SOME PRAGMATIC INSTRUCTION CONCERNING PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT
I ) When Paul instructs the Corinthian church as to the use of tongues, he defines clearly the various places and applications for this ministry. He writes to them of speaking in tongues during private prayer sessions. The mind need not understand this form of prayer, for such is directed to God in praise and spiritual supplication.
II ) Should one pray in tongues in the public gathering, then such a prayer should be followed by an appropriate interpretation. Paul writes that interpretation is one aspect of the gifts of the Spirit. The contents of such a prayer prayed publicly will be conveyed to the heart of one of the believers present. He or she should then share this message with the entire congregation of believers.
III ) Paul also spoke of "singing and blessing" in new tongues. This was to be engaged in either privately or in the company of other believers.
IV ) Finally, Paul spoke of tongues as a sign to the unbeliever. This is what took place on the day of Pentecost. During the feast days, the city of Jerusalem was overcrowded with foreigners who had traveled great distances to attend temple services. On the day of the Spirit's outpouring, thousands of onlookers heard the followers of Jesus speak to them in their own languages and dialects.
Failing to recognize these various categories, and seeking to understand this ministry by taking only a single passage or a few scattered passages, is certain to lead to confusion.
The first lesson in grammar states, "A sentence is a group of words with subject and predicate, expressing a complete thought." To break the sentence is to break the thought. Jesus said, "The Scripture cannot be broken."
There is much in the Bible on the subject of speaking in tongues, not only verses, but entire chapters where Paul speaks of the various categories mentioned.
Some quote Paul as saying, "...whether there be tongues, they shall cease." But this phrase does not complete the sentence. It is followed with the words,
...and where there exists knowledge, it shall vanish away. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
Paul tells us these gifts will vanish, or no longer be needed, one day,
...when that which is perfect is come. (1 Corinthians 13:10)
He is speaking of that perfect day,
...when we see Christ face to face. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we s hall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Twenty-six years after Paul had accepted Christ and had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, he declared,
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect. (Philippians 3:12)
If he tells the Philippians he is not perfect, then there would be no grounds for his ceasing to speak in tongues until he reached perfection. Paul's reference to perfection in his letter to the Corinthians describes the time when he would leave this world of imperfection and decay.
The baptism in the Spirit is not something that is obtained by our good works. Men and women are born of the Spirit, not by their own good deeds, but by God's bountiful grace. Paul says,
For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
The color of your skin, or the level of your education does not matter when it comes to receiving God's gifts. Your religious background, or lack of such, matters not at all. Paul addressed the greater part of his correspondence concerning the Holy Spirit to those who were living in the most corrupt and degenerate culture of his time. Years before Paul's visit, the city of Corinth had been destroyed by the Romans. It lay in ruins until Caesar ordered it to be rebuilt. It was re-populated with soldiers, sailors, merchants and traders. When Paul arrived, this newly-built city was teeming with slaves, freed men from Italy, Orientals, Greeks, merchants, entertainers, and Roman officials. It was the wealthiest and most debauched city in the empire. There were a thousand prostitutes, called priestesses, in the Temple of Aphrodite alone. The city was also strategically located at the crossroads of the shipping lanes reaching to the eastern and western boundaries of the empire. In his epistles, Paul composed only four chapters to the Christians at Philippi. He wrote six to the Ephesians, and the same number to the Galatians. But to the believers in Corinth, his chapters numbered twenty-nine.
When Paul won converts in this city, the change in their manner of living was so evident, historians like Gibbon would be prompted to write: The friends of Christianity may acknowledge without a blush that many of the most eminent saints had been before their baptism the most abandoned sinners. (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon, Vol., p.112)
Paul made it clear that neither spiritual birth nor baptism were prizes for good conduct. If men and women by their own deeds could achieve God's blessing, and be justified, then they didn't need the power of the Holy Spirit. But Paul knew that the advice and rule books offered by religion were not enough. Paul writes:
The (religious) law was powerless, for it was weakened by the (our) sinful nature. (Romans 8:3)
Paul was adamant that the only hope of overcoming our sinful nature was through the power of the Holy Spirit. We read,
The righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4)
The entire reasoning of Paul in his discussions on this subject is summed up in the fact that the Holy Spirit was given, not because of our basic goodness, but to enable weak and sinful human beings to become good, through the power of the Holy Spirit. While Paul personally lived a strict moral life before meeting Christ, yet following his converrsion he looked back on his life and saw cruelty, self-righteousness and hate, and called himself the chief of sinners.
Regarding speaking in tongues in the public gatherings of the church, Paul tells the
Corinthians, In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in new tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:19)
He does not forbid the speaking in tongues in the church: he says such messages should be interpreted, writing to the Corinthians,
If anyone speaks in a tongue, two, or at the most three, should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. (1 Corinthians 14:27, 28)
The working of the Holy Spirit is to build up and edify believers as well as those who are encountering this message for the first time. Paul writes,
All of this must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
When a message in tongues is given in the church and is interpreted, then it is understood by the congregation. The people are taught and the result may be edification, exhortation or comfort.
DECENTLY AND IN ORDER
In the church in Corinth, it seems many were eager to speak publicly, and this brought confusion. The apostle Paul did not tell them to cease speaking, but said,
...forbid not to speak in tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:39)
However he stresses the importance of knowing when to speak, and when not to speak. Paul concludes the fourteenth chapter of instruction by saying:
Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
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