37 1 Corinthians 12:11-13 Speaking in tongues

by | Mar 11, 2020 | 01 Podcasts, Corinthians

As Paul continues discussing the unity and diversity of the body of Christ, we pause to consider what that tells us about speaking in tongues today. Should everyone speak in tongues?


Paul is speaking to a group of believers who are grading and judging each other by whether or not they speak in tongues.  Through chapters 12-14, Paul makes a series of points to give them perspective on that situation.

First, Paul said, the mark of the Spirit of God at work in a person’s life is not what kind of outward experience they have.  The mark of the Spirit of God at work in a person’s life is that they say and mean in a profound way that Jesus is Lord. 

Then Paul began contrasting the unity and diversity in the body of Christ. While all God’s people have the same Spirit at work in them, the Spirit gives a variety of differing gifts to different people. 

In the last podcast, I argued that we should think of spiritual gifts as roles and opportunities to serve the body of Christ, rather than as “super powers” or talents.


12:11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. 12For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14For the body is not one member, but many. – 1Corinthians 12:11-14

  • By God’s design, the human body is meant to be a coherent whole made up of a variety of different parts.  So it is in the church of Christ.
  • Just as it is God’s purpose for different parts of the human body to play different roles and have different functions, it is God’s purpose throughout history for different people to play different roles in the story of redemption. 
  • In 12:13, Paul uses two analogies to summarize the source of our unity.
  • Both analogies involve water and come from the language of Jesus.
  • All 4 gospels report that John the Baptist baptizes with water, but Jesus Christ will baptize with the spirit. 

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. ” – John the Baptist speaking in Matthew 3:11 (Also, Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:26)

  • The Gospel of John records two places where Jesus says the thirsty should come to him for living water.  One is speaking to the woman at the well (John 4). The other is John 7.

7:37Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” 39But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. – John 7:37-29.

  • Baptism is an outward cleansing with water the symbolizes conversion and becoming a disciple of someone. 
  • The true baptism is the baptism of the Spirit where the Spirit cleanses our hard hearts and truly makes us people who want to follow Christ. 
  • It is an inward washing and transformation of which water baptism is a sign.
  • When we are physically thirsty, we drink water to quench our thirst.  But the true drink is a water of the Spirit, which quenches our spiritual thirst.
  • The reality behind these metaphors is the same idea Paul introduced in 1Corinthians 12:1-3:  No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit working in him to give him faith and understanding.  
  • The basis for our unity is that all believers were washed by the same Spirit; and all believers quench our spiritual thirst with the same Spirit. 

In this section, Paul highlights two ways the Spirit works.

  1.  The Spirit gives all believers the same faith, the same spiritual awakening, the same perseverance in the faith and the same desire to follow Jesus. 
  2. The Spirit gives each believer a different role to play in the body of Christ.  

Just as different parts of the body have different jobs to fulfill to keep the body healthy, so believers have different jobs to fulfill in the history of God’s people to bring about His glory and His purposes. 

Should everyone speak in tongues?

Should I be worried if no one in my local church has healed anyone or spoken in tongues?

  • Paul has not answered this question, and does not intend to answer it in this passage.
  • He says there are miracles of healing but he does not say that every local church throughout history will have someone who can miraculously heal. 
  • From the New Testament, we know sometimes people were inexplicably healed. We have stories that this same kind of miraculous healing is happening today and has happened at times in history. 
  • From what Paul has said here, I think we can conclude that if God wants miracles or tongues to happen at any particular point in history to any particular person for any particular reason, then the Spirit of God will make it happen.  If that kind of activity is not happening now, then that too is part of God’s plan. 
  • The Bible does not say whether God intends to keep acting in miraculous ways.  It does not tell us whether the New Testament was a unique period of church history or the beginning of some new way of working.
  • We do know the sign gifts (miracles, healing and tongues) were given to confirm the authority of the speaker (usually an apostle or prophet).

What were tongues in Corinth?

  • The Greek word translated tongues simply means languages. To speak in tongues is literally to speak in languages. 
  • Acts presents a coherent picture that people speak in normal human languages they have not been taught.
  • Today we see what is called “glossolalia” were someone speaks in a language no one understands, usually including the speaker.
  • I suspect Paul is referring to the Acts event where someone speaks a normal language he/she has not been taught.
  • I suspect the Corinthians were practicing glossolalia or something closer to it.

What about the charismatic movement?

  • I am not criticizing the charismatic movement we see today. 
  • From this passage, Paul has not said anything that rules that modern phenomenon of tongues in or out.
  • But IF any group believes that everyone must speak in tongues and IF their theology is that those who don’t speak in tongues are not spiritual, that’s the same mistake Paul is pointing out in Corinth.
  • Paul has just argued that gifts are diverse and you cannot judge someone’s spirituality by whether or not they have the gift of tongues. 
  • There’s a sense in which both charismatics and non-charsimatics could peacefully and gracefully agree to disagree, except both sides tend to see the other side as deficient.

Paul’s points so far

Here’s what I think Paul has clearly said so far. I know both charismatics and non-charismatics who hold these views (and I know some on both sides who don’t).

  1. The mark of true spirituality is not having a particular spiritual gift, including speaking in tongues, but rather the mark of true spirituality is to say and mean that Jesus is Lord
  2. Jesus has brought us together to be His people and to belong to each other as his family.
  3. God gives every individual a role to play serving and bringing about His kingdom.
  4. It is wrong to judge others based on whether they have a particular gift or what role they have been given or not given.
  5. The purpose of having these roles is to build each other up in the faith.

For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.

Next: 38 1Corinthians 12:14-31 Understanding the body of Christ

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