The Study of the Holy Spirit
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." 1 Corinthians 13:1
Part I: What is the
Significance of Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 13?
Part I: What is the Significance of Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 13?
I. What is the significance of speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 13? Most casual readers of the Bible are completely unaware of the context surrounding what has become known as the “Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. While the chapter is one of the most beautiful descriptions of love in all of literature, its purpose was very specific.
1. Paul wrote this brief essay to demonstrate that love is more important than any of the spiritual gifts. If someone speaks in various human and even angelic languages (that is the meaning of the word tongues), yet does not possess love, he amounts to no more than an out-of-balance percussion section in an orchestra (1 Cor. 13:1).
2. In fact, Paul stated that love is eternal, whereas prophecy and tongues are only temporary. Love never comes to an end. Yet prophecies will be done away with, tongues will cease of their own accord, and revelatory knowledge will be done away with also (1 Cor. 13:8). The verb I have here rendered, “done away with,” is from katargeo, and it appears in the passive voice. That means that someday prophecies and revelatory knowledge would be shut down by an exterior agent, presumably God. The word I have rendered “cease of their own accord” comes from pauo, and it occurs in the middle voice. This means that at some point tongues would cease by themselves without the action of an exterior agent. In the present, Paul wrote, we know partially or incompletely (from meros), and we prophesy partially or incompletely (1 Cor. 13:9). When that which is complete (from teleios) has arrived, that which is partial will be done away with (from katargeo).
3. I believe Paul here made a general statement. When a stage of completion has arrived, that which is partial will be terminated. Have you ever wondered why, in nearly two thousand years, there have been no books added to our Bible? The Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation around A.D. 96 (Thomas Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2008 Edition, p. 1). Yet there have been no books added to the New Testament since then. Why not? I am guessing it is because God’s revelation to man has reached a stage of completion, at least for now. My guess is that, once John’s writing of Revelation became sufficiently circulated in the first and second century Church, God did away with prophecies, at least for now. I cannot prove that experimentally, of course, for that would require an examination of each claim to prophecy, but that remains my working hypothesis. Candidly, it would be absolutely unprecedented that, if there were prophets of God circulating for the last two thousand years, not all, but at least some of their writings would have been incorporated into the Church canon of Scripture as authentic communications from God.
4. We know that there will be prophets again. But that will be after the Church has been raptured and removed from this earth and God’s prophetic clock for Israel begins ticking again. The Tribulation coincides with Daniel’s Seventieth Week (or unit of seven years) (Dan. 9:24-27). At least two prophets are mentioned as appearing in the Tribulation period with amazing confirming signs (Rev. 11:1-13). They will prophesy for 1,260 days clothed in sackcloth (Rev. 11:3). When Jesus returns as God’s Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King, I cannot imagine that His words will not be printed and circulated among the nations as authentic communications from God (Isa. 2:1-4; Mic. 4:1-3), joining the canon of Scripture. But for now, the silence of authentic, recorded, canonical revelation from God is deafening.
5. Paul continued on, illustrating that when something complete arrives in God’s economy, that which is partial is terminated. He wrote, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away (from katargeo) with childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). He continued, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). To what event was Paul referring? I believe he was referring to the moment that he personally would step into the presence of God Himself either at the moment of the Rapture, or, as it turned out, at his own demise. Certainly that will be true for each of us believers. Full revelatory knowledge awaits our stepping into the presence of God and His eternal Son, Jesus Christ! For the whole of redeemed mankind collectively, that event will be consummated in the New Jerusalem for eternity (Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1-5)! Full and complete knowledge, for each of us, awaits our personal stepping into the presence of Jesus. Meanwhile, here on earth, gifts such as prophecy and tongues are temporary. Paul is gently urging the Corinthians not to be childish about their emphasis on speaking in tongues along with other revelational gifts. He will have more to say on the subject in 1 Corinthians 14:20-22, where he corrects the Corinthians misunderstanding of the purpose of the gift of speaking in tongues.
6. Meanwhile, Paul concluded, there are at least three things that are more important than any spiritual gift, whether apostleship, prophecy, revelatory knowledge, or speaking in tongues, for these three remain and never cease or are terminated. These three are faith, hope, and love. But love is the greatest of all (1 Cor. 13:13; John 3:16)!
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
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(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Used by Permission.)
Updated March 23, 2014