Chapter 11: Tongues of Men and Angels

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." 1 Corinthians 13:1
Opening Prayer: Father, I want to experience all the gifts that Your Holy Spirit will give me. Help me to grow in the knowledge and experience of your gifts, that I may become the person You would have me be. Amen.

A Peculiar Gift

This lesson is about adding joy and depth to your prayer life. You can experience a great deal in the Lord without the gift of tongues, but the experience of tongues is a blessing that I hope you receive.

We studied the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a previous chapter. In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, verses 11-14, we see why the gifts were given:

11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free - and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many. (NKJV)

When we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, we are baptized into the body of Christ. We are immersed into a life very different from our previous experience. Instead of being enslaved to our (sometimes harmful) body passions, we willingly submit to the nourishing Head-ship of Jesus Christ.

With His new life in our hearts through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He is our Head. We suddenly discover that we have a new role to play, as part of a much-larger body. We might not be happy with our present roles, but all roles are important to the survival of the body. Unlike physical body parts which are very specialized, you and I might discover ourselves playing different roles on different days - as the Holy Spirit directs.

You might find yourself very gifted in one respect, but absolutely clueless in certain other gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is normal. The Holy Spirit gives the gifts as He wills, not as we desire.

"Do all speak with tongues?"

Should everybody speak in tongues as evidence of Holy Spirit baptism? Some denominations have teachings like that. When I was a new believer, that doctrine caused me a lot of personal grief and confusion (more on this subject later). Fortunately, that doctrine can easily be dismissed by reading verses 27-30 of 1 Corinthians 12:

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (NKJV)

Notice that Paul repeats the principle that gifts are distributed by God to build up the Church, the body of Christ. God gives specific gifts to specific persons.

Notice, too, the wording of verses 29-30: "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?"

In both the English and the original Greek, the sentence structure demands a negative response. The reader is forced to say, "No, we all have different gifts and different roles in which to exercise these gifts." The Holy Spirit directed Paul to put this clear statement here for a reason - He knew false teachers would arise to confuse God's people.

The above-mentioned doctrine is problematic for another reason: the gift of tongues is the easiest to fake. In fact, I've seen TV ministers lead new believers into "baby-talk" exercises, getting them to make sounds that mimic tongues. This is outrageous and blasphemous. The Holy Spirit has power. When He chooses to speak through a yielded vessel, that person will not need to make baby talk.

A Tongues-Tied Teacher

Your teacher came to the Lord in a Baptist church that did not encourage operating in the gifts of the Spirit. So I visited a Mens' Meeting at a nearby charismatic church, and came forward to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Some men prayed for me but I didn't feel anything special. Singing angels didn't appear in the rafters. Tongues of fire didn't descend upon our heads. And I didn't speak with other tongues. Bummer.

Weeks went by, still no tongues. In the meantime, the Holy Spirit was using me strongly as a teacher to handicapped adults and in the outreach evangelism class. It seemed like I was operating in some of the gifts, but not tongues. Oddly enough, I'd see other people come to the Lord and get prayed for, and they'd start chattering in tongues right away, before they even knew why they should.

"Well, maybe the first prayer didn't work," I thought. Made another visit to that church and asked another couple of brothers to pray for me to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. This time, the group leader got two sentences into the prayer and suddenly stopped.

He looked at me and said, "You've already received the baptism of the Holy Spirit." I was dumbstruck. The Lord had interrupted the man's prayer and given him a Word of Knowledge. Something in my heart told me that the Word was 100% true.

"Well, I was prayed for, but didn't feel anything different afterwards," I said.

The brother then said one of the most profound statements I'd ever heard: "You must walk in the Holy Spirit baptism like you walk in your salvation: by faith, and not by sight or feelings." That was a Word of Wisdom, and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I can't remember what happened later, except that I still wasn't speaking in tongues. Still didn't feel Spirit-filled. So now what?

The Breakthrough

Throughout all this, my driving passion was to experience the Lord like Moses and David did. I wanted to know God as intimately as the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 16, verse 11:

11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I just knew that the Psalmist was telling the truth, and that inexhaustible joy was waiting for "whosover wills." But that joy seemed out of reach. Maybe the gift of tongues would help me break through.

After months of studying and praying, the day came when I couldn't wait any longer. Closed the book, got down on the floor and started praying. Told the Lord that I wasn't moving from that spot until I knew I was baptized with the Holy Spirit and fully connected to Him. After about 20 minutes, the Holy Spirit came over me in a most-unexpected way. Besides feeling His presence and His love, I began weeping for joy.


Weeping is a normal part of life for most people, but not for me. Your teacher was born with a very level-headed temperament. Mom used to say that I was an old man at two years old. Didn't laugh or cry much; just went about my business. Weeping was very unusual, until that prayer session. Ever since, weeping (or at least that welling-up feeling) has been one of the key ways that the Holy Spirit communicates His will to me.

Later I discovered the term "brokenness" and realized how it applies to believers. There are lots of other applications of brokenness in our daily lives:

Until that experience, I had been as doctrinally correct as a person could be. But I didn't experience the full depth of God's presence and power until I hit the limits of my strength.

Maybe your natural strength makes you feel smug and self-sufficient, but you shouldn't trust it. Your strength is worthless to God. He doesn't need your help. And He's willing to let you flounder and sink as long as you are in control of your own life. There is no combination of words (mis)quoted from Scripture that can force God to help you.

Psalm 34, verses 17-19, is a picture of what moves the Lord to help us:

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (NKJV)

If you're too comfortable to experience brokenness in prayer, then verse 19 above should make you think. Righteous people do experience afflictions, as we'll see in the chapters on "Brokenness" and "Blessings." The Lord will break us and re-shape us, if we permit Him. Likewise He will speak in tongues through us, if we permit Him.

Well, did you speak in tongues then?

No, and that was OK. Experiencing brokenness was quite sufficient. The Lord spoke to me in the brokenness, and that was what I really wanted.

Years later, I asked the Lord, "Why not tongues?" The Lord replied that too many charismatic pastors experienced tongues before they reached brokenness, and that too many teachers associated tongues with deep prayer. The Lord told me He wanted me to clearly teach about deep prayer and intercession as separate activities from the experience of tongues.

Years later, in a home fellowship group, the tongues began for me as a tickle in the back of my throat. Later it developed into more of a prayer language as I prayed and practiced.

The point is that God wants us to pursue Him in prayer. That is our primary responsibility as believers. We are commanded to seek His face whether we speak in tongues or not.

Continuing with our passage in I Corinthians, Paul conveys a profound truth in chapter 13, verses 1-3:

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (NKJV)

In our chapter on the Fruit of the Spirit, we saw that the Fruit of the Spirit is evidence of the Holy Spirit's life-changing work in our hearts. The fruit consists of character traits, of which love is foremost. If there is no love evident in your character, you'll have a difficult time convincing me that the Holy Spirit has been at work in your heart recently.

Let's see what these 3 verses tell us:

This passage echoes what Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:

22 "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (MKJV)

When the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart, love will be evident in your life. You will become more like Jesus, and He will know you intimately.

When people of different ages, genders and nationalities allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, they become more like Jesus and more like each other. Two people that selflessly love each other should find it easy to agree on important matters.

In the upcoming chapter on "Boldness," we will have more to say about the transforming power of God's love.

The Greatest of These

Paul summarizes 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 with this awesome thought:

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (MKVJ)

This verse should trouble a thoughtful reader. How can love be greater than faith? After all, we're saved by faith. And hope (in our eternal future) is a natural result of saving faith in Jesus. How can love be greater than these?

Love is greater because love, as God defines it, can only arise from the Holy Spirit working in the heart of a believer. Faith in Jesus must surely come first. But love, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, is the inevitable proof that the believer is both trusting and abiding in Jesus. God expects us to bear this fruit. Enough said.

Moving on to 1 Corinthians 14, let's read the first 2 verses:

1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. (MKJV)

Here are several important truths:

With the notable exception of the Day of Pentecost, the gift of tongues is not given to facilitate our communication between believers. Most of the time, other people will not understand what you say in tongues - and rightfully so. If the Holy Spirit wants you to communicate with other people, He will usually give you a prophecy, a word of knowledge or a word of wisdom.

The gift of tongues is a wonderful way to communicate with God. To speak in tongues is to permit the Holy Spirit to pray through you to God the Father. That's why the gift of tongues is often called our prayer language.

Besides communicating our prayer needs to God, the Holy Spirit speaks mysteries through us in tongues. In this context, mysteries are not detective puzzles. Mysteries are spiritual truths that are temporarily hidden from human knowledge. God may have a reason for having you pray a certain way to accomplish a special hidden purpose. In due time He may reveal the reason for the prayer, but for now it must remain a mystery.

Medical science tells us that the portion of the brain that controls speech (the cerebral cortex) also controls every other part of the body. Therefore to permit the Holy Spirit to speak through us is to permit Him to affect every part of our lives.

James alluded to this in his epistle, chapter 3 verses 2-4:

2 If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. (MKJV)

Verses 6-8 continue the thought of our lives being ruled by our tongues:

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by Hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (MKJV)

Note that verse 8 says " man can tame the tongue." And that is literally true. You and I are not capable of perfectly controlling our tongues for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

That's why the gift of tongues is so profound. If we permit the Holy Spirit to speak through us, we permit God to tame our tongues, at least temporarily.

Returning to 1 Corinthians 14, let's read verses 3-5:

3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. (NKJV)

Speaking in tongues, submitting to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, will build you up individually. That is a desirable goal. Paul, however, emphasizes that it is more desirable that we all prophesy, that we may build up each other in the body of Christ.

Verse 5 above reintroduces the concept of interpreting tongues. You'll discover that true interpretation is rare, because tongues are generally not given to the edification of the church group.

Tongues is a prayer language, when the Holy Spirit gives you words to pray that you normally don't understand. If the Holy Spirit gives you a prophecy, He will give it to you in a known language and you should speak it as such.

Special note to some friends: Prayer is supposed to be between you and God. It makes me sad when a person stands up to interpret a message in tongues and begins with the words, "Thus sayeth the Lord..." Actually that's a contradiction in terms. Other tongues are a prayer language. Do you normally begin your prayers by saying, "Thus sayeth the Lord..." to God? Of course not.

The Hebrew prophets began prophetic messages with the words, "Thus sayeth the Lord." Some modern-day religious folk imagine that they sound more spiritual by saying, "Thus sayeth the Lord." If you say that, please be very careful. God prescribed the death penalty for those who say, "Thus sayeth the Lord" when the Lord has not actually said it. Likewise, if the Lord gives you a word of prophecy, present it as such. Don't pretend that your word of prophecy is actually an interpretation of somebody else's prayer in tongues. Please set aside your denominational traditions and look at Scripture with fresh eyes.

Verses 6-12 give further cautions about speaking in tongues:

6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. (NKJV)

In Spirit-led worship encounters, many pastors and worship leaders have designated times during the services when people may pray or sing in tongues as a group. This is a wonderful experience when the pastors and leaders have bathed the service in prayer beforehand, and you can sense the love and power working through God's people in their praises.

It is common and normal to feel the Holy Spirit speak through you in tongues. It will usually be a precious, private matter between you and the Lord, even if you feel permission from the Holy Spirit to sing it out loud.

But what if the people standing next to you are first-time visitors? What if the phenomenon of speaking in tongues is new to them? What will they think?

Paul talks about this in verses 13-17:

13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. (NKJV)

Another insight: Interpretation need not be an event that interrupts the service to permit the interpreter to speak. In the example above, I might sing a prayer of praise to the Lord in a tongue. Then the Holy Spirit might poke me in the ribs, point to the couple next to me, and give me an interpretation to pray out loud for that couple's benefit. If the other couple is listening, they will be able to say "Amen!" in agreement to the prayer.

Paul says something very interesting in verses 18-20:

18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. (NKJV)

Why would Paul write verse 18? Why would it be necessary unless they almost never saw him speak in tongues? Perhaps they never saw him speak in tongues.

The implication is that some troublemakers were teaching that Paul wasn't really Spirit-baptized because they had never seen him speak in tongues.

Go back and read the Gospels and count how often Jesus commanded His disciples to speak in tongues. Contrast this with the number of times He commands us to love one another.

Who are the signs for?

Now we come to a brain-bending passage, verses 21 through 22:

21 In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord. 22 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. (NKJV)

At first glance, verse 22 appears to contradict everything we've just said. It appears to say that tongues are more helpful to unbelievers rather than believers.

Instead, we should notice that verse 21 is a quotation from Isaiah 28. Isaiah was speaking to his countrymen, fellow Israelites who refused to follow the Lord. Isaiah was predicting that these complacent folks would be conquered by "barbarian" nations; hearing those "barbarian" languages would be a sign that God had judged the godless Israelites. In this case, the unbelieving Gentile conquerors would speak unknown tongues to the unbelieving Israelites.

Remember that Jesus often spoke great truths in parables. Everybody heard the words, but most couldn't understand Him. The devoted believers always sought and received an interpretation from Jesus. The casual followers just shrugged and moved along without comprehending.

By contrast, prophecy consists of words inspired by God to be spoken through His believing servants and understood by all the listeners. The listeners will be convicted in their hearts that God has spoken through the prophet(s), and they will respond as believers.

Paul reinforces this concept in verses 23-25:

23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. (NKJV)

To summarize this point, in verses 21-23 Paul argues that nonbelievers will continue to be nonbelievers after hearing people speak in tongues. In verses 24-25, Paul declares that nonbelievers are brought under conviction by the Word of God, spoken in prophecy.

Moving forward, verses 26-33 give practical guidelines for charismatic worship services:

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (NKJV)

To repeat, our goal as a community of believers should be to edify the body of Christ. We should seek to strengthen ourselves personally, each other individually, and the group collectively. The latter two goals are foremost in our public worship services. When we gather as the body of Christ, we seek to become strengthened in our submission to Jesus, our Head. We will automatically be strengthened individually when we concentrate on ministering to the Lord and to each other.

Building the body through respect

We must be very careful to respect our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Nothing should be done to showcase or exercise our particular gifts at the expense of others. Every part of the body is valuable and important. Next time you are in a worship service, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how He views the person sitting in the next row. You might be surprised.

Remember that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. You are not obliged to broadcast a prophetic insight to the group as soon as you receive it. You should ask the Holy Spirit how and when and to whom He would have you deliver the message.

Remember that God is not the author of confusion but of peace. If your congregation is truly submitting to the leadership of the Holy Spirit during worship services, everyone will leave the services feeling blessed, strengthened, and centered in the peace of the Lord.

Are you ready for a little controversy? Try verses 34-36:

34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? (NKJV)

I've heard women criticize Paul as a mysogonist (psychologically imbalanced woman-hater). They are obviously ignorant of the true effect of Paul's writings. In the Greek and Roman cultures, women had no independent rights. Even Jewish men in Paul's day would pray, "I thank you, God, that I am not a Gentile or a woman." Paul was considered a radical feminist in his day by declaring women to be the equals of men.

Paul's epistles are very clear. In God's eyes, we are all equal in value and stature. However, God has ordained that we perform certain roles. God commands men to do the work of priests and kings. The priests and kings are expected to exercise their God-given authority in accordance with God's Law. They will be judged, by God, on how well they conveyed the image of Jesus to those under their authority.

As you have observed by now, men are independent, rebellious, and self-centered by nature. After we men come to the Lord, we are expected to abide in Jesus and become more like Him. God expects us to submit to the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

The Holy Spirit, over time, grows the fruit of the Spirit in our character. Then, and only then, is a man qualified to represent God. Only a humbled, compassionate heart is worthy to serve his congregation as a pastor. Only a humbled, compassionate heart is worthy to serve his wife as a husband. God does not appreciate men who are arrogant and prideful in their exercise of authority.

The point is that God is forever painting pictures for us. God is continually trying to shape men into the image of His Son, Jesus. God's plan is to use broken, submitted, compassionate men to make His love real for us. It truly is a miracle to see a God-fearing, broken, submitted, compassionate man.

Be a walking miracle

Ponder this: It is easier for women, by nature, to be God-fearing and compassionate. That's how God made women. In that respect, it would be easier for God to command women to be pastors because they are seemingly better qualified by nature. Yet that isn't God's plan. God's plan is for every pastor, every husband, every God-humbled teacher to be a walking miracle, and living proof that God is willing and able to change lives.

God's plan is for every man to gain strength and compassion by spending quality time in brokenness before Him. Women have different responsibilities. They are not inferior in any way. Just different. Women are naturally smarter in relationships and nurturing, and are brilliant at manipulating men to their own devices. That's why only a Spirit-led woman can truly submit to the leadership of a Spirit-led man, and sincerely give the respect that all men urgently need.

Are we off the subject of tongues?

Perhaps. But we're more concerned with the more-important subject of building up the body of Christ, and family units are the core element of the church. It's too easy for men and women to tear down their homes with their tongues, so this little digression is forgivable.

Let's finish with verses 37-40:

37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order. (NKJV)

That's pretty clear. "Decently" refers to our relationship with other believers, and "in order" refers to submitting to God's rules. Verse 40, therefore, echoes what Jesus said about the two greatest Commandments.

May the Lord continue to bless you as you study His Word and seek to build up your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Closing Prayer: Lord, I admit that my behavior in worship has not always been according to Your plan. Please change my heart to conform to Your will, and let me truly sing your praises, in tongues of men and angels, for all eternity. Amen!
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