Prophecy And Tongues - What's This All About?
- Wednesday, November 01, 2006
A great love song is a moment of ecstasy frozen into words, a rhapsody of enthusiasm and passion, a metaphor pointing to a moment when the poet was lifted outside of himself to see reality in its ideal form. It charms us with a memory of the ecstatic moment or allures us with the hint that such a moment might yet be possible. A love song is meant to seduce us from routine into a fantasized ideal of perfect love.
He goes on to describe God's love song as being somewhat similar to other great love songs. He describes Paul as being taken outside of himself in his ordinary level of experience and being given a vision of ideal love. In this, Paul saw beyond the normal range of human vision, beyond life's patchwork of routine demands and conflicts, into love's ideal form. He crystallizes the qualities of love into simple absolutes that never, except for once, have taken hold in the network of demands that we recognize as our world. As idealistic as is his love song, it is designed for us to take seriously. He continues:
And yet his love song seems somehow meant for our living it. It draws a profile of ideal love, but it is too plain for mystic passion. Love is not jealous, does not get angry quickly, endures very much--these are qualities for ordinary living in ordinary days. This is our challenge: to find ways to bring the heavenly rhapsody down into our own worldly realities.
We are not village saints with little to do but find ways to be nice to needy people. We are salesmen trying to survive for our families' sakes against tough competitors. We are directors of business, who know from experience that "love" is not a byword in the board room. We are union stewards in conflict with an obtuse management. We are husbands and wives trying to survive in a marriage where love has wilted into the boredom of mutual toleration. And we are complicated individuals. We have needs, drives, rights, and goals that do not easily harmonize with self-giving love. Love may be simple. Life is complicated.
Now follow this progression. Paul has moved from the identification of spiritual gifts to a strong call for us to examine our motivation as we use these spiritual gifts. This motivation is to be the agape love that chooses to stand by and care for, no matter what, after the model of Jesus Christ. We are constrained by Him, the one whose love caused Him to give himself for us.
Now, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul develops further his teaching of spiritual gifts. He calls on us to desire the higher gifts and, as we exercise them, to express them in the more excellent way of love.
In the 1 Corinthians 14:1-25, he brings into juxtaposition two of these spiritual gifts: the gift of prophecy and the gift of tongues. He is going to compare these two.
Very few topics have been more controversial in American Christianity in the last sixty years than the matter of speaking in tongues, or what is often called "glossolalia."
The first occasion on which I was forced to address this topic with any great seriousness was when I was a young pastor in the late 1960s in Key Biscayne. A significant number of people in the church I served began to experience spiritual renewal in what we call "neo-Pentecostal" ways.
One of the evidences of this was that they began to speak in tongues. In their private prayer life and in their small group prayer meetings, they would begin to make ecstatic utterances. Their words came out in a kind of free-flowing babble, uncontrolled by the speaker. It was a very emotional experience. Occasionally, one member of that group, who claimed to have the gift of interpretation, would translate what was said, so the others would understand. This little group began to grow in numbers and suddenly turned upon me as their pastor, demanding that I have the same experience, making speaking in tongues normative as the ultimate sign that one was a spiritual person living close to the Lord.
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