1 Corinthians 14:4-5
4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.
Now, does the last positive experience nullify the benefit of the first- or, does it justify both?
If we lived in a binary, either or sort of world, we should make the better choice. However, we don’t have to. If I could only help myself or help another- it’s better to help another. But, what if I’m not forced to choose? What if you can build up others and yourself?
For whatever reason, we have always had a tendency toward this or that statements and seem to neglect the moments when choosing both is acceptable. It’s not love or faith. It’s love and faith. It’s not tongues or prophecy. It’s tongues and prophecy. We can’t put good-good choices in the same decision matrix as good-bad choices.
If the question is good or evil- choose good. If the choice is Jesus or anything else- choose Jesus. But when Jesus offers both speaking in tongues and prophecy- choose both. Every form of leadership wrestles with this reality when the decision isn’t obviously singular. We shouldn’t lead children with teaching only- there should also be discipline. A great marriage isn’t just love- it’s love and respect.
Back to the point.
Prophecy is the Gospel word for tapping the knowledge of God in the Spirit and making it known in the here. Prophecy is spoken. Tongues are also spoken. One builds up others while the other builds up you. If your life is similar to mine, you could use a little building up after a good day of hustle. Outside stimuli doesn’t always do the trick. There are times when the ride home playlist doesn’t lift the soul to a place where we can add value when we walk in the front door. What’s the remedy? Build yourself up. How? The Apostle Paul (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) says speaking in tongues is the Gospel tonic for this task.
Before the Holy Spirit wants us even more to prophesy, he first wants us to speak in tongues.
And for some, this is unsettling. But tongues are only uncomfortable to talk about because we never talk about them. Most things that are unfamiliar are also uncomfortable. When we give too much attention to keeping things comfortable we give less attention to uncomfortable things. When we neglect the tension, growth is limited. The Gospel enlightens us to best practices for living (Mi 6:8). These obligate us to serve God and love people (Lk 10:27). Transformation isn’t comfortable or easy (He 12:11), but it is necessary. The same Gospel that calls us to these catalysts also illuminates our understanding to spiritual behaviors. As such, it seems these can be just as uncomfortable (1Thess 5:20-21).
Personally, I’d rather just prophesy. People understand what is going on. It doesn’t sound so peculiar. And frankly, I’m super-aware of why I feel encouraged. Speaking in tongues isn’t so defined. It’s mysterious. Amazingly, the mystery is the sauce. Fears that go deeper than the conscious can’t find healing from the known. Speaking in tongues embraces the mystery of the Spirit. I may not know exactly why I feel better- but who cares? I feel better. The healing is in the Spirit. For this reason, I echo the Apostle Paul and say, “I thank God I speak in tongues” (1Cor 14:18).
More than 500,000,000 Christians around the world embrace this idea and are members of the fastest-growing segment of global Christianity. 56% of South Korean Christians speak in tongues compared to 20% in the US. As we become more diverse, this Gospel phenomenon will become more apparent in our churches. So what are we to do?
What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. (1Cor 14:15)
My hope is this- may we not just tolerate what God freely gives. Rather, let us earnestly desire to build ourselves up in this mystery.