A couple of watchwords before we begin:
1. Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
2. Let all things be done unto edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
With these two maxims in place, I believe we can proceed.
Paul makes an incisive declaration prior to both of these statements. It applies first to number one and ultimately to both. In verse nineteen, he says that he would rather speak five words with his understanding (i.e. native tongue) than ten-thousand words in an unknown tongue. Here, we see his desire, as a good teacher, for the…fluid cognition, and subsequent peace of mind and heart, of his students, his parishioners. And as we all are learning everyday what it means to walk in the spirit (Galatians 5:16), Paul takes care to include, not alienate, someone who’s understanding of spiritual matters is inchoate—in it’s infancy.
And this is the point of the second watchword (14:26). Even before we get into the mechanics of the gifts of the Spirit to the church (1 Corinthians 12:28), we must back up to the first verse of the previous chapter, chapter thirteen. Paul opens by saying that anything of this sort (prophecy, tongues, wisdom and revelation) must, must be done out of a motive of love. And a motive of love—true love for God, for others and for ourselves—includes the auspices of decency, order (14:40), and intention for edification (14:26). Paul seems to bookend the topic of love (as enumerated in chapter 13) with a universal discussion of spiritual gifts (chapter 12) and specifically with the gift of tongues (chapter 14), indicating that love is (literally) to be the focus (and locus) of all of this stuff. Because it’s just stuff when divorced from love.
But this doesn’t mean that we are then to sideline this topic and dismiss it altogether. Paul says that he desired for everyone to speak in tongues (14:5). A bold statement, no?
Moving forward, a common opinion regarding tongues is that it applies only to the languages spoken on this earth. This comes especially in handy say, when you have a missionary to a foreign mission field who needs to understand and in turn be understood. I’ve heard stories in my current church and others, of this taking place and yes, it is edifying. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s foolish of us, as Christians to not consider this fact: God’s native tongue is not English. How could it be? I’ll pause to let that “sink down into your ears” (Luke 9:44). The first verse of 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of “the tongues of angels”. Elsewhere, Paul refers to “unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). That word “lawful” means “possible”. Paul, when he was “taken up to the third Heaven” (12:2), heard words that he couldn’t take back with him to earth. In other words, the language of Heaven is something altogether different than the 6,000+ languages of earth.
When my Dad accepted Jesus in the Winter of 1968, he purposed to learn everything he could about God. The son of a doctor and a nurse, the analytical questioning gene lives on in him and according to him, anything good that God had provided, from Jesus on (Romans 8:32), was his for the asking. Why not? “Seek and ye shall find” (Luke 11:9). If I truly want to be sold out to God, then I should be willing to go where God would lead me (Romans 8:14) and learn what He’d teach me.
My prayer is that we would keep an open mind and heart about these (seemingly) obscure spiritual matters and shelve outmoded and preconceived notions that are anything less than edifying.
Thank you for reading. More tomorrow!