Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. . . . Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. 1 Cor. 14:1 . . . 20-25
A Theology of the Gifts - Several passages address gifts and list various gifts (Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12-14, Eph. 4, and 1 Pet. 4). In 1 Corinthians, gifts are the source contention. To correct this, in ch. 12, the emphasis was on unity through the Spirit in the Body: 1) Though gifts vary, there is only one Holy Spirit, one Lord. 2) Gifts are to edify the Body, rather than for individual selfish conceit or ecstatic experience. 3) These Spirit utilizes the charismata, “grace-gifts” for building up others. In ch. 13, the contrast is made between temporary gifts and abiding love (agape). Love is a necessary motivation for the right function of gifts. Love acts, rather than feels. Love abides forever, but as the Church matures (Eph. 2/4) at least some gifts will be “done away” or “cease of themselves” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). Paul exhorts: be mature and act in love toward the Body.
A Theology of Tongues - In vss 20ff, we find a lesser explored part of the study of tongues. The background to tongues involves the history of Babel/Babylon. Pentecost (Acts 2) is the new creation undoing of Babel when 17 languages (symbolic of the nations) hear the gospel. There are three instances of the rise and fall of Bable/Babylon: 1) the original tower of Babel (Gen. 11) when as a judgment, God “confused their language.” (v7); 2) Babylon under idolatrous Belshazzar sees the “handwriting on the wall” as is judged: “your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians” (Dan. 5:28); and 3) the mystery form of Babylon in which the great Mother of harlots is destroyed (Rev. 17:5; Zech. 5:4-11). So Babylon(s) have a false religion that gets judgment via “tongues.” The final judgment of “Babylon the Great” comes through the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 14:21-22). In the context of Isaiah (quoted in 1 Cor. 14:20), we read: “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD, O scoffers, Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem” (Is. 28:14). Tongues were a sign for unbelieving Israel.
A Theology of Miracles - If 1 Cor. 13 is parallel to Eph. 4:11ff, then as the Church matures beyond the foundational (apostolic revelation), some gifts will cease and others may be take on a more permanent form. An initial miraculous Spirit work is followed with a more permanent form of the miracles. Consider the four major miracle stages in biblical history: 1) in the Exodus, Moses performs judgment signs that quite literally destroy Egypt in the process of delivering Israel. After this the Israelites destroy the Canaanite world with fewer miracles. 2) Prophets Elijah and Elisha perform resurrections. So also, Israel was told that they would go into exile and be resurrected (e.g., Jonah, Ezekiel’s valley of bones, etc.). 3) In Christ’s ministry with the Apostles, their miracles mirror the Levitical priestly work (uncleanness, demons, leprosy, lameness, blindness, and especially resurrection) and so the apostles preach that believers are the true temple of God and the false temple will be destroyed. 4) Likewise, the post-resurrection apostolic miracles are very prophetically based (pentecost, tongues, prophesies, Spirit-filled preaching, visions of mission activity). After the apostolic age we have the NT Scriptures in a tongue (Greek). The Church’s work (including mercy ministry) especially requires the translation of the Word to the nations (Matt. 28:19f). So, it appears that the more permanent form of the prophetic gifts is the translation, preaching, and teaching of the Word of God written.