1 Cor 14:13-25 Outcome-Based Spiritual Gifts

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 25 Oct 2009


13. On account of this, the one who is making utterance in a language

must be praying to the end that he might interpret.

            14. For, if I happen to be praying in a language, my spirit is praying,

                        but my mind is being unfruitful.

15. What of it then?

I will pray with the spirit, but I will also pray with the mind.

I will sing with the spirit [but] I will also sing with the mind.

            16. Otherwise, if I happen to be blessing in spirit,

            how will the one who fills the place of the uninitiated say the Amen over your thanksgiving, since he doesn’t know what you are saying?

            17. As for you, you’re giving thanks well, but as for the other he is not being built up.

18. I am giving thanks to God I make utterance in languages more than all of you,

19. but in church, I prefer to utter five words with my mind in order that I might also instruct others

            than 10,000 words in a language.


20. Brothers, stop being children in your thinking,

but rather in evil continue in infancy, yet in thinking be becoming mature.

21. In the law it has been written that “in different languages and by different lips

            I will make utterance to this people, and thus they will not listen to me,” says the Lord.

            22. Thus the languages are for a sign, not to believers, but rather to the unbelieving,

                        but the prophecy is not to the unbelieving, but rather to the believers.

23. If therefore, the whole church happened to come together in the same [place]

            and all happened to be making utterance in languages,

            and uninitiated or unbelieving men were to come in,

            wouldn’t they say that y’all are being crazy?

24. But if all happened to be prophesying, and some unbelieving or uninitiated man were to come in,

            he is convicted by all;

            he is assessed by all,

            25. the secrets of his heart become exposed

            and so he will worship God, falling upon his face, proclaiming that really God is in y’all.

Introduction – OBE (outcome-based education)

In March of 1994, President Clinton signed the Goals 2000 Act which formally recognized an educational movement known as Outcome-Based Education (OBE). This educational paradigm sought to revolutionize the educational system by focusing on achieving certain desired outcomes rather than upon imparting traditional knowledge. Some of the desired outcomes in the Goals 2000 Act were that by the year 2000:

I think there were some problems with that particular movement – especially in its support of changing the educational system towards secular humanism and away from Christianity, BUT I am not opposed to purposeful, goal-oriented actions to achieve a particular desired outcome.


o       Last week, I brought out the heart of the message of 1 Cor chapter 14, which was to organize our gifts and actions so that they edify/build up the church.

o       In this passage, God, through Paul, underscores the importance of using our spiritual gifts to achieve the outcomes God wants, namely the salvation of the lost and the building up of the church.

o       The application of this principle is still concerning the spiritual gifts of tongues and of prophecy.

o       The larger context of the book of 1 Cor is the case for unity in the church, argued in terms of leadership conflict, sexual purity, legal matters between members, roles of the sexes, divisions over traditions and over differences of conviction. And as the apostle exhorts this church to unity, he addresses yet another point that breaks down unity, and that is language and communication. If people are talking in different languages, there is going to be a breakdown in unity.

o       While it is tempting to focus in on the specifics of the gift of tongues/languages, I believe such a focus would violate the main point of the passage, and besides, this passage says precious little to explain all the details of that gift that we might be curious about. I believe that the Bible tells us all we need to know, however.

o       As I present my view of this passage, please understand that this passage is difficult and is interpreted many different ways – I don’t think a single one of the 10 commentaries I read were in total agreement with each other – and I probably missed a few more views because I did not read any commentaries by Pentecostal scholars. I don’t have the final word on what it all means, but it is my prayer that as I present my best understanding of this passage, that God’s word will nourish you.

v.13 Command #4 – Pray to Interpret

Today’s passage starts at v.13 with a command: the one who is making utterance in a tongue/language must be praying to the end that he might interpret.

o       Some interpret this to mean that he does not know what he uttered and therefore needs supernatural interpretation.

o       Other scholars say that this verse does not necessarily teach that the speaker is unaware of what his words mean.

o       It appears from v.16 this prayer includes blessing & thanksgiving and is in a public worship context.

o       What is clear is that interpretation is important to pray for. Without interpretation a foreign language is just meaningless noise that does not reach the goal of building up the body of believers.

v.14 Example

In v.14, once again, we can get wrapped up in the intriguing issue of whether ecstatic utterances of foreign languages can be uttered spiritually without our mind knowing what they are, or we can get wrapped up in the anthropological conundrum of what the difference is between our “spirit” and our “mind,” when that’s not the point:

o       First, the very nature of prayer is to communicate your thoughts to God. We should not be trying to utter things that are devoid of any meaning to us because then it is not really prayer.
Have I poured out prayers to God with meaning from my heart that would not make sense if someone heard me? Yes. I can think thoughts that are not fully formed into words, and lift them up in prayer, but both God and I understand those fragments of speech as I express them because they mean something to me.

o       Secondly, an unfruitful mind does not mean an unengaged mind; “unfruitful” just means that it is not producing an external benefit as a tree produces a fruit that we can eat. The point is to be fruitful, to produce a good result with your words, such as the repentance of an unbeliever or the encouragement of a believer.
John 15:8 “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so prove to be my disciples.”

v.15-17 Practicality requires de-prioritizing tongues

o       v.15 So if unfruitfulness is a problem, and if a disconnect between the spirit and mind does not contribute to the outcome of edification, then Paul will purposefully pray and sing with mind and spirit together so that other people can understand what he is saying and be edified.

o       v.16 The person who is the recipient of your fruit and your edification comes into view now. He is occupying the place of the “unlearned/uninformed,” in the position of an outsider, among those who do not understand and does not have that gift of languages.

§         The root of the Greek word for him is “idiot” which, in Greek, meant that he was not in public office and so was probably not educated.

§         In Act 4:13 the elders of the temple considered Peter and John to be such when they first started preaching.

§         I suspect that it may have been a label for a new convert who needed basic instruction in the faith.

§         If I’ve been around Christianity for over 40 years and haven’t figured out the whole tongues thing, then it must really have been confusing for a new convert!

o       This idiot/undiscipled neophyte needs to be able to hear my prayer and agree with it in order to be edified.

§         The word “Amen” is a Hebrew carryover that means, “I confirm it is true.”

§         This means that when we lead a prayer in worship, it should be in such a way that all can agree with me and pray along.

§         This also means that when a worship leader leads a prayer or a song or scripture reading or teaching, your job as an assembly of believers is to listen, agree, and say, “Amen!”

§         It is Biblical to say, “Amen” in corporate worship in response to what the worship leader is saying.

§         Ps. 106:48 “Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel, From everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, ‘Amen.’ Praise Jehovah.” (cf. Deu. 27:15-26, Neh. 5:13, 8:6, 1Ch. 16:36)

o       How well you perform is not the point, says v.17. The point of speech in worship is to edify others, and that means it has to be understandable speech.

vs. 18-19 Paul’s example shows a low priority for Tongues

o       I love Estwing hammers. Ever since my brother gave one to my son for his birthday, I have admired the strength and grace of them. They are very effective at driving nails and removing nails. But I would be going over the top if I said I didn’t need any other tool to get a construction job done: Measure those boards in hammer-lengths and Whack! cut the board with the hammer. It’s a little jagged, but hey… Need to drive a screw? Whack! Hmm, why is it stripped? Oh well, and when we’re all done, just sweep the floor like so with my trusty hammer! What’s wrong with that? I’m prioritizing using that hammer above doing my construction job well! If I want to do the job right, I need to be willing to set that hammer down and use other tools on the job.

o       Likewise, the Corinthians were apparently treating the gift of tongues like that hammer. They wanted to use it all the time. It made them feel spiritual and important, but if they kept swinging that one gift around, it would end up destroying their church just like my hammer would destroy my construction site.

o       A Biblical view of spiritual gifts recognizes that priority must be given to those gifts which build up the church.

o       Interestingly, Paul reveals in v.18 that he is more gifted with tongues than anyone. He gives full credit to God for this gift, however.

§         In Acts 21, Paul speaks perfect Greek to the Roman army commander, then turns around and speaks perfect Aramaic to the crowd of Jews in the temple.

§         He travelled all over Europe, encountering many different languages. The Lyconian language is specifically mentioned in Acts 14, and later on Malta, there appears to be a language barrier with the barbarians living there.

§         Yet what is remarkable is that Paul never talks much about this gift.

§         If anybody could have written a book of the Bible about tongues and how to practice them, it would have been Paul, but we don’t get much more than this passage in 1 Cor 14. Why not? Because Paul did not consider it a high priority.

§         His silence on the gift indicates that it is not a high priority gift. Why? Because it was not essential for building up the church.

o       In v.19 he says he would rather use 5 intelligible words to instruct others than 10 thousand words in an unknown language. On the priority scale, Paul chose to keep tongues low.

v.20 Development Requires Leaving Tongues Behind

o       At different stages in life, different gifts may be required. If my hypothesis is correct that the gift of tongues may be related to foreign mission work, there may have been a point where the gift of tongues was significant in the formation of the Corinthian church. However, in order to mature, they needed to set that gift down and pick up others that are more in keeping with maturity.

§         The gift of tongues/foreign languages is mentioned in the N.T. at Pentecost when Jews from many nations first heard the gospel preached by the apostles,

§         then at Samaria where the Gospel make a major cross-cultural jump,

§         then again at the house of Cornelius the Roman Army captain when the Gospel made inroads into the Latin population,

§         then later on at the extremity of Asia Minor as Paul told the synagogue in Ephesus about Jesus and the Holy Spirit,

§         and now in Corinth once the Gospel had made its first inroads into Europe.

§         Pentecostals assume that these are sample populations of new believers and that the gift of tongues was experienced by every new believer, but I am inclined to think that this sign is only mentioned when the Gospel spread into new areas of the world because there was some special relationship between the gift of tongues and missions.

§         I still hear of that correlation today: For instance, Bruce Olson wrote in his autobiography Bruchko, concerning his mission work among unreached Amazon tribes (p.151-152) that after he had evangelized the Molitones, the Molitone Indians wanted to share the gospel with the next tribe over, the Yuko’s, so off they went, not knowing that the Yukos spoke a totally different language, a fact that Bruce had discovered from living with that tribe for a time. After the Molitone evangelists came back, Bruce talked with the leader, Arabadoyca:

"How did it go?" I asked.
He was making arrows, and he looked up at me with his familiar crooked grin. "Wonderful," he said. "They had not known about Jesus before."
"And did they understand?"
"Oh, yes, we told them a great many things about Jesus."
"You spoke to them?"
"Of course." Arabadoyca was a little concerned about my surprise. "How would you have told them?"
"Oh...in the same way. But how do you know they understood?"
Again he looked perplexed. "Why, they told us that they did. They were very excited to hear the news, Bruchko."
"You mean you opened your mouth and spoke to the Yukos, and they understood you and talked to you, and you understood them?"
"Yes, of course."
The Yuko language is not a dialect of the Motilone language. It is a totally different language. You could never understand one from knowing the other. Yet I am sure that Arabadoyca and the others were not lying. Lying is almost unknown among the Motilones. And they had no reason to lie. There is also the fact that there now are Christians in the Yuko lowland where there were none before.
I can only conclude that God's Holy Spirit made the Motilones speak and understand Yuko. It was a miracle to me.

o       But there is a stage of maturity when you do not need tongues to be central. “Stop acting like children and start thinking like mature men/adults.”

§         The Corinthians were running around with Estwing “tongues” hammers and trying to do everything in the church with that one tool, but all the “hammering” was done and they needed other tools now.

§         One of the hallmarks of immaturity is selfishness, whereas the hallmark of maturity is consideration for others. This is also the definition of agape love. A loving consideration for others requires that the selfish preoccupation with tongues be abandoned so that by other gifts of speaking, other people can be edified.

§         Communication of intelligent thought belongs to maturity and should be developed.

o       The one thing, however, that should not be developed as we mature is a knowledge of evil. “In regards to evil, be infants”


Not only does a desire for a practical outcome limit the use of foreign languages,
Not only does Paul’s example show that Tongues was a low priority for him,
Not only does development require leaving tongues behind, but…

vs. 21-23 Tongues Can be a Curse to the Reprobate

o       In v.21, Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:11, “In different languages and by different lips I will make utterance to this people.” What does this mean?

§         Isaiah was speaking to the Jews of the northern kingdom of Israel. He and his fellow prophets had warned them to repent of their sin and turn back to faith in God, but those Jews had not listened to him.

§         Now he was warning them of the coming of the Assyrian army that would come and wipe out the northern kingdom of Israel.

§         In this case, the foreign language spoken by the Assyrian soldiers would be the sound of God’s wrath against His people for ignoring His call to repentance.

o       In this scenario, there were two groups of people hearing a message from God:
1) There were the reprobate Jews who had heard Isaiah’s prophecies and ignored them, thus they would be chastised by no longer understanding God’s word and being conquered by Assyria.
2) The second group of people would be those Jews who listened to Isaiah’s prophecies and responded in repentance and faith in God’s salvation.
Isaiah would continue to prophesy for their sake, but his prophecy would no longer be for the sake of the reprobates.

o       The use of tongues/foreign language as a curse is consistent with other scripture:

§         Consider the confusion of people’s languages at the tower of Babel when people refused to obey God and reverence Him.

§         Consider Nebuchadnezzar, who had the faithful witness of Daniel, yet turned from honoring God in his pride, then was transformed into a dumb beast for a time.

§         Consider the parables that Jesus told, which were intended to hide meaning from the Jews who would not believe in Him

o       Tongues can even be a sign of your own foolishness to non-Christians:

§         In v.23, I believe the scene changes from the Israelites of Isaiah’s time to the Gentiles gathered in Corinth.

§         Here we have another hypothetical picture where everybody is speaking in tongues and the unlearned/uninformed/non-understanding outsider from v. 16 steps in and observes what is going on. He’s going to conclude that they’ve gone dotty, manic, clean off their rockers.

§         Back in Carbondale, where I used to live, some of the kids from our church got involved in the youth group of another church in town. One day, the dad went to pick up his kids from the youth group meeting and found all these high school age kids in the foyer clucking like chickens. He asked the pastor, and the pastor told him that they were walking around clucking like chickens because they were filled with the Spirit. As an outsider, that Dad saw through the silliness of what they were doing. It would have been funny if they had not been taking themselves so seriously in that odd practice.

§         John Calvin suggested that Paul is here trying to help the Corinthians see their immaturity by looking at themselves through the eyes of somebody off the street. Paul writes as if to say, “You applaud yourselves in your own sleeve, but the wicked and unlearned laugh at your foolishness.”

§         We don’t always realize how silly some of the things we do are. Let us be sure that if we are ridiculed for foolishness it is for truly following the word of God rather than some silly idea we’ve come up with.

So, what is the desired Outcome? vs. 24-25

o       The desired outcome of what goes on in our meetings is not that we be ridiculed for our foolishness but that people hear the word of God. That is what prophecy is.

o       When we open up the Bible and teach its meaning, people should become convicted that they are sinners who will be judged by an Almighty God who is incensed at their love for everything but Him and offended at their hatred of His will and of His standards of righteousness.

o       In his Autobiography, Charles Spurgeon wrote of his preaching ministry in the mid 1800’s:

While preaching, I pointed at a man in the hall and said, “There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!"

A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, "Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?" "Yes," replied the man, "I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God's grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul...” and this was just one of many such cases.

o       I don’t know if I will ever be given that level of prophecy, but I do desire the same practical outcome, that people worship God.

o       By the way, we worry so much about offending people who visit our church, and we worry so much about being perceived as judgmental, but the picture we see in v.24 is not a church full of people who are afraid of stepping on anyone’s toes. Maybe we should be a little more judgmental!

o       The word “judged/convicted/called to account” is a form of the Greek word for “judge” (anakrinw), but has more to do with the process of inquiry rather than sentencing(Vincent).

§         It is not our place to play God by comparing their outward behavior to our outward behavior and call other people to imitate us, rather we are to point people to God’s holiness and perfection in the Bible until they realize that they need to be saved from God’s judgment against their sin.

§         It is also not our place to decide what judgment anyone deserves; our job is to point people to God’s provision of salvation: That the wages of sin is death, but Jesus paid the price of our sin when He died on the cross, thus making a way for God to forgive us of our sin and save us. Our prophetic call must be, “Trust in Jesus to save you and follow Him as your master.”

Application: How can you intelligently govern your speech to contribute toward this desirable outcome?

o       First, listen to the words of prophecy. Is your heart convicted over your sin? Do you need to trust in Jesus to save you and follow Him as your master? Do it now. Talk it through with your parents or one of the men who led worship this morning.

o       Grow in maturity by learning God’s ways from the Bible rather than growing in the knowledge of vain things - there are many TV shows, movies, websites, books, and teachers that are focused on teaching you more about sin. Avoid those and find people and books and media that will help you grow in the knowledge of God!

o       Prioritize prophecy – that “edification, exhortation, and consolation” of v.3 that will convict people to repent and worship God. Proclaim the Gospel in the most understandable way you can, and support others doing the same.

o       When you pray and sing in church, work to engage your mind with the meaning of the words.

§         This is why we do not sing phrases over and over again at the end of a song (That sort of thing tends to disconnect your mind and lead to a trance-like state, which is not what the Bible recommends).

§         When we say the Lord’s Prayer, don’t just say the words, communicate their meaning to God!

§         When we sing a familiar hymn, don’t let your mind wander, make it an expression of your whole person.

o       Listen and agree with what you can, in the prayers and teaching of those leading worship.

§         Freely say, “Amen” when you truly agree with what they’re saying and you think they’ve made a significant statement.

§         Of course it can be overdone, but at our church’s stage in life, we’ve probably erred on the side of under-doing the “Amens.”

§         I remember attending a PCA church in Louisiana where hundreds of voices would thunder an “Amen” after every prayer and scripture reading. After the service, my wife asked the pastor how he got all those Presbyterians to say “Amen” like that. He replied with a mischievous grin, that he had taught them that it was a sin NOT to say Amen!

o       If you are educated and enjoy using phrases from French or Latin or Greek or even obscure English words, cut back when you’re talking to others who won’t understand.

§         Some people change their vocabulary entirely when they launch into prayer and start using “Thee’s” and “Thou’s,” but this concept of intelligibility of communication for edification speaks against such a practice.

o       And just as you would encourage English among English-speakers, so if you are in a mission context, that’s not the place to promote English – instead, encourage them to speak their heart language in prayer. A March 2009 prayer letter from my former co-workers Paul and Heather Merrill (who are now with Wycliffe Bible Translators), reported on just such a situation in Tanzania. “An elderly pastor from the Zanaki language was asked which language he used when he prayed. The pastor thought for a moment and answered, ‘Swahili. I always use Swahili. I don’t think I have ever prayed in Zanaki.’ He readily agreed that it would be possible to pray in Zanaki and believed that God would understand him, but since the prestigious national language (Swahili) is the language of the Bible, it had simply never occurred to him to use his mother tongue to pray. The group of Zanaki speakers were asked to pray for their Bible translation and literacy project in their own language. Praying simultaneously and out loud, passionate prayers tumbled out as all seven asked God to bless the project. At one point one woman simply sat smiling and crying, listening to the others praying in her language. When their voices all quieted, one man closed with a Zanaki, ‘In Jesus’ name, Amen.’ They lifted their heads and despite the fact that Tanzanians don’t often cry in public, everyone had tears running down their cheeks. The elderly pastor who had just prayed and heard others pray in Zanaki for the first time couldn’t stop smiling. One man said, ‘Let’s do this again. This is very good.’