Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues - 1 Corinthians 12:10,11
Message five in the “Gifts of the Spirit” series
This was recorded on Saturday, April 13th, 2013 around 6:30pm on the second floor of the Jack Purcell Community Center off of Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa.
In this fifth message, I again followed the format from Pastor Chuck Smith in his superb book, “Living Water,” by defining each of these gifts by their use in the Old Testament, the life of Jesus and the New Testament. From there, I typically would crowd-source examples from our time.
Here are my notes from that evening:
Clarification from last week... 4 kinds of spirits, Human, Holy, Angels, and then neither human nor holy...
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
It has been a joy to go through these gifts of the Spirit for the last several weeks, and now we are at the end of the list... various kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
The Greek word there for tongues is “glossa” and it’s used 50 times in the New Testament, also translated as a tongue, the muscle in your mouth, also languages, also talk, and in one place it describes a the shape of a flame.
When we look for examples of either of these gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, it’s difficult, and the only examples feel like a stretch.
Paul says in Romans 8:26 - Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
And, so, there’s the thought that tongues is this deep groaning of the spirit, communicating to God.
So, there’s a couple of instances of that in the Old Testament. You have Hannah in 1 Samuel 1, who is muttering under her breath, pouring her heart out to the Lord. She’s in such passion and distress in prayer that the priest, Eli, thinks she’s drunk. But, she’s just groaning really, in prayer.
You have Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:14 - 14 Like a swallow or a crane I chirp; I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!
I moan like a dove... that deep groaning of the spirit.
It’s a stretch, I know, but this is the closest to tongues that we can get in the Old Testament.
When it comes to the interpretation of tongues, I love Numbers 22 and the story of Balaam and his donkey! If you’re not familiar with the story, you need to go back and read it. It’s hilarious!
Numbers 22:27 - 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”
Is it tongues given to the donkey, or is it interpretation of tongues given to Balaam... you decide!
A better example of the gift of the interpretation of tongues or languages is Daniel 5, when King Belshazzar gave a feast, using the gold utinsels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. A hand appeared and wrote 4 words on the wall in front of everyone. They were terrified, and couldn’t figure out what the words meant. Finally, Daniel was called and through the power of the Spirit was able to interpret the words.
I can’t find an example of Jesus having the gift of tongues or the gift of interpretation of tongues. Maybe that’s because John 1, tells us that He is the Word. So, there’s no language earthly or heavenly that He wouldn’t be able to understand or interpret.
Now, Jesus did say in Mark 16:17 - that we as Christians, believers in Jesus, would speak in new tongues.
In the New Testament, let me draw your attention to Acts 2. This gives us both the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
Look with me at Acts 2:4 - 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
Here in Acts 2, we have the gift of tongues, and how that they were interpreted naturally by the people there who heard the wonders of God in their own language.
I can’t think of an example in the New Testament of the gift of the interpretation of tongues, other than right here, where the interpretation was stated by the people that heard it in their own language.
But, I like their question, here in Acts 2:12... What does this mean?
And, to that...
Let’s go back to the best explanation of this gift of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues that we have... 1 Corinthians 14...
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; (what direction is the communication going? It’s going to God. It’s not to man, this is important. So, the interpretation of the tongue wouldn’t be a message for men, but a message towards God. Let’s see if this plays out in the rest of the chapter.) for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (this tells me that tongues might be an unknown language, because no one understands him, it’s a mystery in the Spirit, it could be a heavenly language, only known to God) 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, (there’s something with this gift, in the expressing of your heart and spirit to God, through tongues, that strengthens the inner man, makes a person stronger spiritually. So, if you’ve been given this gift, you should use it to be strengthened, built up) but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 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. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 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. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. (when I speak in tongues, whose spirit is praying? Is it mine, or God’s?) 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit (again, it’s towards God) , but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit (again, towards God), but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.
This is a confusing statement for a lot of people. Let me see if I can shed some light on it. Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:11, and it’s a prophecy from God through Isaiah to the Jewish people that a day is coming when people from another language and culture, are going to be coming and witnessing to them of their own God. God’s going to take the responsibility and privilege of telling people about God from the Jewish people and give it to another language and people group. That has totally happened, as it’s evangelical Christians that are evangelizing Jewish people and in many, many cases, it’s the average evangelical Christian from Canada, speaking French or English that knows more about God and the Old Testament than the average Jewish person.
So, it was that sign to them, specifically.
But, tongues and the gift of tongues is even bigger than that. Think about this for a second. In Genesis 11, we read how the whole world was of one language and speech and they got together to build a tower, probably a ziggurat and exalt themselves through human unity and collaboration to be like God. The possibilities of human unity and human collaboration are almost limitless, except that God frustrated their plans by splitting the languages. The people were divided and they ended up moving from there all over the earth.
And, then something outstanding happened in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit came UPON the believers they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them the ability. And, there was unity among men again, powerful unity, understanding between the different languages, supernaturally provided by the Holy Spirit. It’s a sign to the whole world that God is God, and that the Word of God is not just for one language, but for all languages, for all people, for every nation, tribe and family in the world.
AND, there’s unity, more than unity, there’s love, when we surrender our will to the direction and power of the Holy Spirit.
BTW - I’m not for unity, or for Christian unity. I’m for following the Holy Spirit. When I follow the Holy Spirit, there will be unity and love between me and everyone else that’s following the Holy Spirit.
But, when I seek unity in order to get the blessing of the Holy Spirit, I’ve got it backwards. Unity and Love are fruits of the Spirit’s work in my life. My job is to surrender my will to the direction and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? (A lot of us have proved the truth of that verse, inviting a friend to a service where someone spoke in tongues, and it was the last time we saw our friend) 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
Tongues. A gift from the Holy Spirit, to build up your inner man. A gift that enables your spirit to really express itself to the Lord, in worship and praise and prayer and singing. A gift that needs to be interpreted for it to be any good to anyone else. A gift that’s a sign to the whole world that God is the author of language and He understands everyone, and is able to cause us to understand each other supernaturally.
Verse 5 - Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.
1 Corinthians 14:39 - So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
Next week, we’ll continue in chapter 14, and talk about the church service, or the believers meeting and how that works with the gifts of the Spirit.
How do I receive tongues?
Why would I want to receive tongues?