03 Jul 2022

Tongues & Prophecy [1Corinthians 14:1-25]


What exactly is the gift of tongues? Is it speaking a language? A heavenly language? Or gibberish? What is the purpose of tongues? To draw near to God? To pray more effectively? Are tongues to be freely used in church? These questions and more are answered in the sermon. Paul, in this passage, shows how spiritual gifts are used or not used in the spirit of love. He does so by comparing the gifts of tongues & prophecy. He helps us see how building up of other brethren is a central focus for the use of spiritual gifts. And that is the way of love


Sermon Transcript

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If you're here with us for the first time, we welcome you. Just like to preempt that the sermon today will be rather technical, rather difficult, because we're dealing with an issue such as, tongues. It is not something that an average visitor to church will hear about. Nonetheless, it's in the Bible, and it is worthy of our hearing and learning together.

Now, we are, as I've said here at 1st Corinthians, chapter 14, a passage you have just read, and this is about spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are enabling us by God's Spirit for His people, to serve Him with, and to serve one another with.

The problem, however is in the church at ancient Corinth, instead of using the gifts to serve one another, the people are flaunting their gifts to glorify themselves. So they kind of cause a class divide, in that those with the more showy gifts are seen to be better, and those who do not share the same showy or more prominent gifts are despised, thereby causing a class divide within the church.

So Paul exhorts them, encourages them, that instead of being competitive about it, they should really see spiritual gifts as wonderful enablings to serve one another in love. And that was the chapter we looked at last Sunday.

But some of you may ask, "How can I serve one another in love with spiritual gifts? What does that practically look like?" So this morning in chapter 14, Paul is going to teach us how spiritual gifts, for example tongues and prophecy are to be used in love.

So we're going to look at these two spiritual gifts in particular, they serve as examples of what it means to use our gifts in love. The sermon today will take on a straightforward approach in the beginning, in that we are going to run from verse 20, verse 1 all the way to verse 25 in an expository manner. In other words, just explaining the text in its meaning and context.

Then secondly, I would kind of do a detour, I'll do a segue to focus on the gift of tongues. The reason is because I understand tongues to be a FAQ for many Christians. Many people in church, frequently asked question, when we had our Zoom, "Meet The Pastor Q&A Sessions", inevitably, almost once every two or three weeks, someone will ask about tongues. And that's quite a lot, considering we had the Zoom sessions for two years plus.

And many of you, I understand come from different church backgrounds. And many of you may be familiar with this subject of tongues, or you may even have experienced a church that practices tongues, or if I may, you allow me put into inverted commas "tongues", because we have to ascertain whether it is genuine or false in the first place.

Many of you have deeply, strongly held beliefs about tongues. So I know this morning, I'm stepping on a minefield, it can explode in my face. But I want to assure you, my intention today is not to try to be clever, not try to be divisive, not try to be obstinate, but I just want to be helpful. I ... I just want to share with you what the Bible has to say.

And I'm learning and I'm open to your questions and to your sharpening, but this is my best effort, to make sense, to give clarity to the subject of tongues, which I think is a very important one in our day, because of so much falsehood and false teaching that envelopes this.

Then finally, I would come back to the text and hope to bring our attention to the main application and point that Paul has throughout these verses. So that's what we're going to do, and let's dive straight now in verse 1.

Paul says, "Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts." [1 Cor 14:1] The first word, 'pursue' translated in our English Bible is perhaps not that strong, because in the original Greek, it means to chase after, to hunt, even to persecute. So Paul says in no uncertain terms to the Christians in the church at Corinth, that they are to strongly desire, pursue, hunt after love.

Instead of flaunting their gifts and boast and be puffed up, they should aim to love and to build up others. But at the same time, he does not say, love is good and gifts are not, because he equally says, "Desire the spiritual gifts." [1 Cor 14:1] We must understand that God is, er ... Paul is not pitching love versus the spiritual gifts as if one is desirable, and the other is not. Both are!

But the key thing is, even as you desire spiritual gifts, you must not desire them in a selfish way. It must be used in the context of love.

And then he says, "Especially that you may prophesy." [1 Cor 14"1] Now that especially here, makes sense when you compare it with the next verse about tongues. So Paul, right from the beginning, in chapter 14 is making a comparison between tongues and prophecy. "Pursue love, desire gifts, but if you were to compare between tongues and prophecy, well, I rather you desire the manifestation of prophecy in the church."

What is prophecy? Well, the word, 'prophecy' simply means to speak forth. And in this context, I think it is the ability to speak forth God's Word, or the revelation of God for the upbuilding, encouragement and consolation of God's people. So that's what prophecy, speaking forth God's Word - to build up, to encourage and to console God's people.

Let's see further. "For one who speaks in a tongue ..." So, you see there's a comparison between prophecy and tongues. "For one who speaks in a tongue, speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit." [1 Cor 14:2]

Tongues here refers to a spiritual gift or the spiritual gift of being able to speak in a previously unlearned language. So if for example, I, suddenly am able to speak in Latin or French or Korean or Japanese, I've never learned it before, but I can now speak it rather fluently or very fluently, you could say that, I was gifted with tongues.

But if today I spew and I often do, right, spew out Chinese, or Cantonese, Hokkien, that would not be tongues, because I've learned that before. I grew up watching TVB drama serials, I learned all the canto words. That's not tongues, you have learned it before! But tongues is a supernatural, Spirit-given ability to speak in a previously unlearned language.

So Paul says, "The one who speaks in the tongue, speaks not to men but to God." [1 Cor 14:2] Because when he speaks in a foreign language, an unlearned language in their church, in their context, no one knows what he's saying, only God knows.

"No one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit." [1 Cor 14:2] Probably saying, he utters things that cannot be understood by the rest, but he's enabled to utter these things that he has not previously learned about, because of the Spirit.

So basically, Paul is saying, "Tongues, to the crowd, to the church, to the local church is pretty much unintelligible because they don't understand the same language.

"On the other hand, the comparison here, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding, and encouragement and consolation." [1 Cor 14:3] Well, the one who prophesies in the common language can be understood, and therefore what he says will be useful for upbuilding, encouragement and consolation.

So, "The one who speaks in a tongue only builds up himself." [1 Cor 14:4] What he says cannot benefit others because others in our Hokkien vernacular, liak bo kew, catch no ball, tak boleh [in Malay], cannot under ... I'm not speaking in tongues ah, I've learned those Malay words before. I don't understand, because that's the not the language they learn, but the one who prophesies builds up the church, because what he says is intelligible, is understandable to them. Very simple logic!

But I want to say that there is a difficult phrase to understand here and that is, "builds up himself". "Why you say it's difficult, it's easy what! Just builds up himself?" But it's difficult if you understand that actually the person who speaks in tongues, may not understand what exactly he's saying. And I know that he doesn't quite know what he's saying, because verse 13 says, "Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue, should pray that he may interpret."

In other words, he does not really understand what he says, even as he exercises the gift of tongues. So, now the question remains, if a person speaks in tongues, and doesn't understand what he's exactly saying, how does speaking in tongues in such a way build himself up?

Well, it's not easy to answer but as best as I can, from the text here, I see something. I see in verse 15 and 16, that the person who prays in the Spirit, in the context here refers to praying in tongues, and someone who is singing praise in the Spirit, in other words, singing praise in tongues and giving thanks in the Spirit, meaning giving thanks in tongues, do so knowing that they are speaking to God in praise, in thanksgiving, in prayer.

In other words, even though they may not know exactly what they are saying, they know why they're saying what they're saying. Or if I may put it in another way, he knows the intent - I'm praying to God, I'm praising God, I'm thanking God, even though he may not know the exact content. So he is speaking to God in praise, in prayer, in thanksgiving and in that sense, he's communing with God through tongues.

So, the building up is not so much the usage of tongues, the building up is in the act of communing with God. Tongues is simply the incidental methodology or speech that he has employed.That's all! So, that's one way of understanding how he builds himself up, but another way perhaps would be that he is encouraged that as he speaks in tongues, God's Spirit is enabling him to do so, and there's the operation of God's gift in and through him.

Those may be the two ways, Paul is thinking about, although it is not quite explicit in the text. But what is explicit or clear is that, Paul is contrasting that the person who speaks in tongues only benefits himself, builds up himself, but is unable to benefit others in the church, because it is not intelligible to the rest. But the one who prophesies, who speaks forth God's Word in the common language is helpful to the building up of one another in the church.

"Now, I want you all to speak in tongues." [1 Cor 14:5] He says, "Nothing wrong with spiritual gifts, nothing wrong with a good thing like tongues, "... but even more, I wish that you would manifest the gift of prophecy," to speak forth God's Word for upbuilding encouragement and consolation," because that's beneficial to others.

"And therefore the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues." [1 Cor 14:5] I want you to see, Paul is not saying, "Oh, prophecy is a superior gift than tongue." As if prophecy is all important and tongues is not important. That's not Paul's line of thought!

Because he has already established, though there's a diversity of gifts, there's a unity in the Spirit, we have synergy, we have interdependency, every gift is important! But in this sense, prophecy is greater, prophecy is useful for the building of the church, but tongues is not, because it is not understood by the people in the church.

You say, "Then, what is tongue for?" Hold your horses, we will come to that in a while. I know that that is the correct understanding here, in that, the greatness of tongues or prophecy, vis-à-vis tongues is in the realm of intelligibility and upbuilding because he goes on to say, "Unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up." [1 Cor 14:5]
Ah, okay, tongues is also equally precious, if it could be understood, if it is interpreted then people can benefit.

So he says in verse 6, "Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching." Paul is absolutely consistent and unrelenting in this theme of loving one another, by benefiting one another, building up one another.

So in short, he compares tongues with prophecy. Both gifts are given by God, both gifts are important but prophecy is greater in that it can be understood by the church, and it can be building up members of the church. But tongues is not intelligible by the general members of the church, and therefore cannot be used for the building of the church, unless it be interpreted.

This intelligibility is important because he goes on to speak about three examples. One about musical instruments, "If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?" [1 Cor 14:7] Huh ... if you play on an instrument and it is unclear, it is not strung together properly, it does not convey the mood or the emotion of the musician. It's not helpful, no one understands what you're trying to communicate with your music. Likewise, if you speak with unintelligible words or phrases, it is not helpful to the hearer.

Likewise, " And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, how will ... who will get ready for battle?" [1 Cor 14:8] So you take a bugle a loud instrument, in the army, papapapapopo. Wah, everybody gets ready! But you bop bop, bop, bop, bop bop booor. Nobody knows what he's supposed to do! You're not communicating a clear message and that is again, likened to tongues speaking in a group that does not understand the same language.

"So with yourselves, if with your tongue, [this gift of speaking in a previously unlearned language and by assumption, a language that the people do not generally know] you utters speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?" [1 Cor 14:9] Huh ... how ... how can you benefit anyone? You're only speaking to thin air!

The third example is that of human languages, "There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me." [1 Cor 14:10-11] So if you speak in a different language from myself, I will not be able to understand you, you will not be able to understand me, and that is the reality when we speak in tongues in the church.

So, Paul is saying, "With yourselves, since you're eager for the manifestation of the Spirit, [you are keen, you are desire to see the spiritual gifts being expressed, whether it be tongues or prophecy or others, let this be your aim, let this be what you shoot for, let this be what characterizes the employment of gifts, love and love] strives to excel in building up the church." [1 Cor 14:12] Love thinks about benefiting others, building up their spiritual lives.

So in verses 1 to 12, we have a comparison between tongues and prophecy. Tongues is speaking in an unintelligible language to the majority, and therefore cannot be used to benefit the church, unless it be interpreted. But prophecy is speaking in a common language that is useful for the upbuilding, encouragement and consolation of the church.

Now, there may be people who say, "But I want to speak in tongues leh! And I want to use it in church, can or not?" Paul now gives counsel, if you really want to speak in tongues, then let this be done.

Verse 13, "One who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret." So, he should pray that there will be a possibility to make sense of what is being said in tongues.
Without this, don't say it, don't use it, and that will be clear in the next sermon, next week. But we see that this is the counsel he gives, "You want to speak in tongues, yep, fine, as long as it is interpreted."

"For if I pray in a tongue, my Spirit prays but my mind is unfruit ... fruitful." [1 Cor 14:14] Now, this obviously means that when I pray in tongues, I may not know what I'm praying. Remember, I do not know the exact content even though I may know the intent, so my Spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful in that I do not exactly know what I'm uttering.

Some people try to be a very surgical here by distinguishing Spirit and mind. I ... I think it may not be that helpful or useful or possible to do that. I think 'Spirit prays' simply means that God's Spirit enables me to speak in tongues, the operation of the spiritual gift through me, but 'the mind' here refers to the understanding. So when you speak in tongues, you may not really understand what is being said.

Likewise, "What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also." Otherwise, if you give thanks with your Spirit, how can anyone in a position of an outsider say Amen to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you're saying? [1 Cor 14:15-16]

So imagine someone breaks out in tongues, and he goes on and on praising God, thanking God, praying to God, no one knows what he's saying and cannot therefore join him, in the affirmation, " Amen, this is what we desire!" So the logic is - If you should pray, if you should praise, and if you should give thanks, and if you insist on doing it in tongues, make sure it is interpreted, so that others can join you and benefit from what you're saying.

"For you maybe well, you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up." [1 Cor 14:17] It's no use!

"I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you." [1 Cor 14:18] Now, Paul, in case some people think that he is sour grapes, "Aiyah Paul, you tell us not to speak in tongues because you ... yourself don't know how to what! You lousy!" But Paul says, "No, no, no, I'm not, not that I do not know what speaking in tongues is, I do!

"I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you." [1 Cor 14:18] But, "Nevertheless, [because of love, not because I want to show off, because of love] in church, I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousands words in a tongue." [1 Cor 14:19]

The word,'ten thousand' is one-word in Greek, refers to the highest numerical number in the Greek language in those days — ten thousand. Now, of course in our day, ten thousand not a lot, we have million, billion, trillion, I don't know what other-lion. But you can understand that there are English words that refer to a bigger number, but in those days, ten thousand is the biggest.

So Paul says, "I rather be able to speak five words you can understand that will benefit you, then so many words that nobody understands, even though I have the gift of tongues." That is love — not doing it for himself, but doing it to benefit others.

"Brothers, do not be children in your thinking." [ Cor 14:20] Don't be childish! You know what a child is? A child is selfish. That's how it is! He's always thinking about himself. So, Paul says, "Don't be children in your thinking. Don't be self centered. Don't be thinking about yourself, think about others.

"Be infants in evil," [1 Cor 4:20] be naive with regard to sin, and disobedience, perhaps referring to their flaunting and vaunting of themselves, "... but in your thinking, be mature." Be grown-up! Be thinking about others!

So, there is a comparison thus far between tongues and prophecy. And if you really insist on speaking in tongues, the counsel given is, it must be interpreted. Otherwise, it will not benefit others and all things are to be done ... done in love.

Finally, we may have this question - Then tongues for what ah? Tongues seems to be very useless, it doesn't build up the church, doesn't benefit anyone it seems, what is tongues for?

Now, Paul that makes a case for tongues, he tells us, he clarifies the purpose of tongues. And he says in verse 21, "In the Law it is written, "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord." Well, this is a paraphrase from Isaiah 28, verse 11, long time ago.

700 plus years ago, before Paul wrote this, Isaiah, one of the prophets of Israel, came to his people with the words of God. What has happened is interesting, let me give you a little bit of background. So this was spoken in somewhere around 705 BC, but 17 years before this, the northern 10 tribes ... in those days, Israel is divided into two nations almost, the 10 tribes in the North and the two tribes in the South.

So, in 705 BC, Isaiah is speaking to the people in the southern tribes. But 17 years ago in 722 BC ,17 years before that, the Assyrians have conquered and captured the 10 tribes of Israel. So the Assyrians came, therefore, you see the purple arrows, they came, conquered the northern tribes, 722 BC. Gone! Kaput! [in Malay]. Finished! Over!

A foreign land people who speak in a different language came and captured the Israelites. 17 years later, Isaiah now says to the people in the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to these people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord."'

It's a kind of warning! "If you guys still disobey and rebel and commit idolatry against me, I will set a judgment," akin to how the Assyrians have captured your northern brothers. But even though Isaiah gave this warning sign, this judgment, this prophecy of judgment, Judah and Benjamin continued in their sin.

And so in about 605 BC, about 100 years later, the Babylonians came, laid siege to the city of Jerusalem and eventually deported the people from the southern tribes of Israel ... or Judah in Israel to Babylon. So, you see that in the green arrows. So when God says this in Isaiah 28, this phenomenon of a different people speaking in a foreign language is now symbolic of a warning judgment from ... or of warning of a judgment, impending judgment from God.

Now, this makes very good sense, especially when you look at what God said through Moses, even further back. God, saying through Moses, "The Lord will bring a nation against you if you should disobey, from far away from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand." [Deut 28:49]

So, seeing all that laid down, Paul now says in verse 22, "Thus tongues are a sign not for believers," [1 Cor 14:22] Huh, "... but for unbelievers." People who will not believe God's Word! It's a sign that there will be coming judgment upon those who will not obey!

So what is tongues for? Tongues is not primarily for the building up of the church, because that is better served using the gift of prophecy. But tongues is a warning sign to unbelievers, especially if I may say the Jewish people, that they may listen up and be warned that if they do not turn and obey, there will come a judgement.

So when you read Acts 2, for example, the day of Pentecost came, the Holy Spirit came upon God's people, and they began to speak in tongues. And the people who heard them speak in tongues were curious, they were piqued in their interest. They wondered, "Wow, what's happening! Are they drunk? Why are they speaking in the ... in the languages that we are familiar with? Aren't they Galileans? They are not supposed to know this language! Why are they speaking thus?" They are all listening attentively.

And then, Peter stood up and preached the Gospel and on that day 3,000 people were saved. So, tongues was like a warning that captures their attention because it's a sign that says, "You better listen!" So, tongues are like a pre-evangelistic ... pre-evangelism tool, if I may say. The people are not saved because of tongues, they are saved by the Gospel, but tongues was a warning sign that caused them to sit up and listen.

So, "Tongues are a sign, a warning sign not for believers, but for unbelievers." [1 Cor 14:22] And then Paul goes on to say, "... While prophecy is a sign, not for unbelievers, but for believers." Now, in the Greek the word, 'signs' is not there. But it is clear that it was written in such a way that the parallel is meant, in other words, "Tongues are a sign but for unbelievers, and prophecy is a sign but for believers." [1 Cor 14:22]

But how is tongue ... or prophecy, a sign for believers? I know prophecy builds up, encourages, consoles. But in what way, is it also a sign? Paul goes on to say, you've just got to hang on a while in verse 23, "If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter will they not say that you're out of your minds?"

Can you imagine if today, our worship service is completely different style, we run a freestyle? And all of us, apparently are gifted with tongues, and we all break out into spontaneous utterances of tongues, pilipala pilipala, don't ask me to do it, I do not know how to do it, but you pilipala here, everywhere.

And for one whole hour or so everyone just speaks in his own utterance, a newcomer comes to church, he sits in, watches all that's happening, wonders what's happening, but no one speaks in English, but everybody speaks in their own utterance. And after one hour, everybody walks out of this room, what will he think? "What! where did I go? Siow one [crazy in Hokkien] ah, these people! I came to seow lang keng [in Hokkien], huh, crazy people center!"

That's the impact! "If everybody comes and speaks unintelligibly one to another, "Won't they say that you're out of your mind? "But if all prophesy ..." [1 Cor 14:24] If all speaks forth truth, God's Word, revelation, in common language that all can understand, "... when an unbeliever or outsider enters ..." By the way the worship service in, in the New Testament age, allows for new, for unbelievers to join and that's why, it is an open service in that sense.

"So if an unbeliever or outsider comes ..." [1 Cor 14:24] He hears the teaching of God's Word, the proclamation of God's Word, the Bible says, "He's convicted by all," [1 Cor 14:24] as people speak about the truth, "... he is called to account by all," [1 Cor 14:24] as he hears people speak about the truth, "... and the secrets of his heart are disclosed." He realizes that he is a sinner, he realizes that he cannot hide from God.

"... and so falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." [1 Cor 14:25] Ah, I think that's where the sign is! That as the preaching or the prophesying of God's Word goes forth, men and women, hear God's Word, these unbelievers are brought to conviction, convincement, worship, and that testimony - God is among you. And those who prophesy and the church that allows for prophecy, would see that people are getting saved, and that is a sign of God's blessing and presence amongst them.

So, tongues is a sign of God's wrath against disobedience, prophecy is a sign of God's favor upon those, who would teach His Word. That, I think concludes our running through of verses 1 to 25. I know it's already 12, but I tested in the first service, I think we can make it for your lunch. Don't worry.

I just want to ... I know there are many verses but just want to bring out the salient points, so that you will not be lost in all the details, though we did go through the details.

Both tongues and prophecy are spiritual gifts, in other words, they are given by God. Let's be clear, they are not trained, or learned skills. They're not something you acquire on your own and then you say, it is tongue. No, they are spiritual gifts. If you today spend the next five years learning Korean, please don't come and tell me, "Pastor I now have the gift of tongues, I can speak in Korean." That's not a gift! That's something you put hard work into.

Both are spiritual gifts given by God and both are speech gifts. That's the commonality, both are gifts with regard to speaking. But there are differences between tongues and prophecy, as you can very well appreciate.

One is the ability to speak in an unlearned language the other is to speak in a common language.

Tongues require interpretation but prophecy does not require interpretation, in the sense of bringing, making sense of the words that are being said.

Tongues are a sign for unbelievers, a straight lifting off of the text in 1st Corinthians 14, but prophecy is a sign for believers. I'm adding nothing to the text, right here.

Tongues do not edify others if they are not interpreted because it's unintelligible, but prophecy edifies, and indeed possibly evangelizes, helps people understand the Good News that they may be saved.

So that is what we have captured thus far, but to bring it even into sharper focus, I like to ask you - What does the Bible say then about tongues? We've going to do a little bit more understanding of tongues.

Now, I want to caveat what I'm going to say again by this clarification, I'm not here to pick a bone, or pick a fight with anybody. I'm not trying to be divisive, I do appreciate many of you come from different church backgrounds. Many of you have experienced so called, tongue speaking, and you may even believe that you have been given the gift of tongues. And I'm not refuting or saying that you have or do not have, I'm not saying that. But I'm simply wanting to lay out what the Bible has to say, and you will have to make your own judgment.

And again, I do not want to cause controversy in the church, or cause division in the church. But just, I hope you can see that we are just laying out as plainly, and as clearly as possible what the Bible has to say about tongues. But before I go into further explanation, it's good to see how the world today, some churches today have practiced so called, "tongues". It may come as a shocker, but take a look at this video. It's grievous to me, but perhaps it may help you appreciate the gravity of error, and the shame and disrepute it can bring to the Name of Christ, if you're not careful.

[Video plays: ........ In the name of Jesus, you be made whole by the power of God. ..............]

So, I think this is extremely grievous! I don't think I'm here to analyze every detail of what you've just seen, but it ... I hope provides context to know the amount of confusion, misunderstanding, error and grief that revolves around this issue.

I will not point out all the errors, but I ... I hope to point out some fundamental truths that we can establish. Then by that, I hope you can discern what is right and wrong for yourselves.

What is tongues? We've already kind of explained that earlier. By definition I would attempt is - It is a supernatural Spirit-given ability, it's not a learned ability, the Spirit-given the ability to speak in a previously unlearned language as a sign to unbelievers. Emphasis is 'language'.

Right off the bat, I say, it is not gibberish, it is not ecstatic utterances with no meaning, it is a language. And I think the idea that this language is clear in the Bible, you will really have to kind of disregard these verses, and come up with your own justification, if it should be anything but language.

Because in verse 10 - the illustration of using different languages for example. Verse 13 - you need to ... it should be interpretable, meaning it is not a jumbled mess of sounds, and noises with no meaning, whatsoever. It is not known to the tongue speaker, but there is meaning In the words, and it can be interpreted. It is a language!

The illustration of the Babylonians, the Assyrians, refer to a people who speak in a foreign language, it's not gibberish. [verse 21] Verse 27 again — the possibility and the need for interpretation tells us that this is a language.

So, tongues is not gibberish, it's a language, Acts 2:8-9 tells us that when they spoke in tongues, the listeners could discern that they were not speaking gibberish or mere ecstatic utterances, but, "In their own native language like Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and so on." Almost like saying you could speak in Hainanese, Cantonese, Hokkien and so on, they are known languages.

So what are tongues? They are languages. They are not gibberish. And so if people ask, or they claim that they're able to speak in tongues, the first question I'll ask is - Is that a language or is this just a trained repetition or some vocalized sounds?"

I have already explained that I don't think tongues include angelic language, as found in 1st Corinthians, chapter 13. I think that was hyperbole, because nowhere else in the Bible do you read about angelic language, nowhere else do you read about men and angels communicating in an angelic language, it's always in their known language.

Number two, I think it's important to understand that tongues are assigned to unbelievers. As explained they are a sign, a warning sign of impending judgment if people do not listen and obey.

Therefore, I don't think tongues are primarily for private devotions. There are some people who say, "I'm gifted with tongues, and I use tongues at home to pray to seek God." Now, am I saying it's wrong? No, I'm not saying it's wrong, but is that the main purpose of tongues? No, it is not! The purpose of tongues, I think clearly laid out is a sign to unbelievers. And I don't think this is the primary way you should conduct your private devotions for several reasons.

Number one, if you speak with God, if you are truly gifted with tongues, and you speak with God in tongues, it is not understandable about what you say, isn't it? Now, you know the intent, but you do not know the content, as we have explained earlier. And throughout this chapter, Paul's understanding of being build up is revolving around understood truth.

So you can't really have the most meaningful of private devotions, if you don't even understand what you're saying. Sadly, people then take this to an extreme to say, "Speaking in tongues in an unintelligible way is actually a better way, it's a mystical way that I draw nearer to God." Again, I think this is contrary to the whole of Scripture. The way we draw near to God is in truth, we worship God in Spirit and in Truth! So, it is not understandable and therefore not the primary way, or preferred method for private devotions.

Number two, no where else in the Bible are you instructed to commune with God in your tongues? When the disciples asked, "Jesus, how should I pray, teach us how to pray?" Jesus did not say, "Speak in tongues." First of all, the gift was not given then, but Jesus taught them how to pray with the language that they're familiar with. When Jesus Himself sought God in prayer in John 17, it was not in tongues, but in the common language.

No where else in the Bible are we commanded to pray in tongues. And then most importantly, of course, the Spirit of spiritual gifts, is that it is to be used for others, not for yourself! So, spiritual gifts are not mostly about me or I, so if you think that spiritual gift of tongues is used primarily for your private devotions, I'm afraid you have misunderstood God's intent for spiritual gifts.

Again, is it sin for you to pray in tongues, if you really have the gift of tongues? No, I'm not saying that, but that's not the primary purpose. So it's a gift to speak in a previously unlearned language, and I think the purpose is that it ought to be a sign to unbelievers.

Now, there are many people who attribute to tongues many different purposes. Some say, "Private devotion," I don't see that in the Bible. But others see a lot more reasons, very creative reasons, eight of them here.

And you can read - Give us the gift of tongues, a powerful weapon to overcome the enemy." Er, almost like you speak, I ... I can picture when you speak in tongues, the ... the sword come out, sssh, swisssh, swisssh. And you slay the ... the dragon in front of you. I think that's hocus pocus!

You have a lot of other things but in number four - Your body is being repaired and strengthened. Wow, so if I get COVID, I speak in tongues, speak until COVID, the test negative, no more line!

Number five - When you pray in tongues, God's rest and refreshing uproot stress in your life. I think you try to speak in tongues for too long, even more stressful, coming up with the syllables to say creatively. Actually, this particular preacher goes on to say, "When you speak in tongues, you ... you cause cell regeneration." I do not know where he gets that from, but I don't think it's in the Bible.

The same church, same source - When you pray in tongues, you will see good success, fruitfulness and healing." Well, this is just a combination of many different errors merged into one. But you see, with so much misunderstanding in tongues, people are easily misled, and they get trapped in superstition, and I think a kind of idolatry at the end of the day.

Can tongues be learned? Let me show you a Tik-Tok video of someone wanting to teach you in tongues. Alright, take a look.

[Video Plays: "Holy Spirit, I ask that you baptize me with your fire in this moment in Jesus' name. Now, I'm gonna praise you and I believe many of you are going to start speaking in your heavenly language. Holy Spirit, I ask that you fill every single person right now and baptize them in your fire in Jesus' name. Now by faith, begin to speak out as the holy Spirit is leading you, your heavenly language. Come on, let's do it together. ........ bah bah bah bah ....... Come on, come on, you got it! You got it! ....... in Jesus' name. Amen."]

You got it? 1 2 3, lah lah lah lah lah lah, okay, that's all I can do. Well, can tongues be learned? Can it be learned like this? As we've explained, it is a spiritual gift, it must be given by God, it is not a learned behavior.

I ... I read of, I ... I hear about churches that actually conduct tongues-speaking classes. And before they help you, they will get you to do some tongue loosening exercise. I don't know I've never been through one, but mine a bit stiff ah, no matter what you do, I don't think I can make it lah! But is that Biblical? No, I don't think it is.

The Bible tells us that it is a spiritual gift given by the Spirit and, "It is as the Spirit wills," [1 Cor 12:11] not as I learned it. The reason why people want others to learn about tongues is, because they have perhaps that thinking, that the ability to speak in tongues, show that you are a Spirit-filled person.

But that equation is not found in the Bible, worse still, the desire for people all to speak in tongues is the belief that this is the evidence of one's salvation. Again, that is foreign to Scripture, because the gift of tongues, like every gift is not universally given to every Christian. If everybody is an eyeball, this body is a monstrosity!

So it is a strange thing that churches and people would believe that, "I should learn tongues and be able to speak in tongues like everyone else." That runs totally against what Paul has been saying.

Have tongue ceased today? "Pastor, so many problems about tongues, I think no more lah, tiok bo [is it correct in Hokkien]?" Actually, in my heart, I also wish no more, Bible says, no more. Then don't have all this need to discern whether true or not, right or wrong, fake or not fake. But try as I might, I can't quite find a definitive verse in the Bible, a passage that says, "All miraculous gifts have already ceased today." I can't find a clear text for that!

We looked at one supposed text — 1st Corinthians 13 last week, and I don't think that refers to the completion of the Bible. But I think it refers to the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, ushering a glorious eternity where we meet Him face to face. So I don't have a clear text, but just because we do not have a clear text to say all, "Spiritual, mi ... miraculous gifts have ceased," doesn't mean then that we believe everyone who says, they can speak in tongues truly can.

So, we still need to examine each and every claim if that be true. So we can't leave ... leave our brains behind to everyone who claims that, we need to examine still biblically, if it is true tongues.

Now, I know you have many questions, and I don't think I can answer all of them. For example, there is a very common belief that Romans, chapter 8, the utterance of the ... the groanings of the Spirit is about tongues. I say to you, "It is not." But maybe I do not have enough time to deal with all of that, and if you have that and other questions, I encourage you to maybe have a quick check at our article, that has been put up on our website.

Very easy to search, even if you do not know how to navigate our website, you just need to know how to use Google. I don't think there's anyone here who does not know how to use Google. And all you need to do at Google browser is to key in "GLCC tongues", enter. And the first search result will be this article, as easy as that, and it is written just two pages, one page, two page. We made it as simple as possible, in a question and answer format, so that it is easy for you to understand. Verse references are there, and I hope this will serve you well.

Again, Gospel Light is not aiming to be controversial, we're not aiming to be divisive, we just want to be helpful. We want to cut through the chase, allow people to see through this fog of human traditions and ideas and philosophies and see simply what the Bible has to say.

We do not want to teach based on human experience, we want to base it on divine revelation. Simple as that! So, maybe that maybe ... will be helpful to you.

But in a nutshell, if someone says, he has the gift of tongues, what should you do? Well, I'll say, "Three questions." I will like to ask - Is it a language or is it an ecstatic utterance or gibberish?

I'll ask secondly - What is it for? What do you suppose the gift of tongues is for? And if you should practice it in your church, how is it used? What are the rules governing it? For example, is there interpretation? Because I think it seems to be very obvious to me, Paul insists on interpretation, when tongues are used in the church, otherwise it benefits no one.

Well, those are the questions that I may have. This is my best attempt at explaining to you, as best as I can. Some of you may have questions, I would be happy to field some of your questions, if it's helpful for you, but again I hope to be helpful, not divisive.

But before we end, I think it will be wrong if we end this sermon as if this is all about tongues. It's a segue to it, is a necessary pastoral issue to resolve, but I want to remind all of us that Paul is really emphasizing about the proper use of tongues, or the proper use of spiritual gifts in love.

And what does love look like, with regard to spiritual gifts?
It means that, I'll use or hold back the use of spiritual gifts for the singular purpose of building up one another. That's what love looks like! Paul is relentless in holding on to this idea of "Building up one another, to encourage, to console, to build up the church in verse 4.

"So that the church may be built up," in verse 5. "How will I benefit you," in verse 6. "Strive to excel in building up the church," in verse 12. "The other person is not being built up," in verse 17. "He wants to instruct others," in verse 19. So he is really getting to it, isn't it? You can't miss this! I mean, don't be .... don't be just concerned about tongues, but realize that Paul is really teaching about the importance of love and how that is expressed in doing all things, including the employment of spiritual gifts to build up one another.

And if you don't already get it, it really revolves a lot around the Word ministry — intelligible understanding. The intelligible communication of God's truth, that is central to the building up of lives. So, in the Bible and in the New Testament, the church has always put a high premium on the teaching and preaching ministries of God's people.

But I'm not saying that's all important, all gifts are important, but to build up God's people, the Word ministry is important. That's why in the early church, the apostles, knowing that there are many needs and especially amongst the widows who are struggling, they ... even though they know this is something important for them to resolve, they decided that they will not do that directly, but instead appoint seven men to do that. Because they know that they are to give themselves, dedicate themselves to ... to the Ministry of prayer and the Word.

When Paul wrote to his protege, Timothy, he said to him, "Preach the Word." And I'm thankful for a church that understands this and give space to the shepherds, to the pastors, to spend time preparing God's Word, that we can do our part to help build up the Church of Jesus Christ.

That's why we put a premium on ministries where we get to one another and can share one with ... with another God's Word. Our Care Groups, or Discipleship Groups, our Bible Study Groups, they are not meant to be groups where we just talk amongst ourselves, politics and social issues. Worse still these are not groups that are "feilowship", that all we are caring about is eating and eating and eating. But we really want to build up one another, that's why Care Groups, that's why Discipleship Groups!

And if I may say, I hope this is also the building up of the church is also what we regularly pray for. I realized that when I pray, I'm like a broken recorder many a times, because I ... I don't, I don't have a lot of variations in prayer, I generally revolve around a few things.

One of the things, I would always pray for is the building up of the church, because I think that's ... that's so key in the Bible. We don't just want to see many people come, we rejoice in that, but more than that, we want to see many people be more like Jesus, build up, mature. And that's what we pray for!

I want to encourage you to pray likewise at home, personally. Join us in prayer on Wednesdays and Sundays, it's not just praying one for another, although it's good, but we pray for the church. We pray for God's will, we pray for God's people to mature in faith.

Well, if you're here with us, as a seeker, unbeliever, I know this, wah, must be really a headache for you! Heavy going stuff, even for Christians, I think this is heavy going. But I ... I still retain hope, like what Paul says, "If we prophesy in an intelligible way, in an understandable way, perhaps you will be convicted, by what is being spoken, you will be called to account, by all the secrets of your heart are disclosed." [1 Cor 14:25]

And one day you would see that we all are sinful people, sinful creatures before a most Holy God, unable to save ourselves, and realize that God has given His Son, Jesus Christ to save you from your sins. That is what I hope you walk away with, that there is a God who loves us, and who gave His Son for us.

A lot has been said, thank you for bearing with me. I know it's not easy, a little bit more next Sunday, and I hope this brings a good conclusion to your understanding of love, spiritual gifts and even the misconceptions about tongues in our day and age.

Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

Father, thank You again for this morning. For Your Word, bless it to all our hearts. We thank You in Jesus' Name, Amen.

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