Tonight we're looking at 'Tongues' - the gift of kinds of tongues - 'The Gift Of Interpretation Of Tongues, and The Gift Of Prophecy'. So let's just pray before we go on any further, and then we'll read the scriptures, we've got quite a long reading tonight and a lot of stuff to get through. So I hope that you're up for an hour or so in the word, because we'll need it! So let's pray together.
Father, we thank You for Your truth that sets us free. We've already been singing it, Lord, and it does liberate us. Thank You that the note of our praise has been the Lord Jesus, Your Beloved Son. We just pray, Lord, that tonight He will be glorified in all that is said and done, that glory would return to Him - because from Him are all things, and to Him are all things, and we want that to be the case tonight; that everything we receive will come from You, Lord Jesus, but all the glory will go back to You, for You alone are worthy. We just pray for help, Lord, I need it and we all need it to process this stuff. Some of us are hearing it for the first time, some of us it's old truth, but it might come in a fresh way. We just pray, Lord, that whatever our needs might be, that it will be more than mentally met, but that we would actually encounter You in our hearts. Lord, by the time this evening is over, that some of us will be able to testify that God met us in a way that we have never known before, and that we may actually meet the power of the Holy Spirit in Person tonight. So, Lord, we just spread the whole evening before You now, and we say 'Come Holy Spirit, glorify the Lord Jesus Christ'. In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.
OK, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, we're going to read verse 10 first of all and then scoot down to verse 27: "to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues". So there are the three gifts that we're looking at tonight: tongues, interpretation, and prophecy. Now down to verse 27: "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way".
Then over to chapter 14, we're going to read the whole chapter together, which is specifically dealing with prophecy and tongues. "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. In the law it is written: 'With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me' says the Lord. Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order". Amen.
Now obviously we're not going to be able to deal with absolutely everything in the portions of Scripture that we read tonight, but we want to generally look at these three gifts of 'Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues, and Prophecy'. Really, to summarise what Paul is saying in this passage of Scripture, I'll do it in this way: edification must come from mutual understanding. Edification must come from mutual understanding. We saw, I think it was last week or the week before, that 'edify' means 'to build up'. The purpose and motivation for spiritual gifts must be to help one another. If these revelatory gifts are going to help, we have to understand what is being communicated. Verse 4 of chapter 14 tells us that the gift of tongues may well edify yourself if you're practising it in private, but the purpose of gifts in a church context - when we meet together to worship in this fashion - is corporate edification, not self-edification but edifying one another. I think that's what's being spoken of in verse 28, if you look at it, of chapter 14: 'If there is no interpreter', speaking of tongues, 'let the person keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God'. Going back to verse 16: 'Otherwise', if there is no interpreter, 'if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?'.
So, obviously, going right back to the second week where we laid a contextual foundation of what was going on in the church at Corinth, there was chaos. It appears that everybody was getting up, speaking in tongues - now, when I say speaking in tongues, I mean giving supposed messages in tongues - giving prophetic utterances together, even competing against one another. It was a shambles! So if everybody is doing their own thing, it figures that edification is not happening - which is the prime purpose of these gifts. So what Paul's primary objective is in chapters 12 and 14 is teaching us order and procedure when it comes to spiritual gifts. He spends the most time on tongues and prophecy.
Let me just say this: you've got to appreciate that the Corinthian believers knew what tongues and interpretation of tongues and prophecy were. They didn't need that explained to them. So we need to play a bit of catch up when it comes to these subjects, and ask more basic questions, OK? So let's look at each of these gifts: first of all kinds of tongues, then interpretation, then prophecy. As I say, we've a lot to get through, so hang in there with me.
Let me give you a bit of biblical history to the gift of tongues first of all. We read in the book of Genesis that originally the whole earth was of one language and one speech. Then you may know the story about what man in his wicked heart devised to do at Babel - to build a tower whose top would become like heaven, it was idolatrous. So God realised what could happen because man was communicating very freely with each other these wicked, diabolical ideas. In Genesis 11:6-7 we read: 'The LORD said, 'Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech''. So the reason for diverse languages in our world is ultimately because of Babel. So when we look at the gift of tongues, pressing fast forward now a few thousand years, surely the gift of diverse tongues is a sign of the redemptive purpose of God's salvation. It's a reversal of the division that various languages has brought through our nationalities. Revelation talks about one day when people from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation will be gathered round the throne of God and singing praise unto the Lamb that was slain. So this gift of tongues on the earth now is a kind of foretaste of the unity of the language that will be in heaven one day. Of course, it's only at certain times and in a partial way, and we have emphasised this: spiritual gifts are imperfect - did you know that? Look at chapter 13 just to remind you of that, if you weren't here that particular week, verse 9: 'For we know in part and we prophesy in part'. We see through a glass darkly, there is no such a thing as a perfect spiritual gift in the church today. Of course, the gift of tongues is a two-step process, there is the speaking and there must then be the interpretation - but it's a big improvement on Babel, wouldn't you say? It's pointing forward to what is going to be one day in perfection in the heavenly kingdom of God.
Now let's look again, historically speaking, at the first instance of speaking in tongues in the New Testament. Look at Acts chapter 2, please, to the Pentecost record. I'm not going to read all of it, of course, but I just want you to see one verse initially - verse 4: 'And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began' - the inference is 'all' - 'began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance'. Now I want to just emphasise here that the miracle was in the speaking rather than the hearing. If you look at verse 11, you will see that some Jewish visitors came to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost from various nations, and they had various different languages. But it says in verse 11, look down at it for me, they were: 'Cretans and Arabs; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God'. Some people have inferred that the actual supernatural element here was hearing rather than the speaking, but verse 4 indicates that they did speak with other tongues. They heard the early disciples speak, it specifically says, 'the mighty works of God' in their own language. Surely that is symbolic of how the Gospel was about to be taken to the four corners of the world - we have the record of that in Acts, of course.
Of course, Pentecost was not a one-day affair, you do know that? In Acts chapter 8 you've got the Samaritans receiving the outpouring of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In Acts chapter 10 you've got the Gentile nations, through Cornelius' house, receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then in chapter 19 of Acts you've got twelve left behind Ephesians who didn't get the memo of what was going on, and they need to receive this baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now, in all of those occasions except chapter 8, the Samaritans, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was marked with speaking in tongues. Even where the Samaritans received it in chapter 8, everybody knew they received it, so there was some kind of sign to indicate that they had received that baptism - and it was so impressive that Simon Magus, Simon the magician, offered money that he could do the same as laying on of hands as the Apostle did, to receive this gift. So it appears that there was something demonstrative that indicated, even in chapter 8, that they had received the gift, and it may well have been tongues - but it appears that tongues was the most common sign of the baptism of the Spirit in the book of Acts.
Now, we have to beware of making rules. Some people believe you have to lay hands on people for them to receive tongues, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit - but actually, in two of the four cases of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts, hands were laid on, but in two of the others hands weren't laid on (in Cornelius' house and on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit just came sovereignly). So we have to be careful of drawing lines around things that aren't there biblically. Yet it seems to indicate that this baptism of the Holy Spirit that came was accompanied with tongues or certain signs, miraculous signs.
But on the basis of Acts chapter 2, some people also argue that tongues must therefore always be human languages, known languages in the world - because these people from different nationalities understood it to be their particular language. There is no doubt about it, it is true that the Greek word 'glossa' essentially when it's translated 'tongues' means 'languages'. In fact, that's how the reader would have understood it as they were reading in Greek, they would have just read 'languages'. It might have been more helpful, perhaps, in our translations if that was the word as well - 'tongues' sounds a wee bit weird, doesn't it? But it simply means 'languages'. So why can it not be - some would argue that it definitely is - only national languages throughout the earth? Well, let me ask the question: what else would Paul have called it other than 'languages' when he's talking about something that we're speaking? There's probably no other word that would fit better than the word that he uses: 'glossa'. But also, there is much more material right throughout the New Testament to indicate that whilst these may be national languages at times, they are much more than mere languages.
Look at chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, where we read together, and verse 2: 'For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries'. So what's that saying? At times, no one will understand a person speaking in tongues. By the way, it says here in verse 2 that the person speaking in tongues envisaged here is praying, they are not preaching, they are not giving a message in the Gospel in a known language, they are praying to God in an unknown tongue that no one understands. You can imagine how rare it would have been in the early church for unbelievers of other nationalities to be present in that particular assembly, and in fact, when you look at 1 Corinthians 14, Paul's injunction is to discourage people from speaking in tongues without interpretation. So how could this be the same thing as Acts chapter 2 if he's actually prohibiting them speaking in another tongue if there isn't an interpreter there, especially when unbelievers are there? Isn't that what he says? 'If there are unbelievers there, make sure you're not speaking in tongues without an interpreter'. Why would you need an interpreter anyway, if it was their own language?
So there is obviously something different going on here. Look at verse 18 of chapter 14 as well, Paul says: 'I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all' - now that was saying something for the Corinthians, because they were avid tongue-speakers, it was out of control - but he's speaking tongues more than them all! 'Yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue'. So, where is he doing all this speaking in tongues? It's obviously in private. But why would he be speaking national languages in private when there is no one there that understands him? It doesn't make sense at all, there is no one there to receive it. So, just because these are known languages in Acts chapter 2 does not mean they always have to be known, global languages - just because it's the case once in the Bible, does not mean that it is always that case.
Some use Acts chapter 2 as a blueprint for tongue speaking in entirety, but we have to be careful there because there are certain things in Acts 2 that are unique to the Day of Pentecost. For instance, it says there were tongues of fire upon everybody's head, are you going to require that every time someone speaks in tongues? I'm not saying these things can't happen, I'm not saying Acts 2 can't enhance our understanding of tongue-speaking, because I believe that there might be times when it is warranted for group tongue-speaking, praying in praise without interpretation, because you've got it in Acts chapter 2. That's different from giving a message to the church in tongues, as we will see a little bit later. So we can understand, from Acts 2, how tongues can be used - but we also have to remember that Acts is essentially historic and a record of the first occurrences of tongues in the church, but the epistle of 1 Corinthians is explicit teaching on how tongues should be exercised in the church.
So the question begs: which should regulate the other? Should Acts regulate what we do in the church, or should 1 Corinthians? Or should Acts regulate 1 Corinthians, or should 1 Corinthians regulate Acts? Well, let me say this much: in Corinthians Paul actually says the opposite of what happened at Pentecost, and he says that's what should happen in the church. What do I mean? Well, he says all should not speak, and people would not know what was said - are you with me? On the day of Pentecost all spoke, and everybody knew what was being said; but Paul actually says that in the church all should not speak, and people will not know what is said except with interpretation. So what I'm trying to illustrate - and I know this is quite technical - but there is a great difference between whatever happened in Acts chapter 2, and what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians chapter 14. Certainly tongue-speaking can be human languages, but there is much more to it than that. In fact, the terminology that is used - 'kinds of tongues' - the word 'kinds' is the same word that we get 'genus' from, so what it's basically saying is that there are different genres of tongues, diverse, different types of tongues. There is a hint even to this, perhaps, in chapter 13 verse 1: 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal' - and we followed down that passage to see that there is a mirror image of many of the gifts of the Spirit being mentioned there. So, could it be that Paul is inferring that there are literal language gifts, known languages, but there are also heavenly gifts, the language of angels if you want to call it that - but the point is, it's different than earthly languages, some of the genres of the gift of tongues.
Look at chapter 14 verse 2 again. In Acts chapter 2 the tongues were being spoken to men and women, but verse 2 of chapter 14 says that the tongues here are spoken not to men but to God, it's actually prayer. As he speaks mysteries to God, no one understands. Look at verse 11: 'Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me' - this is not known to people. Look at verse 14: 'For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful'. So the spirit of the human being is praying, animated by the Holy Spirit, but if you look at verse 15 you will see here: 'What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding'. The spirit is speaking directly to God, my human spirit, but it's bypassing my mind.
Now, can I just say, as an aside, that that is utterly absurd to the intellectually-driven Christian mind. This is why a large section of the church balks at this truth that the mind could be bypassed, because as far as they are concerned you know God in the mind and nowhere else. But this is a spiritual dimension, this is the unseen realm, and actually this breeds humility - when you realise that you can be praying to God in a way that you don't actually know what you're praying, but you trust God that it's of Him. So what we're seeing here - you're seeing a picture beginning to be painted - is that tongues is a form of praise in prayer, and it's being spoken in syllables that are not understood by the speaker. It can be exhortational - what I mean is, not just vertical but horizontal. It can be spoken to people, but there needs to be interpretation when that's happening, OK? When that's in the church, a word spoken in tongues, there must be interpretation - but there can be prayer and praise that is given, and there is no need for interpretation in that in a private capacity, and it certainly didn't happen on the day of Pentecost.
Now here are a few questions, and I know there is a lot to take in and you might have to go over all that in private, but here are a few questions: is there a difference between private tongue-speaking and the public speaking in tongues? Well, look at chapter 12 for a moment, verse 10, this gift spoken of here, the gift of different kinds of tongues - and then in verse 28 Paul lists in order, I believe, of importance: 'God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues' - tongues seem to come at the end. Then he asks this rhetorical list of questions: 'Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?' - and the inferred answer there is 'No, all do not do these things'. But I believe what is being spoken of there is the public gifting in this particular area, different kinds of ministry that is in the Assembly - do you understand? There are different gifts, and they are exercised in different ways. If you look at verse 29 of chapter 14: 'Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent' - so this is a gift that's being exercised publicly in the assembly. It's not the same as tongues that came at the baptism of the Spirit for people, it's not the same as the private prayer language where people are being edified, there is something going on in a ministry publicly, where there is a word of tongues giving exhortation. But if you look at verse 5 of chapter 14, this seems to be different: 'I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification' - that seems a bit different.
Then when you come to verse 23, look at this, verse 23: 'Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues' - all speak with tongues? - 'and there come in those who are uninformed...'. So this seems to be what's happening in Corinth: all were speaking in tongues when they shouldn't have been. Verse 26: 'How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue', each of them had a tongue, 'has a revelation, has an interpretation' - do you see it? So there seems to be the public use of this gift, which not everybody is meant to be engaged in, but there is a private use which - I think it's inferred - everybody could be operative in. I'm reminded of what Moses said when Joshua said: 'There are two young fellows over there prophesying'. 'Then Moses said to him, 'Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!''. So there seems to be, in this passage - and it causes a bit of confusion for people - a difference between the private use of tongues and the public gifting. Not everybody is gifted in a public capacity to speak in tongues to the Assembly.
Here's another question: is this gift out of our control? Some people believe that this is an ecstatic type of utterance, where you're taken over and you can't help speaking in tongues - is that what it is? Is it forced? I don't believe that's biblical. Even the disciples on the day of Pentecost were able to stop speaking in tongues so that Peter could preach his sermon, isn't that right? They didn't all natter on as he was preaching, they stopped. If you look at verse 27 in chapter 14: 'If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret' - do you understand? So he goes on: 'If there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge'. So, if you're to speak in turn, how could you do that if you're out of control? How could you stop speaking in tongues when someone else starts speaking if you're not in control? If you look at verse 32: 'The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets', so that implies the ability to restrain yourself. So anybody that says to me: 'Oh, I just couldn't help it, I just had to burst it out, it just overflowed me' - that's garbage! Now, sometimes the Holy Spirit can come over you in a very intense way, but ultimately what is being said here is that the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophets; you can take control of what is going on.
Another question which is in many people's heads is: what about demonic counterfeits? What about demonic tongues? Should we be afraid of that? Well, let me just say this to you: Corinth knew much idolatry, yes? And Paul tells us in chapter 10 and verse 20 that behind every idol that they were worshipping was a demon, so they were heavily demonised community. Yet Paul says in verse 5, if you look at verse 5 of chapter 14: 'I wish you all spoke with tongues'. Now we said that there are, of course, demonic counterfeits of all God's gifts, there are. We also emphasised that some people's gifting can take them further than their character has gone. We know from Matthew chapter 7 and verse 22 that 'Not everyone that says unto Me, 'Lord, Lord', shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'. And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!''. So the regulation of all the gifts of the Spirit are the fruit that is in a person's life - we saw that in chapter 12 verse 3, didn't we? 'No one can confess Jesus Christ is Lord without the Holy Spirit' - and basically, what is that saying? It's saying that the place of the Lordship of Christ is what needs to be important in all of our lives as an evidence that we are moving in the Holy Spirit. But isn't that interesting, in this culture where there was so much demonisation going on, that Paul was not motivated by fear in his teaching about speaking in tongues. His emphasis is: greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.
I want you to turn with me quickly to Luke chapter 11, and we cited this previously, Luke chapter 11. One of the greatest coups of the devil is to make us afraid of asking God not only for the Holy Spirit but for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Verse 11, Jesus says: 'If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?' - these are all nutritious, helpful things he's asking for, and what's being given is something harmful. 'If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!'. Basically, if you come to God the Father in Jesus' Name, and ask Him for the Holy Spirit, and ask Him for gifts of the Spirit, He is not going to give you a demon. So you need to stop giving in to a spirit of fear when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Now, let's move on to interpretation of tongues which flows on well from this. If you look at verse 5, Paul says: 'I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification'. So what Paul is saying there is that tongues of exhortation that are spoken - not now praying, essentially, to God, or praising in private, but a tongue that is spoken in the Assembly - needs to be interpreted. Prophecy is greater, why? Because prophecy is understandable, so it edifies - but Paul says here that tongues with interpretation is equal to prophecy, why? Because it builds up, because you understand what is being said.
Now it might indicate that there is a different use here again from the praying and the praising in verse 2, which communicates only to God - not speaking to men, but to God. We saw that Paul must have spoken a lot in private in tongues, verses 18 and 19, but if there is going to be edification in the church there has got to be interpretation. Verse 28: 'If there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God'. So you can speak to yourself and to God in tongues, without giving a public message - but if there is no interpreter, we're not to speak, for to speak is acting and thinking like children. That's what he says in verse 20, look at it: 'Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature'. Now he quotes from Isaiah chapter 28 in the Old Testament: 'With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me'. 'Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe'.
Now, I know this is complicated, but people use those verses to say that tongues are not for us, it's for unbelievers, it's a witness to unbelievers - but, actually what God is doing here, using this passage in Isaiah, in Isaiah He was warning rebellious Israel that the next words that they were going to hear would be words of the foreign Assyrian army that they wouldn't be able to understand. They would be coming to bring the execution of God in judgement upon them, and what Paul is saying is - he is taking that principle, and he's saying: 'If you speak in tongues in the assembly and there are unbelievers there, and it's not interpreted, that will be a sign of judgement to them just the way it was to the Old Testament saints, and you're not meant to pronounce judgement on unbelievers'. So you need to have interpretation, without interpretation tongues is a sign of judgement to unbelievers - that's what it means. Don't give such a sign to outsiders who come in, but by contrast, he says: 'Prophecy is a sign for believers, it brings blessing'. Even unbelievers who come in, the secrets of their hearts - verse 25 - can be revealed, and they can fall down upon their faces and say 'Of a truth, God is among you!'.
So if you look at verses 12 and 13 of chapter 14: 'Since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret'. So if you have the gift of speaking in tongues in the Assembly, you should be praying and seeking the gift of interpretation that there should be understanding. How do I do that? You ask in faith, like Luke chapter 11 we've just read, ask in faith and then just start doing it. What? Yes, if you believe God, ask in faith, and then start interpreting. Derek Prince put it like this: 'How do you know you have the right thing? Again, God guarantees that if you ask for the right thing, you will not get the wrong thing. This is faith. It is in the revealed will of God for His people both to speak in tongues and to interpret. So ask Him for the gift of interpretation, and then speak it out'.
So, what is it? What is interpretation? Well, let me just say this briefly: first of all it is not translation, interpretation is not translation. What I mean is: a word by word literal equivalence, unless, of course, it is an actual word language that is being spoken. It's not translation, rather it's a rendering of the general sense. That's why, by the way - I mean, I used to think, before I knew anything, and I still know nothing, but when I heard somebody give a word in tongues, and then there was a short interpretation, I would've thought: 'That doesn't measure'. But it's not like that, it's a spiritual thing, and if there is a rendering of a general sense - and also you have to bring people's personalities to factor in also, I mean, that was the case with biblical prophets. You read Joel, you read Isaiah, you'll see different trends in their speech and their literacy. It's the same with New Testament authors, you can see their personality shining through. Why do some people, when they prophesy, say 'Thus saith the Lord' and use King James English? Not because God uses it, but probably because they have read the King James Bible, and maybe pray in that language - it's not coming from God, it's moving through the filter of their personality.
So we're not talking about translation, we're talking about interpretation - and, by the way, the interpretation might come to you not in words, but in a thought. It might be an idea, it might be one word, it might be a sentence, but it might be a picture rather than words. You might even be required to put words to it - or, which can happen, and this has certainly happened to me, you might be only given one or two words or a phrase, and you actually have to speak that out first in faith before the rest of the message is given to you. You say: 'Well, why is it all so different?'. Well, look at chapter 12 and verse 6: 'There are diversities of activities', or operations, 'but it is the same God who works all in all'. So God is doing the work, but there are different expressions of this work and activities and operations to different people, even in these particular genres of gifts.
So we've looked at kinds of tongues - and I know it's heavy stuff - and interpretation, but let's look at prophecy now. Look at chapter 12 and verse 31, 'But earnestly desire the best gifts', earnestly desire the best gifts. Then chapter 14 verse 1: 'Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy'. Now isn't it interesting that love is connected with prophecy - why? Because love will motivate you to edify the church, and the greatest gift for edification is prophecy, because it brings understanding with it. So basically, if you love the church, you will want the gift of prophecy to be in it - that's a challenge. Some people don't want the gift of prophecy about the place, but to ignore prophecy is to ignore Scripture. It is the best gift, because it best fulfils God's purpose of edification - we see that in verses 3 and 4 of chapter 14: 'He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself' - but we see, if it is interpreted, there is also edification.
So let's try to summarise this: tongues speaks to God, yes? Prophecy speaks to people. Tongues speaks mysteries. Prophecies speak words understood by the speaker and the hearers. Tongues edifies the individual believer. Prophecy edifies the whole church. Now the two can come together, I could give you examples in Acts 2, Acts 19, where tongues and prophecy come at the same time. When we turn to Acts chapter 2 to Pentecost again, you will see Peter is explaining what is happening - and this is very interesting, because there is not an absolute equivalence to what Joel talks about and what actually happened on the Day of Pentecost. Joel doesn't talk about people looking as if they were drunk, he doesn't talk about tongues of fire on their head, he doesn't even talk about speaking in tongues - yet that is all happening. Yet, in the Spirit, Peter says: 'This is that', verse 16, 'this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh'' - does 'all' mean 'all'? 'All flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy' - isn't that interesting? 'Let the 'all' fall', that's what I say, 'let the 'all' fall upon us'.
It mentions old men here, isn't that good for some of you? But the majority of people mentioned, very interestingly, are young people - young men, daughters, sons, three categories of young people. Women are included, amen? The gift of prophecy is open to women. If you look at chapter 11 of Corinthians and verse 5, though it is a disputed passage, whatever your understanding of headship and head covering is, we'll leave that one tonight - but verse 5 says: 'Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head'. So, if Paul is giving directives of how to pray and prophesy to women, he's expecting this to happen. So what we read in chapter 14 about women keeping silent in the church, does not mean an absolute silence, it couldn't - otherwise Paul is contradicting himself. You've got to understand the context of what's being taught, and we don't have time to go into it tonight. But we also read of four daughters of Philip in Acts chapter 21, and they were prophetesses, and they were all unmarried. Incidentally, Derek Prince points out that, in the culture of the Middle East it's extremely unlikely that Philip would have four unmarried daughters who were any older than 15 years of age - so, again, these are young girls, teenage girls who were prophetesses. It was Bill Johnson who said: 'There is no junior Holy Spirit', isn't that right?
So this is the gift of prophecy. Now there are several differences, and I don't have time to go into it all tonight, between Old Testament prophecy and New Testament prophecy, and this is where people get confused. They see what is happening in the New Testament, or even in the church today, and they think: 'That's not like Old Testament prophecy'. They see people making mistakes, and things not coming to pass, and they get confused. Now please understand: we're not talking primarily of the ministry of a prophet here. Remember we saw the gifts of Christ to the church in Ephesians 4: apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors, teachers - they were people who were given in offices to the church. This is spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit, slightly different - these are the gifts that are used in the church by all types of believers. Not everybody is a prophet, but we saw in verse 31 of chapter 14: 'For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged'.
Now look at verse 3 of chapter 14, this is the purpose for prophecy, alright? 'He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men'. Old Testament prophecy was generally spoken to unbelievers. They may have been in the nation of Israel or Judah, but they were unbelieving, and they were in sin. But New Testament prophecy is assigned to believers - we've read that - it's a sign that God is in their midst. Now, unbelievers can be saved through it, as we saw in verse 25, but the point is: prophecy is - what does it say? 'Edification, exhortation, and comfort to the church' - it's God's method of encouragement for Christians. The converse point is this: God is not in the business of discouraging His people. The New Testament gift of prophecy shouldn't be used in that way. It's to edify. What does that mean? 'Build up'; it's to exhort, that's 'stir up'; and it's to comfort, 'to cheer up'. It's positive. Prophecy in the New Testament sense is not to bring the judgement or condemnation of God. True New Testament prophecy doesn't do the devil's work, it doesn't heap shame and guilt upon us. It takes on the nature of the Holy Spirit Himself, who is described as the 'Parakletos' in Greek, the One who comes alongside to help. Do you know how that's translated? 'Comforter, Helper, Counsellor, Advocate, the One who is called in'.
So, what exactly is prophecy? It's speaking to people from God. It's telling something that God has spontaneously brought to you. It could be in a predictive sense, sometimes there is an element of revealing of the future. It can be corrective - I'm not saying it's never negative, but it's never judgemental or condemnatory. There has to be something about it that edifies. Look at that verse: 'He who prophesies speaks edification, exhortation, and comfort to men'.
Now one of the major objections to the gift of prophecy today is that it demeans Scripture and it makes prophecy equal to Scripture - have you ever heard that? 'We need to write all these prophesies down and put them in the back of the Bible', or 'You're getting dangerously near Joseph Smith and all those other different types of cults, adding to the word of God'. Well, first of all, let me say: the book that talks about prophecy is the Bible, so let's start on that one first of all.
New Testament prophets did not speak with the authority equal to the scriptures. In Acts chapter 21 there's a prophet called Agabus, you might want to turn to this, Acts 21, quickly, and I'm almost finished. Verse 4, it says halfway through, Agabus is the one speaking: 'They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem'. Now Agabus was a proven prophet, you can read in Acts chapter 11:28 about how he prophesied that there would be a famine, and there was - but here he's warning Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Now there's a problem here: if New Testament prophecy is equal to Scripture, Paul disobeyed it, because he went up to Jerusalem anyway. If you look at verse 11 of chapter 21: 'When he had come to us', this is Agabus, 'he took Paul's belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, 'Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles'''. Now, Paul went anyway - but I want you to see something here: Agabus is not a false prophet, and this was not a false prophecy, but there were certain discrepancies in it. The answer is probably in how Agabus interpreted what God was showing him. He saw what was going to happen to Paul if he went to Jerusalem, and he interpreted that to mean: 'Paul, you're not meant to go' - but Paul understood that the will of God was to go to Jerusalem, and so he went. It wasn't that Agabus' prophecy was wrong, it was the interpretation - that, when it went through the filter that he had, he put a spin on it a little bit. It's like the dream Paul had about the man saying 'Come over and help us', the Macedonian call, 'Come over and help us' - there was a man saying that. Then when he got to Macedonia, it was a woman called Lydia at a prayer meeting - do you understand? That's a little bit different, but it shows you how there can be differences in these spiritual things.
Look at verse 29 of chapter 14, we're considering whether prophecy is equal to Scripture: 'Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge'. Now if prophecy is absolutely authoritative like Scripture, why would we ever weigh or judge the word of God - that would be doubt, wouldn't it, maybe even blasphemous? We see here that the gift of prophecy is accountable to Scripture and accountable to the Body. Do you remember what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21: 'Do not despise prophecies, weigh everything, test everything, keep what is good, reject what's bad'. So prophecy can contain good and bad, look at verse 30 of chapter 14: 'But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent'. Now, if you're speaking God's word, why on earth would anybody interrupt you, if it's God's word? But it's not equivalent to Scripture, that's why it can be interrupted. Contrary to the idea that prophecy is equal to Scripture, look at verse 36: 'Or did the word of God come originally from you?'. Now, if he's saying that prophecy is the word of God, then the word of God does come from them - but he's asking this question: 'Did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?'. Look at verse 37: 'If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you' - this is apostolic authority now - 'are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant'. There is a higher authority, that's what he's saying, there is a higher authority than prophecy - and it's biblical inspiration of the apostolic kind.
So prophecy should not be considered speaking the word of God, but human words that the Holy Spirit is influencing. That's why you need to be careful when you're saying: 'Thus saith the Lord', or 'God has said to me'. We'd probably be better using language like 'I think the Lord saying', or 'It seems to me that the Lord is showing me this...'. Now, how does it come? Quickly: it comes spontaneously to the mind or the heart, it's impressed upon your consciousness. Paul actually calls this, in verses 30 and 31, 'revelation' - and it's used in a broader sense than the inspiration of Holy Scripture, but it's revelation nevertheless. It can come in prompts, in impressions, in intuition - and Paul would have called that 'revelation', or 'prophecy' - and it's according to our faith. We use it according to our faith, Romans 12 verse 6: 'Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith' - so, do as much as you have faith for, and then stop. That's what it's saying. You need to be in a place where you wait upon God, you listen for His word, you hear His promptings to your heart.
Now I know that's an awful lot to give you tonight, it really is, probably far too much. That's the gift of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy. This is not just directed to individuals, these portions of Scripture, it's directed to a whole company of believers. You're to be desiring these gifts to be present in your midst, that there be edification for each other - you need them. There's not to be one gift hogging the scene, it's to be an expression of the spectrum of the life of Jesus Christ right throughout all of these gifts.
Don't miss the rest of the 'The Gifts Of The Holy Spirit' study series...
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This sermon was delivered at The Lighthouse Fellowship, Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his The Gifts Of The Holy Spirit series, titled "Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues and Prophecy" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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