Dr. Andy Woods
Ecclesiology 33: Proper Operation of Sign and Regulatory Gifts, Part 3
8-19-18 Lesson 33
Father, we’re grateful for today, and grateful for the freedom that we have in this country to worship as we please. And I thank You Lord for the people You brought here today that have chosen to worship in not just spirit but also in truth and so I pray that every life and heart will leave here nourished, full, equipped for the struggles that they’re facing, whatever they may be. I pray that they would get something today that would help them in their life. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen.
Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians chapter 14 and verse 19. And as you all know in Sunday School we have been teaching the doctrine of the church, Ecclesiology, and we’ve been drilling down on the purposes of the church and of course one of its great purposes is to equip the saints in such a way that they can use their spiritual gifts, which requires some explanation about what spiritual gifts are, how they’re supposed to be used, and how they’re not supposed to be used. So, we made some observations about spiritual gifts and we’re continuing with this very difficult question that divides the Christian community, are all the gifts of the Holy Spirit for today? Because as you go through Paul’s various gift lifts, you’ll see seven of them, and some churches practice these and others do not. We’re in the camp which says that those seven gifts, most of the gifts are in operation but those seven gifts are not. [Apostle, Prophet. Worker of Miracles. Tongues, Interpretation of tongues, Healing, Knowledge]
I was in the process of giving you the explanation as to why we believe that’s so and sort of to make a long story short what we’ve covered is that the confirmatory gifts and the revelatory gifts have ceased. That would take care of those seven, but the edificatory gifts continue. And we’ve also looked at the fact that this is an idea that you don’t just find supported in the Bible but you see various Church Fathers communicating that those seven gifts, although they were very much in operation in the first century, ceased as well.
However, what you’ll discover out there in the big bad world of church is not every church agrees on this. In fact, if you were to just drive down the street… what do we have, three churches on this street. I mean to come to Sugar Land Bible Church you’ve got to work really hard at it, you’ve got to bypass at least two churches, I think there’s two churches, to find us. But even on this street I haven’t gone up to each pastor and talked to him but in any given neighborhood where there are multiple churches what you’re going to discover is there’s a lot of disagreement on this. So I would say at least half of the body of Christ believes that these gifts are in operation today.
I decided to give you this section here, Roman numeral IV, let’s just pretend that they’re right; let’s pretend that all the gifts, including prophecy, and the gift of tongues, are in full operation today. If that is true then there are certain rules that have to be adhered to for the proper manifestation of those gifts. And as I’ve tried to explain, one of the reasons I wanted to give you this section rather than just to say well, the gifts have ceased, don’t worry about it, is because you’re going to find yourself in your life going to a charismatic church because your job moves you to a certain location and there are only so many churches to choose from. And if that’s your scenario and you can’t find a Sugar Land Bible Church ministry model then one of the things you could do is go to a church that may disagree with you on the operation of gifts but at least follows the rules. So, I kind of felt I would be remiss if I didn’t give you this Roman numeral IV here.
You’ll notice what we say in our position statement: “We believe that the majority of what is termed ‘miraculous’ within the contemporary charismatic movement is something other than the Biblical gifts of tongues or healing.” [SLBC Position Statement No. 7] And that’s because in our observation, as we look at the Pentecostal charismatic movement not only do they disagree with us on the manifestation of these gifts but in many cases, they don’t even follow their own rulebook that the Apostle Paul gave.
1 Corinthians 14 is really the key chapter on this because the Apostle Paul lays down very clear rules that have to be in place in order for the gift of prophecy to be in operation. Those rules are, as we have talked about, Number one, the prophet has to be 100% accurate. Number two, no more than two to three prophets at a time can speak, and they can’t interrupt each other and talk over each other. Why is that? Because number three, the prophets are in full control of their faculties. So this idea that the gift comes over me and I have to just start saying whatever it is I’m supposed to say, that’s not an idea that you find in the Bible. Any gift that God gives is subject to the control of the person wielding that gift.
And then rule number four, listeners are to judge carefully to what is said, 1 Corinthians 14:29. [1 Corinthians 14:29, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.”] And you can see how that relates directly, even if you’re not a Pentecostal, to any church you go to. Christianity is such that God expects His own people to screen what is said because you are also a priest, we believe in the priesthood of all believers; you can read the Bible just like I can read the Bible. And anything that’s said here you’re to always examine it by the Word of God to see if these things be so. And that rule was particularly appropriate in the first century when people were claiming to receive direct revelations from God, because there’s a mindset in these circles that if you don’t immediately accept what it says, then somehow you’re lacking in faith. And they’ll sort of use that as a tool to bully people into submission. And may I just say to you that there’s not a shred of evidence in the Bible that supports that. You are always to examine all things by the Word of God whether you’re a Pentecostal or not a Pentecostal.
And then, I think we started this last time, there are great key rules that have to be in place for the gift of tongues to be in operation. Those rules are, and we spent most of our time last time talking about number one, tongues are really not some kind of gibberish or incoherent speech. That’s a mis-understanding of the word tongues, which always means the capacity to speak in an unlearned but known language.
Number two, tongues are given a very low priority in the church, when Paul lists the various things that are to happen in a first century church he lists tongues last. So in charismatic circles what you’ll discover is that tongues are almost pushed to the forefront and that’s out of biblical priority. It’s not in harmony with biblical priority.
And then number three (and I think this is where we ended last time) teaching or edification always takes priority over tongues. And one of the verses I didn’t have a chance to read is in 1 Corinthians 14 and verse 19, and notice what Paul says to a church that was operating in the gift of tongues in the first century. He says, “however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” So Paul says if I have a choice between ten thousand words (that’s a lot of words, isn’t it?) ten thousand words in a language that’s unintelligible I’d rather give you five in a language you can understand through teaching because the five words are going to edify you whereas speaking in some unknown language with verbosity doesn’t edify anybody. So, tongues should always be given a place of subordinancy, I guess I should say, to the gift of preaching and teaching.
And this takes us to number four and here we’re starting some new material. Number four, the fourth rule is there cannot be untranslated tongues in church. There’s no such thing as an untranslated tongue… I mean, I guess there is such a thing but if the gift of tongues is in operation it always has to be translated through the gift of interpretation to people hearing or how in the world could you be edified through someone speaking in a language that you don’t even know.
So take a look, if you will, at 1 Corinthians 14 and notice if you will verse 7-12. Paul really gets into this subject here. The Apostle Paul writes, “Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?  For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?  So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking” he says here “into the air.  There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning.  If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian,” or as a barbarian, “and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.  So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.”
In other words, what good is sound if it doesn’t mean anything? So obviously going on and on in some unknown tongues foreign to the audience wouldn’t edify, it wouldn’t build up anybody. And the fact of the matter is, the heart cannot rejoice in what the mind cannot comprehend. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of you soul and with all of your” what? “mind.” [Matthew 23:7, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27] Christianity does not bypass the intellect. Any appeal to emotions or feelings or mysticism independent of the mind is not the worship order that God Himself has designed because God has chosen to express Himself in linguistic form in these sixty-sic books. And the moment He chose to express Himself in linguistic form God is saying I want to communicate with people via the mind.
If you go down to 1 Corinthians 14 and take a look just for a moment at verse 23, Paul writes, “Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?” I mean, it’s interesting how Paul has a sensitivity to unbelievers that enter the assembly. People going on and on in an unknown language, first of all it’s not edifying the saints, and beyond that what are the poor unbelievers supposed to make of this whole thing when they walk in the door?
If you jump down to verse 28 Paul says, “But if there is no interpreter he must keep silent in the church and let him speak to himself and to God.” Now that last phrase we’re going to go into a little bit later because many people use that to build the doctrine of a private prayer language which as you’ll see from number 10 is also unbiblical. But rule number four is something that’s pretty simple. You don’t have untranslated tongues in a church. In fact, on You tube you can find a whole conversation that goes on and on and on for… I don’t know, five/ten minutes between Kenneth Copeland and Rodney Howard Brown, two Pentecostals where the two of them, in front of this audience full of… I don’t know how many hundreds if not thousands of people cheering them on, and going on and on with their own private conversation in languages that the audience doesn’t understand. So, they’re kind of making light of it, they’re slapping each other on the back, one guy speaks an unknown language and the other guy pretends like he understands what’s being said, and he speaks back and they’re laughing and hooting it up. And the audience is just loving it and the fact of the matter is that whole thing Paul himself, based on what he says in 1 Corinthians 14 was soundly condemned because it’s a tongue that is untranslated.
That takes us to rule number five; rule number five is you can only have two to three tongue-speakers with interpretation at a time. And notice what the Apostle Paul says there in 1 Corinthians 14:27, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three,” so you can’t have 15 or 20 people speaking in tongues, “and each in turn,” they can’t be talking over each other, “and one must interpret.” Now you might remember that this is the same rule that’s supposed to be applied for prophecy, public prophecies. 1 Corinthians 14:29, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.”] No more than two or three prophets at a time, each in turn, and people say well I can’t control myself because the gift of prophecy just comes over me and I can’t wait to give my oracle through my ecstatic utterance.
Well, how come (as I said before, tongue in cheek) how come that never works with the gift of financial giving, I’ve got money in my pocket and I can’t wait to just give it to the church, I’m just going to run back to the offering box back there and put it in there because it just comes over me and I can’t control myself. You see, the fact of the matter is in that same context, “All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret” in tongues, do they?” [1 Corinthians 12:30, “All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?”] And every time Paul is asking these questions he is assuming an answer which is negative.
The idea that every single Christians is supposed to speak in tongues is to ignore the body concept that Paul has so carefully developed, not so much in chapter 14 which is the rule book, but chapter 12. Chapter 12 comes before chapter 14, amen; you all agree with me on that first comes 12, then 13 and then 14. So, if you go back to chapter 12 you’ll discover the body concept where he analogizes the work of the church to a human body and in your human body you don’t have two left feet or two right hands unless you’ve got some kind of genetic issue but that’s not what’s normative. See? I mean, if I have two right hands then one of my hands is unnecessary. See that. So, God has distributed the gifts in such a way that not everybody possesses every single gift. Just as my right hand and my left hand need each other you may possess a gift that someone next to you doesn’t possess and they may possess a gift that you don’t have and just as your right and left hands need each other the two of us in the body of Christ, or the two of you sitting next to each other that are differently gifted need each other as well.
So, there is no (in this issue of spiritual gifts, including tongues) a cookie cutter mindset where every Christian must do X, or every Christian must do Y. To argue for that is to misunderstand the whole “body” concept that Paul has carefully articulated in 1 Corinthians chapter 12.
Which takes us to rule number nine and let’s go over to 1 Corinthians 12:31, Christians are under no obligation to seek other gifts that they don’t have, like the gift of tongues. There’s a lot of teaching in the body of Christ that you kind of have to go on with God and you have to earnestly desire the greater gifts. Now where are they getting this from? They’re getting it from verse 31, 30 and 31 of 1 Corinthians 12. “All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” So he’s mentioning tongues, verse 30. Then in verse 31 he says, “ But earnestly desire” now the word for desire, the verb for desire is zēloō where we get the word zealous, “earnestly desire” in other words, be zealous for “the greater gifts.”
So, people take that and they say well he mentions tongues in verse 30 and then in verse 31 he says “earnestly desire the greater gifts” so in many Pentecostal charismatic churches they’ll say you’ve got to keep a desire to get the tongues and you’ve got to call out for the gift of tongues. That whole concept is a violation of one of the observations we made very early on about spiritual gifts. You might recall I gave you nineteen observations about spiritual gifts; you might recall observation number two, God sovereignly bestows all the spiritual gifts.
In other words, what gift or gifts you have has been already sovereignly determined. Two very fast verses on this. One is 1 Corinthians 12:11, that says, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things,” the Spirit that is, “distributing to each one individually just as” what? “just as He wills.” And then you might hold your place in 1 Corinthians 12 and jump over to the Book of Hebrews, Hebrews 2:4 says, “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to” what? “His own will.” So, who decides who gets what gift? That’s a determination that God has already made. So, your obligation as a Christian is not to ask for something that God has never given you; it’s to discover what He has given you.
This is the error of thinking with theological seminaries. I have some degrees from a theological seminary; why would I submit myself to a theological seminary? It isn’t just because I’m a Christian, it isn’t just because I love Jesus, it isn’t just because I want to learn the Bible better but I had felt early on that God had given me the gift of pastor-teacher, specifically the gift of teaching and since the Book of James, chapter 3, verse 1 says let few of you presume to be teachers, knowing that the teacher presumes the stricter judgment of accountability maybe I should learn about the Bible that I want to teach. Amen. I mean, what a thought. [James 3:1, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”]
And I thank God for this, I gave a lot of sermons very early on in my ministry and I thank God that that was before the internet existed. I have them on, not those CD players, those round things, you all remember the tape cassettes, I’ve got them on there so I feel safe because no one owns tape recorders any more so you can’t hear some of the stuff I said but some of the stuff I said was very sincere, very well-meaning but completely and totally off the wall. There’s nothing as painful in ministry as listening to yourself teach via an audio-visual recording because many times I’ve disagreed with myself more than I’ve agreed with myself. [Laughter]
And so I felt I had the gift of pastor-teacher so I submitted myself to an institution that I believed could help me in that particular gift. Now why would I go through that process? I didn’t look at a school to give me a gift, God is the one that gives gifts. I went to that particular school because I thought it could prepare me and shape me and mold me for the ministry God had already given me based on my giftedness. See that? So a school can’t gift the gift, the only thing a school can do is equip a person with… that already has that particular gift. A board can’t give a gift either. The elder board has no authority here to give anybody a spiritual gift. What the elder board can do is recognize what the Spirit of God is already doing through a person, we can do that, but the elder board doesn’t have the power to give anybody a spiritual gift.
So when people go on and they say… and I’m the President of a very small school, seminary, Chafer Seminary, and there’s sort of a mindset amongst people you’ve got to drive up enrollment. Well, we probably could drive up enrollment if we followed certain tactics but the reality is we don’t want people to come to our school; that’s why we’re small, we don’t want people to come to our school unless they believe that they have the gift of pastor-teacher, and they not only have to believe it but the people they’re supposedly ministering to need to give some kind of testimony that so and so has the gift of pastor teacher, because our school doesn’t exist just to give people Bible knowledge. That’s what the local church is for. I mean, what we’re trying to do is equip people so that they can be effective pastors and teachers. Now a lot of institutions have sort of gotten away from that and that’s why their numbers are very high and ours are not. But I believe that what we’re following is probably, I would call it a biblical model where we don’t see ourselves in any position to give anybody a spiritual gift. We’re targeting people that already have a specific gift with the hope of equipping them to be more efficient and effective and knowledgeable in the use of that gift.
So, God is the One that sovereignly bestows all gifts. If you want to jot down some other verses that teach this you’ll find it in 1 Corinthians 12:11, 18 and 28. That’s why they’re called spiritual gifts, not Sugar Land Bible Church gifts, not Chafer Theological Seminary gifts, because Chafer Theological Seminary and Sugar Land Bible Church has no power to bequeath or bestow gifts on people. That is a right that God has reserved for Himself.
It’s sort of like when you were physically conceived, your whole DNA, your temperament, to some extent your intellect, your skill set, that was already determined the moment of conception. And one of the exciting things about life is simply to discover how you’re made. And if that’s true in the physical world why would it not be true in the spiritual world? When you were spiritually conceived, not at the point of physical conception but at the point of faith alone in Christ alone, Jesus called it the new birth, being born again, your spiritual genetics or DNA and gift mix were already there. It’s not a matter of crying out to God for something you don’t have, it’s a matter of discovering how God has already wired you.
And so when people say well, you’ve to just call out for the gift of tongues, you’ve got to desire the gift of tongues, that would be a violation of what Paul has said earlier, that you don’t call out to God for things because God is not going to give you something additional that you don’t have. Rather if you want to cry out to God for something here’s what I would cry out to God for: God help me to discover how You’ve already wired me. That’s a more appropriate prayer request. Well if that’s true then why does verse 30 talk about tongues and verse 31 says, “But earnestly desire the greater gifts” which people believe is referring to the gift of tongues. Why does it say that then? Well what you have to understand is that verb, zellou, where we get the word zealous, is not a singular verb, it’s plural. So, this is not a command given to the individual Christian; the plurality of the verb indicates that this is a command given to the church of Jesus Christ as a whole.
In other words, the church of Jesus Christ as a whole, the church of Jesus Christ at large, in this case the Corinthians church at large, should zealously desire to be exercised, not through them individually but should zealously desire to be exercised in their midst the greater gifts, the gifts with the greatest capacity for edification, which, according to Paul is the gift of teaching and the gift of preaching or the gift of prophecy. In other words, collectively as a whole the church should desire for that gift to be given a place of influence in the life of the church so that the broadest number of people can be edified through that gift. In other words, this is a collective calling for the church to desire, putting it into twenty-first century vernacular, public proclamations and teachings from the Word of God.
And as I was visiting with some folks just before we started today, sadly that’s one of the things that’s lacking in the American church because people today, in fulfillment of Bible prophecy, are assembling around them teachers, 2 Timothy 4:3-4, telling them what their itching ears want to hear. [2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,  and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”]
It’s like a child saying I want to eat donuts and dessert for three straight meals but mom and dad, don’t give me any vegetables, don’t give me my food groups, don’t give me any vitamins, don’t give me any nutrients. That, if you can put that image in your mind, that’s basically what the western church has deteriorated into and that also is an outworking of Bible prophecy. You’ll see it predicted in 2 Timothy 4:3-4. But Paul says here it ought not to be that way. What you should be desiring, not individually desiring the gift of tongues, you should be collectively desiring the Word of God to be taught in purity and simplicity and authority that you may grow thereby.
So that’s a completely different interpretation of than you’ll find in the charismatic circles. They want it to read you have to have an individual desire for the gift of tongues and I’m saying that’s not what Paul is saying. And a little bit of knowledge of Greek helps you with that because you see that the verb there is not a singular verb but it’s plural. This is supposed to be a collective desire, a collective command if you will, given to the church at large. So rule number nine is Christians need not seek the gift of tongues.
And then rule number ten is tongues are not a private prayer language because many people, when you get into a conversation with them about the gift of tongues they’ll agree with what you’re saying but then they’ll start talking about well, I have this sort of private prayer language and I pray that to God in my own kind of secret language known only to God and only to me, it’s like a private prayer language and that’s how I commune with God. And as exciting and as interesting as that idea sounds when you actually scrutinize the biblical texts which people use to support their use of a private prayer language the evidence, as I’ll show you, the evidence is very, very wanting. I mean, I don’t think the Bible teaches this idea as much as many people would like it to be true.
So, let me very quickly give you those verses that they use to support this private prayer language. And before I even get to that remember spiritual gifts, observation number six, spiritual gifts are given in order to what? Edify the church! When God gave you a gift who did He have in mind? Not just you but somebody else; that’s the nature of spiritual gifts, He wants to bless you so that you can be a blessing to somebody else. Well how does a private prayer language bless somebody else? That’s only between me and God. So that blesses the person using it, it doesn’t bless anybody else. And that would be a violation of why God gave the gifts. So out of the gate I immediately see a problem with this concept of this private prayer language that people supposedly have.
All these things, Paul says, are to be done for edification. And we’ve also talked about the fact that the gift of tongues was also used amongst unbelievers, as a sign that God was doing something new in Acts 2. So those are the two primary purposes of the gift of tongues: it was a source of edification within the church because tongues plus interpretation of tongues plus interpretation equals prophecy within the church, 1 Corinthians 14:26-27. And it was also used in the Book of Acts as a sign to unbelievers the ability to break out in a known language that they understood that you had never studied and they would say Acts 2, where God is changing the house rules, we’re now in the age of the church, is a sign from God.
That’s why God gave the gift of tongues: two reasons, He never gave the gift of tongues for some sort of private prayer language. So why do people think the gift of tongues is some sort of private prayer language? Like most false doctrines they rely on very scattered Scriptures, out of context. One of them is in the so-called love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13:1, where Paul says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I become a noisy going or a clanging symbol.” They say there it is right there, Paul was speaking in angelic language. Well what’s angelic language? It is secret language, mystical language known only to me and God.
Let me ask you a question: as you go through the Word of God and you see angels talking to men do they ever speak in some kind of foreign dialect? They always speak directly to people in a known language so that people can be understood. Luke 1:26-38, this is the conversation between Gabriel and I think it was Mary, then the angel Gabriel was sent. Later on “he said to her.”
[Luke 1:26-38, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;  and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.  And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”]
Later on it says the angel said to her. And then apparently Mary understood what was being said, it wasn’t some kind of angelic mystical talk, she could fully grasp it. Mary said back to the angel, so they’re having a conversation. Then later it says the angel “said to her,” and later on it says “and Mary said” so this conversation is happening, “and the angel departed.”
So, what is Paul saying when he says even if I speak in the language of angels he’s talking about the normal use of tongues, those two purposes for it, as it was taking place in the first century. There was no angelic talk, mystical talk, secret talk, tongues is always speaking an unlearned but known language or dialect. And people lose this concept and want to make it some kind of private mystical language between them and God, only God hears them, that’s what they mean by a private prayer language.
The second verse that they use is 2 Corinthians 14:2 says, “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit, he speaks mysteries.” Now you notice the word “For” at the beginning of verse 2 which connects us back to verse 1, so verse 2 comes after verse one. You all agree with me on that? And the two are connected. What does Paul say in verse 1? See, what people will do is they’ll grab verse 2, they’ll use it to support the doctrine of a private prayer language but they won’t connect it back to the prior verse. Verse 1 says, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.  For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.”
The only thing this is revealing here is that tongues are inferior to prophecy because only God understands the one speaking in an untranslated language. That’s all Paul is saying. He’s not encouraging people to do this. What he’s saying is if you have a tongue without an interpreter the only thing that’s happening is you’re not edifying anybody, you’re speaking in a language only God can understand. He’s not exhorting them to pursue a private prayer language.
Another verse that’s used for this private prayer language is 1 Corinthians 14:4 which says, “One who speaks in a tongue edifies” the Greek is oikodomei, “One who speaks in tongues edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the whole church.” And people say well there is it, you can speak in a tongue and edify yourself. Well I would simply say this to that particular inter-pretation, self-edification is not commendable here; he is not promoting self-edification. What he’s saying is the gifts exist for the benefit of somebody else. If you don’t follow that rubric then you’re only edifying yourself. He’s not saying go for it! He’s holding up self-edification as a negation. And the word “edifies himself, edify, oikodomei, doesn’t always refer to something that’s good in Paul’s writings. A few chapters earlier, same book, 1 Corinthians 8:10, it says, “For if someone sees you who have knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if it is weak, be strengthened,” that’s the same word oikodomei, edification, “will not his conscience which is weak be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols.”
What Paul is saying here is don’t flaunt your freedom in the presence of the weaker brother because you’re strengthening them to doing something that violates their conscience. So edification is not always a good thing in Paul’s writings. It could be negative. So when he says, “one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” I think he’s using that same verb, not in a positive sense but in a negative sense. And what people are doing is they’re taking the negation, something to be avoided, and they’re trying to turn it into a normal practice within Christianity.
So I don’t think 1 Corinthians 14:4 or verse 2 teaches this private prayer language. And you’ll also find folks using 1 Corinthians 14:28 which says, “but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.” People say well there it is, I can speak to myself and to God in my own private prayer language. Is that what it says there? “let him speak to himself and to God” in his private prayer language. In fact, the verse doesn’t say that at all.
What is 1 Corinthians 14:28 talking about? The tongue speaker, without the interpreter, because the tongue speaker without an interpreter edifies no one; the tongue speaker without the interpreter should remain silent in church and spend the service time in quiet meditation and prayer to God I believe in his own language. I mean, if you don’t have an interpreter present here’s how you can occupy your time: just stay in prayer to God. That’s all Paul is saying here. He’s not talking about some mystical private angelic language and the need to go out and get it.
A text without a context is a proof text, right, to support a preexisting theology. And it’s very easy to go through 1 Corinthians 14 and grab this verse, this verse, this verse and chapter 13, grab that verse and make it sound like there’s some kind of availability of a private prayer language. But when you actually scrutinize each of those verses you’ll see they’re not talking about what so many in the Pentecostal world think that they’re talking about.
And I threw this one into the mix because I’ve had some questions on this one, this is out of Romans 8:26-27. It says, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us” who’s doing the interceding here? It’s very clear it’s the Spirit. How does the Spirit do it, “with groanings too deep for words;  and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
So people say aha, the Holy Spirit is interceding for us in a private language that’s not intelligible, since I’m led by the Holy Spirit I have access to the same language as well. When you simply look at what Paul is saying in Romans 8:26-27 there’s nothing that the believer does here at all. I mean, it never says the believer gets involved in the process, he’s just making a statement about what the Holy Spirit is already doing for us. So this is a statement of we’re down here, the Holy Spirit is up there, and He is praying for us. By the way, aren’t you glad the Holy Spirit is praying for you, He’s praying for us to the Father. There’s no involvement of a human being whatsoever. And yet what people want to do is they want to tie this verse over to the angel talk in 1 Corinthians 13 and all those other verses in chapter 14 and come up with this doctrine of a private prayer language.
And the reality of the situation is to make that whole thing work you have to just wrench one verse after another completely out of its context, which anybody can do. Judas went and hung himself. [Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hung himself.”] Jesus said what? “Go thou and do likewise.” [Luke 10:37] What else did Jesus say? “What you do, do quickly.” [John 13:27, “After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore, Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.”]
Ah, there it is, the doctrine of suicide, it’s in the Bible, I just quoted three verses. Well, I quoted you three verses but I completely mutilated their context that stitched them together in a way that makes it look like the Bible is supporting something it’s not. That’s basically, in my humble opinion, what’s happening with this private prayer language concept.
So, all of that being said what are some of the rules that have to be followed in the church for tongues? No gibberish or incoherence. Speech, tongues are a low priority in the church. Teaching related to edification always takes priority over tongues. No untranslated tongues in church. Only two to three tongue speakers at a time. The tongue speakers are, like the prophets are, completely in control of their faculties. Church services are to be orderly, absent confusion. Not every Christian, even when this gift was in operation, was speaking in tongues. There is no biblical command that Christians are to seek the gift of tongues. And then finally number 10, tongues is not some sort of private prayer language.
Now I gave this same lecture in a college class and a student in the back said, Well, Professor, if everything you’ve said is true then who have I been talking to all these years in my private prayer language, because I have experienced this private prayer language. So to get an answer to that question you’ll have to come back next week, for Roman numeral V where I’ll try to show you what I believe the true source of many things happening in the charismatic movement are. In other words, just because something is spiritual and experiential and just because it feels good, that does not authenticate whether it is true or not. So, we’ll talk about that next time and don’t worry, I keep saying this every week, but we’ll do Q and A also. We may do just one whole session of just Q and A down the road also, particularly with this stuff of charismatic, charismata. So let’s pray.
Father, we’re grateful for Your rule book and how it clears our mind of a lot of confusion that we see today. I pray that You’ll be with us in the main service that follows. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen.