We are giving a basic biblical breakdown of what are commonly called “tongues.”
Because this is something that can be quite emotional we are trying to be helpful rather than just giving out cheap shots to those with whom we disagree.
It would be helpful to listen to our previous episodes on tongues:
What we learned to date:
---- Tongues should be translated as foreign languages or speech in most situations in the bible, but isn’t. If you did that it would make most of the passages simple. Though we didn’t do this in the last podcast for 1 Cor 12, we really should have. So it is worth stating that you might want to pencil in the margin four times it is used in that chapter.
---- We learned that this was a unique event in Acts, only showing up three times. There is nothing in the passages that would indicate that these were some sort of ecstatic speech.
---- We learned that the issue of tongues is not prominent in the rest of the NT in any way, with the exception of 1 Corinthians. And then it is only to correct this situation, not to endorse or praise it.
--- In the Corinthian church there was a huge problem with power struggles where various people are vying for prominence. These are known in the book as the “spirituals” and are referred to throughout the book. This is the point of 1 Cor 21:1, “Now concerning spiritual gifts.” The word gifts is not actually used, it is really saying, “Now concerning the spirituals….”
Behind the whole mess in Corinth was a desire to use your position and skills and such for yourself and not for the common good. We cannot emphasize this enough for it explains the point of chapters 12-14.
--- Finally, when Paul engages with the issue of tongues, or speaking in foreign languages, in chapter 12 he puts it at the bottom of the list of importance. This is quite the opposite of many people’s experiences in various church gatherings where it is front and center to everything.
He left off with this intriguing statement, “Earnestly desire the greater gifts (of which tongues is not remotely one); but I show you an even more excellent way.”
Spiritual gifts of any type mean absolutely nothing in the long run so stop dwelling on them.
This is the point of most of chapter 13. Corinth is all about gifts and spirituality and power from on high. They are debating all the fine points of this gift and that gift. So the are battle lines drawn as to which gifts are the better ones.
Paul says, “Good job guys! You managed to miss the whole point of gifts and you managed to fail at the most important and basic level, which is love. Well done.”
Chapter 13 does not deal with tongues/foreign language in a major way as there are only two mentions of it. As a result we won’t break down the chapter in depth.
The first mention is in vss 1-3 and the context, like always, is key.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
He is using hyperbole to make a point and that point has absolutely nothing to do with the language of angels.
Each point is taken to its fullest extent to show that without love there is utterly no value in it.
And so, he is using a common logical argument that is from the greater to the lessor. Meaning, if these extreme examples are true then how much more true are these lesser things?
An encouraging example — Romans 8:32 "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?"
An example of the opposite, from the lesser to the greater is also common in the bible—Matthew 7:11 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?"
This is what Paul is doing. He is pretending to be a man who possesses a certain gift to the greatest, highest degree.
So when he says, “And of angels,” he is not saying there is some angelic language that you can speak in tongues. It is simply a language that is higher than that of humanity.
There may be an angelic language but you cannot know that from this text, nor any other bible text. That is not the point of the verse in any way.
It is worth noting that the other two examples are something that are taken to the extreme, almost to the absurd, to make their points. This lends credence to not build any practice or doctrine regarding tongues to vs 1.
From here he then gives a series of verbs that describe what love looks like. The point in these verses is that love is not merely some emotional feeling but it is something that must act in certain ways.
His next main point is that the reason love is the most excellent thing is that it is all that will remain in eternity. Again, this is key to grasp.
Verse 8 picks up this point in a very simple and pointed manner: “Love never fails.”
The term “fail” carries the sense of “to fall into decay” or “to be abolished.” Luke 16:17 uses it to speak of the fact that not one stroke of a letter of the Scripture will ever fail.
“Never” is a time word and means exactly what it says.
There will never be a time in all of eternity where you and I will find love to fail.
Remember that Paul is really uninterested in the believers in Corinth; in Kenosha, WI; in London, England; or over in Uganda figuring out every little detail about tongues. He would rather them spend that time pursuing the discipline of learning to love one another in the manner he just described.
So, having made the strong statement that love never will fade or disappear or fail, he then picks out three spiritual gifts to make his point.
Why those three? Prophecy, languages and knowledge?
Likely there are two reasons:
-- The first is that tongues and knowledge (a word of knowledge) were creating a lot of problems in the church.
-- The second is that according to 14:1 Prophecy was the gift of choice for Paul.
Why? Because it built up the body, while the speaking in other languages could not without an interpreter. And by speaking of the least (tongues and knowledge) and the greatest of the spiritual gifts (prophecy) , all the other gifts are embraced and carried into this argument.
Spiritual gifts are never complete. They are not designed to be.
So we prophesy in part.
We know in part.
Why? Because we are on this side of eternity and the new heavens and earth.
By making all the gifts partial it requires the Church to work together for the common good of everyone. No one has all of the gifts.
The point being made is that these gifts only exist until something called the “perfect” comes.
The term speaks of maturity or completion and it is a mix of both here.
It is looking to the time when this age is finished at we enter into eternity.
Once that event has happened the Church will no longer be like a child. It will be grown up and therefore it will no longer have any need for the gifts.
Also, like Paul talks about looking at these things dimly through a mirror, this is also true today. All sorts of opinions on theology and doctrine. Some of them are hard to deal with and you are left with questions. But not when we enter eternity, then we will know all things as they ought to be known.
So right now Paul says there is faith, hope and love. But the greatest is love.
Faith and hope will be realized in eternity. No longer will they exist.
How much more will the gifts no longer be needed?
But love is permanent. Therefore, his point is to work at loving better rather than dividing over everything.
Next time we’ll hit chapter 14.