Amazingly, while many people speak about the gift of tongues, whether they exist or don’t exist, one aspect we tend to forget is how we use the language (i.e., tongue) that God has given us now.
Jump with me to 1 Corinthians 14:23-25:
23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
Tongues, Paul says, are a sign for unbelievers. When Peter, skeptical that God would send his Spirit to all the nations to show them His glory and His work through Jesus, we read in Acts 10:44-47:
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
What’s the point? The point is that God used this sign (not the gift, the sign) to show the world that God was moving forward in bringing His message of the Gospel through the Spirit to the whole world. And, friends, we are the recipient of that. God used His messengers through the Spirit and the gifts that He bestowed to take the message of the gospel, of which we are a recipient.
Dear Christians, unbelievers will enter into your life and your church. So how are we using the language God has given to us? Let me show you how some use them. In Romans 1:28-32:
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
How many times have we seen Christians come together, and use their tongues not for the purpose of building up believers in the faith, but to tear down other believers and leaders that God has put in their path? Rather than going and speaking directly to the person, they gossip and slander and become insolent, arrogant, boastful! Many of these sins in place are right up there with the flow of the argument—God giving people over to their desires, their sexual sins.
Alan Redpath calls us to think when it comes to what we’re getting ready to say. It’s an acronym:
T–Is it true?
H–Is it helpful?
I–Is it inspiring?
N–Is it necessary?
K–Is it kind?
If what I am about to say does not pass those tests, I will keep my mouth shut! And it worked!
But really, it’s not just about what we shouldn’t say, it’s about being clear regarding the person and work of Christ both in private, and in this case in public. Prophesy and preaching and teaching about Jesus and His death and resurrection as the only hope for the forgiveness of sins and eternal must be crystal clear. Intelligible. Distinct. Do we have that? When we tell people phrases we’re used to like, “Ask Jesus into your heart” or “Won’t you walk the aisle?”
You see, I fear that many in our churches in America believe that the church exists for them. The spiritual gifts exist for them. God in heaven simply exists to meet our needs. We can only worship if the music is just right, the curriculum is just right, if the money is spent just right. Do you see what’s happening? Everything can come down to the fact that many believe that everything exists for them! But vv 24-25 shatter that. Clarity about the gospel, about Jesus’ person and work will convict as worked by the Spirit. We want to be clear to call everyone to repent and believe the gospel as Jesus said. We want to be clear to our family and friends about the gospel—and that our words and our actions match!
The entire point of 1 Corinthians 14 is that of clarity so that the church would be built up! Outward love toward others always trumps simply building up oneself, whether it’s speaking in tongues or in any other aspect of our Christian walk. But we all speak in a language–how are we using that for God’s glory and building up the church?