Troublesome Topic: Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:22-25

1 Corinthians 14:22


So then, tongues are a miraculous sign,

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not to those who believe, but to the unbelieving; but prophecy is not for the unbelieving but to those who believe.


So we see that the proper use of the gift of speaking publicly in an unknown language serves as a miraculous sign to convince those who do not yet believe in Jesus. In contrast speaking God’s truth and showing how to apply it to life is not intended to help those who do not yet believe, but those who do believe and are ready to obey.


Here the comparison is between proper public tongues and prophecy. Public tongues (similar to what happened on Pentecost), is for unbelievers because it is intended to convince them to believe in Jesus. In contrast, prophecy (exhorting or admonishing about one’s spiritual condition) is for believers because it assumes one is ready to obey.

The need for the miraculous is made clear by the use of the word which does not mean simply “a sign,” but rather “a miraculous sign.” Satan’s counterfeit has eliminated the miraculous, enabling men and women to control the expression of the “gift” without having to depend on God’s spirit to do what mere man cannot do. Therefore, such action is not a gracious gift of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 14:23


Therefore, if the whole assembly comes together in the place, and if it were to happen that everyone speaks in [unknown] tongues, and on top of this some who are their own person

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or  faithless

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ones come in, will they not say you are raving mad?

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Therefore, if the entire church comes together at the place of worship, and if everyone present were to speak in strange tongues according to the type of speech you made up for public demonstrations, and on top of this if a clueless  person were to come in to join you, or if a person came in who was opposed to believing in Jesus, would they not say that you have lost your minds?


Just prior to this verse Paul said that tongues served to persuade the unbeliever, but here he contradicts that – unless the first one was talking about true public tongues as seen at Pentecost, and here he is addressing the counterfeit form of tongues, which is also public, but which lacks the power of the Holy Spirit. Notice that the counterfeit does not convince unbelievers to trust in Jesus, rather it convinces them of, well, uhmm, something extremely embarrassing.

Notice that he placed the word “clueless” (we get our word “idiot” from this word) in their minds by asking “What if some people come to your meeting who are not just unbelievers, they’re clueless about all things spiritual?” Then, after setting them up by putting this picture of clueless people into their minds, he hits with the harsh truth that they, the Corinthian believers, are the “clueless idiots!” Even a person that is considered clueless (an idiot) has enough sense to evaluate the situation and determine that “These people are worse off than I am – they’re raving mad.”

If it seems like Paul was really hard on the Corinthians, he was!


If you can turn something on and off at will, it is not from the Holy Spirit. We cannot control Him; He must guide and empower us!

True tongues is something that cannot be learned by repeating a phrase.

If it can be taught by one human to another, it is not from the Holy Spirit. I have had people explain to me how to speak in tongues, and I have had someone try to teach me how to do it. True tongues is not something that can be coached.

One of the temptations surrounding tongues is to try and force God’s hand by artificially speaking in tongues, i.e. doing so by our own volition. The other temptation is to normalize the miraculous by artificially speaking in tongues often but still calling it a miracle.

If someone says or implies that everyone should speak in tongues, he is violating the principle that everyone does not receive the same spiritual gift. Most of chapter 12 of I Corinthians (vv 8-30) is dedicated to this principle. Such a strong emphasis on this principle may indicate that some of the Corinthians were trying to convince the entire congregation that everyone should speak in tongues.

The problem comes from not handling your gift in love. If you were anointed by God, no one would remember you, they would only remember what God did because it is about Him, not us. We are only the messengers; no one remembers the messenger, just the message. They should remember who the message came from but not the person it came through.

Ignoring the topic of tongues does not unite, it only unites those that already agree with those ignoring tongues.

As a side-note – In the Scriptures we never find someone falling backwards when confronted by God or His Spirit, only falling forward before God. Falling forward is an act of the will and a symbol of submission.

We respect the power and effectiveness of a gift of the Holy Spirit and honor God’s sovereignty over such gifts by staying as far as we can from any counterfeit of those gifts, be it false generosity, staged healings, helping others for the wrong reasons, redefining of prophecy, or speaking in tongues in a way that violates the rules for spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 14:24


However, if everyone were to be prophesying and some faithless person or one who is his own person comes in, he is convicted

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by all; he is investigated

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by all,


However, if an unsaved person or someone who is clueless as to the ways of God joins your gathering while you are all speaking words of exhortation from God’s word and challenging each other to live for God’s glory, he will be convicted of the ways in which he lacks what is being talked about; the content of these exhortations examines his soul and proves it is lacking,

1 Corinthians 14:25


the secrets of his heart will be made clear and thus, after falling on his face, he will kiss toward God,

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declaring that “Surely, God is in you!”


and those doing the exhorting will describe this newcomer’s spiritual need in a way that makes it seem like they can read his mind and his heart (it is not them but the Holy Spirit who is doing that), and then, after responding by falling to his knees in repentance, he will worship God, in part because their exhortations convinced him that “Surely, God is present here among you.”


The exhortations to live a godly life will pierce the sinner’s soul and he will feel like he is being interrogated, or that his mind is being read, not by the believers, but by the Holy Spirit. The precision and power of this conviction will persuade the unbeliever that God is at work in that place, and that He knows everything about him, and yet wants him to repent and receive forgiveness. In order for these exhortations to have that kind of effect, they need to be done in love. When a person hears the truth presented in love, it has much more of an effect on him than when truth is presented alone.

We should ask ourselves

Have I ever ignored God’s voice for so long that He had to resort to extreme measures to get my attention?

Do I sometimes eliminate the God-factor by doing it all with my own effort, abilities and smarts?

Do I trust and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in my life, even if it’s unpleasant and hard?

Am I happy to be God’s messenger without getting any credit?

Do I allow love for others to guide the use of my spiritual gifts?

The next lesson in the Full Series on Tongues is Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:26-28



The word I have rendered “miraculous sign” carries with it the implication that it must be something miraculous in order to be a sign or a confirmation or authentication. It emphasizes the end purpose which exalts the one giving the sign. It is always something that mere man cannot do, cannot replicate, and cannot take credit for.

2: "their own persons”:

This word literally means to “be one’s own self.” However, although we use that idea to mean an independent person, which we see as a good thing, the Greeks of that time used it in a negative sense, of someone who “lacked education, status, refinement; a person who was uncultured, unskilled and illiterate.”  “Clueless!” We get our word “idiot” from this word, and it sounds a bit like our word “idiot.”


This word means “without faith.” We get our word “apostate” from this Greek word.


“to rage, to rave, to be mad, to be full of fury, to be out of one’s mind with anger,” also “temporarily deranged.” We get our English words “mania, maniac and maniacal” from this Greek word.


This word means “to convict, to find guilty, convince with solid evidence, expose as guilty” also “to reprove, rebuke, discipline, admonish or chasten.”


“investigated”:  This word comes from the preposition “up” and the verb “to judge,” thus “to judge up.” The preposition “up” intensifies the verb and gives it an emphasis on the process needed to make the action happen. In the case of judging, the process leading up to judging requires examining, investigating, even interrogating, in order to gather enough evidence to judge properly. Helps word studies says it this way, “to distinguish by vigorously judging down to up, i.e. closely examining (investigating) through the process of careful study, evaluation and judgment.” Therefore, this word is usually rendered something like “examine, investigate, or question.”


“Kiss toward”: This word is made up of the preposition “toward” and the verb to kiss. It referred to  someone falling down at the feet of a superior and kissing their feet or the ground in front of them. This level of humility and submission is at the heart of worship and therefore this word is often rightly translated “worship,” but it comes from “to kiss [the ground] toward.”