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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 14:13-15 That he may interpret

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, June 12, 2023

13 Because of this, a person who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what can be done? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.

Paul’s seventh caution about speaking in tongues is his chief point:

7, The one who speaks in a tongue should hold his tongue unless he or someone else may interpret.

Paul does not question whether this phenomenon of speaking in tongues is a real gift from God. In fact, he will soon say that he has done it more than any of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:18). But what good does it do if no one can interpret?

To pursue love (14:1) in this context means that the speech of the one who speaks in tongues must benefit others. “The tongues speaker would want to have his words or sounds interpreted,” ProfessorToppe writes, “so that others could understand his message.”

We encounter the lovelessness Paul warns against when our people desire music that is beautiful or pleasing but which has a text that cannot be understood. This is not to say that there is no place for the occasional German hymn verse in worship (such as Christmas Eve) or a performance of a familiar text in another language by a school choir. But the text should be made known to the congregation so that they are edified. Otherwise, the people are not singing or praying with their minds.

The word “mind” here is nous (νοῦς) “mind, thought, reason, attitude, intention, understanding.” Apart from Luke 24:45 and twice in Revelation, this word is exclusively used by Paul in the Bible. He means especially the mind as the understanding that a person has. Paul said: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding…” (Philippians 4:7), but the word of God, which means also the specific words transmitted through the inspired writers, has meaning, and creates understanding as Scripture interprets Scripture for us.

The words of Scripture have a simple, plain meaning, which can make a child wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). The Psalms teach this same truth: “The testimony of the Lord is trustworthy. It gives wisdom to the simple” (or “to the inexperienced,” EHV, Psalm 19:7). And again: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

When we read the Scriptures, we encounter some things that are expressed in visions or dreams, including almost everything in the book of Revelation. These things are to be taken figuratively and not literally, just as the other things in the Bible are to be be taken literally and not figuratively. In his book, Biblical Interpretation: The Only Right Way, Professor David Kuske presents a brief list of things that are not legitimate reasons for departing from the literal sense:

1, A word or phrase makes good sense if it is understood figuratively.
2, A literal interpretation yields a sense that reason cannot grasp.
3, The literal interpretation involves difficulties that would be avoided by a figurative interpretation.
4, Some famous theologian [or hymn writer] has given a figurative interpretation for the word or phrase in question.
5, The word or phrase in question is used in a figurative sense elsewhere in Scripture.

It must be “as clear as is the summer’s sun,” as “clear as crystal,” and “as clear as the sky itself” that “avoiding difficulties” is what lies behind listening to tongues-speech without any true interpretation. People could then make up their own value to the sounds, and take to heart any nonsense or false doctrine that popped into their mind, as if the Bible is nothing more than a piece of artwork to be admired, or a poem to be considered from many points of view. This has led some heretics to say that “praying in Latin is more pleasing to God and more advantageous than praying in the vernacular. Even though no one may understand what he is saying in particular, yet it is clear that such prayers take place with no less comfort of the Spirit, no less burden, no less devotion and affection, and in fact, more often with greater than those others that they pray in a known language (!)” (quoted by Johann Gerhand, On the Church). This is the very quicksand of the devil, catching Christians in the quagmire of their own imaginations rather than pointing out of the true path of salvation through Christ alone.

The pursuit of love commands us to first of all be certain that if the gift of tongues were to reappear in the church as the Last Day approaches, that we would look for an interpretation for the benefit of everyone who is listening, as was the case in the early church (Acts 19:6). Second, that we proclaim the word of God and pray in the language of the people so that they may understand what is being said. Third, that when a dialect of a language becomes obsolete from age and disuse, that we reverently and with respect move on to the dialect that is presently understood, so that the youngest as well as the oldest in the church are built up and edified by what is being said.

For those who sin against this case of lovelessness, there is of course forgiveness in Jesus (Jeremiah 31:34; Ephesians 4:32). But let us all give God glory for what he has said so clearly in his word, and strive to share that word, his holy word, with each other, “so that all we accomplish is God’s doing.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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