There is a growing misconception in some churches today that the gift of tongues is given by God to believers to prove that they are holy, mature, and immersed in the Holy Spirit. However, this view of tongues is greatly challenged in chapter 14 of the book of I Corinthians. Paul, here, reminds us that God wants us to be logical, thinking people, and therefore prefers to communicate with us in plain language that we can understand and apply His teachings to our lives. When someone speaks with a “tongue” in a church and there is no one interpreting for them, then they are not communicating anything wholesome to us and we are incapable of growing spiritually from their words. Rather, we grow spiritually, when a wise Christian opens God’s word to us and explains the truth of the Bible logically in a language that we can understand. Indeed, five words of plain teaching are much more valuable to us than 1,000 words of emotionally-charged gibberish, even if the gibberish is a genuine, supernatural language spoken in heaven (I Corinthians 14:19).
The Apostle Paul reminds us here that God speaks in clear words to those who obey Him; it is to the unbelievers who are disobedient that He sends mysterious unintelligible messages:
In the Law it is written:
“With other tongues
and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
but even then they will not listen to me,
says the Lord.”
Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:21-22a NIV)
In the verse above Paul is quoting from Isaiah 28:11-12 in the Old Testament. In the original passage God is telling the children of Israel that He will speak to them with other tongues and through the lips of foreigners. These foreigners that He is talking about are the gentile armies that are going to come and conquer them, and speak harsh commands to them in languages that they cannot understand. God had already spoken to them in clear words in their own language through the prophets, but now He was going to speak to them through the unfamiliar voices of enemy armies because they will not listen to God. Clearly, this speaking to them “in tongues” was a punishment for unbelief, not a reward for good behavior. I believe that God does not speak to humans in supernatural tongues unless he provides the interpretation as well, so that we can understand what He is saying to us. Supernatural languages that are uninterpreted are of no benefit to us. God does not give confusing messages to His true children: He gives us clear truth that we can understand and act upon. He brings confusion only to those whose stubborn hearts will not listen to His clear words. Thus, uninterpreted tongues, then are a sign not for believers, who are already obeying God, but they are rather a warning for unbelievers who are resisting God’s clear words.