If we all keep speaking in our angel languages, then who will teach, who will prophesy, who will work miracles or healings? He names them because they exist as separate for each person, not some unified whole; everyone’s different, and gets different spiritual gifts as a result. And yet…
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
If you do ALL that stuff, express your spiritual gifts, and become a wonder worker for Christ, without love you may as well quit it. That’s the point and focus here. If I have this ability and not love, I have nothing. Love is the defining characteristic of the Christian. God is love, Love is God; if I don’t have love, then how can I be a Christian!? This was what the Montanists miss: all the theatrics don’t amount to a hill of beans without grounding in God’s essential nature. That’s why, I would argue, that verses 8 and following actually show Paul telling of the coming end of such gifts:
Love never fails; but if there are gifts ofprophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
The “showy” gifts, as I would call them, will pass away when the perfect comes. I would wager Scripture gives us that knowledge that tongues and prophetic knowledge (in the sense of future predictions and Words from on high) ended when the Scriptures were written, came together, and brought us “the perfect”. That doesn’t mean we cannot interpret it wrong, or use it to justify the most heinous of acts, but the 66 books came together for a distinct reason. We have all that we need, so why try to gussy it up with all sorts of surface-level theatrics? We can go even further here with chapter 14, which describes the ultimate failing of most modern”tongues” enterprises: where is the interpreter?
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. 4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.
Paul characterizes this rather negatively, and for good reason: rarely, if ever, do the words of a babbler help the Church. I have been in churches with interpreters, and they’ve been quite successful and wholly consistent with Scripture. That’s a rarity in today’s world, as the fun and excitement of random spiritual possession takes over cold, hard guidelines from Paul. I mean, seriously, are you up for discerning between spirits? Do you think you’ve got the ability to do that, even with your fallen nature? What would convince a Christian to even mess with such powers? I take 1 John 4 seriously on that tack, and so should we all.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is thespirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Everyone acts as if the Church, somehow, isn’t concerned with a rigorous and set standard for truth, and that we may vary on tiny incidental details. I am not one for such thinking because I have seen where it leads. How can a Church hope to unite in common cause when they do not believe in the same God with the same power? Perhaps I am thinking open theism, or “low” theistic thinking here (God isn’t all-powerful – what a world that would be to live in, huh?), but these are not concepts one could derive except through Scriptural writhing. It’s disingenuous to the text, if in fact it is sacred Scripture, to call one author’s ideas or another merely an opinion; why else would we keep this through the centuries if they were not believed?
Furthermore, tongues comes in a very specific format with very specific guidelines. Paul ensures that the Corinthians have this to discern true and false speakers of tongues, and we have not followed these mandates very well. It’s better than having a clanging gong sound and no one able to discern its ultimate meaning, right? I must say the metaphor Paul uses seems unerringly clear, yet I’ve never heard a single person who speaks in tongues regularly (or what appears as such, anyway) to cite chapter 14 in any way.
6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? 7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
Tongues lacks benet to the whole community, even though it may help the self. This is pride, and we all know where that takes us! There’s a reason why the earliest Christians felt pride was such a dangerous sin – it pits me against God, makes me superior to the creator of the universe. Tongues, more than any other gift, truly provides such an opportunity to puff one’s self up. It’s dangerous at its most ineffectual, and hence why I (and, apparently, Paul) think this way about it. But if you must, take verse 27 and the following seriously:
26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; 28 but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.