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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Speaking in Tongues

Don Stewart :: Is Speaking in Tongues to Build up Oneself a Proper Goal?

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Is Speaking in Tongues to Build up Oneself a Proper Goal? (1 Corinthians 14:4)

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues – Question 10

The Bible says that speaking in tongues can be a personal edification or a building up, of the one speaking. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this. He said.

The person who speaks in [another] language builds himself up, but he who prophesies builds up the church (1 Corinthians 14:4 HCSB).

Is this something good? This has been used to demonstrate that speaking in tongues is a gift that God has given to believers for the purpose of building them up. It is argued that since we can only build up others as much as we ourselves are built up, we need the gift of tongues for personal building up or edification. Therefore, it is a good thing that some people speak in tongues and build up, or edify themselves.

In addition, speaking in tongues, it is contended, makes the believer feel closer to God when he or she prays to God in the Holy Spirit. This is another reason why self-edification is a proper goal for the Christian.

Others Believe That This Is the Wrong Understanding of This Verse

However there is also the viewpoint that tongues are only to be used for the building up of the church, not the individual. It is contended that this verse has been pulled out of its context and misapplied in this area. The passage does not encourage self-edification. There are a number of points that need to be made.

This Verse Has Nothing to Say about the Purpose of the Gift

First, this verse has been wrongly cited as the purpose of speaking in tongues. Paul is not dealing with the purpose of speaking in tongues in this verse. He does this later in the chapter when he writes the following.

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22 NIV).

Since speaking in tongues is a sign to the unbeliever, the purpose cannot be self-edification. What Paul is doing in this verse is actually speaking against the use of tongues for self-edification. In other words, he is doing just the opposite of what people are saying he is doing. He is not encouraging people to speak in tongues for self-edification.

Self Edification Is the Result Not the Purpose

In addition, self-edification is the result, not the purpose, of exercising spiritual gifts. For example, when a person exercises the gift of evangelism they are built up. Yet the purpose of the gift is not to build up the evangelist. Neither is it the purpose of any spiritual gift.

This includes the gift of tongues. When any spiritual gift is exercised the person using the gift will always be built up. However this is not the reason that the gift is exercised. It is something that accompanies the use of the gift.

Building up Oneself Is Not a Valid Goal

Finally, the Bible speaks against the idea of building up one self. We are already full of self. The gifts of the Spirit are to build up others, not ourselves. They have been given for the good of the body of Christ. Paul wrote.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church (1 Corinthians 12:7 NLT).

This is the purpose for the gift; to build up the church.

In this spirit Paul wrote to the Philippians about the need to be thinking of others and not ourselves. He put it this way.

Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing (Philippians 2:4 NLT).

Therefore, believers in Christ should not seek to edify or build up themselves, but rather to build up the body of Christ, the church.

Summary – Question 10
Is Speaking in Tongues to Edify Oneself a Proper Goal (1 Corinthians 14:4)

The Bible says that those who speak in tongues edify, or build up, themselves. This brings up the question as to whether this is something which should be our goal. Should we attempt to build up ourselves?

There are those who see this as something necessary. They believe that Christians need to build up themselves so they can build up others. Since speaking in tongues builds up, or edifies, the person who is exercising the gift self-edification should be a desirable goal.

Others do not believe it is a valid goal for the Christian. They believe the gift of tongues, as well as the rest of spiritual gifts, are given to profit the entire body of Christ. Indeed, they are not given merely to build up individual believers. The emphasis in Scripture is not on the individual but on the entire church. Gifts are for the edification or building up of everyone, not just a select few.

While exercising spiritual gifts will build up the person exercising the gift, this is the result of using the gift rather than the purpose of the gift. Therefore, we must always remember that the purpose of the gift is the building up, or the edification of, others.

Should a Person Seek to Speak in Tongues? ← Prior Section
Does Speaking in Tongues Have a Devotional Purpose? Next Section →
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