1 Corinthians 14:18
"I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you."
Paul spoke in tongues a lot. No one could say what he said unless he spoke in tongues a lot. He was confident that no one in the Corinthian church spoke in tongues as much as he did. Not only did he make use of this gift more than anyone else, he was thankful that he did. Paul thanked God that he spoke in tongues! Does that say anything to us as to what our attitude should be toward those who speak in tongues a lot?
This passage also gives us instruction as to when and where Paul spoke in tongues so much. It was in his personal devotions to God in his private prayer life. He said that when he was in the fellowship of the saints in church, the very next verse says he would rather "speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue." (verse 19)
But that did not cancel out what he had just said about being thankful that he spoke in tongues more than them all. He was giving them instruction as to how and when and where to flow freely in the gift of tongues.
Can I identify with Paul in my attitude about speaking in tongues? Am I thankful that I speak in tongues? Do I speak in tongues frequently? Or is this something that I do very infrequently?
I truly believe one of the reasons that Paul was such a strong believer is because he constantly edified himself spiritually by speaking in tongues. It has been my observation over many years of ministry in the Body of Christ that those who pray much in the Spirit are the ones who are flowing powerfully in many other spiritual gifts and those who seldom or never pray in the Spirit are usually not moving in the other power gifts of the Holy Spirit that Paul mentions in this chapter.
This is not to say that speaking in tongues is the cornerstone of all the gifts, or the most important one. But it is to say that to disqualify or despise one of the gifts of the Spirit, the only one that we can use continually, anytime day or night, may be the reason why some of the other power gifts are not operating in our lives, such as prophecy, the gift of healing, word of wisdom, etc.
Moreover, as we consider what Paul said about tongues in First Corinthians fourteen, how can we neglect this gift and ignore the values that he places on it? If speaking in tongues has no value whatever, it should not be done anywhere in the Body of Christ. Why should we keep up a practice that is very controversial and troublesome while at the same time is without value? On the other hand, if the Word of God clearly points out the value of this practice and actually encourages us to do this, we cannot afford to lightly pass it off as some form of wild fanaticism.
We need to keep in mind that, in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, it was not his purpose to forbid speaking in tongues. He specifically states that position in verse 39, "Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues." And in verse 5 he says he wants them all to speak in tongues and that he is thankful that he speaks in tongues more than any of them did.
So whatever our view of speaking in tongues, it should agree with the apostle Paul's, for how can we receive any of his counsel as the word of God to us and the will of God for us if we cannot accept what he says to us concerning spiritual gifts? We cannot pick and choose what part of Paul's writings are from God and what part are his own ideas. If he is speaking the mind of God on this matter, we must hear what he has to say and live in the light of it. As we shall see, this will not be too difficult to do.
When Paul was made aware of the misuse of some of the gifts, especially the gift of tongues, he had to explain more fully the ways of the Lord in the assembly of the saints when it comes to the exercise of spiritual gifts. Some have read these admonitions and concluded that the gift of tongues was not worth the risk and abandoned the pursuit of spiritual gifts entirely. This was never Paul's intention. His purpose was to teach them how to use these gifts, not to advise them to discontinue them.
And in the process of doing this, he has revealed to us some of the reasons why he spoke in tongues and why he wanted all of the Corinthian believers to do the same. Let's look again at Paul's wisdom and insight in I Corinthians 14 about speaking in tongues.
He said, "Anyone who speaks in tongues . . . speaks to God." (verse 2)
"Anyone who speaks in tongues . . . utters mysteries." (verse 2) "
Anyone "who speaks in tongues edifies himself." (verse 4)
"I would like every one of you to speak in tongues." (verse 5)
"If I pray in a tongue my spirit prays." (verse 14)
"I will pray with my spirit . . . I will sing with my spirit." (verse 15)
"When I pray with my spirit, I am giving thanks well." (16-17)
"I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you." (verse 18)
"Tongues, then, are a sign . . . for unbelievers." (verse 22)
"Do not forbid speaking in tongues." (verse 39)
While it is true that Paul boasts that he spoke in tongues more than all the Corinthians, his primary use of tongues was in prayer to God. "Anyone who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God." (1 Corinthians 14:4). He calls this expression of prayer as praying "in the Spirit."
If all the books in Christendom were brought together with each topic in a separate pile, do you know which topic would have the biggest pile? The topic of PRAYER. Prayer is the channel of access to God. We come into the Kingdom of God through prayer. We ask for and receive things from God through prayer. We praise the Lord through prayer. We keep up a constant communion all through the day through prayer. Some of that could be in tongues.
The apostle Paul tells us of a sure-fire connection between two spirits, between the redeemed human spirit and the Living Father. Praying in tongues is instant contact with our Eternal Creator Himself. While I am praying in tongues, I'm talking to God. Whatever else anyone may say about the use of our spiritual language, this is the bottom line - I am talking to God. Tongues are connected to heaven's throne.
Of course, this is not to demean the validity of prayer in our native language as though it were second class. Paul said he would pray both with the spirit and with the understanding. There are times when we are desperate to come into God's throne room. And we know in those moments that without making contact with God, things are going to get a lot worse. Hook into God. Don't be afraid to pray both with your understanding and in tongues. In tongues, you will plug into God's power and tune into His wavelength.
Paul says praying in tongues is GOOD. He, himself, enjoyed this gift in his prayer life (1 Corinthians 14:18). Paul was thankful for speaking in tongues, and wanted every Christian to receive this experience (1 Corinthians 14:5).
When we pray in tongues, we do not speak to men but to God (14:2). We are communing with God in the spirit. We are saying something to God that He understands, though to us it is a mystery.
There is value in speaking in tongues because there is value in speaking to God in the Spirit. And when you pray in tongues, you never pray out of the will of God. It may be that when we pray in tongues we are praying the most effectual prayer possible. That is because it is being guided by the Holy Spirit. And where the Spirit is, there is liberty.