1 Corinthians 14:22


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. 1 Corinthians 14:22

“Therefore” comes as a result of everything Paul has said to this point concerning tongues. His final note thus far, which is included in this, but to which “therefore” is not limited, was a quote from Isaiah concerning the speaking of a foreign language to the Jewish people who had refused to hear and pay heed to the word of Lord in the language that they knew. Such a tongue (a known, but foreign language) is “for a sign.”

As Paul says elsewhere –

“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom.” 1 Corinthians 1:22

The Jews needed a sign and they were given that sign. It came at Pentecost and it was spoken in all the languages of those present at the time. This display was for the benefit “not to those who believe but to unbelievers.” Only God could cause the words of a group of men who didn’t speak the language of the hearers present to have their voices speak in a tongue they understood. It was a validation of the religion which the disciples already professed that was based on the Person and work of Jesus; the gospel that He proclaimed and which they continued to proclaim.

Therefore, churches (and there are many of them) that claim that tongues are an “initial evidence of Holy Spirit Baptism” have fundamentally misunderstood both the purpose of tongues and the sealing of the Holy Spirit. If a person is already a believer, they are sealed with the Spirit and saved. As tongues are a sign not to believers, but to unbelievers, it is obvious that the false tongues they speak are simply an ostentatious display bordering on that which is ludicrous.

Understanding the purpose of tongues, Paul next contrasts that to prophesying. He notes that as tongues are a sign to unbelievers, “prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.” To prophesy is to take the word of God and explain it and declare it in a coherent, reasonable manner. If someone doesn’t believe that the Bible is the word of God, then all the explanation of Scripture in the world will have no effect on the person.

Only after they have accepted that it is what it claims to be does it make any sense to proclaim it to that person. But once a person comes to believe in Christ, then they have a basis for hearing the word explained to them. They will have the desire to know Him, to learn what He commands, and to be obedient to those commands.

A sign then is a validation for something which is as yet unknown; in this case “belief.” Prophesying is an edification of something which is known. If tongues are a sign in hopes of belief, then why would they be spoken in a church which is intended as a place of edification? It makes no sense. Paul will explain this in the next two verses.

Life application: The gathering together of the saints is for the edification of those saints. If unbelievers come in among them, they need to see order, not disorder. They need to see people being edified, not stupefied. Let us consider this as we gather.

I am so abundantly grateful to You Lord. Though I have had many trials in my life, for the most part they have been self-inflicted wounds. But when I stay close to Your word, I find that my life is just where it should be and that things are just as they need to be. The reason for the trials that do come is much clearer and nothing is really out of control. This is why I’m so grateful to You. Your word is a light to my path and a lamp to my feet. It makes the dark turn to light and the trials are merely stepping stones leading me to Your door. Thank You Lord. Amen.


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