Copr. 1998, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All Scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society,  unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard.

INTRODUCTION: This week our study is 1 Corinthians 14 which highlights the spiritual gift of tongues.  Speaking in tongues is the subject of much controversy in the Christian churches. Once again, let’s turn to the Bible to discover what Paul says about the gift of tongues and what role it should play in our church!


     A. Read 1 Corinthians 14:1-5.  What isPaul saying about the
gift of tongues v. the gift of prophecy? (The gift of prophecy is a far better gift.)

          1. Why? (To it bluntly, Paul seems to say it is a “self-centered”
gift: it only benefits you (v.4). Prophecy, on the other hand, benefits the entire church. (v.4))

     B. Let’s read “between the lines” here. Imagine
that you are
a parent writing Paul’s lines (vv. 1-5) to
your child.  Why
would you write something like this? What
problem would you be

          1. Would this
be a fair “modern” parallel: “Johnny,
when you play
video games it only improves your eye-hand
I would rather that you study your
book so that you can learn important lessons
that you can
share with others.”  Does this “feel” like
what Paul is
writing?” (The Corinthians are evidently
“caught up”
in the gift of tongues, much like Johnny is
evidently “caught
up” in video games.)

     C. Does Paul have anything negative to say
about the gift of
tongues? (No! Verse 5 says he “would like
every one to speak
in tongues….” He is not saying there is
anything wrong with
the gift, he is just saying it is a “lesser”
gift because it
is limited in the scope of those benefitted
by it.)


     A. Describe for me the gift of tongues that
was given to the
disciples at Pentecost? (Read Acts 2:1-8.
Verse 5 tells us
that Jews from every nation were present.
Verses 6 and 8 tell
us each heard the word of the disciples in
his own language.
This leaves no reasonable doubt that the gift
of tongues in
Acts 2 was the ability to have others understand
you in their
own language.)

     B. Look at verse 2 of 1 Corinthians 14 again.
Does this seem
to describe the gift of speaking (or being
understood) in a
foreign language? (Just as the gift of Acts
2 is beyond
reasonable doubt, so this verse seems clear:
this is not a
foreign language.  If you disagree, can
you explain from vv.
2 and 4:

          1. What foreign
language “does not speak to men but to

2. What foreign
language is not understood by anyone?
(This is the
premier difference. The gift in Acts 2 was
a “communication”
gift. It aided others in understanding
the gospel.
Paul’s evaluation of the gift in Corinth is
that it is not
a “man to man” communication gift.)

          3. What foreign
language edifies only the speaker?

     C. Do you remember last week I asked you to
contemplate during
the week what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians
13:1 “If I speak in
the tongues of men and of angels….”

          1. What “tongue”
do angels speak?

          2. Is it different
from the tongue of men? Does Paul mean
only one tongue
when he says, “the tongues of men AND of
angels?” (It
certainly seems that he is talking about two
kinds of tongues.)

a. Someone read Romans 8:26. Do you find it hard to
pray?  Are you uncertain what you should pray

b. If you put the concept of Romans 8:26 together
with 1 Corinthians 14:2 is it possible that the
gift of tongues helps you with your prayers to God?
(Consider whether Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 1:20 are
also pertinent to the idea found in 1 Corinthians
14:2 of “utter[ing] mysteries with his spirit.”
Note, however, that some commentators believe that
the “his spirit” of 1 Corinthians 14:2 refers to
the spirit of man and not the Holy Spirit.)

          3. What if there
is a special prayer language of the
Would you want to have that gift? Would you like
to speak that
language to God? Let’s read on!

     D. Read 1 Corinthians 14:6-9.  Any one
here play a harp, flute
or trumpet? If so, what does Paul mean when
he says you cannot
tell the tune “unless there is distinction
in the notes?”

          1. Anyone who
plays an instrument want to take a shot at
answering this?

          2. When Paul
says in v.9 “So it is with you,” he is
drawing a lesson,
right?  What lesson are we to draw from
this analogy
to playing instruments? (What allows you to
tell one song
from another is that the notes are played
in a distinctive
pattern.  If this pattern does not
exist, you cannot
recognize what is being played! For
example (v.8)
a trumpet that plays “taps” can be
from a trumpet playing “reveille.”)

a. Does this suggest that speaking in tongues
involves a “pattern-less” means of speaking?  Does
it mean that the normal distinction between words
is gone? (Sure seems that is what Paul is saying.)

     E. Read 1 Corinthians 14:10-19. Paul speaks
of “languages” of
the world in v.10, but in v. 13 he talks about
your own tongue.

          1. Does this
mean, unlike Pentecost, that no one else
present understands
this tongue?

a. Does the speaker understand the tongue he is
speaking?  If you say, “yes,” what does v.14 mean?

          2. If you are
speaking a foreign language with no
foreigners around,
would that be helpful?

          3. Is Paul teaching
us a principle that goes beyond
speaking in
tongues? When we teach the gospel to others,
should we try
to speak in ways that they will understand?
(Paul says that
if the other person does not understand
us he is like
a foreigner (v.11). I recently reviewed a
letter in which
a Christian was trying to convey his
religious beliefs
to fellow employees. The letter sounded
like a philosophical
dissertation.  His audience was
unlikely to
have many college graduates (much less
philosophy majors!)
When I told him that I did not think
that most judges
wrote at the “level” he was writing his
letter, I think
he took it as a compliment.  I meant it
as a criticism. 
The goal of writing is to communicate,
not “show off”
your vocabulary skills. That is the goal
in spreading
the gospel. If you are just “showing off”
your vocabulary,
how are you different from the Pharisee
of Luke 18:11-14?)

a. If it is a Biblical principle that we should do
our level best to be understood, how does that fit
into my never-ending attempt to get you to throw
away your King James in favor of a modern
translation? (Sorry, I could not resist that!)

     F. Let’s just stop a minute and take account.

          1. First, As
you consider what Paul has written so far in
this chapter,
what “situation” is he addressing in the
Corinthian church?
(This is something we touched on
earlier: they
must be “hog wild” on tongues!)

          2. Second, tell
me what you have learned so far about the
gift of tongues?
(The “speech” is addressed to God, not
man (v.2); It
is not understood by man unless it is
by someone with the gift or the speaker
(vv.2, 13);
It “bypasses” the mind (vv. 13-14).)

a. What is the practical good of this gift? Surely
we would not have a “gift” which is of no earthly
good? (Verse 2 indicates that it is speech to God
that edifies the speaker. This strengthens my
belief that this gift is most important for

     G. Paul did not say that being “hog wild” about
tongues was a
sin, it was just not “good sense” (see discussion
below). How
about your church? Are you at the other extreme? 
Is the gift
of tongues absent? Is it feared?  If
someone spoke in tongues
in your church would they be thrown out? Marginalized?

          1. Would that
be the reaction of your church to the
of any other spiritual gift?

a. Should tongues be treated differently?

          2. Some Christians
believe, not without some Biblical
basis (see,
Mark 16:17; Acts 10:44-46; Acts 19:2-6;) that
speaking in
tongues is the initial evidence that you have
been baptized
by the Holy Spirit. Other churches would be
shocked to have
someone speak in tongues.

a. After studying 1 Corinthians 14 up to this point,
is either “extreme” correct?

b. Are both equally “incorrect?”

c. Does the truth lie somewhere between these two

(My church is not charismatic, not by specific doctrine, but by

practice and informal teaching. (See, e.g.,Rene Noorbergen,

Glossolalia (Pacific Press, 1973) (debunking the idea of speaking

in unknown tongues).)  There is evidence that the church has not

always been like this.  Instead, early on it was involved in

“unconventional” spiritual experiences. (17 Spectrum 37-50 (1987)

(discussion of Jonathan Butler, Ronald Graybill and Frederick

Hoyt).) Frankly, it worries me that one of the prominent (but

lesser) gifts of the Spirit is not only never “heard” in our

churches, it is probably feared. Is that consistent with being a

“Bible-believing” church?)


     A. Read 1 Corinthians 14:20-25. What does Paul
mean when he
asks the Corinthians to “stop thinking like
children?” (Be
logical. Use your common sense.)

          1. Paul’s “common
sense” says (v.22) that tongues is a
sign for unbelievers,
while prophecy is for believers.
How can that
be true? How does that “square” with my
suggestion that
tongues is a prayer gift? (Perhaps,
because it is
“mysterious,” it attracts the curious
unbeliever to
see what Christianity is all about.
Prophecy, on
the other hand, strengthens, encourages and
comforts because
it appeals to the mind. (v.3) It is not
surprising that
a gift could have more than one facet:
attract curiosity
and aid the prayer life.)

          2. What is Paul’s
“common sense” argument about an
unbeliever visiting
a church full of those speaking in
tongues? (Verse
23 tells us that if all are speaking in
tongues at once,
the unbeliever will go from being just
curious about
the gift to thinking the whole church is
filled with

     B. Do we have a moral obligation to consider
how our worship
will impact on unbelievers who visit?

          1. If you said,
“yes,” has your church done any analysis
of this kind?


     A. Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-33a. Paul seems
to set an
overriding goal for worship (at least for
the Corinthians).
What is it? (Order. He gives clear details
on the how the
service should be structured, even to the
point of telling
someone not to speak in tongues if there is
no interpreter
(v.28) and a speaker to sit down and shut
up if someone else
has a revelation. (v.30))

          1. Why? What
is so good about “order” and “structure?”
(Peace and order
are God’s nature (v.33) and order in
worship allows
the church to be strengthened. (v.26))

          2. As you consider
these verses, is your church worship
modeled after

a. If not, why not?

          3. What basic
elements do you see in Paul’s suggested
church worship?
(A period of time when anyone can speak
or share (v.26),
and a period of time when a limited
number of prophets
can speak. (v.29)  A church that had
both a “sharing
time” and a “sermon time” would seem to
fit within Paul’s
basic model.)

a. Is Paul’s suggestion for worship cultural? Or are
these eternal principles for worship?

     B. Finally, let’s read in closing vv. 39-40
(and we will skip
right over vv. 33-38!) (Give me a break here. 
I had the
courage to discuss with you the gift of tongues.
Should I also
have to take on in the same week the issue
of women speaking
in church?!)

     C. As you think about your church and your
personal worship,
are you missing one of the gifts of the Holy
Spirit?  Are your
personal prayers missing an important ingredient?
Does your
church worship include the fundamentals set
forth by Paul?
What can you do to insure that your worship
tracks Paul’s


Corinthians 16. Study!

you missing one of the gifts of the Holy
Spirit?  Are your
personal prayers missing an important ingredient?
Does your
church worship include the fundamentals set
forth by Paul?
What can you do to insure that your worship
tracks Paul’s


Corinthians 16. Study!