EXPLORING PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY
Bible texts commenting on
Paul's criticism of using language in church that is not understood by unbelievers
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by the Apostle Paul
(from 1 Corinthians 14:1-25, Today's English Version)
It is love, then, that you should strive for. Set your hearts on spiritual gifts, especially the gift of proclaiming God's message.
The one who speaks in strange tongues does not speak to others but to God, because no one understands him. He is speaking secret truths by the power of the Spirit. But the one who proclaims God's message speaks to people and gives them help, encouragement, and comfort. The one who speaks in strange tongues helps only himself, but the one who proclaims God's message helps the whole church.
I would like for all of you to speak in strange tongues; but I would rather that you had the gift of proclaiming God's message. For the person who proclaims God's message is of greater value than the one who speaks in strange tongues--unless there is someone present who can explain what he says, so that the whole church may be helped. So when I come to you, my brothers, what use will I be to you if I speak in strange tongues? Not a bit, unless I bring you some revelation from God or some knowledge or some inspired message or some teaching.
Take such lifeless musical instruments as the flute or the harp--how will anyone know the tune that is being played unless the notes are sounded distinctly? And if the man who plays the bugle does not sound a clear call, who will prepare for battle? In the same way, how will anyone understand what you are talking about if your message given in strange tongues is not clear? Your words will vanish in the air! There are many different languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. But if I do not know the language being spoken, the person who uses it will be a foreigner to me and I will be a foreigner to him. Since you are eager to have the gifts of the Spirit, you must try above everything else to make greater use of those which help to build up the church.
The person who speaks in strange tongues, then, must pray for the gift to explain what he says. For if I pray in this way, my spirit prays indeed, but my mind has no part in it. What should I do, then? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray also with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will sing also with my mind. When you give thanks to God in spirit only, how can an ordinary person taking part in the meeting say "Amen" to your prayer of thanksgiving? He has no way of knowing what you are saying. Even if your prayer of thanks to God is quite good, the other person is not helped at all.
I thank God that I speak in strange tongues much more than any of you. But in church worship I would rather speak five words that can be understood, in order to teach others, than speak thousands of words in strange tongues.
Do not be like children in your thinking, my brothers; be children so far as evil is concerned, but be grown up in your thinking. In the Scriptures it is written,
"By means of men speaking strange languages I will speak to my people, says the Lord. I will speak through lips of foreigners, but even then my people will not listen to me." (Isaiah 28:11,12)
So then, the gift of speaking in strange tongues is proof for unbelievers, not for believers, while the gift of proclaiming God's message is proof for believers, not for unbelievers.
If, then, the whole church meets together and everyone starts speaking in strange tongues--and if some ordinary people or unbelievers come in, won't they say that you are all crazy? But if everyone is proclaiming God's message when some unbeliever or ordinary person comes in, he will be convinced of his sin by what he hears. He will be judged by all he hears, his secret thoughts will be brought into the open, and he will bow down and worship God, confessing, "Truly God is here among you!"
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Copyright 1997 Robert Nguyen Cramer