Troublesome Topic: Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:39 & 40

1 Corinthians 14:39


So then my brothers, boil with zeal to prophesy, and do not cut off the speaking in [unknown] tongues.


Therefore, my brothers in the Lord, passionately desire that God give you the spiritual gift of admonishing and exhorting toward a more godly life, but at the same time, do not prohibit all speaking in tongues because that would curtail both the God-given, and the manmade, forms of it.


Because of the levels of self-centeredness, chaos and confusion present in the Corinthian congregation, I imagine that the letter sent to Paul may have asked him to prohibit all uses of tongues. In the mind of the person writing the letter, such a prohibition was the only way to deal with the problem that tongues had become. But Paul knew he could not make such a prohibition because there are proper uses of tongues which the Holy Spirit employs to great effect.

1 Corinthians 14:40


However, everything must be done with good form

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and according to an orderly arrangement by rank.

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However, everything that is done in your meetings must be done properly, by that I mean in a way that will not hinder the benefiting of others, i.e. not chaotic, not confusing, and you should not tolerate anyone stepping out of their proper ranking by abusing the privilege to speak or exercise a spiritual gift.


What was going on in Corinth also violated the rule which Paul had likely taught them while he was in Corinth, that everything needed to be done in an orderly fashion, the kind of order that resembles the ranks and lines of authority found in a military. God is a God of order, not disorder. Creation demonstrates that God is a God of order. After creating order in the natural world, God would not turn around and become the author of chaos and confusion.


The fact that Paul included in his discussion of tongues a section on the role of women in light of proper lines of authority, and the fact that he ended his comments about tongues with the word for “orderly arrangement by rank” tells me that women had a key role in the confusion and chaos brought about by the counterfeiting of tongues that was observed in Corinth.


In this chapter, Paul uses the word “tongues” to refer to three different things – the proper use of tongues in public (miraculously speaking in a foreign language that the speaker has not known before), the proper use of tongues in a private setting (praying with such a deep burden that the only sounds a person can make are such things as groans, grunts, and weeping), and the counterfeit form of tongues that the Corinthians appear to have come up with (babbling with highly repetitive, nonsensical utterances in a public setting). Paul did not clarify when he was referring to each type of tongues because his original audience had heard him teach on this topic and they knew what he was referring to. For us today, the way we can discern when Paul was referring to the counterfeit form of tongues is this: if it went against one of the “rules” about spiritual gifts that Paul states in this letter (and he probably taught these to them when he was with them in person), it must be the counterfeit form. Context reveals when the other statements in this chapter are referring to a private setting or a public setting; the private and public form of tongues should never be switched and used in the other setting.


  1. The topic of tongues is tied closely to the burning questions which preceded the use of the Urim and Thummim and the unveiling of a mystery.
  2. There were two different kinds of proper tongues – public and private. Both kinds followed the pattern of the Urim and Thummim, and both were made possible by the Holy Spirit, not created by man.
  3. Speaking in private tongues (praying in tongues) is also closely related to the unintelligible utterances associated with carrying a heavy burden.
  4. The Corinthians created a counterfeit form of tongues. In I Corinthians 14 Paul refers to all three types of tongues – the two proper forms of tongues (public and private), and the counterfeit.
  5. The only way we can know when Paul was talking about the counterfeit is this – if it did not adhere to the rules that govern spiritual gifts, it was the counterfeit.


  1. All spiritual gifts have been given for the benefit of others (I Cor 12:7)
  2. Spiritual gifts should produce unity in the body, not division ( I Cor 12:25)
  3. Spiritual gifts should be used in an “orderly arrangement by rank” (I Cor 14:40
  4. Keep the private things private. This means that the public and private forms of tongues should not be mixed, yet that is exactly what they did – they created a hybrid form which was neither public tongues nor private tongues. (This rule is not stated specifically, nor should Paul have to state it; the concept of keeping private things private should be obvious enough to go without saying. But beyond that, this rule is strongly implied by the fact that Paul does not let them get away with saying they were praying in their new prayer language. The main difference between Paul’s praying in tongues and their praying in tongues was that they did it out loud in public; he chastised them for this because they were violating the long-established and well-known rule of culture that says, “Keep private things private.”)


I will once again make the case that speaking in tongues in the proper way is an important thing; it is not something we should ignore. One way we can measure its importance is to look at the key topics of the Bible that are closely related to speaking in tongues.

Public Tongues are a part of evangelism and they demonstrate the heart of God for the lost and the outcasts of society. They are on the same level as healings and other miracles God does in public.

Praying in Tongues is associated with the Biblical concept of mysteries because it is part of the process by which God reveals things that He has kept hidden in the past; it is connected to a God-given burden which is one of the tools God uses to prepare us to work with Him and for Him by teaching us to feel what He feels for others; it is an example of true prayer because it demonstrates that God has shared His heart with us so we can come along side Him in His great causes; and it highlights the true meaning of prophecy. As prophets we receive inspired words from God and share them with others. Our words of admonition should bring others to the question, “What must I do to live in obedience?” (That is Thummim.)

Public tongues is an extension of the gift of evangelism, and private tongues is an extension of a specialization in prayer.

Silent or wordless communication fits well with the rest of Scripture, meaningless babble does not.


The Hebrew word for priest means “to put on regalia, or to deck oneself in order to officiate as a priest, or carry out the office of the priest.” At first it may seem strange that the word priest focuses so much on his clothing, but if we think about the symbolism behind everything he wore, it begins to make more sense. The Urim and Thummim were part of that regalia, and having them with him at all times made it possible to for him to carry out the special duty of discerning the will of God in tough situations.

The Latin word for priest means “bridge builder.” Through the Urim and Thummim, the High Priest served as a bridge between God and man in a unique way.

God has called all of His true followers to be His priests to this world (see I peter 2:9). God can give us a burden for those around us which will cause us to carry their hearts on our hearts, and also carry the heart of God in our hearts. We can become one of the ways in which the heart of God and the hearts of all people come together. We can become bridge builders in the special way that only the High Priest could under the Former Covenant.

Corrie ten Boom once asked a group of mentally challenged youngsters the question, “What is the difference between a prophet and a priest?” One young girl answered, “Both the prophet and the priest stand between God and man; the priest stands with his face toward God; the prophet stands with is face toward the people.”

We are called to be both priests and prophets. We are called to stand between God and other people, sometimes as priests and sometimes as prophets.


Yes! I believe that Paul’s letter was effective at shutting down the improper, abusive, counterfeit form of tongues in Corinth. From II Corinthians we know that the issue of blatant sexual immorality had been dealt with, and we can surmise that the abuse of tongues had stopped because it is not mentioned it at all in II Corinthians. It worked! His strong words of rebuke were effective at eliminating a dangerous and deceptive trend in the Corinthian Congregation.

I believe the same counterfeit, or ones like it, have resurfaced several times in history. The type of speaking in tongues that has become well-known since the late 1800s or the early 1900s  is not unique; it is one of several waves of deception that have plagued the Church since Pentecost.

I stated earlier that Paul did not write this letter with the intent that it be read in other congregations. So why was it included in the cannon of Scripture? I believe that the early church leaders saw that it was effective and had value for quelling the same kind of problems cropping up in other locations. It also helped that it was written by Paul, whom they had already accepted as an true Apostle, one through whom God gave mankind an eyewitness testimony about the redemptive work of Jesus.


Have you had experiences or heard stories about times that God seems to have honored the modern use of tongues by granting healings or other miracles? Is this proof that the modern use of tongues I not a counterfeit?

 I cannot say what someone’s personal experience means; all I can say is that we must bring our experience into agreement with God’s word, not change His word to fit our experience.

We are a package, an accumulation of various characteristics, some of which are spiritual. Of those spiritual issues, we are getting some of them right and some of them wrong. We always have room to grow. If God refused to work in us or around us because we didn’t have everything right, then God would never do anything in us or around us.

When God performs a miracle, such as a healing, after someone has prayed in their prayer language in the presence of others, many people assume this to be a validation of that type of tongues. However, I think God is looking at the full package that person brings, not just the fact that they prayed in tongues. At that moment, He chooses to focus on that person’s faith, passion, and commitment, and He chooses to temporarily ignore any lack of biblical understanding, doctrinal errors, susceptibility to deceit, or wrongful practices such as bad habits, etc. We cannot look at what God does or doesn’t do, and attribute it to one thing. God sees us as an entire package.

God is gracious to all of us even though we are weak, unwise, and sometimes choose the wrong methods. God is bigger than our weaknesses, so He can choose to honor our faith, commitment, and passion even if we have swallowed a lie about one specific aspect of the Christian life.


Here is a story told by Juan Carlos Ortiz, in his book Disciple. Once, he and his wife took a trip to a foreign country but did not take their young children with them. While there, they received mail from home that included drawings made by each of their kids. Upon receiving the envelope, they opened it immediately and invited the hotel employee who had delivered the mail to look at the pictures with them. They started with the oldest one’s drawing and exclaimed about how his skills were improving and how proud they were of him. As they went from oldest to youngest, the quality of the drawings got worse, but their excitement over the piece of work grew greater. When they got to the youngest one’s drawing, which consisted only of scribbles on a page, they lost their minds with excitement. They were jumping and shouting and telling the hotel employee how much they loved those scribbles.  

God gets excited about us in the same way. His love makes Him crazy about us. God is trilled by our faith, even though it is weak, by our commitment, even though it is flawed, by our passion, even though it is sometimes misdirected.


How can we be right about some things and wrong about others? Yet we all are. God does not force us to think a certain way about things; He expects us to study them and discern His mind, to learn how to think His thoughts after Him. So we should not be hard on someone who thinks differently than we do about issues that are not critical to salvation. None of this should be a surprise to us. Neither should we be critical of others, rather we should pray for each other. I should not pray that others think like I do, but that they draw closer to God and glorify Him as He desires.

Most of us have only heard two options – “Ignore it because speaking in tongues is only speaking in a foreign language, which does not affect me very much,” or – “Speaking in tongues is in the Bible and it is important; it was even part of the day of Pentecost! We should not ignore it!” Most of us didn’t know there was another option.

Those in Corinth who knew the real forms of tongues from Paul’s teaching but chose to create a counterfeit were guilty of glory-seeking. They knew what they were doing was wrong and they did it anyway. However, I do not speak so harshly of believers today, who have only known what I call the counterfeit, and have been told it is the real thing. Some people today probably are seeking self-glory, but some are just doing what they think is right because that is what they have been taught.


Some of us have ignored the issue of tongues and refused to talk about it, as if it were not in the Bible. We were wrong and have acted contrary to the teaching of the New Testament.

Some of us have criticized those who believe that tongues are for our time. We have been wrong and have acted contrary to the teaching of the New Testament.

Like those in Corinth, some of us have taken tongues in a direction it should not be taken, used it in ways that violate the rules that govern the exercise of spiritual gifts, and made a bigger issue of it than should be made. We have been wrong and have acted contrary to the teaching of the New Testament.

All of us should repent and determine to follow the Biblical perspective on tongues.


If we want to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, if we want to be used by God in extraordinary ways, we must follow the path of self-denial which is usually a long and arduous trek. We become sensitive to the Holy Spirit by getting very close to Him and we do that by daily absorbing God’s word, earnestly practicing prayer, and obeying the light that we have. The people who have become the subjects of our favorite Christian biographies were people who were faithful in the key spiritual disciplines I just described. Do not seek tongues or healings as a shortcut to the miraculous; there are not shortcuts to consistent infilling by the Holy Spirit. He fills those who are committed and surrendered.

The only way for us to have any spiritual gift is for God to give it to us. However, as we pray for the lost and show concern for the lost, we are getting closer to being ready for God to give us the gift of evangelism and possibly public tongues, should He so choose. As we pray over the burdens that God gives us, we will become more sensitive to God’s heart and it is likely that He will give us more burdens. He may or may not take us from there into the realm of true private tongues, but the possibility is there. As we learn to love God’s word and dedicate ourselves to studying it, we are preparing ourselves for God to use us in the areas of teaching and admonishing (prophesying). God will decide who gets those gifts, but the more consistently we follow our God-given passions the more likely it is that God will use us in some special way to minister to others for which He often gives special ministry gifts that we don’t deserve.


Unity requires that we put others first; it requires love. Self-centeredness pulls in the opposite direction and brings the opposite results. Therefore, we must put others first in the use of our spiritual gifts and determine to only use them to minister to others.

It is not necessary to speak in tongues in order to prove we have the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is not summarized, completed, or fulfilled through tongues or in any gift of the Spirit; it is summarized and completed through an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, which is demonstrated by love. Loving others is not an option; it is a command.

When we focus on anything or anyone other than Jesus, we open ourselves up for division in the church.“When the church is focused on the Holy Spirit, rather than on Jesus, it is not the Holy Spirit who is directing that focus. He will always point to Jesus” (Eric Ludy).


It is division of purpose that we should be concerned about. Counterfeit tongues divides the church because it moves the purpose away from God and places it on self.

While tuning a piano, the only way to bring the piano into functional unity is to tune it to a standard that is outside itself, such as an electronic tuner. For followers of Jesus, the Bible is that standard; it shows us what our purpose should be. Unity in the church does not mean that we should eliminate differing points of view on the minor issues, but that we should all come in line with the Scripture on points of importance for salvation, and agree to love each other despite our disagreements on lesser points. Since speaking in tongues is a minor issue, not a salvation issue, I choose to love, appreciate and esteem my brothers and sisters who still speak in tongues according to the popular method they have been taught.


Therefore, I trust you will resolve with me to do the following:

  • I will speak only good things about other believers; I will not criticize those who speak in tongues, or those who do not.
  • I will use all spiritual gifts in the ways they were intended.
  • I will do everything I need to do in order to get closer to God every day. 
  • I will focus on loving others and serving them.
  • I will seek to be close enough to God that He can do whatever He wants in and through me. If that involves tongues, fine; if it does not, fine.
  • I will Seek the long, arduous route to joy, peace and fruitful service rather than a quick short-cut.
  • I will Seek to always give glory to God rather than point to my own accomplishments.
  • I will seek to better understand the heart of God and desire that my heart become more like His heart.
  • I will open my heart to see the pain and burdens of others.
  • I will ask God to break my heart with what breaks His heart.


God wants to free us from the self-centered burdens that weigh us down, and then give us some burdens of a different kind – His burdens. But His burdens are easy to bear (Mt 11:30), and when we receive His burdens, we will find rest for our souls (Mt 11:29); we will be at home where we belong, thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

So many people are carrying burdens of various kinds. They seldom talk about their pain, but God can show us that they are living with emotional pain and responding to it in ways that create more pain. We should be overcome with the burning question of how to show God’s love to the people who are burdened down with emotional pain.

One of the reasons God wants us to pray is for us to learn the mind of God.

Private tongues is weeping for the things God weeps for.

A wet-eyed preacher will never preach dry sermons – (Leonard Ravenhill). Before we can work for God, we must feel the heart of God. Burdened prayer is how we learn His heart.

We need to ask Him to help us love what He loves and hate what He hates. We need to beg Him to break our hearts with what breaks His heart. And He will do so, but in small ways that do not totally crush us. Actually, He can give us a burden or break our hearts without us asking Him specifically to do so; it is often a byproduct of getting closer to Him. But by asking Him to break our heart with what breaks His heart we show that we understand this fundamental concept and that we want more of Him. By doing this, we will become more likely to receive burdens from God, whether speakable or unspeakable.

If we don’t pray for people, we will seldom notice their burdens and their pain. God wants us to pray for others so that our sense of burden for them will increase. As our burden for others grows and we are more sensitive to their inner pain, we become more like Jesus.

And that is how the Holy Spirit has brought this study to an end, with the words, “More like Jesus.”



What am I doing to become more like Jesus?

What more should I start doing to be more like Jesus?

This is the last lesson in all three series on Tongues. Thank you for reading through this study series.



“Having good form” was used to communicate something being done “decorously, becomingly, respectably, honorably, decently, properly.” Context had to determine which one it was referring to. See my paraphrase for my preference in this verse.


This is an old military word referring to “arrangement by rank, orderly array, placing one member over another by rank, to arrange in descending rank.”