If tongues were simply the gift of speaking another human language (which many times it is) why did Paul refer to speaking with the tongues of “men and angels?” What is the language or tongues of angels?
If tongues only severed the purpose of evangelism and were only for those who lived in the days of the first apostles, then why would Paul speak with the tongues of angels? What group of people spoke in that language? Is there any nation that speaks in the tongues of angels? What purpose would speaking the language of angels serve in evangelism?
If the gift of tongues were simply the ability to speak another language so that the one speaking could communicate the gospel to people in their own native language, then what purpose does the gift of the interpretation of tongues serve? If those who are hearing the tongues hear the message and understand it in their language why would it need to be interpreted?
According to the scriptures, the interpretation of tongues is as much a gift of the Spirit as speaking in tongues is. Both are mentioned as gifts of the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 12:10. If speaking in other tongue is a supernatural gift, then so is the interpretation of tongues.
If tongues were for evangelistic purposes then why would Paul give instructions on the proper use of tongues in a public assembly in contrast to the use of tongues in personal devotion? How would tongues in personal devotion serve the purpose of evangelism?
Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians with regards to tongues and the interpretation of tongues are as follows: “If any man speaks in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. If there be no interpreter (present in the church assembly), let him keep silence IN THE CHURCH; and let him SPEAK TO HIMSELF, AND TO GOD.
Paul instructs those who would speak in tongues, to keep silence IN THE CHURCH if there is no interpreter present (i.e., if there in no one present with the gift of the interpretation of tongues). Notice that Paul says to keep silence in the church; yet, he encourages them to speak to themselves and to God, meaning privately they could speak in tongues in their personal devotion to God. Obviously then, there is value and benefit to speaking in tongues in our own personal prayer lives,
There is a difference between the simple gift of tongues in the life of a believer that is a blessing in our private prayer life, and the function of tongues in a public assembly.
In 1 Corinthians 14 we can see that speaking in tongues serves to bless us in our personal devotion but in a public assembly it should be interpreted so that others will be edified also. That is why Paul says the following.
“Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, MY SPIRIT PRAYETH, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I WILL PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT, and I will pray with the understanding also: I WILL SING WITH THE SPIRIT, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt BLESS WITH THE SPIRIT, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but THE OTHER is not edified. I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: YET IN THE CHURCH I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.”
Notice that when Paul says he spoke in tongues more than them all he is referring to his personal devotion because in contrast, he says “yet IN THE CHURCH I’d rather speak in my understanding to teach others.”
The Bible makes the distinction between the use of tongues in private devotion and its function in a public assembly. It’s the same gift but a different use or function of that gift.
In 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul addresses the proper use of this gift as well as other gifts within the body so that the body will be edified. Edifying the body of Christ and meeting the needs of others is to be our aim when the Spirit is in manifestation in our midst.
In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul says to follow love and desire spiritual gifts but rather that you may prophesy, because prophesy edifies the body of Christ. Paul also tells them, “forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” The underlying emphasis of 1 Corinthians 12-14 is the function of the gifts of the Spirit for the edification of the body of Christ. That is why Paul places emphasis on love in chapter 13, calling it the more excellent way at the end of chapter 12. Love is the more excellent way, not in contrast to the gifts but in view of the gifts.
The proper use of tongues needs to be taught by those who are gifted as teachers (which I am) because tongues were never meant to be a badge of spirituality. If it were, the Corinthians would have been the most spiritual group under Paul’s ministry because they were richly endowed and second to none in spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 1:6-7). Yet Paul calls them carnal and says that he could not speak unto them as unto spiritual but as to carnal,
Being spiritual, and being gifted are two entirely different things and much confusion and abuse happens when carnal people misuse the gifts. This was the problem with the Corinthians and the reason Paul had to address the issue and provide correction.
The Corinthians certainly had some things out of order, yet Paul doesn’t tell them to stop it altogether. Instead he gently corrects them by showing them the right way to do things. Paul tells the Corinthian believers to follow after love and desire spiritual gifts. This is the more excellent way.