Call to Worship November 29 2020

Expository Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 14

Paul exhorted the church in Corinth to further consider how tongues were unprofitable apart from interpretation. First, he continued to establish the context of tongues as known languages in verses 10 and 11. “10 There are,” He stated, “perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me” (1 Cor. 14:10-11 NAU). Paul drew attention to the fact that there were many known languages in the world. Each nation, or people, often had its own language and sometimes people spoke multiple languages for various reasons. Paul, for instance, spoke Hebrew, Greek, and maybe other languages as well (vs.14&18). Paul informed them that if someone speaks in a language that the other person does not understand then it causes frustration (vs. 11). We understand this in our own day as well. Communication is very difficult between two people who are speaking completely different languages.

Paul applied this to the problem in the church. When they spoke in a foreign language in front of the church, but no one could interpret the foreign language, then no one understood the message. Therefore no one was edified in the church. They were only confused and possibly frustrated. Paul called the use of a foreign language, or tongues, in the church unprofitable due to the inability to interpret the tongues or foreign language. Here we note a distinction between Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, and the church in Corinth. On that day in Acts 2 there were enough people gathered who spoke many different foreign languages that the gift of tongues was necessary. This is opposed to the church of Corinth; they did not have enough people with various foreign language backgrounds to warrant the use of the gift of tongues. So, tongues was not necessary at Corinth for the edification of the body, and intelligible edification was the most important matter of all.   

Furthermore, Paul exemplified the idea that these were intelligible languages and not unknown prayer languages. He previously stated that many kinds of languages existed and that they had meaning (vs. 10). When you speak in English you know that the words and the language have meaning. This meaning is not just a part of your spirit, but it is informative to the mind. You are expecting that another English speaker will hear the words and the words will have meaning to their mind. Therefore they will be able to understand (interpret) what you are saying. So the words will speak to their mind, which will in turn hopefully deal with their spirit. Then they may be moved to not only thought, but action. Paul recognized these tongues as intelligible foreign languages, and even those languages were used in public prayer.   

Unintelligible or unknown prayer languages do not have understandable useful interpretable meaning (10-17). Yet, everything Paul referred to in this section may not have been a locally known language, but it was intelligible and interpretable somewhere. When Paul speaks of his praying in a tongue it is not unintelligible babble (vs. 14). He knew other foreign languages well enough to pray in those languages. It may have edified his spirit to pray in that language, but the minds of other people could not be engaged and their spirits edified if he prayed in a foreign language that no one understood or could interpret. They would have no idea what Paul said in the prayer. He included singing in a foreign tongue in this thought as well. He noted that the only way to say “Amen,” to the prayer or the song was to understand the meaning of the words (vs. 15-16). Although Paul could have spoken in more tongues or languages than the people in the church at Corinth (vs. 18), he insisted that to speak, pray, or sing in a known language of the region was better than ten thousand words in a foreign language no one could understand (vs. 19). Once again he emphasized the spiritual gifts were for the edification of the church. No one was edified if they could not engage their mind in first understanding the language and meaning of the words (vs. 17).  

You may have seen a missionary video of foreign peoples praising God in their own native language or tongue, but you could not understand a word they spoke. You may have been edified in spirit or emotion to hear their praises. Yet, you really did not know what was said, so your mind was not engaged to the truth of which they prayed or sang. In essence you could not intellectually agree with their words, you could only be emotionally moved because you were told they were praising God in truth and spirit. Yet, if you had an interpreter you could understand their words, because their words have meaning, and you could agree in mind and spirit according to the truth of God spoken, prayed or sung.

Therefore, Paul warned the Corinthians not to be childish and seek after a gift that was unprofitable in their church (vs. 20). This is why he references Isaiah 28:11 (vs. 21). The quote comes from a time in the life of Ephraim when the nation of Israel had shown themselves to be unfaithful in idolatry. They were unbelieving toward the commands of God. They were unwilling to listen to the plain words of the prophets, but instead listened to the idols of the foreign speaking Assyrians. How ridiculous was it for the people of Israel to follow the gods of people; they could not even understand their language! So Paul is chastising the Corinthians for fawning after a gift in which no one understands what they are saying versus following the more plain teaching before them in words they can understand.

How often have we searched for more exciting ways to “know and follow God?” We have put the plain teaching of God aside for something more fancy or appealing to the senses. Paul said this was acting like an evil infant and immature (vs. 20). God has given very plain and accessible teaching for us to grow in maturity. Yes, we are to follow Christ with a child-like faith, but that does not mean we should not mature. We are to develop in the depth of knowledge that God has given in His revealed word. There is plenty of truth to follow that is plain, convicting, nourishing, and stretching the mind to live in awe of God. If we look to His plain word our schemes will look shallow and immature. Let us grow in the plain substance of the word of God and not the frailty of our emotive sensibilities. Soli Deo Gloria!