Saints Made Sinners: To Speak in Tongues or Not?

1 Corinthians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The gathering of the local church is to be conducted in an orderly manner so that all will be edified and God will be glorified.

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Text: I Corinthians 14:1-40
Theme: The gathering of the local church is to be conducted in an orderly manner so that all will be edified and God will be glorified.
Date: 02/20/2022 File name: 1_Corinthinas_24.wpd ID Number:
Worship in the church at Corinth must have been an unforgettable experience. Their worship had become chaotic ... drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper ... cliques gathering in different corners of the auditorium ... because each of them had miraculously given gifts, they were competing for worship time to use them ... one preacher would interrupt another preacher mid-sermon because be believed he’d received a “new revelation” from God ... Those who could speak with tongues thought their gifts were so great that they were all speaking at the same time ... everyone is singing their own favorite hymn at the same time. Discord was their order of worship. Their corporate worship had devolved into individualized worship. One can almost hear the confusion which may have been emanating from the worship gatherings in Corinth. This is a characteristic of spiritual immaturity according to the Apostle, and it has to stop.
Paul has to rebuke it all. Worship in Corinth was not being practiced decently and in order. Here we are, 21-hundred years later, and all over the world, congregations are worshiping indecently and in disorder. Too many churches do not practice the principles of orderly worship.
The whole of chapter fourteen of 1st Corinthians is primarily devoted to a comparison of two spiritual gifts — tongues and prophesying. Both of these Holy Spirit given spiritual endowments were highly esteemed by the members of the congregation, and both were being misused and abused. Chapter 14 is a corrective to that misuse and abuse.
This morning and next Sunday we’re going to look at what the Apostle has to say about orderly worship.


“Pursue love ... “ (1 Corinthians 14:1, ESV)
1. in the first verse of chapter 14, the Apostle delineates between the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruit of the Spirit
2. the Body of Christ — exemplified by local congregations of believers — is to earnestly desire spiritual gifts
a. every congregation needs believers who know, and exercise the spiritual endowments God has graced them with though the Holy Spirit
1) we need believers with the gift of wisdom — those individuals who can take a set of facts or a body of knowledge and help a church know how and when to make good decisions
2) we need believers with the gift of of administration — those who can help run the day-to-day activities of the church ... those who can organize ministries, and outreach, and finances
3) we need believers with the gift of generosity — those who will support the work of the church through extreme philanthropy
4) we need believers willing to use the almost two-dozen gifts listed in the New Testament
b. but there is something even more important than the earnest desire for spiritual gifts
3. the Body of Christ — exemplified by local congregations of believers — are to pursue love — the first virtue of God’s spiritual fruit
a. the word pursue is an imperative verb — that is it’s a command for Christians to pursue Christ-like love as our highest priority
1) the word means to chase after with intensity ... believers are to chase after a Christ-like love in our lives with an intensity that we don’t chase after other things
2) imagine what our society might look like if all those who name the name of Jesus chased after Christ’s all-consuming love like we chase after worldly things
3) in the Church at Corinth lovelessness was by far their greatest problem, to which all of their other problems were related in one way or another
b. according to our Lord’s own words his people will be known, not by their doctrinal orthodoxy, not by their passion for missions, not by their moral lives (as important as those things are), but by their fervent sacrificial love for the brethren
c. in 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul warns of the peril of using spiritual gifts when they are not ministered in love
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, ESV)
4. the pursuit of Christ-like love has precedence over our desire of spiritual gifts


“ ... and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1, ESV)
1. this is actually next Sunday’s message
a. I initially thought that I could deal with this chapter with one sermon
1) I was wrong
b. the more concise I tried to make it, the longer it got
2. so come back next Sunday to learn about the gift of preaching and Paul’s guidelines for it
3. we need to Pursue the Best Gift — Love ... we need to Practice the Better Gifts — Preaching ... and we need to ...


1. after presenting love as the “more excellent way” above all ministries and gifts, Paul directly and forcefully confronts the Corinthians in regard to their sin against love in misunderstanding and misusing the gift of tongues
a. while the Apostle does not forbid the practice of tongues in public worship, taking the entirety of what Paul writes on the gift it seems fairly obvious that he is attempting to pour a bucket of cold water on the practice
b. for the next little bit let me talk to you about the ...
Trouble with tongues
Testimony about tongues
Truth about tongues


1. tongues do not edify the congregation
“For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” (1 Corinthians 14:2–3, ESV)
a. the caveat to Paul’s prohibition of “tongue speaking” in public worship is if there is someone to interpret the language being spoken
b. the Apostle writes in vs. 5, The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up
c. the building up of the Church is Paul’s preeminent concern
2. tongues result only in confusion if there is no interpretation
“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?” (1 Corinthians 14:7–8, ESV)
a. in vs. 7 Paul illustrates the problem with tongues by comparing the use of the gift — especially if there is no interpretation — to random notes played on a musical instrument
1) if the musician produces a cacophony of unrelated sounds no one is blessed — indeed they are confused
b. in vs. 8 Paul illustrates the problem with tongues by comparing it to signal bugler in the army who plays confusing commands
ILLUS. During the days when the United States had Horse Calvary units, a bugler had to know a dozen different signals for various commands. But if the bugler forgets the appropriate tune or plays just part of it, or plays the right tune at the wrong time an entire Calvary unit will be throne into confusion. They may find themselves attacking when they ought to be retreating.
c. in a similar way, the use of tongues in a worship service, unless there is an interpretation, is more harmful than beneficial
“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.” (1 Corinthians 14:9, ESV)
3. the Apostle says in vs. 19 that in a public worship setting I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue
a. that gives you a pretty clear picture of what the Apostle really thinks about the use of tongues in a public worship service


1. let me share a statement about the gift of tongues and then I’ll close with the restrictions the Apostle lays out for their use in public worship
ILLUS. I am not what theologian call a cessationist; someone who believes that the Holy Spirit no longer gives what are called the “sign gifts.” I don’t find any evidence from the Scriptures that “tongues have ceased.” You’ll find lots of Baptist pastors and theologians who will tell you that “the sign gifts” – tongues being one of them — have ceased. That the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is a spiritual endowment that the Holy Spirit no longer gives. I cannot theologically ascribe to that view. I don’t find any place in the New Testament that says “these spiritual gifts are no longer available, so don’t ask for them.”
Some will say “Oh, so you believe in the gift of tongues?” Well... yes and no. On a theological level I believe that the gift of tongues — which I am persuaded are known human languages — is still a valid gift. On an experiential level I have never seen the gift used biblically in my almost 50 years of ministry. And I only know of one person — a pastor friend — who claims to have experienced a biblical manifestation of it back in the late 1980s.
When I look at what the Bible teaches about tongues, and then look at what is happening around the world among charismatic believers in their practice of tongues I see something completely different, and dare I say unbiblical?

C. THE TRUTH ABOUT TONGUES (four statements)

1. 1st, “Tongues” in the New Testament Were Real Languages, Not the Unintelligible Ecstatic Utterance That Is Prevalent among Modern Charismatics
a. random sounds and syllables, voiced without meaning, do not communicate truth which is of the essence in the Christian faith
1) throughout chapter 14 Paul is describing known languages with real meaning based on syntax, syllables, semantics and other parts of speech
“There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning,” (1 Corinthians 14:10, ESV)
a) he says clearly that these are languages in the world
2) no where in the New Testament do we see a transition from the gift of tongues being a known language to it suddenly being an ecstatic unintelligible language as most Pentecostal and charismatic leaders teach
3) we must not confuse glossolalia with xenoglossia (OK, strange words, right? And no, I’m not speaking in tongues)
a) xenoglossia is the biblical gift of tongues — the ability to speak fluently a language the speaker has never learned
b) glossolalia is the ecstatic vocal utterances we find in the charismatic movement — the uttering of unintelligible, language-like sounds while in a state of ecstasy
b. our charismatic brethren will say, “Yes, but OUR tongues are the tongues of angels”
1) 1st, that’s a huge, and unwarranted theological leap from Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:1
a) the Apostle is simply illustrating that no language in earth or heaven is to be compared with the supremacy of love
b) Paul is simply saying that it is easy enough to be fascinated by eloquent discourse, to be hypnotized by the magic of words, and to pass over that which matters most of all
2) 2nd, linguists agree that the ecstatic tongues of the charismatic movement have certain characteristics
a) ecstatic tongues speakers use the same sounds of their native language, and even use the same restrictions
b) the sounds that ecstatic tongues speakers speak have no recognizable parts of speech — they are just random streams of sound
c) if the “tongues” of the charismatic movement is the language of angels then God’s angels don’t use any known rules of speech, but only speak gibberish
d) the use of ecstatic tongues are not unique to Christians, but are also practiced by Hindus, Buddhists, Haitian Vu Du priests, and African shamans and there is no appreciable difference in how they sound and how Christians sound when they use it
ILLUS. The Apostle Paul was very concerned that a “different spirit” might be at work in the lives of some professing believers at Corinth. Satan is very good at counterfeiting the works of God. This is why back in 1 Corinthians 12 he writes, “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.” (1 Corinthians 12:3, ESV)
e) Paul would not have had to warn against this if it wasn’t happening!
3) 3rd, most believers in the charismatic movement who speak in an ecstatic tongue were taught how to do so — it’s not hard
ILLUS. You can find a multiplicity of web sites and You Tube channels that’ll teach you how to do it. I loved one article I read that spent three pages teaching you how to “activate” your gift of tongues, but then concluding that “tongues can’t be taught!”
ILLUS. Research conducted by the Lutheran Medical Center demonstrated that glossolalia is readily learned by following simple instructions. Both Christian and non-Christian students could exhibit “speaking in tongues” with simple practice. One test conducted with sixty students showed that after listening to a one-minute sample of glossolalia, 20 percent were able to imitate it precisely. After some training, 70 percent succeeded.
ILLUS. Experience with Dennis Sebulack at Hermann.
a) if you have to be taught a miraculous gift, it’s neither a “gift” nor “miraculous”
c. our charismatic brethren will also say, "Yes, but OUR tongues are a personal prayer language between the worshiper and God known only to the worshiper"
1) OK, color me cynical ... but are you saying that God can’t understand you if you pray to him in you native German ... or Swahili, or Cantonese or ... whatever?
2. 2nd, Speaking in Tongues Is Not a Mystical Experience That Bypasses the Mind
a. a lot of Christians have been taught that true spirituality is something that bypasses the intellect and operates mysteriously in the soul
ILLUS. Robert Morris, author, radio host, and a pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, TX, says about the gift of tongues, “For me, the gift of tongues turned out to be the gift of praise. As I used the unknown language, which God had given me, I felt rising in me the love, the awe, the adoration pure and uncontingent that I had not been able to achieve in thought-out prayer.”
1) do you hear what he is saying? I got more out of prayer I couldn’t understand than I did out of prayer I could understand
b. the fact that Paul demands that tongues must be interpreted — either by the speaker himself, or someone else with the gift of interpretation — indicates that tongues is a spiritual gift that the user has control over
1) Paul is emphatic about this
3. 3rd, It Is Wrong to Allow the Church Service to Become Chaotic
“But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40, ESV)
a. there is a reason why we call it an order of worship
1) when you “read between the lines” of 1 Corinthians 11-14 it’s obvious that the worship life at the Corinthian Church was chaotic
b. unfortunately some charismatics delight in precisely the sort of chaos Paul here condemns
ILLUS. You can find examples on line. Worship services with dozens of people peaking gibberish at the same time, people rolling on the floor screaming at the top of their lungs, people crawling on the floor and barking like dogs, people staggering like drunks, people laughing hysterically and uncontrollably all supposedly “manifestations” of the Holy Spirit. This is not doing all things decently and in order. It’s, at the least, worldly exuberance, and at the worst, Satan’s counterfeit of the genuine spiritual gift of xenoglossia.
1) charismatic chaos is not biblical and certainly not God-honoring
c. Paul is clear about the use of tongues in a public worship service
“If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.” (1 Corinthians 14:27, ESV)
1) no “if’s” ... no “and’s” ... no “but’s” ... no exceptions!
d. oh, and one more thing, women are not to do it
“the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.” (1 Corinthians 14:34, ESV)
1) now, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but I do need to make several comments
a) we always need to read Bible passages in context and the context of vs. 34 is in relation to the use of prophecy and tongues in public worship
2) a woman should not preach or speak in tongues in a public worship service of the church
a) but pastor ... that’s so “unfair” ... that’s so patriarchal ... that’s so “1st century”!
b) not to be flip about it, but your argument is with God and His word ... I just think ought to obey what he says, and if the world hates us for it ... well, they’ve always hated Bible-believing believers
4. 4th, Tongues is a Sign to Unbelievers
“Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 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?” (1 Corinthians 14:22–23, ESV)
ILLUS. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city on the axis of both North/South and East/West trade routes. Men, particularly sailors and traders, came from all over the Mediterranean world to do business. Latin, Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Phoenician, Arabic and a dozen other languages would have been spoken there. It makes sense that God would gift a Hebrew-speaking Jew like Paul to miraculously speak Akkadian — that language of Mesopotamia. It doesn’t make sense in Osage County where there isn’t a language barrier that needs to be overcome miraculously.
a. but even in Corinth, Paul tells us that miraculous language ability was of limited use in public worship, because they do not edify the gathered body of believers
5. tongues — which I believe is miraculously speaking a language you never learned — is not absolutely forbidden by Paul, but it dies the death of ‘one thousand qualifications’
a. of all the spiritual gifts Paul lists, it’s almost always listed last — it’s the least of gifts
b. not all believers receive the gift — it’s not proof of a genuine conversion to Christ as some Pentecostals believe
c. it’s only to be used by two-three in a worship service and then only one at a time
d. there must be an interpretation or the person must remain quiet
When you came into this service today, you probably picked up a church bulletin. On the first inside page there is printed an “order of service.” Every item that is listed there has been carefully thought through. From the opening “call to worship,” to the reading of the Scriptures, to the manner in which we collect the offering, through the message that is preached, are all centered upon the united theme of the day. In other words, there is an “order” to what we do, and a purpose for that order.
We do that because we attempt to follow “the regulative principle” of worship as closely as we can, meaning that we believe the Scriptures themselves give specific guidelines for what is and what is not to be included in the corporate worship gatherings of God’s people. We want our services, first and foremost, to be honoring to God and edifying to God’s people.
The Apostle sums everything up with this summation, “But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40, ESV)
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