Controversial View of Spiritual Gifts

If you were given a choice, would you rather have a full head of hair, or a digestive track that functioned properly? Many Corinthians amazingly were opting for the full head of hair—the glamorous gifts? So Paul asks, Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all do miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:29-30).

In this series of seven questions, all demanding the negative answer in the Greek, Paul forcefully argues that all believers could not be apostles nor speak in tongues. Earlier, he had stated that the entire body could not be reduced to one part. The body has two eyes, two ears, ten fingers and one heart.

Assuming we are to eagerly desire the greater gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31), what are the greatest gifts? In verse 28, the first three are numbered, probably indicating the order of importance. What follows is an unnumbered miscellaneous list, with the least important,
tongues, at the very end of the list. However, the body is the design of God, not ours!

But now God has placed the parts, each one of them, in the body just as He wanted (1 Corinthians 12:18).

Therefore, our desire does not play a role in the Spirit’s distribution of spiritual gifts. Most likely, Paul is saying, “If you must give prominence to some gift, give it to the foundational gifts instead of speaking in tongues.” Since First Corinthians is filled with sarcasm, Paul might be saying, “But you earnestly desire the greater gifts. And now I show you the most excellent way.” If we could hear
the tone and reflections of Paul’s voice, we would know for sure. The apostle reiterates that gifts are for the edification of the church and that is where one’s desire belongs.

Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12 NIV).

Since chapter eight of First Corinthians, the apostle Paul has been dealing with matters related to worship. The problem in chapters twelve through fourteen is the abuse of tongues. Since the outbreak of the modern tongues in the late 1950’s, these three chapters have been the center of controversy. Like the Corinthian saints, ignorance of spiritual gifts plagues many Christians today (1 Corinthians
12:1). The question that Paul asked in this letter was “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13).

At least three gifts of the Spirit that will cease, but when?

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end (1 Corinthians 13:8).

There are three conclusions that we can reach from this verse.

1. None of the gifts has ceased.
2. All the gifts have already ceased.
3. Some of the gifts are with us and some are gone.

It is important to note that in 1 Corinthians 13:8 the Greek words employed indicate that tongues will cease at a different point in time than prophecy and knowledge.

h agaph {LOVE} oudepote {NEVER} ekpiptei {FAILS;} eite de {BUT WHETHER} profhteiai {PROPHECIES,} katarghyhsontai {THEY SHALL BE DONE AWAY;} eite {WHETHER} glwssai {TONGUES,} pausontai {THEY SHALL CEASE;} eite {WHETHER} gnwsiv {KNOWLEDGE} katarghyhsetai {IT SHALL BE DONE AWAY.}

First future passive [katarghyhsetai] of katargew [is] rare in old Greek. [It denotes] to make idle (argov), inoperative. All these special spiritual gifts will pass. It is amazing how little of human work lasts. {They shall cease} (pausontai). Future middle indicative of pauw,
to make cease. They shall make themselves cease or automatically cease of themselves (RWP).

When “the perfect” comes, it will cause prophecy and knowledge to cease while the gift of tongues will have ceased by itself before the perfect thing.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).

The following suggestions have been made as to the meaning of “the perfect.”

1. The maturity of the church
2. The rapture of the church
3. The second coming of Christ
4. The eternal state—the new heaven and earth
5. The completion of revelation—the Bible

If the completion of revelation is meant, Paul does not mean the content of the Bible will cease, just no more adding to its content. The context favors maturity, the putting aside of childish things. The partial gifts are superseded by adulthood. Note the triple analogy of infancy to the gifts:

1. Spoke like a child—tongues
2. Thought like a child—knowledge
3. Reasoned like a child—wisdom and prophecy

Paul is still dealing with the Corinthians’ problems when he wrote these words; the abuse of the gift of tongues, division in the church, envy of others’ gifts, selfishness, impatience with one another in public meetings, and behavior that was disgracing the Lord. The only time spiritual gifts can be used properly is when they are motivated by love—the mark of maturity. There is unity-diversity-maturity;
and maturity comes through love.

Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse (1 Corinthians 11:17).

At the very least, Christlikeness does not depend on speaking in tongues as asserted by some. Should we seek speaking in tongues or any spiritual gift? No! Instead, be content and satisfied with the way God has gifted you; do your part in the body of Christ—the church. If you need to covet anything—earnestly desire LOVE! It will help you do your part.The city of Corinth had a commercial, marine, military, governmental, tourist, philosophical and general transient population from all over the Roman Empire.

Consequently, the Spirit gave a bona fide gift of speaking in languages to members of the church for evangelizing the lost. Some
worshipers at Corinth apparently introduced into the church elements of the unintelligible, ecstatic utterances used by the worshipers of Aphrodite and Cybele at Corinth, and elsewhere in the ancient world. In this worship, trances and ecstatic experiences, accompanied by unintelligible and meaningless utterances, were common. Hence, Paul is still addressing the problems with their
worship services that he started dealing with earlier.

Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse (1 Corinthians 11:17).

Paul offers four reasons for preferring prophecy to tongues in worship services in 1 Corinthians 14:2-4:

1. Tongues-speakers do not speak to men, but to God, 2
2. Prophecies speak directly to men, 3
3. Tongues-speakers simply edify themselves, 4
4. Prophecies edify men, 5

What should we make of the following statement made by Paul.

I thank God that I speak in other languages more than all of you; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, in order to teach others also, than 10,000 words in another language (1 Corinthians 14:19).

Paul’s statement, “I thank God that I speak in other languages more than all of you” has caused many interpreters considerable difficulty. However, this may well imply his versatile linguistic ability. Undoubtedly, the well-educated apostle spoke and
understood more languages than most people understood and spoke. This simply may be a boast of Paul. You speak in a tongue, which no one can understand, and you are proud of yourselves, but the five words I speak intelligently to instruct others is worth more than 10,000 words of what you utter unintelligibly for your own sakes.

Because of their ignorant abuse and misuse of the gifts, Paul placed strict limitations upon the order of the church services. This was necessary, to avoid confusion and competition and to promote edification. Five restrictions are listed.

If any person speaks in another language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God (1 Corinthians 14:28).

1. Constraint of the number—there should be only two, or at the most three
2. Constraint of orderliness—each in turn
3. Constraint of interpretation—someone must interpret
4. Constraint of silence—if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church
5. Constraint of devotional—speak to himself and to God

Yet, the devotional use of tongues is not beneficial to the believer; therefore, Paul rejects the use of tongues, even though there is some edification of self (1 Corinthians 14:4), in his own devotional praying and singing.

For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with my understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15).

It is often argued that the “tongues” spoken by those who are so gifted today are not human but angelic—speaking a more exalted language.

If I speak the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).

It is apparent that the language of angels is not known to us. Paul might have spoken in the language of angels, but that does not imply that other believers have been so gifted. When Paul was caught up to the third heaven, he may have spoken in the language of angels (2 Corinthians 12:1-6). Furthermore, whenever angels make their appearance on earth, according to the Word of God, they speak in the language of their hearer. The word “tongues,” whether used of men or angels, means to converse in understandable terms.

Apparently, the gift of tongue speaking in Corinth appeared in the energy of the flesh, since the Spirit of God would not produce confusion and disruption in the worship service. “Since God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33), confusion and competition manifest an expression of carnality or demonic presence. Can Christians be influenced by demons? Jesus taught us to pray for our Heavenly Father to “deliver us from the evil one.” Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God so we can stand against the devil’s schemes.

There are three sources of speaking in tongues:

1. The Holy Spirit
2. The flesh—counterfeiting or psychosomatic
3. Demons

There are examples in Scripture of demons taking over vocal cords (cf. Matthew 9; 16:22-23; Mark 5; Luke 4 and 8). The spiritual mediums of ancient Greece were known to have spoken in so-called “tongues,” as were the Canaanites, whose demonic wizards were
declared to “mutter” and “peep.” In every pagan land, there are religious, but lost, individuals who speak in “unknown” tongues.

Prophecy is superior to tongues in the worship service (1 Corinthians 14:20-25) and it is subject to limitations also (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). Paul closes the regulations on speaking in the church with this admonition:

Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in other languages. But everything must be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Clearly, these two gifts were still in existence when Paul wrote First Corinthians; however, the question remains, “Are the gifts of prophesying and tongues still bestowed by the Spirit?” There are three major responses to that question, which are outlined in
the following chart.  (see next page)

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