that certain parts of Scripture refer to different languages when it talks about speaking in different tongues but I disagree with the publishers of my Bible when they say that this is what is being referred to in 1 Corinthians 14. This passage makes no sense if we consider the reference to tongues here to be different languages. Just look at the context:
For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. (v. 2)
There were many different languages being spoken at this time in history but Paul was writing to an educated people who spoke and understood many different languages. There were many languages at this time in history but they were not beyond understanding. How does speaking another language in a multi-cultural age make it that we are speaking to God and not to man? Do I need to speak French in order to express mysteries with my spirit? Not at all. There is a heavenly language that many are gifted with, that expresses what we cannot express with words. In this tongue we are not speaking to man but to God. It is our spirit speaking the deeper things to God's Spirit, things we cannot express in an other manner.
He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself. (v. 4)
The only purpose of the spiritual gift of tongues is to allow individuals to express themselves to God. It edifies the person, and there is nothing wrong with that because we need that in our relationship with God. To me it is a complete mystery but I know enough to accept that such expression and communication with God increases my relationship with him. When I has expressed myself in tongues I know that I have expressed things beyond words and God has responded in a marvelous manner. However, my speaking in tongues holds no value for anyone else. It is a "God and me" thing. Me speaking french does not edify me. It is a language that I use to communicate with people who speak french.
For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. (vv. 13-14)
If I didn't know what I was saying in French and had to pray that I would understand enough to interpret for people, there is a problem. It is a rather useless spiritual gift to have the ability to speak a language I did not understand to a people who did not understand that language. If we are talking about a supernatural ability to learn different languages then those of you who do speak a second language know that your mind is fully engaged in the process. Even if it was a supernatural ability to communicate in a foreign language, why would God have us do that as we pray? How does me praying in French edify me? To put that kind of interpretation of tongues on this passage makes no sense whatsoever.
All this to avoid what people do not understand. If we don't understand something then just say we don't understand. Don't twist the meaning of Scripture to make it more acceptable to your limited thinking. There is a heavenly language that has been given to many believers for the purpose of prayer, to express to God what our words are too limited to express. There was an abuse of this going on in Corinth and Paul needed to set them straight on the matter. Understanding that we have been given this edifying gift we will consider this passage tomorrow to see where this wonderful spiritual gift fits in.