I had no idea I was holding onto an electric fence. After all, who would have felt the need to set up an electric fence for that handful of docile cows in the corner? They didn’t look as if they could get up the gumption to walk, let alone try to break through a fence. After all, they couldn’t even get their tails moving fast enough to keep the flies off. But, I can guarantee you it certainly was an electric fence. For after I yelled at my brother to stop kicking me, he screamed my name and yanked me away from the fence as quick as lightning. Yes, jolts of electricity flowing from the fence into my hands and pulsing through my entire body. It is certainly not an event I ever want to experience again. But it did give me a taste of the incredible power of power. Power that can flow from one object to another. Power that can produce an incredible impact, for good and for bad. Power is powerful.
This is certainly not only the case for electrical power, but is also true of supernatural power—power given by God. Power that comes from Him, and can flow into our lives. It too can have an incredible impact for good and for bad.
In the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, we certainly see the power that power can have. Although here, of course, it is not the power of electricity, but that supernatural power—the power that come from God through the spiritual gifts He has poured out in his church. There are two main gifts highlighted in this passage: the gift of “tongues” and the gift of “prophecy”. First of all, what exactly is this gift of “tongues?” This is certainly a gift that seems a bit weird, doesn’t it? It doesn’t help that throughout the ages, the word “tongues” has stuck to it, which quite honestly, does not translate well into our culture. Unless, of course, you are looking for a vivid image for an alien film. Perhaps we should argue instead for new terminology: the gift of spontaneous languages. This actually communicates much better, doesn’t it? It is a supernatural ability, given by God, to speak in a foreign language that one has not previously learned. (And for those of us who have suffered through the learning of languages, we can appreciate the beauty of this gift!)
While I prefer to call this the gift of languages because I think it communicates better (and is certainly allowable based on the word in the original language), what you call it does not change the mystery of it. The mystery surrounding this gift, no matter what we call it, is certainly still there. This gift appears to have begun at Pentecost which we see described in Acts 2: 4-11:
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (languages) as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs– we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Check out that list of ethnicities! Clearly, this gift did amazing things at this point in history: it allowed for the spread of the gospel to happen much more rapidly and to a much broader range of people. And it did this because the people hearing it understood the meaning. It was intelligible. Therefore, it was powerful.
And, yes, this gift was indeed a miracle and went against what we normally experience in the natural order of the world. In fact, here at Pentecost, the believers were accused of “being drunk” (Acts 2:13). People looked at it and deemed it strange. Weird. Eccentric. Odd. Hmmm…I know someone else who was deemed weird and eccentric when He walked the earth. It was certainly strange for a man to touch a sick person and for him to be healed. It was certainly weird for a man to pass around a few loaves and a couple of fish and end up feeding thousands. It was certainly odd for a man to die and then three days later, be walking around more alive than you and me. To normal folks, Jesus was weird, eccentric, odd. God in human flesh will tend to be a bit different. And a faith which follows Him may look a bit different too.
But really, Paul’s intention here is not to focus on this gift of languages, it is instead to get their focus elsewhere. The real focus in this passage is on prophecy. Not another easy gift to understand, however. There is much discussed about prophecy in Scripture, and of various kinds, but essentially, here in 1 Corinthians, it was speech inspired directly by God and given to someone for the strengthening and encouragement of others.
It is amazing, really, how community oriented the church really is to be, isn’t it? That God would design the body in such a way that He would speak through one person into the life of another believer is truly amazing! Sometimes we all too often visualize our relationship with God as if we are wearing headphones, blocking out the outside world, with God speaking to us directly through our own personal wires. And while sometimes, it is important to connect with God in quiet and solitude, it is just as important to be connected with others so we can hear what God has to say to us through them. I can testify to the fact that in the many years that I have been a Christian, that there have been numerous times when God has spoken to me in profound ways through others. In fact, some of them have been down right crazy-supernatural. I have experienced people telling me specific things that have confirmed where God was leading me, even though they had no prior knowledge of the circumstances. God really can and does communicate to us through others, and He communicates to others through us. That is, if we are willing to let him.
God’s power is certainly at work in His body, through the spiritual gifts and in other ways. And as power often does, it can flow through one person into the lives of others. This is why we should seek to be instruments of His power in the lives of others through words they can understand. Not because it’s mystical and cool. But because by it, others are built up and strengthened. For by doing so, we can have a profound impact in the lives of others and for His Kingdom. And those who come to know God will indeed make the exclamation we see in 1 Cor. 14: 25, “God is really among you!” For as we well know, He certainly is.