A Word on Tongues – J. Vernon McGee

He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. (1 Corinthians 14:4)

Tongues were used for a very definite purpose, which we will see in a moment. But first, Paul presented three arguments showing the reasons why they should not speak in tongues in Corinth. The three arguments are these:

I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:5)

Even if tongues were in the church, there must be an interpretation in order that there might be edifying of the church.

Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? (1 Corinthians 14:6)

Paul was using himself for an example. He was saying, “I’m an apostle, and I’m not going around speaking in tongues. I speak by revelation, knowledge, prophesying, and teaching.”

Then he used an illustration:

And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? (1 Corinthians 14:7)

It would make just as much sense for me to speak in tongues as to go to a piano and bang on it – and that’s all I could do. It would help no one to hear me banging on a piano, but let an accomplished pianist sit down there, and we would have music. Just as you have to make sense with music, you also must make sense with your tongue.

Now I want you to notice how the tongues were used in the early church.

In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:21)

Who are “this people”? It’s Israel. Here is a quotation from Isaiah, written about seven hundred years before Christ came to earth. God said, concerning His people Israel, that He had sent them prophets, He had given them the Word of God, He had chastised them, He had tried to speak to them in every way possible to bring them back to Himself, but they would not hear Him. Then He said He would give them at some future time a sign:

For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. (Isaiah 28:11, 12)

In other words, God told them that there was a day coming when He would speak to them with other tongues – not unknown tongues, but other tongues. More than seven hundred years later, in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles of our Lord spoke in many different tongues. All the people who heard them were Israelites and had come to Jerusalem from various parts of the Roman Empire. There wasn’t a Gentile in the crowd that day. And these instructed Jews were reminded of Isaiah’s prophecy.

A number of years later Paul was in Corinth and began his ministry at the great synagogue (as recorded in Acts 18). That is where he preached the gospel until the unbelieving Jews finally put him out. Those who believed formed a little church made up of both Jews and Gentiles, largely Gentiles. And these new believers spoke in tongues (see 1 Corinthians 14). What did it mean? It meant this: these proud unbelieving Jews were walking around saying, “That little crowd of Gentiles over there say they are God’s chosen people. Don’t they know we are God’s people? We are the chosen people. We’re it.” Then they heard that little group speak in tongues, and the instructed Israelites said, “Wait a minute. Is God giving us His final word? Is this His final message to us? He said in Isaiah that He would try every means to speak to us, and we would not hear.” And some of the Jews turned to Christ. Most of them did not. But it was God’s final word to the nation.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he reminded them of the purpose of tongues:

Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. (1 Corinthians 14:22)

To those unbelieving Jews, it was a sign.

Now as far as I know, there is not a group in existence today using tongues as God intended them to be used. If they are using them to speak to the nation Israel, I’ll buy it. Tongues were meant to be a sign to the nation Israel. That is the reason why thousands turned to Christ on the Day of Pentecost and during the days that followed. It was God sending out His last call to His people.

If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: (1 Corinthians 14:23, 24)

We do not want a stranger to step into the church and think he has entered into a group of people who have gone mad. If there is one thing we need today, it is the logical, meaningful presentation of the Word of God. People in this world are intelligent, they are scientific, they are sophisticated. They want a logical message that can be understood. The Word of God needs to be presented so it can be understood.

Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:39)

As I have said, prophecy is a gift we should want in order to get the Word of God out. To me, the most thrilling thing in the world is to see people who want to hear the Word of God. Oh, that God would give His church a desire to get the Word of God out today!

Source: Thru the Bible

Posted in: Bible Study, False Doctrine, Topical

One comment

  1. Thank you, that was a wonderful teaching. I came out of a tongues speaking church about a year ago. Many in the body of Christ believe differently on this issue. I believe that what we are “hearing” as tongues today is not what was heard at Pentecost. Agreed.

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