First Corinthians 14.1-22


1. Let me give you some personal testimony this evening. The events I will be referring to in a moment or so occurred in late April or early May of 1974.

2. First, however, let me tell you that on March 31st of that year I had trusted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and passed from spiritual death unto spiritual life.

3. And then I lived happily ever after. Right? Not so simple. You see, life involves conflict and controversy, so it happened that two camps within the Christian community tried to capture my allegiance after I became a child of God.

4. Now, this was a complete surprise to me, since I had always thought of Christianity as, well, Christianity. But now I faced a dilemma. What kind of Christian was I to become? A Charismatic? A tongues speaking Christian? Or was I to become a fundamentalist, a Baptist? And since I had no real knowledge of these two large groups within the Christian community, I was at a complete loss as to which direction I should go.

5. One thing I did have going for me was an engineering background. As a result of that background I realized something. That realization was . . . much as I or others might want to deny it, reason dictates that of two contradictions one must be true and one must be false.

6. Now, argue as much as you want to, but the really observable difference between the Charismatic position and the Baptist position is their difference on the gift of tongues. There are other differences which are obviously more important, but this area of disagreement is without doubt the difference which is most visible for all to see. And the difference is this: Either the gift of tongues is an integral and vital part of the contemporary Christian experience or it is not.

7. And if it be Godís will for tongues to be a vital reality, an important ingredient, in the life of each and every believer in this 21st century in which we now live, then the very same must have been true in the days of the apostle Paul, as well. Amen?

8. Contrariwise, if tongues played but a small role or almost no role in the life-plan of God for Christians in Paulís day, then the same is probably true today, or is probably supposed to be true today. Amen?

9. This evening I propose to lead you on a journey through 22 verses of Godís Holy Word, in much the same fashion as I journeyed through them almost 27 years ago, to learn the role tongues was supposed to fulfill in the believerís life in the apostle Paulís day.

10. My text is in First Corinthians chapter 14, which is a chapter that is devoted completely to outlining the proper use of two spiritual gifts in a Churchís gathered worship service. Those two gifts being prophecy and tongues.

11. It is in this chapter, as in no other text in the entire Word of God, that we are given to understand the proper role of the gift of tongues from three references made by Paul in his letter.


Actually, what Paul refers to is not the actual prominence of tongues in Corinth, but the proper prominence of tongues in Corinth. In four statements Paul tells us the way things ought to have been.

1B. In Verse 1 He States The Preferred Gift

"Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy."

1C. We are to follow or pursue charity with a vengeance because it is clearly more important than any spiritual gift.

2C. And we are to "desire" or "be zealous of" spiritual gifts in general, because they are useful in serving God.

3C. But of all of the spiritual gifts that we have to choose from, which ought you to rather have? A hint: It isnít tongues. The preferred gift, if things are the way they are supposed to be in a Christianís heart and mind, is the gift of prophesy.

2B. In Verse 2 He States The Problem Gift

"For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries."

The gift of tongues, at Corinth, was a problem, for two reasons:

1C. #1, Christians were using tongues to speak to God. But tongues is supposed to be used to speak to men, as weíll see later.

2C. #2, the listeners simply could not understand what was being spoken when tongues were used. Again, Paul points out later in this chapter that audience understanding of what is being said at all times is not only desirable, itís necessary.

3C. So, in Paulís day, as in ours, tongues had become a problem. By the way, if you have mistakenly thought that this verse supports the erroneous fiction that tongues was given to be used as a prayer language to speak to God with, note two things:

1D. First, you have just overlooked one of the most obvious uses of sarcasm in the entire Bible, and,

2D. Second, you ignore the reality that no spiritual gift has been given, or is needed, to pray. Spiritual gifts are given to serve God with not to pray to God with.

4C. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, and no use of spiritual gifts was indicated when He taught them. Why do people come along and try to make it hard to pray, since we already know that the gift of tongues simply isnít given to everyone? To listen to some, you just canít pray right unless you pray in tongues. But what if you havenít been given that gift? Can you not pray as effectively as someone who speaks in tongues? Iím sure.

5C. See what problems the gift of tongues can create?

3B. In Verses 3 And 4 He States The Product Of The Gifts

"3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church."

1C. I want you to notice that prophecy, which is a gift that involves preaching and predicting, edified, comforted and exhorted men, and edified, or built up, the Church, as well.

2C. But notice tongues. Tongues edifies, or builds up, only the one who speaks in tongues. Yourself!

3C. Now, which gift do you think is used more by God? Which gift do you think has the greatest potential for getting out of hand and turning into an ego trip? Tongues or prophecy?

4B. The Preferred Gift, The Problem Gift, And The Product Of The Gifts. In Verse 5 Paul States His Pronouncement.

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

1C. Paul preferred prophecy. And why does he prefer prophecy? Because he prefers the edification of the Church as a whole instead of the edification of just the one who speaks in tongues.

2C. So you see, prophecy is supposed to be the prominent gift in the Church, not tongues. Prophecy is supposed to be preferred, not tongues. Then how come so many people prefer tongues so much?

3C. Remember that when you think about the role tongues ought to play in your life. Remember what importance is placed on tongues and on prophecy when deciding what the conduct of a Church ought to be like.


Just exactly what benefits do Christians receive from tongues speaking?

1B. In Verses 6-11 Paul Is Telling His Readers That Profit, Benefit, Comes When We Understand What Is Spoken.

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

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

8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.

10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.

1C. Think about it for just a moment and it only makes sense. Profit comes only through revelation, knowledge, prophesying or doctrine, according to verse 6. But tongues accomplishes none of these things.

2C. Even the illustration of trumpets and harps in verses 7 and 8 shows the need for distinct and intelligible sound. You have to recognize the trumpet blast that calls men to war to be ready to do battle. But you cannot recognize the message of tongues by itself.

3C. If you speak in tongues you might as well be talking to the air, according to verse 9. And the worst of it all, as next weekís message will bear out, if you are not understandable people will think you are a barbarian. That is not good.

4C. For people to benefit, then, the words spoken must be understandable.

2B. In Verse 12 Paul Shows That Profit Results From The Whole Church Being Edified

"Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church."

1C. Seek to edify everyone, he says. But in verse 4 you will remember that Paul indicated that tongues doesnít edify everyone, but only builds up the tongues speaker.

2C. So, it looks like a Corinthian Church member had a choice. He could edify all or he could edify

himself, but he couldnít do both at the same time.

3C. But which gift excels in edifying everyone? Not tongues. Prophesy.

3B. In Verses 13-19 Paul Tells Us That Tongues Really Isnít Very Profitable

13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.

14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?

17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

Do you get Paulís drift? Letís go through these verses one at a time so no one misses anything.

1C. If you speak in tongues pray that you can interpret. Thatís verse 13. But why pray that you may interpret? Because itís the one with the interpretation of tongues who speaks so others can understand whatís being said. And understanding is critical to edification.

2C. Pray in tongues? Do that, according to verse 14, and your understanding is unfruitful because no one knows whatís being said. But understanding is critical to edification. Amen?

3C. Verse 15 overturns the fallacy that you canít pray in the spirit and have people understand you, or sing either. Sure you can pray in the Spirit using words that others recognize. Then why donít you? And you can sing in the Spirit with words others understand. Then why donít you?

4C. Verse 16 teaches us that praying in tongues is so confusing that folks wonít even be able to say "Amen" when youíre finished, because they wonít know when youíre finished. Amen?

5C. You pray really well in this foreign language, in this tongue, verse 17, but it helps no one.

6C. Verses 18 and 19 show us that as the most spiritual man who could do both, speak in tongues and prophesy, Paul said that the one was 2000 times more profitable than the other! One word of prophecy accomplished as much as about 2000 words of an unknown tongue, or language.

7C. If this be so, are people really blessed in a so-called tongues speaking service? Not according to the apostle Paul, yet he spoke in tongues more than anyone. Surprised? Donít be alarmed. Paul knew what tongues was for and how to use the gift properly.

8C. There is profit with understanding, verses 6-11. There is profit when the whole Church is edified, verse 12. Conclusion? There is profit with prophecy, verses 13-19. There is very little profit with tongues.


Specifically, the prophet Isaiah.

1B. But Before We Look At Isaiahís Prophecy About Tongues, Letís Take An Attitude Check. Why? Because Paul Makes Reference To A Required Attitude In Verse 20.

"Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men."

1C. If I may paraphrase, Paul is stating that an overestimation of the importance of the gift of tongues is childish, is undesirable.

2C. However, it is quite desirable to have a childish innocence of evil. And this may refer to the improper attitude of trying to hold on to something God wants you to let go of . . . tongues.

3C. So, if you have the right attitude toward tongues, one of maturity, and if you donít think it more important than it really is, then we can look into Isaiahís prophecy.

2B. In Verse 21 The Prophesy Is Referenced

Read and letís note some things:

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

1C. It says, "In the law it is written . . . ." Turn To Romans 3.19 and read: "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law." Here we see the that Isaiahís prophecy applies only to the Jews, since only they were under the Law of Moses. An investigation of Isaiah 28.11-12 shows this to be, in fact, the case, as we see in a few moments.

2C. Next, notice the first phrase of verse 22. "Wherefore tongues are for a sign . . . ." Now turn to First Corinthians 1.22: "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom." Folks, signs were required by Jews, not Greeks, which is to say Gentiles, since Greeks are Gentiles just like you and I are.

3C. Now we turn to Isaiah 28.11-12: "11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. 12 To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear."

1D. What is this? This passage to which Paul referred when explaining the proper use of the gift of tongues was a prophecy originally given by the prophet Isaiah to the nation of Judah, when Hezekiah was king.

2D. The purpose of the prediction was to inform the people that when they heard men speaking to them with stammering lips and another tongue they were to know that they were being given a sign from God. It was a sign that they were about to be judged for sin.

4C. Folks, thatís the purpose of tongues, to warn Jewish people that judgment is coming if they do not repent of their sins. In Isaiahís day the tongues of the Assyrians foretold the Babylonian captivity of the entire nation. In Paulís day tongues foretold the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the dispersion of the Jewish population.

5C. At both occurrences, tragically, the sign of tongues was given but was also generally ignored by the Jewish nation as a whole, just as Isaiah had predicted, and judgment fell . . . first in 606 BC with the Babylonian captivity, second in 70 AD with the dispersion of the Jews that remains to this day.

3B. The Reasoned Conclusion Is In Verse 22

"Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe."

1C. What are tongues for, and why donít the people who say they have the gift use them for what they are for? According to both the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul, tongues has always been intended by God to be used as a sign.

2C. But a sign to whom? In verse 21 we saw that tongues are for a sign to Jews, which agrees with First Corinthians 1.22, which says Jews require a sign.

3C. But thatís not all. In First Corinthians 14.22 Paul is even more specific. Tongues, we already know to be a sign to Jews, is "not to them that believe, but to them that believe not." That is, tongues is a sign to Jewish people who are not saved!

4C. Prophecy, on the other hand, is for the benefit of believers.


1. Were you to live in Paulís day these 22 verses would unsettle you. They would tell you that tongues should not play a very important role in Christian Church worship.

2. There are a number of reasons. First, because prophecy, preaching, should have the prominence. No doubt about it. Amen?

3. Second, because tongues is far less profitable for the Christian than prophecy. No doubt about that, either. Amen?

4. Third, because tongues, according to the prophet Isaiah, isnít even for Gentile believers, was never intended to be used for our benefit. Instead, tongues was given as a sign gift that would lead some, but not very many, Jewish people to repentance. Why? Because it was a sign that if they didnít repent they would suffer the wrath of God. No doubt about it.

5. Now do you see why Paul took us through an attitude check in verse 20? Some professing Christians will cling so strongly to tongues as a main ingredient in their life that what the Word of God says will not budge them at all.

6. But if you are mature about this issue you will use these 22 verses to give you guidance in determining what role tongues plays, or ought to play, in your Christian life.

7. Whatever else you may believe, Paul teaches us to this point that tongues should have a small role indeed in your life. And if tongues plays a substantial role in someoneís Christianity he has a serious problem. He and God are not on the same wavelength on this thing. No doubt about it.

8. If you are here without Christ, then this stuff Iíve been preaching about may be Greek to you. Thatís quite all right, since it was to me even after I trusted Christ.

9. Simply understand this before you leave: With the supernatural sign of the gift of tongues, God warned Jewish people to repent of their sins or else face certain doom. And doom is what awaits anyone who is dead in trespasses and sins. And thatís anyone who is not a Christian.

10. To Gentiles, however, which most of us in this room most certainly are, Godís approach is quite different, according to the Bible. The destiny that awaits us is the same horrible damnation, but His method for warning us of it differs from the one He used to warn the Jewish people. For us it seems that a simple and straightforward message works the best, when delivered by a messenger.

11. And what is the message? "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." And, to escape the Hellfire that will certainly follow this judgment "ye must be born again."

12. Now, you can take that as true or not. But if you are of Gentile stock, like most of the rest of us in this room are, no miracle or sign or vision will convince you if the straight and plain truth wonít convince you. Thatís just the way God put us together.

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