top of page

What About Tongues? (Part II)

Last time we gave some introductory points regarding the nature of tongues.

We saw that the term used is actually a bit unhelpful because it is simply translated as “tongues” when often it should be translated as “speech” or “language.”  Sort of like baptize should be really translated as “immersed.”

This is one reason why we say that we believe that tongues-speaking can still exist today, but that what is usually called “tongues” is not actually “tongues,” if that makes sense.

We next looked at the book of Acts which is a key book when people teach on tongues speaking.

We learned that there is very, very little actually said about tongues.

Second, we saw that it is obvious they were speaking in foreign languages that were discernible by others listening.

We talked about how it is common to confuse the idea of the Spirit filling people with the idea of being baptized with the Spirit. Filling speaks of a work of God so that they are uniquely empowered to do something such as prophesy or speak in another language. Spirit baptism is not a work of the Spirit, but of Christ.  It is how a person is brought into union with the Church.

Spirit baptism is true for all believers while Spirit filling is not.

The most important point learned was that we can only know for certain that the speaking in these other languages only happened in three specific times in Acts; the day of Pentecost, with the Gentiles evangelized by Peter and Paul with a few men in Asia Minor.

It is possible that this occurred in Acts 8 with the Samaritans as well, but it does not actually say so.

The point was that this was a unique event that happened only a few times as the gospel was spreading.  It is in no way something we should assume in normal. It was a way to show the early Church that God was working among both Jew and Gentile alike, and that there was no separation between them in Christ.

We ended the episode by asking the listener to listen and carefully hear what people say about tongues speaking.  How much of what they say is the result of some experience versus actual statements from the bible.  

We hope many of you did this.  It can be quite eye-opening how much is assumed to be true or biblical but never actually shown to be. It also may help you realize that just because people talk about something or even experience it, does not make it correct, good, or true.


On this episode, we are going to go to the premiere passage, 1 Corinthians 12-14.

We cannot do an in-depth treatment of these chapters like we would if preaching through them.  So there will be some intriguing points left alone because they do not relate to the topic of tongues.

But we will deal with the nature of tongues and in doing so we think we will show quite easily that tongues speaking is not what many people think it is.

Finally, it is worth noting that this is the only other place in the whole Bible that deals with tongues.  Again, compare that reality with how so many churches treat this issue. One would think it was a cornerstone of a healthy Christian life or church.

Chapter 12-13

Background is essential.  

The challenge when talking about tongues and spiritual gifts is that we don’t take the time to see the context in which Paul instructs on the nature of these things.

We are going to try to do that very thing tonight, but without getting tied up in too many details.

The issue is NOT spiritual gifts. Rather, that’s merely a presenting issue.

The real issue is unity and love for one another.  Keep that in mind and chapters 12-14 will make a lot more sense.

In chapter 8, he discusses the misuse of a person’s freedom in Christ.  

By eating food offered to idols they were flaunting that freedom to the harm of weaker believers.  

So they knew they were free, but they were being ruled by their freedom rather than a love for the others.

In chapter 9, Paul uses himself as an example to follow.

He had the rights due of an Apostle.  But he did not demand them.

Rather, for the sake of the gospel and the souls of the unbeliever, he became a Jew for Jews and a Gentile for Gentiles.

In chapter 10, he deals with immorality again and the Lord’s Supper.

They were taking the LS improperly

This led to a discussion of how to interact lovingly with various unbelievers and situations.

He writes, “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.” (1 Cor. 10:32-33 NAS)

In chapter 11 he is dealing with the arrogance of the people toward cultural norms and one another. So he rebukes women who were shedding the norms of headcoverings and shaving their heads and rebelling against God’s created order in relationships.

Then he comes back to the LS and rebukes the rich for getting drunk and eating everything so that the slave and poor person suffers.

Now he comes to chapter 12, but the point to understand is that he’s still dealing with the same root problem of disunity and lack of love.

So he says… “Now concerning spiritual gifts…”

That’s not to say it’s an entirely  new topic.

Rather, he’s now going to address spiritual gifts, but as they relate the much greater issue of disunity and lack of love.

So it’s simply a continuation of the point he’s been addressing for several chapters at this point.

So in 12:1-3 he deals with those in the church claiming to be spiritual people but were apparently declaring things like “Jesus is accursed.”  Very similar to the many foolish things you will hear certain people say claiming a revelation.

(Example) is Jenn Johnson of Bethel Church who claims that the Holy Spirit is a blue genie who is sneaky.  No one freaks out, they laugh.

Todd Bentley of the infamous Lakeland revival in 2008 claims to hear from God who told him...

You know, I told the Lord, “Why can’t I just move in healing and forget talking about all that other stuff?” He said, “Because, Todd, you gotta get the people to believe in the angel.” I said, “God, why do I want people to believe in the angel, isn’t it about getting the people to believe in Jesus?” He said, “The people already believe in Jesus, but the church doesn’t believe in the supernatural.”

This is the same stuff going on there in Corinth.  The spiritual people claiming visions, words of knowledge and such, that simply did not fit with truth.

In verse 1 most translations say: “Now concerning spiritual gifts....”

You’ll notice in most of your translations that the word “gifts” is in italics.  This is because it is not part of the actual words of Paul. It is literally rendered as “spirituals” and can refer to spiritual people and spiritual gifts, depending on the context.  In fact, there is a little mix of both in this verse.

This is a point of great interest to the Corinthian church.  The word, “spirituals” (Pneumatikos) appears 15 times in this book. There was a misunderstanding regarding spiritual things that manifested itself in many different ways.

So this is why vss 2-3 seem a bit strange and out of context.  He’s supposed to be talking about gifts, but has this statement about “Jesus is accursed.”

Actually he is very much on topic.  This church was not lacking in any spiritual gift.  And this church specifically loved showing off those gifts, especially the gift of tongues and prophecy.  But it is all twisted up in one-upmanship and great evil was the result, but under the guise of spirituality.

And this is the very point for why he’s talking about pagans being led astray by “mute idols.”

His point is that just as those pagans were mislead, so also the Corinthian church was acting in a way that was beginning to evidence that it also was starting to be mislead with regard to their understanding (and use) of spiritual gifts.

And again, this was being most seen in their disunity (and the way the gifts were causing disunity) … hence the next set of verses...

In vss 4-11 he then shows the source of all the giftedness and the purpose of the gifts:

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;  to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ." (1 Cor. 12:4-12)

This is very easy to follow.  He is simply showing that true gifts come from the Triune God who dispenses them according to His will, and then causes them to accomplish what He desires.

In verse 4 we learn that the gifts come in a great variety. 

In other words, none are quite like the other.

In verse 5 the ministries that come as a result of the gifts are also determined by God, specifically Jesus.

In verse 6 the effects of the gifts come from the Father.

All of this is built around two key points:

The first is that these are gifts of grace.  Unearned, undeserved and purely of grace. Therefore no place for arrogance.

The second is God is the one who shall use the gifted people in His way.

Verse 7 then sums up his point from verses 4-6.  “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7 NAS)

No matter how big or small the giftedness is; no matter how large or small the ministry is, no matter how great or little the effect is, there is only one purpose in the presence and use of these gifts......the common good of the Body--NOT the person using them.

Right here we could probably answer almost every real question regarding tongues.  So why do people say you should do it? Well almost always it’s for your own (personal) well-being.  But that is not what it, or any other gifts, is for.

In verses 8-10 Paul then gives a sample listing of the gifts.

These are not all of them, it is merely done to emphasize the diversity of giftedness.

So it’s important that we understand that this is not designed to be an all inclusive listing.  Rather, it’s designed to show how the same Holy Spirit gives out tremendously diverse types of gifts and giftedness.  And this is reiterated in verse 11.

Why?  Again, the reason for this is to fight against that false teaching going on there at Corinth that there were some gifts that were “the spiritual ones” and those who had those gifts were the “spiritual men and women.” (again so similar to much of what we see today--- “so and so has such an annointing!”)

In the rest of chapter 12 comes this whole instruction about each member of the body having value and purpose. Again, this shows us that the central problem, here, is a lack of true love for one another.

It’s become a one-upmanship where all these people are claiming their gift is the more spiritual one, and therefore they are the more spiritual person. And those who were not gifted in an external way such as prophecy or teaching were made to see themselves as less.

Now compare that to many churches that practice tongues-speaking. Now, this isn’t true for every church, but there are many churches who will see someone not participating, and conclude that they’re somehow less spiritual (or less in step with the Holy Spirit).

Then it’s written, “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? (1 Cor. 12:28-30)

This important for us to hear well.  Notice, it starts out with “And God has appointed…..”  So what comes after is not just some man’s opinion, but rather, the expressed will of God. And what’s then given, is an order of importance to the church.  The first is Apostle and the last two are tongues and interpreting them.  

So this is an important point, in that tongues is seen too often as a key gift, but its value is quite small as compared to the others. And this again is Paul putting everything into a proper perspective.  And one of those is that he, as an Apostle, is teaching them something that they really need to learn.

In fact, it’s worth noting that tongues don’t appear in any of the other listings of gifts in the bible.  Yet they are the source of all sorts of fighting in Corinth.

Their value is limited, but things like Apostle, prophet and teacher are of great importance for the well-being of the church.

Finally, he then gives this statement, “But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.”  (1 Cor. 12:31-13:1)

Now, there’s two ways to take this phrase, “earnestly desire.”

The first is to see it as each of us should be asking God to give us a greater gift, like those Paul just listed.  But this would contradict everything he has written so far.

The second is to desire the greater gifts to be seen and practiced in greater prominence in the church. And why? Well because they bring the greatest help to the entire body.

But then he sums it up by giving them this little statement, “and I show you a still more excellent way.”

In other words, evidentially, even desiring the more important gifts is not the best way.

So there is a better way, a way driven by love. And so that’s what he wants them to do.  

And so in chapter 13, he’ll explain that before looking at the divisiveness caused by tongues speaking in this troubled church.


So we’re taking the long-approach on this topic. But hang in there, because building the context is very important for rightly understanding the nature of tongues. 

In fact, not doing that, is one of the main reasons for why there’s been so much misunderstanding on this stuff.


bottom of page