- Why is clarity important for individual believers?
- Why is clarity important for believers together?
- How does this shape our motivation to pray together, and the way we do that?
- Look up Isaiah 28v9-13. What is the purpose of unintelligible tongues there?
- What then will tongues point unbelievers to?
- What will prophecy point an unbeliever to?
- Summarise the big idea of v1-25.
- How can we ensure that our meetings have clarity?
Whilst an uninterpreted tongue has some benefit for the individual exercising it is more beneficial if what is happening is understandable. The tongue-speaker's spirit is able to speak to God and be edified, however their mind is unfruitful. What they should do? The greater good will come if they ask God for interpretation. That way their mind and spirit are both fruitful. Paul isn't down on tongues at all - its a gift from God which he has more than anyone else. Nonetheless its richer for an individual not just to have tongues, but also interpretation so that they will understand what they're praying.
For the gathered Christians
Gifts exercised without being intelligible don't benefit the believers, however if a prayer is understood then others can say “Amen” and their faith is built up. This is a massive challenge to us to pray together, and to see that benefits one another. My faith grows by hearing and agreeing with someone elses prayer. Amen is not a mumble to close a prayer but a means of growth, a strong agreement in the gospel! Let us pray together in plain language. Let's not speak in languages we don't understand - no need to pray in old English as if to be more spiritual. Useful prayer for the Christian community requires the ability to understand one another.
For the unbeliever who comes in
We're given a reference from Isaiah which speaks of how an unintelligible message from God proves unbelief. What happens is that Israel will not listen to plain prophecy. God exposes their sin and calls them to repent in clear words. Since they don't listen he proves his judgement on them by using words they can't understand. The strange words become a sign of judgement on unbelieving Israel.
From this Paul posits that tongues are a sign for unbelievers – in that if everyone speaks in uninterpreted tongues an unbeliever will say the church is mad. We expect a sign will point people to believing. But, Paul says tongues act as a sign of judgement on an unbeliever. Their unbelief is exposed as they can only conclude that God's people are insane. Strange language cannot benefit an unbeliever, its only benefit is to expose unbelief and prove judgement on them. That's hardly a goal that Christians would want to pursue.
Prophecy however is a sign for believers, in that an unbeliever will come in and be convicted of sin when they hear it. They hear God's word plainly and can be convicted of sin. Not only does plain language benefit the individual believers faith, and that of Christians together, it also has an incidental evangelistic benefit. Or, rather a really powerful affect as God's word (in the form of prophecy) brings about conviction of sin and new life!
All contributions to a Christian meeting must have clarity.