By Brooke Holt
“So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” - 1 Corinthians 14:9-12
Just in case you missed Paul’s example of musical harmony, he provided yet another analogy for the appropriate use of speaking in tongues. Foreigners who gather together and begin speaking in their native language will talk and make much noise, but no one will understand each other. It will be pointless conversation. The same is true for those who persisted in the speaking in tongues within the congregation. It was like hearing someone speak in Russian while everyone else only spoke English. The sounds may be interesting or intriguing, yet there would be no personal gain from the conversation.
Paul is driving home the question of why they are speaking in unintelligible languages while gathered in community. While Paul delighted in the Corinthians’ desire for spiritual gifts, he delighted more in seeing the proper use of those gifts. That meant there had to be order and intelligibility. Paul keeps coming back to their hearts and their motivations with the fervent reminder that everyone was given a gift so that they could build up one another. That is why prophesy was so important. The whole purpose of prophecy was to build up God’s people, encourage God’s people, and console them (See v. 3).
As Paul had used himself as an example a couple of times in these chapters, I can’t help but think that Paul wanted them to remember how he had encouraged, exhorted, supported, and comforted them. They loved Paul and listened to Paul because Paul had loved them well. Now, Paul was admonishing them to minister to each other. Just as God had loved them through Paul, they were to love one another. In the proper and good use of their spiritual gifts, God could further build their church and strengthen the people.
God wanted to continue to be made manifest through their spiritual gifts but only in ways that would build the church by edifying individuals within the church. And guess what—God still wants to be made manifest in his church through the exercise of spiritual gifts for the edification of the body!
How do you feel when you hear someone speaking in a language that you don’t understand? Why do you think it is so important that we speak in ways that are intelligible? That can mean more than languages but even our vocabularies. Are you speaking the word of God to people in and outside the church in a way that is understandable to them? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a "gift" who will guide us, lead us, and empower us. Yet many believers don't experience the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This unique Christian small group Bible study provides a space in which we can explore what it truly means to "walk in the Spirit" on a daily basis. The Spirit-Filled Life small group curriculum centers on a 6-part video teaching series examining the life-giving and creative work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Begin to experience the gift today!
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