The gift of speaking in tongues is a lesser gift, (1 Cor. 14:5) but it seems to create more debate than any. Nevertheless scripture says, “…do not forbid speaking in tongues.” (1 Cor. 14:39). Also, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.” (1 Cor. 14:27).
The Apostle Paul said, “I speak in tongues more than all of you…” (1 Cor. 14:18). But he qualified this by stressing that it was mental understanding that brings encouragement in gatherings, not unintelligible sounds. This is why we do not normally sing worship songs in other languages; so we can worship with our voices and minds.
Scripture says to eagerly desire to prophesy. (1 Cor. 14:39). Prophecy is not limited to foretelling what is yet to come; it is Spirit enabled encouragement which may take many forms. (1 Cor. 14:3). The principal characteristic of prophecy is that through the Spirit it touches the heart of the hearer turning them to God. The scripture explains how this gift can reach some unbelievers.
“In the Law it is written: ‘With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers [to practice] but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’ ” (1 Cor. 14: 21-25). It is a little confusing as it first says tongues are for unbelievers and prophecy for believers. This first “for” is an indication for whom the gift is a sign. This is followed by a clear example indicating that unbelievers do not respond favorably to tongues, but rather prophecy which convicts of sin, brings consciousness of judgment, and discloses secrets within the heart, that reveal God’s work and presence among believers.
Is this not a powerful illustration – unbelievers falling down worshipping God and proclaiming God is really among you. Is this merely for the first century church, since it is predicated on “everyone prophesying”? Why does the scripture have so much to say about the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, demonstrated in Acts and clarified with detail instruction in Corinthians, when it was all going to be irrelevant in a few generations. What has happened that triggered the effective nullifying event – “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12). For those who have moved on to greater things, who no longer need the Spiritual encouragement of the gift of prophecy, because they see ‘face to face’ and ‘know even as they are fully known’ – what happened that transcended the gifts of the Spirit. Is it superior mental prowess and eloquent preaching that move unbelievers to worship God and recognize God’s presence among you. We are to, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” (1 Cor. 14:1). If love was to replace the gifts why are they linked. (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
If you have been taught and decided that spiritual gifts no longer exist, can you believe that the Holy Spirit will lead you and help you in praying (Rom. 8:14, 26-27). If you reject the indwelling Holy Spirit altogether beware, the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of salvation.(2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Eph. 1:14). Our God is one God. “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:13-14).
There are two groups of unbelievers – those who are yet to believe, but will, and those who will refuse to listen. Speaking in tongues will not be received well by unbelievers. In the same way, Yeshua spoke in parables, not to better illustrate the truth, but so that those hearing would not understand. (Luke 8:10). May the Lord Almighty give us faith to believe Him, even when our minds cannot grasp His greatness or purpose. Let us rely on God rather than our own understanding. God grant us courage to move in the leading of the Holy Spirit, even if we are thought to be foolish and/or undignified.