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Prophecy and Tongues (Part 2)

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
February 26, 2023 6:00 pm

Prophecy and Tongues (Part 2)

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew

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February 26, 2023 6:00 pm

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Well, if you would please turn with me this morning to 1 Corinthians chapter 14. We're going to pick up where we left off last time in the middle of a sermon.

I apologize for that. Those of you who weren't here last time, you're jumping on a merry-go-round that's already turning. We'll try to summarize kind of where we've been. Go ahead and stand, if you would, in honor of God's Word as we read together. We're going to begin at verse 20. 1 Corinthians 14, verse 20, and I'll read for starters this morning through verse 33. Hear now the Word of the Lord.

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking, be infants and evil, but in your thinking be mature. 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. Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 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? But if all prophesy and an unbeliever or outsider enters in, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 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. What then, brothers, when you come together each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.

Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. This is the word of the Lord. Let's pray together. Father, please direct our thoughts now as we contemplate your word. Open our minds, soften our wills, correct our confusion, and conform us to the image of your son Jesus Christ. Lord, thank you for your church. Thank you for the spiritual gifts that you have given to your church. And now help us to learn to wield those gifts well in our kingdom work. We pray it all in Jesus' name. Amen. You can be seated. Well, the last time we were in the book of 1 Corinthians, we had to stop right in the middle of a section in which Paul is defending the superiority of the spiritual gift of prophecy over the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues as it was being practiced at Corinth.

I don't want to spend all of our time reviewing the territory we've already covered, but let me just quickly catch everyone up and remind us where we left off. The church at Corinth had a love problem that manifested itself most evidently, most obviously in the way that they valued and used the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit had given them. Spiritual gifts are given to individual Christians for the purpose of building up, of spiritually strengthening, encouraging, instructing the church as a whole. Corinth, however, had perverted the gifts by viewing them as a means of showing off their abilities and gaining credibility and looking, giving the appearance of spirituality in a pretentious sort of way. And because of the misuse of the gifts, they tended toward valuing and esteeming gifts according to how they made the user of the gift look rather than how they made the beneficiary of the gift, which should have been the church, grow.

They were like farmers who were more interested in their tractors than in their crops or like teachers who cared more about their chalkboards and bookshelves than about their students. In Corinth, there was one gift in particular that made the Corinthians giddy with a sense of self-importance, and that was the gift of speaking in tongues. Now, we pointed out last time that there are some ambiguities that pop up in 1 Corinthians 14. At times, it seems like Paul is condemning the spiritual gift of tongue speaking.

At other times, he seems to be commending it. We sort of navigated that ambiguity by allowing the clear passages of Scripture to interpret the unclear passages of Scripture. We went back to Acts 2, the account of the day of Pentecost where the first instance of tongue speaking as a spiritual gift shows up, and we let that passage define for us what the spiritual gift of tongues is and how it was intended to function. Then we compared that account to what was going on at Corinth, and we determined that Corinth's practice was in many ways out of step with the gift of tongues with what it was intended to be. All of that then led us to conclude that Paul acknowledges a legitimate spiritual gift called tongues while at the same time, he condemns Corinth's distortion and misappropriation of that gift. When Paul is speaking negatively of the gift, he's addressing Corinth's distortion.

He's speaking positively. He's assuming the biblical edifying practice of speaking in tongues as it's described for us in Acts 2. And so through the course of the first 19 verses here, 1 Corinthians 14, Paul establishes the principle that spiritual gifts are to be valued according to their ability to edify, not, as Corinth was doing, according to their ability to impress or to demonstrate miraculous supernatural extraordinariness. Does it build up the church or does it merely build up my ego?

That's the crucial question that Corinth was neglecting. As a result, their corporate gatherings were characterized by noisy confusion rather than edifying instruction from the Word of God. So Paul says in verse 19, hyperbolically, I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others than 10,000 words in a tongue.

Edification is the measure of the value of a spiritual gift. Does it build up the church? Now we're picking up, as I said, in the middle of a sermon, so if you want to hear the first two and a half points, go to our sermon audio page and you can catch up. But we come now this morning to verse 20, and Paul brings up an interesting point from an Old Testament passage that ought to have turned Corinth's view of tongue speaking on its head. Here they were, glorying in their ability to speak in other tongues, paying no heed to its effect on others, and Paul says in verse 20, essentially, stop being childish.

Grow up, Corinth. He's got their attention, and so he quotes an Old Testament prophet. Verse 21, Paul says, 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. And that is a Pauline paraphrase of Isaiah 28 verses 11 through 12. I'm going to ask you to keep your finger in 1 Corinthians. Let's flip back to Isaiah 28 verses 11 and 12.

I love when a New Testament writer quotes an Old Testament passage because it's like the lights come on when that happens. All of a sudden we have a context. We have an explanation. We have an interpretation.

We have a connecting of all the dots. Doug, incidentally, used this very principle of letting the Old Testament interpret the New. Several Sundays ago when he was walking us through the Olivet Discourse, rather than letting newspapers and current events define for us the statements of Jesus, Doug went back to the Old Testament and found illusions and connections and defined our terms and set a context by which we can understand an otherwise obscure passage of apocalyptic prophecy.

A similar thing is going on here. If we try to define terms and apply the principles that Paul is writing down in 1 Corinthians 14 by, say, reading modern day charismatic practices back into the New Testament canon, we're gonna be very confused. But Paul helps us out here by pointing back to an Old Testament context that is crystal clear and is intended to steer our understanding of Paul's instruction to the church at Corinth. So we need to go back to Isaiah 28 and find out what was going on back there because whatever was going on back there is the key to understanding what was so childish about Corinth's attitude towards speaking in tongues. In Isaiah 28, Isaiah is faithfully proclaiming the Word of the Lord. He is a faithful prophet, but the priests and the prophets of his day, the ones who should be most attentive and supportive of Isaiah's preaching are figuratively drunk on their own self-importance. Isaiah 28, 7 says, these also reel with wine and stagger with strong drink. The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink. They are swallowed by wine, they stagger with strong drink, they reel in vision, they stumble in giving judgment. So the very men who have been called to speak for God are stumbling over their words, drunk on their own iniquity, and are incapable of fulfilling the very ministry to which they've been called.

And so what do they do? Well, they begin to mock Isaiah, the only faithful prophet who is proclaiming the Word of God. These drunken priests and prophets begin to mock Isaiah's words as being childish. Verse 9, to whom will he teach?

And to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast, for it is, and I want you to listen to this in Hebrew because the Hebrew pronunciation is part of the meaning. It's intentionally trying to sound like a mumbling, drunken, baby-stuttering gibberish.

Tov le tov, tov le tov, kav le kav, kav le kav, zeir sham, zeir sham. Precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little. That's what the priests are saying Isaiah's words sound like. But Isaiah's being faithful, they're acting drunk, and they're accusing him of being childish and drunk. The drunken priests are suggesting that Isaiah's words are nothing more than baby talk when in reality it's their words that are the drunken gibberish. These unfaithful priests are unimpressed with faithful prophetic word from the Lord.

They call black white and white black. They've shown their true colors by rejecting the word of the Lord. And as a result, the Lord will conceal His word from them. Look at verse 11. By people of strange lips, foreign tongues, with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people to whom He has said, this is rest, give rest to the weary, and this is repose, yet they would not hear. And the word of the Lord will be to them, tov le tov, tov le tov, kav le kav, kav le kav, zeir sham, zeir sham. The very word that should and could have saved their souls will be nothing more to them than mumbling baby talk. Israel was sick and dying, and Isaiah was extending to them the very medicine that would cure them, but they slapped the bottle out of Isaiah's hand as if to say, that's not medicine.

That's just candy that can't do anything for us. And so God declares to them, if that's how you're going to treat My cure for your soul, I'm going to withhold the cure from you. If you're going to call My cure irrelevant, then it will be forever irrelevant to you. You'll be left to wallow in your sickness and die in your sin.

My word will sound like nothing more than a confusing, indecipherable, and foreign language to you because you have treated it as such. What a scathing judgment against Israel. The people who should have benefited the most from divine revelation were acting like infidels, unbelievers, outsiders, in their appreciation for that revelation. And consequently, they were forever banned from any benefit that God's truth could have and would have brought. So the end of the matter in verse 13 describes these professing believers who are really unbelievers as falling backwards and being broken and snared and taken. This happened literally to unfaithful Israel as the Assyrian army stormed the promised land and took them captive. Their children would grow up speaking a foreign language, imbibing in a foreign culture, and forgetting the God of their fathers all because they forsook the covenant benefits through foolish neglect of the word of God. Now fast forward 800 years to the city of Corinth where Paul is writing a letter to the Christians there and he says to them, you are in danger of replicating what happened to Israel those many centuries ago.

You are valuing gibberish as if it's clear and edifying while at the same time the clear word of God is being neglected as if it's the gibberish. You've got things backwards, Corinth. Paul then goes on to apply this even more specifically to Corinth's situation. He says in 1 Corinthians 14 verse 22, Thus tongues are a sign not for believers, but for unbelievers.

Now let's stop right there. For years I read verse 22 thinking that Paul was saying that tongues are a sign for the benefit of unbelievers, but it always confused me that Paul would go on to say in verse 23, if unbelievers come to a worship service and observe everyone speaking in tongues, will they not say you're out of your mind? Now if tongues are supposed to benefit unbelievers, why doesn't Paul say that when unbelievers come to a worship service where Christians are speaking in tongues, they come under conviction and are converted? By the same token, if the gift of prophecy, verse 22, is for believers, then why does Paul indicate in verse 24 that it is the unbeliever who benefits? In other words, verse 22 seems to be saying the opposite of verses 23 through 25. Did Paul get things mixed up and backwards?

Well, no. Apostolic writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can't say Paul is backwards. He's confused here.

He means what he says. So how do we make sense of all this? Well, just like in Isaiah 28, things are upside down because of sin. We make sense of it by letting that Old Testament passage to which Paul alludes, be our interpretive rule. Isaiah 28 indicates that when the word of God becomes gibberish in people's ears, it is a sign of judgment.

It's an indication that God has rejected them. God distances himself and his graces from unbelievers precisely by withholding the clarity and power of his word from them. And so verse 22 in 1 Corinthians 14 is not saying that tongues is a sign for the benefit of unbelievers. It's saying that tongues are a sign of judgment for unbelievers.

This miraculous gift of speaking in a foreign language has the ability to clarify the Gospel as we've seen on the day of Pentecost, but it also has the ability to obscure the Gospel as happened in Israel back in Isaiah 28. And as happened as Jesus taught through parables to conceal the Gospel. If you're an unbeliever and you come into contact with the people of God and the Word of God and you begin to realize that you are a stranger to God and His truth, it ought to drive you to conviction and sorrow and regret. Realizing that you're an outsider to the truth ought to be a motivating sign to you that you need grace. You need the Gospel.

You need a new heart and mind. One that has the capacity to know and understand and believe God's Word. But in Corinth, that wasn't the effect at all. Unbelievers who visited Corinth's worship service came away making a mockery of the church and of the Gospel because Corinth's corporate worship was so distorted and unbalanced and unregulated by Scripture. What should have been a sign of judgment against unbelievers had become an impetus for unbelievers to ridicule the saints and ridicule the Word of God and ridicule the church. On the other hand, prophecy which should have convicted unbelievers and edified believers was being neglected in favor of tongue speaking and as a result, neither the lost were being evangelized nor the saved edified.

The church was upside down and backward in its approach to worship and ministry and kingdom service and they needed to be corrected. Well, this brings us to verse 26 and to Paul's final section on the topic of spiritual gifts and this is where Paul gets very practical in his instruction to Corinth. He begins by reiterating the overarching principle that has driven everything he set up to this point, verse 26. What then brothers, when you come together, he says let all things be done for building up. Edification must be the governing principle.

Well, what then does that look like in action? He's gonna tell them in the next several verses. Before we jump into this final section, I feel like we need to summarize what has been said up to this point a little more. Paul's instruction about spiritual gifts goes all the way back to chapter 12 and this is now my fifth sermon on this section in 1 Corinthians.

So I know a lot of you have missed that. What I'd like to do hopefully very briefly is just to try and bring everything together and summarize the main thrust of what Paul's been saying in these chapters and how that fits in with the larger context of scripture with regard to spiritual gifts and their function in the church. Several sermons ago, our starting point was the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture. The doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture.

If our ultimate authority in faith and life is the Bible, then anything that claims authority over us, a person, a new revelation, an experience, even a miracle, must take a back seat to the written Word of God. That was our starting point, our precondition, our presupposition that scripture is inerrant and a complete revelation of God's will to His people. Having said that, however, we also acknowledged that scripture, as we have it now, was not always present. There was a time in redemptive history when God's Word was incomplete. God's written Word was incomplete.

There was data yet to be revealed. This means that there was a time when God communicated to His people through various means. Hebrews 1 acknowledges this. Prophetic word, revelation, miracles, signs, wonders. These very varied means were ordinary at one time, although they are no longer ordinary now that we have the completed canon of scripture. Church, this means that it's incorrect to assume that things are today as they have always been. I've often heard Christians say something like, I just want us to be a New Testament church. And that's great, insofar as we differentiate how we ought to be like a New Testament church and how we ought to be different from a New Testament church. If by New Testament church we expect to have apostles and new revelation and miracles every day, confirming that new revelation, we're confusing our place in redemptive history. That would be similar to perhaps a New Testament era Christian insisting on continuing to practice animal sacrifice on the grounds that that's how Israel did it.

I just want to be an Israel church. So divine revelation is progressive in that we today have a fuller word from the Lord now that scripture is complete than previous generations of Christians had. And this implies certain differences in how Christians are to function depending on their place in redemptive history.

Not everything is as it has always been. Well, this brings us to the gifts of prophecy in tongues. The doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture and the fact that revelation has been progressive means that while there was a time when gifts like prophecy in tongues were revelatory, they revealed new information, they are no longer revelatory in the sense that they once were. Those gifts have changed.

They're certainly similar to what they once were, but they're definitely not identical. We have defined tongues speaking to the best of our ability by looking at what occurred on the day of Pentecost. The gift of tongues was a miraculous ability to speak in an unknown, unstudied language for the sake of clarifying the gospel to foreigners.

It was essentially a reversal of the Tower of Babel, right? A means by which Gentiles were ushered into the church. But we also saw from Isaiah 28 how tongues speaking can be a sign of judgment in which the gospel is not revealed but concealed from unbelievers. And church, it is God's prerogative of our speech to reveal or conceal as He sees fit. We define prophecy as a faithful and effective explanation and application of God's Word. At the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the proper function of the gift of prophecy still included some new revelation because the canon of Scripture was still incomplete. There were prophets at this time speaking to the church and giving Christians new previously unrevealed information from God, information that was authoritative and inspired. 1 Corinthians is in fact one of the earliest books we have in the New Testament. At the time that Paul was writing this letter, 1 Corinthians, the church most likely did not have, get this, the books of Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, any of Paul's pastoral epistles nor any of the general epistles, Hebrews to Revelation. That's a lot of the New Testament missing.

They needed more information. It's interesting to note that there is not one mention in 1 Corinthians or 2 Corinthians of elders and deacons, although there are numerous references to apostles and prophets. And in the pastoral epistles which came much later right at the end of Paul's life and at the end of the apostolic era, it's the elders and deacons who are leading the church while references to apostles and prophets are virtually absent. It just reinforces I think what we've been saying that prior to the completion of the canon of Scripture, there was a need for prophets who spoke divinely inspired new revelation that was authoritative. After the canon was completed, the task of maintaining the orthodox teaching of the church rested on gifted and faithful preachers and teachers whose task was to simply expound and apply what had already been said. This also means that at first century Corinth, there were legitimate prophets speaking what can rightly be called the word of God, and yet because of Corinth's carnality and confusion, there were also charlatans and self-promoting narcissists who wanted to throw in their two cents at the corporate worship gatherings. They wanted to essentially show off in front of the church, and so Paul had to put a stop to it by insisting that even in giving prophetic revelation, things must be done decently and in order with mutual submission between the prophets. All things must be done for edification, and edification was defined by Paul not in terms of its spontaneity and sensational nature, but in terms of its intelligibility and clarity and orderliness and selflessness. If those limitations were imposed on the church back then at the time when new revelation was still being revealed, how much more is it true now that the canon is complete? All of that then is the context in which we read Paul's practical instruction to Corinth with regard to several aspects of corporate worship.

Let's look at three very briefly. First, there is instruction with regard to tongue speaking. Verse 27, if any speak in a tongue, let there be only two, or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret, but if there's no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God.

Notice the limitations Paul gives. First, there was to be a measured amount of speaking, two or three at most. The speaking didn't go on indefinitely. There was a practical limit to what would be edifying. So there's nothing unspiritual about saying this service is going on too long.

Maybe you're thinking that right now. When it ceases to be edifying, let's wrap it up. There's not a point in continuing. Secondly, people were not to speak over each other in the service. Paul said they were to speak each in turn.

There's nothing frenzied or ecstatic going on. It's measured, it's orderly, it's controlled because that's what's edifying. Thirdly, there was to be an interpreter. Tongues alone do not edify. There needed to be a rational, meaningful, cognitive understanding or it would be pointless. If there's not a prophetic interpretation for all to understand, then keep silent, Paul says.

It's not edifying. Next, Paul gives instruction with regard to prophecy. Verse 29. He says, let two or three prophets speak.

There's another limitation. And let the others, that is the other prophets, weigh or evaluate what is said. This suggests that there were those who thought they were speaking prophetically but weren't. In the Old Testament, this would incur stoning, wouldn't it?

Paul says nothing of that. Nevertheless, the other prophets were to presumably stop or correct the false prophet. Verse 30. If a revelation is made to another prophet sitting there, let the first prophet be silent. So again, there was to be deference among the prophets. An immediate revelation ought to take precedent over other prophetic words. Verse 31. For you can all prophesy one by one so that all may learn and all be encouraged and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.

Why? Because God is not a God of confusion but of peace. So even in this era of new revelation, the information needed to be proclaimed with clarity and order and meaning so as to edify the entire congregation. Well, finally, and perhaps most controversially, Paul gives practical application with regard to women in the corporate gathering of the church. I think instead of opening that can of worms this morning, we're better off to leave that for next time so that we can deal with it at length.

We'll pick up at verse 34 next time. But as we close today, I'd like to draw some points of specific application for us. We've pointed out that a lot of Paul's practical instruction was given at a point in redemptive history that was very different from ours. And so the correlation between us and them is going to be at points a correlation of principle more than of practice. What points of application by way of universal principle then do we observe in these verses? The first thing I would say is the very first thing Paul says in verse 1, pursue love. Pursue love. If you find yourself, as Corinth was, preoccupied with self-promotion and jealousy and wanting recognition and other expressions of pride, learn to pursue love. In other words, pursue the qualities he lists in the previous chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. Love is the more excellent way, which Paul refers to in the last verse of chapter 12. If we want to effectively use our spiritual gifts, it begins with learning to love others unselfishly. Not only should we pursue love, we should also pursue maturity. Paul says in verse 20 that the way the Corinthians were viewing and using their spiritual gifts was not a sign of deep spirituality, as they were pretending, or of wisdom, but rather an indication of debilitating immaturity.

What they thought was a feature was really a flaw. They were taking pride in what they should have been ashamed of and embarrassed by. A mature person is able to be self-critical and think about others, think about the greater good, think about the bigger picture, but Corinth was acting like selfish children. Paul calls Christians to grow up in how we think about ourselves and about others and about kingdom service. So are my actions actually clarifying the gospel, or are they merely feeding my sense of self-importance and self-worth?

To pursue maturity. Lastly, I would exhort us to pursue edification. Maybe you've already noticed it, but edification, as it is described in this chapter, looks a lot like self-control with regard to our speech. Do you notice how frequently Paul's solution, his application to the Corinthian problem, involves limiting their words? Look at it with me, verse 27. Let there be two or three at most who speak. Verse 28, if those who are speaking are unclear in their meeting, let them keep silent in church. Verse 30, if someone is speaking and another has something to say of greater importance, then let the first one sit down and be quiet. Verse 34, women should keep silent, for they should be in submission. It is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Verse 38, if anyone does not recognize the importance and value of these principles, he is not recognized.

He is not given the floor. I know it sounds simplistic, but I wonder how many sins and how much unedifying behavior would be avoided if we would simply learn to control our mouths. And this is a principle that comes up surprisingly frequently in Scripture. Ecclesiastes 5, verse 1, says, Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before the Lord, for God is in heaven and you are on earth, therefore let your words be few. Proverbs 10, 19, when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. And then there's Job's classic response to God's revelation of his raw, sovereign power and providence. Job responds by saying, Behold, I am of small account. What shall I answer you?

I lay my hand on my mouth. You say that's all well and good, Eugene, but there are times when we are supposed to be witnesses, to speak up, to proclaim the truth, to not keep silent. Absolutely there is. And no one is denying that. But that's not what Paul is addressing here, is it? He's addressing the very self-centered problem of speaking when you shouldn't, of saying too much, of using words in the wrong way or with the wrong motive. Even Jesus demonstrates that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. When Pilate laid multiple charges on Jesus, Scripture says Christ gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was amazed. There are times, Christians, when our silence rather than our words is the most effective and powerful witness to the truth. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.

James 3 is perhaps the most pointed application of the principles Paul lays out to Corinth. James says, Not many of you should become teachers, for we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. Church, I really think one of the primary and most difficult lessons for us to learn from 1 Corinthians 14 is simply this, oh, be careful little mouth what you say. It's a difficult, hard lesson for self-centered sinners like us to learn. But God is not a God of confusion.

He is a God of peace. We don't want our pretentious use of even the good things he has given to us, things like spiritual gifts and kingdom service to be the cause of confusion and misunderstanding of the gospel. So pursue self-control in your speech. Pursue maturity in your dealings with others. And above all, pursue the selfless love of Christ. Let's pray. Lord, give us grace and wisdom to hear what you say and do what you command for the sake of your honor and the growth of your church, I pray in Jesus' name, amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-26 14:38:44 / 2023-02-26 14:52:18 / 14

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