We have seen that Paul in these chapters explained the prescribed path of the Spirit, in giving gifts, so that we may identify Him when He is working (and just as importantly, identify imposters when they are working). He has explained the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit and thus the fruit that is produced when they are exercised. He has explained their proper operation and use, privately and corporately. Now let’s look at the individual gifts more closely.
The most misunderstood one is no doubt tongues, and it happens to be the one with the most instruction! None of the gifts of the Spirit are a New Testament phenomenon only. There is a tradition among the rabbis, that when Moses made the covenant with Israel on Mt. Sinai, and went up to receive the Torah on tablets of stone, that the Spirit came upon the 70 elders who were with him, and they each spoke in the tongues of the nations (Exo 24:9-11).
There were 70 primal nations that rebelled against YHVH at Babel (Gen 10-11:9), and restoring the 70 nations (and their descendants today) to the worship of YHVH, praising Him in their tongues, is part of God’s plan that He is implementing through the Seed of the Woman (Gen 3:15, Rev 7:9-11).
What is even more amazing, is that the day Moses went up to Sinai, was 50 days following their deliverance through the Red Sea (the days of their journeying are recorded in Exodus). Their deliverance through the Red Sea was three days following Passover. Jesus was crucified on Passover, and rose from the dead three days later, on the Feast of Firstfruits! Paul teaches that Israel going through the Red Sea is a type of baptism (1 Cor 10:1-2), picturing those who would come to faith in Jesus Christ as dying, being buried, and rising with Him! Fifty days following the resurrection of Jesus was the Feast of Pentecost (fifty in Greek), or Weeks (in English). On this day the Holy Spirit was given to the ekklesia as they were gathered in the upper room, and they each spoke in the tongues of the nations, magnifying God (Act 2)!
So on the appointed time (moed in Hebrew, translated feast in English) of Passover, Israel was delivered by the blood of the Passover lamb, and on that same day years later, Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world. On the appointed time of Firstfruits, Israel went through the Red Sea, and on that same day years later, Jesus was raised from the dead. On the appointed time of Pentecost or Weeks, Moses went up to Sinai to receive God’s Word in Torah, and the 70 elders of Israel spoke in the tongues of the 70 nations as the Spirit descended on them. And on that same day, years later, the Spirit fell upon the believers, and they also spoke in the tongues of the nations. (A whole book could be written about the significance of the Torah and the Spirit given from God on the same day, starting with the fact that the Word (including Torah) and the Spirit are one! But I will stop for now at Eze 36:25-27.)
Back to tongues: it is clear from reading Acts and 1 Corinthians, that there are two aspects of the gift of tongues. One aspect is that it is a gift given to every one who believes upon the Lord Jesus, and a sign that they have received the infilling of the Holy Spirit upon their conversion (Mar 16:17, Act 2:4, 10:46, 19:6). Tongues speak to God (1 Cor 14:2), out of the spirit, through the agency of the Spirit, bypassing the human mind (1 Cor 14:9-11). As such it is a pure communication from us to God, through the Spirit making intercession for us when we do not know how or what to pray, untainted by the thoughts of the flesh or the lies of the enemy (Rom 8:26-27). Paul refers to this private or personal gift as praying with the Spirit, singing with the Spirit, blessing with the Spirit, and giving thanks with the Spirit (1 Cor 14:15-17).
The second aspect of this gift, the public aspect, is often confused, because some do not realize that the Scriptures reveal two separate manifestations of the Spirit, both of which are called tongues. Paul explained all these things to the churches when he was establishing them in person, and since he was writing his letters later on, addressing specific questions or concerns, he did not re-establish as doctrine from the beginning every thing that he had already imparted to them. This is why, when reading Paul’s letters, we have to be careful to let the rest of Scripture also inform us on his meaning, so that we do not accidentally distort his meaning (2 Pet 3:14-16).
The private gift, which edifies the individual (1 Cor 14:4), is given to every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ (Mar 16:17). The public gift, which edifies the church when certain conditions are met, is given to some, not all (1 Cor 12:10, 30), its purpose being to profit all in the Body (1 Cor 12:7). The public gift is a declaration of “thus saith the Lord,” just as prophecy is. However, since the public gift is spoken in a tongue, the only way it will profit all, is if someone who has the companion gift of interpretation of tongues, follows the declaration in tongues with the interpretation, or translation (1 Cor 14:5, 13). Then the church will be edified, when they understand what the Lord has said to them (1 Cor 14:6-12).
If someone, in a setting of public worship, receives a message in tongues, and there is no one there to interpret, then the proper way to exercise that gift, which reflects honor back to God, is to keep silent and not speak (1 Cor 14:27-28)! Some in the Church today speak their private gift of tongues in the setting of public worship, even though the commandment of the Lord is to refrain from doing so when there is no interpreter (1 Cor 14:27-28, 36-37), because it is a fleshly declaration to all, “The Spirit is operating in me and through me!”
Remember, however, that love is the heart of the things of the Spirit (as 1 Cor 13 is at the heart of the discourse on the things of the Spirit, 1 Cor 12-14); and love does not parade itself (1 Cor 13:4)! Thus the tongue spoken in public worship, out of a fleshly motivation to parade one’s spirituality, is a tongue that profits nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3) – not the individual, nor the Body!
There is another mishandling of the gift of tongues, and that is to forbid its operation at all. There are entire denominations that forbid its operation! It is a commandment of the Lord to allow the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of tongues, to operate (1 Cor 14:37-39)! Only, let their operation be in decency and in order, for the purpose of edifying the Body (1 Cor 14:26, 40).