Understanding. Perhaps this is the universal quest of humanity. Everyone wants understanding. People want to understand other people. People want other people to understand them. We want to understand the weather. We want to understand the economy. Even the worst student, deep down inside, wants to understand that with which he struggles. There are countless books that are written to help parents understand their children, to help spouses understand each other, to help even a “dummy” understand any subject you can think of. People are seeking understanding. As we continue in our study of revelatory gifts, this is our guiding principle – people need to understand.
This is made very clear by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14. He says in v. 9, “In the same way, unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known.” It is not that he is calling into question the biblical gift of tongues, rather he is emphasizing that which is of greater importance – that people understand the message of Jesus Christ.
No matter what your opinion is of the nature of these gifts, the most important thing is not whether or not these gifts exist and their expression is biblical. What is most important is that the Gospel of Christ is presented clearly and in a way that is easy to understand.
I learned this in a very simple and profound way the first time I was asked to share the Gospel in a place where the listeners did not speak the same language as I did. Everything they teach in preaching class goes out the window since what is important in that environment is not the delivery of the message, rather the content of the message. I had to learn that style was irrelevant in that environment, because I was preaching for understanding. The message had to be understood by the interpreter and the message had to be understood by those receiving the interpretation. Understanding was key. Those listeners would not be saved by my presentation, they would be saved by understanding and responding to the clear message of the cross.
Passages like 1 Corinthians 14 tend to be interpreted in the context of whatever your theological background. Baptist are quick to say, “This passage limits the use of tongues.” Charismatics are quick to say, “This passage gives permission for tongues.” Principally, the most significant thing for all believers, no matter denominational background, is that our message must be understandable. If a person participates in a church where speaking in tongues is the norm, that practice should never interfere with the understandability of the message. People should walk away from one of those worship services with a clearer understanding of the Bible, glorying in the person and work of Jesus. This is a great danger for many Pentecostal circles that place far too much emphasis on ecstatic gifts. On the other extreme, if a person participates in a church where Spanish is considered glossalalia, the message of the cross must continue to be preached with great clarity, conviction, and consistency. These churches tend to err by playing hermeneutical gymnastics in an attempt to avoid dealing honestly and biblically with the presence of ecstatic gifts.
What we find is that everyone wants to understand the charismatic movement. Mainline denominations wonder if these denominations are friends in the Great Commission. Mainline and Protestant denominations need to understand that the test for orthodoxy should not be whether or not one speaks in tongues, but whether or not one believes that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Before we can ever agree on any other doctrinal issue, we must agree on our basic understanding of salvation.
Sermon audio from August 2, 2009 can be downloaded by clicking here.