March 09, 2021 – Tuesday
1 Corinthians 14:21-22 NIV
21 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.” [Isaiah 28:11-12]
22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.
These verses are at the root of many church divisions today. But it was not so when Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. The first thing to note is that verse 21 above is from Isaiah 28:11-12 and has a much different meaning than verse 22. While our primary interest is in the latter as it has two references to believers and unbelievers alike, we will look at verse 21 first to show why they must be approached separately.
Verse 21, 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.” First let us see how closely Paul quoted Isaiah 28:11-12, Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom He said, This is the resting place, let the weary rest”; and, “This is the place of repose”—but they would not listen. Paul clearly got the verse correct, but what is it about, what is God saying and to whom? God was talking through the prophet Isaiah to Judah and Judah was not listening to His message to them. So God used another way to make the hard-hearted listen to His message, through a foreign language they would not understand, that of the Assyrian army as it invaded and conquered Judah as a judgment upon His people who would not listen to Him. Thus in Isaiah the strange tongues were a curse, not a blessing.
A natural question arises, why this story preceding a verse on tongues and prophecy? It is a warning! Clarke writes, Take heed that it be not the case now: that, by dwelling on the gift, you forget the Giver; and what was designed for you as a blessing, may prove to you to be a curse. For if, because you have the gift of tongues, you will choose for your own aggrandizement [glorification] to use them in the public congregation where none understands them, God may curse your blessings. I wonder if only the Jewish members of the Corinthian church would understand or if Paul took the time to explain so others would understand as well? Maybe, but perhaps this being not a sermon, but a written letter, it would be examined in great detail until it was fully understood by everyone in the church.
With the above in mind, let us now look at the next verse, Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. Quoting Clarke once again, The miraculous gift of tongues was never designed for the benefit of those who have already believed, but for the instruction of unbelievers, that they might see from such a miracle that this is the work of God; and so embrace the Gospel. And Clarke then comments about prophesying, Teaching the things of God in a known language is of infinitely more consequence than speaking in all the foreign tongues in the universe.
Remembering tongues are for unbelievers, what happens if an unbeliever enters a church, and everyone is speaking in tongues? The very next verse (23) answers that question, 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? Of course, as there is no order and why is everyone speaking in tongues? After all tongues are for a sign to unbelievers. In the time when this was written, tongues would not be expected in the church, but upon the Holy Spirit falling on the unbelievers as they became believers as evidenced in Acts again and again.
The next two verses (24-25) address prophesying in the church, 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!” I cannot imagine this happening, except the pastor or preacher prophesying by quoting from the Bible and everyone agreeing with it, all in a language the unbeliever can understand. Then he or she very well may be convicted of the truth of their sin and come to worship God!
Prayer: Father God – Be with me and help me to always contribute to order in any church You have me in and to never take Your glory as my own. – In Jesus name. Amen.