Paul’s Pushback Against the Abuse of Tongues in Corinth

Paul continues to stress the theme of seeking the common good in 1 Cor. 14. 1-cor-14-1-ww-notrace1“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1). Note Paul’s command—“pursue love.” Then he follows it up with another command—“desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”

In the following section, Paul then cites the disadvantages of speaking in tongues vs. prophesying. Why did Paul raise this issue? The Corinthian church loved the gift of speaking in tongues. They thought that it was the spiritual thing in church. The problem is that they did not use their gift of tongues out of love for others. They did not care that nobody understood the tongues speakers. They did not mind that they did not bless people in church. They did not bless people because people did not understand what they were talking in tongues. There was no interpretation of tongues. Their practice of tongues speaking was self-serving. They were preoccupied with self-edification, which is the antithesis of the common good. In sum, their practice of tongues did not build up the church. They did not realize the fundamental purpose of all spiritual gifts—to build up the church.

Thus, Paul attacks not merely the misuse and abuse of tongues in Corinth, but also the wrong theology of tongues behind that misuse as well. First, Paul taught that not all can speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:31). They believed that all can speak in tongues. Second, Paul stressed that speaking in tongues without love or concern for others is nothing (1 Cor. 13). They spoke in tongues without concern for the common good. Third, Paul instructed them to pursue love, practice prophecy, and interpret the tongues for one purpose—to build up the church (1 Cor. 14). They spoke in tongues simultaneously and without interpretation.

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