The Tongues Conundrum (Part 5)

In the last post on the gift of tongues, I specifically spent some time laying out its three purposes: praise, prayer and proclamation. With regards to the prayer aspect, I also spent some time discussing the nature of ‘praying in the Spirit’ and how that links with praying in tongues.

But I want to move on to another aspect of the gift, what we might term as the two modes or manners of tongues. Some might not realise this, but we must distinguish between the personal and public use of tongues.

Paul distinguishes between the two throughout the chapter of 1 Corinthians 14. For starters, we read:

2 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. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor 14:2-5)

In this passage, Paul teaches that one who speaks in a tongue is inherently speaking to God (vs2) and builds up him/herself (vs4). And that is a very important aspect of tongues being personally utilised by the believer – it is an edifying practise, strengthening one in the Spirit.

How does this happen?

Well, I don’t say this as a cop out, but these things are not easily definable, though we wish they were. Rather, what I can say is that, as the person prays or praises in tongues, they can stand in faith that the word of God teaches that this practise does build one up. This is not some fanciful thinking. We see Paul instructs us that, ‘The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself’ (1 Cor 14:4). And as one personally speaks in tongues, believing God uses this to build up that person, there is a strength that does come to our own spirits.

This is also why some people connect tongues with praying in the Spirit. When you consider this aspect of the personal use of tongues and the words of Jude 20, it would be easy to recognise tongues as part of praying in the Spirit. But as I argued in the last article, I do not believe it is the only aspect of praying in the Spirit.

Still, in vs5, we see that, within the gathering of God’s people, Paul encourages interpretation. This is so that all may be edified. Still, this distinction between personal use and a public message does not become as clear until we continue read on:

27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Cor 14:27-28)

Though some believe the instruction in vs28 is that, if there is no interpreter, the person must be completely silent in the midst of the gathered church, I do not believe such a strict command is to be found in these words – complete silence. Rather, I believe Paul gives instruction that, if there is no one to interpret the tongue, then the person is to not speak out but rather the person is to pray to himself and to God. The person never raises their voice, but continues to speak in the tongue at a much lower decibel.

This would be the same with praying in our normal, mother tongue. If one believed God’s Spirit was stirring them to pray or praise out loud a specific prayer, the person would raise there voice so that all may hear (or go forward to the microphone). But if that person did not believe such, then they could continue to pray or praise, but in a way that would not be extremely disturbing or attention-bringing.

I believe this is also why one may walk into a Pentecostal or charismatic assembly and hear multiple people speaking in tongues yet with no interpretation being given. The people are not giving a message in tongues, but they are praying or praising in their spirits to God. From Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor 14:27-28, I see this is an acceptable practise. Therefore, we need not be alarmed if such happens in the congregation.

I will come on to the gift of interpretation in a later post, but suffice it to say for now that an interpretation is only called for if the person brings a message in tongues to the whole body. If the person is keep the tongue to themselves and God, such is not needed.


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