I have tackled a lot of controversial issues in this blog, but until now I have not felt led to write on one which has been controversial since the beginning of Christianity. What prompted me to write now was that God brought it to my attention, via a video that someone had made, that it was a subject that I needed to address, so I will address it. That subject is one of the gifts of the Spirit. I have already discussed the gift of prophecy in my article on the existence or not of prophets today, and I will address the others gifts in time, but for today I want to address the subject of tongues. Of all the gifts, this is the one about which there seems to be the greatest controversy. It is odd in a way that this should be, for of all the gifts, and there is a fair list of them, this is considered to probably be the least valuable. Yet it is the one which so many clamor to get, proudly declare they have, insinuate that people aren't saved if they don't have it, practitioners get bashed by others who say it no longer exists, and no matter who is talking about it, is controversial. Why is this gift, which Paul suggests as less important than others, such a hot button? Why has it reached an elevated status above all other gifts? For that answer we need to look at what the Scriptures have to say about it.
The first mention of it is by Christ when He appeared to the disciples after the resurrection and was sending them out to evangelize the world. Mark 16:17 "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues." This is a reference to the new ability which would first occur with the giving of the gift of tongues at Pentecost. Acts 2:3-4 "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance," From that point forward the disciples (who would then be apostles) would carry the gospel out into the entire world, including countries with languages which they did not speak. Having the gift of tongues was a necessity to spread the gospel as quickly as possible. When Christ said believers would speak with new tongues, He meant tongues of other known languages. Acts 2:8-11 "And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
Now so far, the indication is that the only tongues they are speaking are known tongues. Not ones learned by the apostles, but known to the world. Nothing is said about the tongues being a heavenly language which nobody can understand. These are all established languages which people are miraculously speaking having never studied them. And the purpose at this point is to enable the gospel to go forth into all the world as per the great commission given by Christ to the apostles. These tongues were understood by someone. They were not gibberish.
The next time we see tongues, it is again in the book of Acts 10:44-47 "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as
came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the
gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?"
In this incident, the Holy spirit gave the gift of tongues to some Gentiles who believed. The purpose of this seems to be for a sign. In particular it is a sign for the Jews, who were astonished that God was accepting the Gentiles as equal believers along with them, for Peter states what the result of them hearing these people speak in tongues is - their acceptance of them. It is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is doing the same for the Gentiles as He did for the Jews, so the Jews must accept the Gentiles as equals. Had there not been some sort of sign from God, there is probably no way the Jews would have accepted them as equals and heirs of salvation, because they were astonished that God would do so. There had to be a sign from God for them to accept the Gentiles. 1 Corinthians 1:22 " For the Jews require a sign," and 1 Corinthians 14:22a "Wherefore tongues are for a sign," Now as we must only interpret what we read within the parameters of what we have already learned, we have to still conclude that these are known or recognizable languages that these people are speaking. Had they not been, the apostles would probably have accused them of faking it by just speaking gibberish or being demonically controlled. They recognized that these people were indeed speaking other languages, which they could not have known, and thus they were being indwelt by the Holy Spirit just as they had been at Pentecost. So now we can conclude that tongues have two purposes. They were for the purpose of spreading the gospel quickly to people of other nations and languages, and they were a sign for the Jews that God was accepting the Gentiles as equals in His kingdom.
The next case of speaking in tongues is found in Acts 19:1-6 "And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having
passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain
disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy
Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as
heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.
Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance,
saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should
come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied." Paul finds some disciples and asks if they have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, since they believed. His question indicates that the normal thing has now become that when a person accepts the Lord, they are immediately indwelt by the Spirit at that time. As this is the normal understanding that we have as to what happens upon receiving the Lord today, this seems a little strange to us that it had not happened, but note that these people had never heard about the Holy Spirit, so would not have understood what was happening. They needed to have understanding first, so the Holy Spirit held off indwelling them until they could learn. I also want to point out that at no time yet has this been referred to, as is common upon some churches today, as a "baptism of the Holy Spirit" as in a separate manifestation beyond being initially indwelt. This has merely been the normal receiving of the Holy Spirit to be indwelt, even though it came later than the belief. The only baptisms going on so far are water baptisms: John's and in the name of the Lord. The Holy Spirit is given to them along with the gift of prophecy when Paul lays hands upon them. What occurs for them at this point is the receiving of the Spirit that one normally gets upon believing. Now notice too, that it is not just tongues which are given, and again there is no indication that these are anything but known languages as previously stated, but they are also given the gift of prophesy, which Paul later says is the most valuable gift.
In Corinthians 12 we finally come to the passage that most people are aware of when speaking of tongues. I will put in bold print the things which will be addressed below.
"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit
of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the
Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another
discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another
the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of
that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews
or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to
drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable,
upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have
more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no
need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more
abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily
prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings,
helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way."
In this passage we find Paul talking about the gifts of the Spirit. The first thing he says is that we should not be ignorant concerning them. He does not just mean ignorant as to what the gifts are, but ignorant as to how to use them, or how to treat them. In other words, they are to be used properly and according to the rules which we will see later, and they are not to be treated as if one is all important and the others are not.
The next statement of note is that Paul says there are diversities of gifts. In other words, not everyone is going to get the same gift. Again I repeat, more loudly, NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO GET THE SAME GIFT. There are many gifts and many means of administrating them, and many ways of them operating. He then states that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is given to everyone. So everyone is going to have some kind of manifestation, but not everyone is going to have the same manifestation. Now as we have already been told that there are many gifts, and then that the Holy Spirit manifests Himself in every believer, we must conclude that the Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in each believer through a different gift upon belief. So there should be no theology in which people say that if you don't receive a certain gift (namely tongues), you have not been "baptized" in the Holy Spirit.
There is one indwelling whether you want to call it an indwelling, a manifestation, or a baptism.There is one time at which the gifts are given according to what we have read so far. The one time that it is mentioned that it was not given at the time of belief, it was because they did not know about the indwelling of the Spirit and needed to learn about it first. Supernatural gifts may manifest immediately as above, or possibly it might take a particular situation for it to manifest, however not every gift has a supernatural manifestation. They will manifest as people involve themselves in the congregation and that gift becomes needed. Teaching will not be a miraculous manifestation, nor will most gifts. One thing is certain, people should not expect a miraculous manifestation of a particular gift (tongues) beyond the gift they are given, to prove they have been indwelt. If you are going to be "filled," as the term is applied to differentiate it from being indwelt, you will be filled with your own gift. Your gift is your gift not someone else's and you receive it when you are indwelt at the time of belief. You may manifest it at various and multiple times and you obviously should, but you are not given one gift to use, and then given another to prove you are saved.
Nothing in Scripture indicates there is a special outpouring of only one gift (namely tongues) weeks, months, or years after salvation which signifies that someone is filled with the Spirit. We will manifest our own gift in power when we are "filled" with the Spirit. When we realize what our gift that we have been given is, we should not expect to see that gift in every other believer. We might find it in some, for these gifts are given to each congregation for a reason, but we may be the only person in our local assembly with that gift. The reason being that God gave gifts as it pleased Him to do so, so that the entire body might be whole. Paul points out that the foot, hand, ear, and eye are all part of the body, and the body needs all those parts. The foot can't be the hand nor should he want to be. The ear is not the eye, nor should he want to be. But if there were only feet or only hands or only eyes or ears, what kind of body would it be? Not a useful one, that is for certain. We need all the parts of our body to function properly, and the body of Christ needs all the parts to function properly too. And it is not just the body universal that needs these gifts, the local assembly needs to have a diversity of gifts, so that it can function. They cannot all do the same job. What good would a hospital be if everyone wanted to be the administrator? Every gift plays its part, and all are important in the whole.
Paul first lists some gifts in the middle of this passage. They are word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretations. Then at the end of this passage he gives a list of gifts apparently in the order of their priority. I hate to say in importance, because all parts of the body are important, but some will take more precedence in the functioning of the entire body as a whole, while some serve smaller parts of the body at a time. He lists apostles as the first in priority. The original apostles were the missionaries who had known the Lord personally and carried the gospel to all parts of the world. As the apostles brought the gospel to the world, this was and is the first priority gift, as spreading the gospel was and still is the main priority. This is followed by prophets or the gift of prophecy. These were and are the people to whom the Lord gives the ability to 1) see sin before others see it 2) who know the Word well, so that they know when it is being twisted or corrupted, 3) are given God's warnings to pass on, and 4) might be shown some things of the future. These things are crucial gifts for the local body, so that they might keep deception and sin out of the church and warn the congregation if God is going to punish them for some sin, so they can repent. The next important gift is teaching. Everyone needs to study the Word of God, so that they might learn the Word and be discerning Bereans to rightly divide it to avoid error, and be able to give a defense for their belief, and most importantly learn about God's prophecies of the Second Coming. There are some gifted with teaching these things, as not everyone is a scholar, but you would not want a church with nothing but teachers. After those are the gifts that would be applied individually or to smaller situations, unlike the previous three which are for the entire body. There are the gift of miracles, healing, helps, government (administrative talents) and finally tongues. In both lists tongues is listed at the end of the list. This is probably because it is the least useful in terms of edifying the church, regardless of what some churches today want to believe. Now this is still only a partial list of the gifts, but they will be covered in another article.
The next mention of tongues is when Paul continues on from the last verse which said, "and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." He is about to talk about love being the greatest of all the gifts, for all these other gifts will cease one day, but love will never cease. But within this passage he still talks about tongues, so it is necessary to look at those two verses
1 Corinthians 13:1 "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
1 Corinthians 13:8 "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease, whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away,
The first verse talks about the tongues of men and of angels. We know man has a diversity of languages, but here we are told that their is a language that the angels speak. In this verse Paul is not saying that he does or we can speak with that language. He is saying that if even he were to speak with a diversity of tongues including that of the angels, and did not have love, they would be useless for even if they were understood, nobody would hear anything that was being said, for people watch what we do before they listen to what we say. It is not a definitive statement that he or any person can talk in the tongue of the angels. He is saying if he were to do so, for if you take the "though" as a definitive that he does, then you must also take as a definitive that he does not have charity or love, for the connecting word is "and," not "but" or "or." He is making the hyperbole that if his gift were even so great that he could understand and speak in the tongues of the angels (which would be quite a gift, for only the angels would understand and benefit from it, man would not), it would be worthless without love.
In the next verse, he states that the gifts will eventually cease, and tongues is one of them. Some people believe that they already have, for the next two verses say "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." These people believe that "the perfect" that was to come was the completion of the Bible with the New Testament. This does not work however as an interpretation, because we are told that in the end times people will prophesy, and since prophesying is included in this verse, it cannot mean the completion of the Bible. Acts 2:17 "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God,I will pour out of
my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall
prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall
dream dreams." Therefore we know that the gift of tongues is still in existence and will be until "the perfect" or the Lord's Kingdom comes.
Now in the next chapter, which is the last discussion the Bible has on tongues, Paul makes some comments that make it apparent that he is somewhat frustrated with them, and sets out some rules about the use of the gift of tongues. Apparently the church at Corinth was abusing it in several ways. Again, due to the length of this passage, I will put some highlights in bold print.
1 Corinthians 14:1-28, 33, 39 "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but
unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he
speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied:
for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues,
except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I
profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by
knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? And even
things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give
a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or
harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be
understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak
into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him
that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian
unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the
understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with
the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with
the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say
Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou
sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding,
that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in
an unknown tongue. Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will
I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me,
saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to
them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth
not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all
speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or
unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling
down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a
truth. How is it then, brethren? when ye come together,
everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a
revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto
edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.... For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints......Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues."
The first thing Paul does in this passage is to tell them that they need to do everything in love, for this issue was apparently becoming a matter of disagreement among them. Then he tells them that they should desire to have spiritual gifts, but more importantly they should desire to have the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is the most edifying for the church. Right here, this statement should stop people from making tongues a hallmark of being filled by the Spirit and desiring it for themselves and pressuring others to want it as a sign of being filled by the Spirit. Paul says the gift they should be desiring is prophecy, for it is the most useful for the church, which is the point of the gifts in the first place. The purpose of gifts is for the edification of the church, not for the edification of or more commonly today, the puffing up of an individual due to pride.
Tongues in particular is the topic under discussion, and his comments make it clear that it has become a problem. First he clarifies that when you speak in an unknown tongue (now note he means unknown in that nobody is a native speaker or has learned the language, not that it is a non-earthly language that nobody would know) nobody understands (unless there is a native speaker of that language or an interpreter), so he who speaks in tongues is not speaking to men, or for the edification of the congregation, but only to God, for the only one in the congregation that understands it is God. What the Spirit is saying is a mystery to anyone but God, under these circumstances. This basically means that God is talking to Himself, which does not hold much edification for man, nor would there seem to be any purpose in God doing that. The only man who might be edified is the man who is doing the speaking in tongues. But now we have to consider, how is that edifying to the person if they do not understand a single thing they are saying? Well, to just experience the filling of the Spirit would be an uplifting experience emotionally and spiritually in the sense that you realize the presence of the Lord, but other than that, you would not learn anything or get any answers to questions you might have, or have any intellectual input whatsoever. The experience would be more one of feelings of elation than anything else. The problem with this is that if a person gets addicted to the feeling, they might start manufacturing an experience to get a rush of feelings, so that they can have a "high" as they say. Coupled with that is the danger of pride creeping in and the person beginning to think that somehow they are superior, because they are having this supernatural experience which others are not having. And indeed, this seems to have been one of the problems that this church was experiencing. People were all wanting to have this experience and it appears it was becoming the "in" thing to do it.
Then Paul makes a comment that people quickly refer to, to defend wanting everyone to speak in tongues. Paul says that he wishes that they all spoke in tongues. Unfortunately people stop there and do not read the rest of the sentence, for he also says that he would rather that they prophesy. His meaning is not that he wants everyone to talk in tongues, because that is the greatest gift. He is saying that he wishes that everyone would at least have this minor gift, so that they would at the very least have personal edification, however, he would rather that they have the greater gift which would edify the entire church. He makes one caveat as to the gift of tongues having any edification for the church and its usefulness as such and that is if there is someone there to interpret. This would require that someone understand the tongue, which still indicates it is a known language, not some unknown gibberish that nobody could comprehend. Today many people think that if they simply speak in tongues, that is the whole point of the gift. Paul says that if you speak in tongues, (and it must be interpreted) it is only of any profit if it gives a revelation, knowledge, a prophecy, or doctrine. Otherwise it is not of any use whatsoever. Unless what is being said is understood and has some content of importance, you might as well just be talking into thin air, for it is completely useless.
Paul continues by saying that there are many languages in the world (now again here when he is referring to the gift of tongues, he is speaking of known languages which someone speaks), but unless someone can understand it, you have no communication at all. You merely appear to be a barbarian to the person listening, speaking a bunch of gibberish. They were apparently zealous to have spiritual gifts, but most particularly tongues, so Paul tells them, that if they are so zealous for the gifts, they should want to get the one which will edify the church. If they do get the gift of tongues, to make it of any use, they should pray that they also get the gift of interpretation. Paul now mentions tongues in the context of having it manifest during prayer. This is the first time that it is mentioned that tongues manifests through prayer and not just when one is speaking. Up until now, tongues manifested to allow them to preach to people of other languages, when people heard the word and believed, or by the laying on of hands. So now we know that tongues can manifest during prayer. Now when Paul refers to speaking in tongues while praying, he has just said that they should pray that they can interpret, for he now says that if one prays in tongues, the spirit may be praying, but the mind is unfruitful. He then tells them that they should instead pray with the spirit and the mind, so that there can be understanding. We are to prefer to pray normally than in tongues. It is preferable to do so. This would negate the idea that some people have that praying in tongues is a far more spiritual and superior way to pray. The reason for tongues not being preferable is that nobody can be edified except perhaps the person speaking.
Paul declares that he is glad he speaks tongues more than any of them. Why would he say this, if he feels that tongues is not that useful a gift? It is for the same reason that occurs today. People who speak in tongues (or think they are speaking in tongues) tend to get an attitude of superiority over other Christians who do not speak in tongues. It causes a lot of division and hard feelings, which obviously was happening in this church. He is glad he speaks in tongues, because he cannot be accused of being jealous and saying those things our of resentment. He is saying tongues is not all that valuable as a gift in the church, because it is the truth, not because he is jealous. To make the point clear, he says that in church he would rather speak five words that people understand than ten thousand words that they don't. Clearly speaking in tongues is something that he really does not put much importance upon, as far as serving the church. It appears to be at this point a self-edifying gift, more than a missionary tool, or a sign to the Jews, which then makes it of no use to the church. As the original intent of the gift was as a missionary tool, or as a sign to the Jews, it is not pertinent or useful for it to be a gift within a local assembly. They all speak the same language, and they were by now understanding that Gentiles and Jews were both equal in God's eyes when it comes to salvation. Therefore it was not of much use unless, as he said earlier, it was interpreted and had a prophecy or doctrine or something useful such as that to relate to the church.
Now Paul chastises them and tells them to not be like childish in their understanding. He then takes them back to the Old Testament Scriptures which say that God has prophecies that with people of other tongues He would speak to His people, yet they would not hear Him. This is what was happening. Israel was rejecting the gospel, so the gospel was going forth into other lands and languages to the Gentiles, and would eventually have to come back to Israel via these other languages and nations or via the Gentiles. Paul is emphasizing that when God speaks about tongues, He is talking about the gospel being preached in other languages, and that tongues was given to serve that purpose, not really as some sort of personal experience to get worked up over. Tongues was not to be a sign for believers, (that they were saved), but as a sign for those who did not believe, in other words as previously mentioned, the Jews, to show that God was working through the Gentiles. Then he again reiterates that prophecy was the gift for believers.
Now Paul mentions another problem that this is causing. Everyone in the church was apparently trying to speak in tongues (just as today people can "manifest" this through faking it due to peer pressure). This was creating chaos and he says that if someone who is an unbeliever or does not know the Scriptures comes in, and they are all talking away in tongues, it will merely make the visitors think that they are all crazy. However, if someone comes in and hears prophesying, the things that are said will convince and convict and thereby bring them to salvation. Therefore when they come together everyone should bring their own gift (and he does include tongues in here) and exercise those gifts for the edification of the church. And here he lays down some rules about tongues. If someone does speak in tongues, if that truly is their gift, then at the most there should only be two or three that do it at a service, and only if there is an interpreter there to make known what is said. And then they should not do it at the same time, but take turns in an orderly fashion. If there is no interpreter, then they are to keep their mouths shut. If even just this last rule were followed, this rule alone would shut down a tremendous amount of the speaking in tongues that is going on in some churches.
Finally Paul relents and says that they should not forbid anyone to speak in tongues, for it is a gift, and it does have its place as long as the rules are followed, however, he says that instead of wanting this gift, they should really be desiring that God would give them the gift of prophecy.
So in covering all the verses in the New Testament about the gift of tongues we see that 1) they are known languages 2) it is the least important of the gifts, unless there is an interpreter and the message is one of knowledge, prophecy, doctrine or revelation 3) it is only one of many gifts, so will not be given to everyone 4) it is really a missionary tool, either to spread the gospel or to be a sign to the Jews, and of not much use for the edification of the church 5) it is really a personal edification gift if you pray in tongues, and even then if you can't interpret you probably shouldn't be doing it as it is far preferable to pray with understanding 6) there are rules for its use 7) it is not a sign for the believer, so therefore it should not be used as one - do not judge a person's salvation status by whether or not they speak in tongues and 8) while Paul mentions that there is an angelic language, there really is no indication that this is a language available for speaking in tongues. It would serve no purpose as the angels do not need the gospel and that was the purpose of tongues - to spread the gospel. Nor do they need a sign to recognize that someone is accepted by God, as they are not unbelievers. So there is no such confirmation in Scripture that speaking in tongues is a heavenly unknown angelic tongue called "prayer language" as people like to call it.
As a last warning, I have personally been aware of the fact that speaking in tongues can be demonic, as well as from the Holy Spirit. This may be another reason why Paul said that if there is no interpreter they should keep their mouths shut, for if you speak or pray with no understanding, and you are not sure of whom spirit is which is talking, you have no idea what garbage may be coming out of your mouth. A true incident I would like to relate is when the brother (who was a pastor) of my college roommate was visiting a church that practiced the gift of tongues, because he was curious about it as it was not a practice of his church, he heard at least one person speaking in a tongue he was able to understand. And what that person was saying was that Satan was their god and they were cursing Jesus and the Father. And all around this person people were praising God for this person speaking in tongues. He did not interpret for them, as he was very disturbed by it, and rightfully so. Their lack of discernment was causing the entire congregation to blaspheme God. This is the problem with desiring a gift that you have not actually been given. Satan will use your desire and pride to give you what you want, and blaspheme through you. If you speak in tongues and cannot interpret, then be very aware that the thrill you feel when you do so might not be coming from the Lord, but be a feeling that Satan is instilling in you to make you do this over and over, so he can mock both you and God. Do not think you are above being deceived, for pride goeth before destruction and it seems that this particular gift causes many to have pride in it. If you speak in tongues, pray that you might interpret or be very careful. Remember it is preferable to pray with understanding, rather than to get a "high" off of it.