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1 Corinthians 14:21-26 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:56 mins 57 secs

Purpose and Regulation of Tongues; 1 Cor. 14:21-26

One of the difficulties in interpreting chapter 14 is that it is addressed to a historical problem in a historical context dealing with the operation and function of certain spiritual gifts that are no longer operational. So we do not have a clear understanding of what exactly was going on in the Corinthians church and most of what we know is inferred from what is stated in this chapter. One of the problems apparently was that they would all come together and in the same manner as what happened in their background where they were involved in the mystery religions. These carnal Christians brought that baggage and that frame of reference with them when they came into the church and were confusing the biblical gift of speaking in languages with this pseudo tongues, this ecstatic gibberish that they had practised in their paganism, and their worship services were degenerating into the same kind of confusion and self-absorbed practices that they had been used to in their pagan worship.

If we are going to advance as believers we cannot be conformed to the world. That means we have to quit thinking like a postmodern pagan. If you don't realize that all your life you have been inculcated with postmodern paganism and that to some degree each of us thinks and responds like a postmodern pagan, and if you are not willing to do the hard work to figure out how you think like a postmodern pagan and get rid of that thinking so that you can be a consistent Christian thinker, then you have no business coming to church because you are just fooling yourself and drugging your own mind into thinking that somehow because you go and sing your praise and worship choruses that you are worshipping God. You cannot worship God other than by means of the Holy Spirit and truth. And what happens in most of the "praise and worship" choruses, when you are taking Scripture and setting it to music where its whole form and structure comes out of a postmodern pagan concept of music, what you are doing to is trying to take the Word of God and blend it with a human viewpoint methodology. You are blending truth with error in order to produce a certain goal that isn't biblical, and that is not worshipping God in truth and it is just a waste of time spiritually. The same kind of thing was happening in Isaiah's day. So now there is a warning of judgment from Isaiah.

Isaiah 28:11 NASB "Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue." In other words, Isaiah is saying: "You wouldn't listen to me when I was communicating to you in your native Hebrew, therefore God is going to judge you and you are going to be instructed by foreigners in a foreign language, one that is going to sound harsh to your ears." [12] "He who said to them, 'Here is rest, give rest to the weary,' And, 'Here is repose,' but they would not listen." That characterizes the message of Isaiah, i.e. if you want real rest, real inner happiness, real peace in life, that only comes because, first of all, you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your saviour, and secondly, because you are responding to the teaching of the Word of God and applying it into your life. That is the source of refreshment.

So the message of Isaiah is summarized, "And this is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing, yet," the conclusion, "they would not hear." That last phrase, "they would not hear," is the phrase from verse 12 that was picked up by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul simply quotes verse 11 and the last phrase of verse 12, indicating the sign of judgment and the warning of judgment that Isaiah announced to the southern kingdom, they refused to listen, as the northern kingdom did, and they eventually went out under divine judgment. This principle that judgment would come and the warning of judgment would come in the form of hearing instruction—this is not defining the instruction; the Assyrians aren't going to be instructing them with the Word of God but they will be dictating policy to them, and even though the southern kingdom was not destroyed by the Assyrians they were invaded by them when they surrounded Jerusalem and put it under siege during the time of Hezekiah, and there was the miraculous deliverance when the angel of the Lord wiped out the armies of Sennacherib as they were encamped before the walls of Jerusalem. God did deliver them but there was a period of time when they were under the oppressive control and dominance of the Assyrian people—goes back to the Mosaic law. Deuteronomy 28:15ff deal with various categories of divine judgments that will come upon the nation if they disobey God and disobey the Mosaic Law.

Deuteronomy 28:47 NASB "Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; [48] therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you. [49] The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, [50] a nation of fierce countenance who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young." The point we are emphasizing is that they would be overwhelmed by a nation whose language they did not understand.

Another passage that relates to this principle of judgment is in Jeremiah 5:15 NASB "Behold, I am bringing a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel," declares the LORD. "It is an enduring nation, It is an ancient nation, A nation whose language you do not know, Nor can you understand what they say.' This was written 100 years or more after the Isaiah passage as a warning to the southern kingdom of impending judgment there. They would hear in the streets of Jerusalem, God's holy city, a city that should be dominated by the language of the Hebrews, instead the language of foreigners, a language that they don't understand, and the hearing of that Gentile language in the streets will be a sign of judgment. It is not what is said, it is that they have Gentile languages in God's city in the promised land of Israel. This is the sign of judgment.

So Paul picks up on the principle of Isaiah 28:11, 12 and says this is the principle of the gift of tongues in the New Testament. Why did this happen? After the 586 BC dispersion Jews ended up going to all the areas of Asia Minor, over to Rome and Greece, down in to Egypt, and there were large colonies of Jews in Persian and Parthia. The Jews were now scattered throughout Gentile languages. Only a small number returned to Israel in the return under Ezra, Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. But there was still, under the period known as the diaspora in the period from roughly 400 BC to the time of Christ, large colonies of Jews all over the ancient world. They are living in the midst of Gentile cultures, listening to Gentile languages. Now why suddenly in the gift of languages would that be a sign of judgment? How can hearing Gentile languages be a sign of judgment? Only by making it miraculous; that suddenly people who didn't know these other languages are speaking those other languages. That is what is going to grab their attention. Otherwise if you are a Jew living in there various places you were hearing various languages day in and day out, it was nothing special and no sign of judgment. But on the day of Pentecost there was suddenly a group of men in Jerusalem, God's city, speaking in a miraculous way all manner of Gentile languages to those Jews who had come back on pilgrimage for the Pentecost feast day. They are going to hear "the marvellous works of God," which is what the text says, it doesn't define it as the gospel. It probably included the gospel but it would have included many other things as well. It is not that tongues was given for evangelism, it is given as a sign of judgment, that Israel is about to be taken out in the judgment of the fifth cycle because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. That occurred in AD 70. The sign of that judgment was the same sign that was the sign of judgment to the northern kingdom and to the southern kingdom in th4e ancient world, and that was the sign of hearing Gentile languages where they wouldn't have expected it.

1 Corinthians 14:21 NASB "In the Law it is written, 'BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,' says the Lord."

They had a real opportunity, even after Pentecost, to accept Jesus Christ as Messiah. When John the Baptist came he said: "If you change your thinking now about who Jesus is and about how to have a relationship with God based on grace then the kingdom will come." Jesus had the same message: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The disciples had the same message: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." If the Jews had changed their mind about grace instead of following the Pharisees and the Sadducees and trying to earn righteousness, and had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, the kingdom would have come in in the first century. They still appear to have that opportunity after Pentecost—Acts 3. When Peter preaches he said: "If you respond the times of refreshing will come." That is an allusion to Millennial blessing. Up until 70 AD there is this sign or warning of judgment in tongues, "unless you respond." Hypothetically they could have changed.

1 Corinthians 14:22 NASB "So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but [contrast] prophecy {is for a sign,} not to unbelievers but to those who believe." The words "for a sign" in this verse is not in the original. The second half of the verse should read: "but prophecy is not for unbelievers but for those who believe."

Summary of this verse:

a)  It clearly states that tongues is for a sign. This is the Greek word semeion [shmeion] the word also used of miracles and it indicates that something signifies or is a sign post. It points to something else.

b)  A sign is some event which is designed to warn or to confirm a promise of blessing or judgment, but it is something that is going to be miraculous.

c)  Tongues is a sign to unbelievers. This does not mean it is preaching the gospel, although it may include that it doesn't means that tongues is evangelism. It doesn't indicate the content of the foreign language speech at all, it simply says that the hearing of this miraculous event, the speaking in Gentile languages, is a sign of judgment. All it emphasizes is the miraculous occurrence of the foreign Gentile languages to Jews, that this would be a warning of judgment. They didn't necessarily have to be present. Obviously they were present on the day of Pentecost and there were other events in Acts where this took place and there were Jews present, but they didn't have to be present.

d)  Prophecy is not said to be a sign in this passage; prophecy is for believers, for edification. The emphasis of this section is to put the emphasis on edification, not on this pseudo experience of speaking in tongues. The legitimate gift of tongues for a sign to unbelievers.

1 Corinthians 14:23 NASB "Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" Some would say this seems to be a contradiction. First of all Paul says that speaking in tongues is a sign to unbelievers, now he is saying that if the church is assembled together and there is speaking in tongues and an unbeliever enters in they will think you are mad. But read the verse carefully. Paul is going back to his main theme of edification. He says if the whole church assembles together "and all speak in tongues." Circle the word "all," that is the important word here. If everyone, just like you did in your pagan worship in the mystery religions, is jabbering in this ecstatic gibberish, then it is a sign of bedlam and confusion. The word "ungifted" is the Greek word idiotes [i)diwthj], and it can refer to either an ungifted person or an unlearned person. Probably Paul is referring to someone who comes in and doesn't know what is going on. He doesn't understand the gospel, he is not saved, he has no idea what is going on in the church, he has just decided to walk in off the street and find out what these Christians are up to. They will say you are mad, the Greek word mainomai [mainomai]. They were in a frenzied state, barely articulate. In contrast, Paul is saying, v. 24.

1 Corinthians 14:24 NASB "But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all." The word "convicted" elegcho [e)legxw], to convince or to convict, the word that is used in John 16:8-11 ; "called to account" is anakrino [a)nakrinw], to give an account, to be accountable. In John 16 the Lord Jesus Christ is talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit and His ministry during the church age: John 16:8 NASB "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; [9] concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; [10] and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; [11] and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged." This is the operation of God the Holy Spirit in the process of witnessing to an unbeliever, convincing the unbeliever in terms of the truth of the gospel. Three things: sin, righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit is convicting the unbeliever that he is a sinner and have rejected Christ. Second, of righteousness, i.e. they don't have the kind of righteousness that God the Father requires, His perfect righteousness. Of judgment because Satan has been judged and sin has been taken care of by the cross. Those are the three elements present in any witnessing situation. And this is what we have in verses 24 & 25 of 1 Corinthians 14, that in the context of hearing prophesy, divine revelation in their own language, the unbeliever is going to be convinced of its truth. This is what happens through the hearing of the Word of God, 2 Timothy 3:16 NASB "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof [e)legxw], for correction, for training in righteousness." It is the word of God that convinces of the truth. They hear the truth, they are convinced of it, and then it calls them to account before the judgment of God, before His righteous standard, and they realize their need for salvation.