An Unknown Known Language

For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries” (1 Cor. 14:2).

The gift of tongues is an exercise in mystery. A man speaking in tongues is a man who is speaking mysteries in his spirit. It is a mystery because the language is unknown to those present, and unknown to him.

Because he is speaking to God, we know that God understands him. This means that the language is unknown, not that it is unknowable. It is an unknown tongue, which is not the same thing as gibberish.

When the disciples spoke in tongues at Pentecost, it happened that many foreign speakers were present in Jerusalem because of the festival. What Paul says here about tongue-speaking Corinth was not the case in Jerusalem. They began speaking in other tongues (glossa, Acts 2:4), and when a crowd gathered, they heard them speaking in their own languages (dialektos, Acts 2:6). We get the word dialect from that word. They were speaking in known languages.

The saints in Corinth were doing the same thing, but the languages were not known to anyone on the premises—we will learn what the point of that was a bit later in the chapter.

The Testimony of Jesus

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #161

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1).

The justly famous thirteenth chapter of Corinthians has firmly established the ranking of the fruit of the Spirit over against the gifts of the Spirit. Out of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love, and in his description of the fruit of the Spirit elsewhere, he lists love in the first place (Gal. 5:22). We saw this same truth earlier in this book. The Corinthians were gifted with every spiritual gift (1 Cor. 1:7) but that did not make them spiritual men (1 Cor. 3:1).

Having established this, he then turns to give us a ranking of the spiritual gifts themselves. Just as the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit are not equal, so also the gifts of the Spirit are not equal. That is why he says here that they are to pursue love in the first instance, and after that they are to desire the spiritual gifts. Once they have turned to the gifts, the gift to be valued above all the others is the gift of prophesy.

What is it to prophesy? The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10), and so to speak the Word of God faithfully, in such a way as to turn everyone to Jesus, is the spirit of prophecy. That spirit can come upon a man directly, as it did the prophets of old, or it can be given to a man ministerially, as he speaks authoritatively from the Scriptures.

Piecemeal Revelation

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #160

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor. 13:11–13).

In the previous verses, we were considering whether knowing in part or prophesying in part referred to the time of the older covenant or to the time prior to the eschaton. Is the arrival of the “perfect” to be understood as the completion of the canon, or as the resurrection of the dead. We now come to the place where I come down on the question—albeit gingerly.

When images are used in Scripture, one of our first questions should concern how that image is used in other places of Scriptures—and not what associations with that image might arise in our minds, for whatever reason.

The time prior to the “perfect” is described as the time of speaking and understanding in childish ways. This is not an image the Bible uses for our mortal lives, but it an image used for the time of God’s children under the old covenant. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24–25).

And Paul describes the process of “becoming a man” as one, which if it is not quite completed, is at least started. When I became a man . . . While “face to face” has an eschatological feel to it, the whole idea of knowing in part appears to apply to the time of the old covenant, as contrasted with the fullness of knowledge in the time of the New Testament.

Which Question Is It?

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #159

“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Cor. 13:8-10).

Love is never going to go out of style. There will never be a circumstance when love, when being like God, is inappropriate or unhelpful. Gifts can be put to a bad use, but fruit is what it is. The gifts that Paul has in mind here are the gifts of prophesying, the gift of tongues, and the gift of supernatural knowledge.

Even prior to the point where prophesy, tongues and knowledge “fail,” they are partial gifts, even in their prime. That which is partial is going to come to the place where it is entirely supplanted.

There are two main views concerning that which is “perfect.” Is this speaking of the time when the perfect revelation of Scripture is complete, and the canon is closed? Is that what Paul means by perfect here? Or is it an eschatological statement, saying that prophesy, tongues, and the gift of knowledge will “fail” when the resurrection occurs? I would tell you which one it is except for the fact that I, like the apostle here, know in part.

But in a remarkable display of even-handedness, I will simply point out that v. 12 (face to face, even as I am known) sounds eschatological, and that the discussion of failing gifts in v. 8 sounds like they are already starting to fail, and a statement in v. 10 that prophecy will be done away with in Heaven seems odd. Who ever thought that the spiritual gifts would be operative in the resurrection? “Will we need prophets after the Bible is complete?” seems like a reasonable and pertinent question. Whether we will need prophets in the throne room of God seems like an absurdity.

No Theological Schadenfreude

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #158

Charity “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

In this verse, we see that love does four things. Two of them are active, and two are responsive. In the middle of Paul’s thought, love believes all things and it hopes all things. This faith and this hope operate in tandem. “Believes all things” does not refer to gullibility, but rather refers to a non-cynical attitude. Love wants it to go in a positive direction, and does not want a crash so that it may indulge in a little theological schadenfreude, watching the triumph of total depravity once more.

It is striking that this is not a rose-colored glasses thing because this same charity bears all things, and endures all things. Love puts up with a lot, but does not do so in a way that makes it stop believing all things and hoping all things. This means that the “bearing” and the “enduring” are not done while muttering under the breath. The faith and hope are carrying a load, and the carrying of the load is not done in a way as to become grievous.

Love and Truth Link Arms

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #157

Charity “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).

This verse comes right to the point. There is one verb, used twice. Charity does not rejoice in one thing, and does rejoice in another. Though it is the same root verb, there is a distinction. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness (adikia), but does rejoice in the truth (aletheia). The rejoicing in the first instance is chairo and in the second synchairo. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness or iniquity, but love rejoices together with the truth. Love and truth are partners in joy.

The common dichotomy that pits love and truth against one another as though they were adversaries is either a verbal slander or an enacted slander. In the verbal slander, someone dismisses someone who is standing for the truth as necessarily unloving, or dismisses someone who is full of love as some kind of a doctrinal compromiser.

The enacted slander happens when the dichotomy is assumed, and the person chooses which one he wants to adopt. He stands for truth, and blows all errorists away with his machine gun of thruppa thruppa theology. Or he picks love, which in his mind is an amorphous gas that fills the room with sweet and sticky acceptance. Whichever way it goes, this kind of behavior makes the task of the verbal slanderer much easier, because all he has to do is say see?

So what does love do? Love refuses to have any joy in iniquity. Love refuses to celebrate an ungodly or perverse wedding, for example. Love refuses to lift a glass of joy. Love will be accused of many things for this, and the central charge will be that this posture is unloving. This is because people are defining love out of the wrong dictionary. In the famous love chapter, love refuses to rejoice in unrighteousness. Not only so, but love links arms with the truth, and they rejoice together.

Rise Above Offense

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #156

Charity “doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:5).

We are taking care to work slowly through Paul’s description of what love is like. We have noted that this is a superb description of what Jesus is like, and what we should be like in imitation of Him. In other words, this description of love is not an abstract and impersonal super law, but is rather a description of personal characteristics. We acquire in the process of personal imitation.

Love does not behave in an unseemly way. The ESV renders this as “rude,” and the New King James says it does not “behave rudely.”

Love is not Furtive

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #155

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up” (1 Cor. 13:4).

We have come to a famous and very exalted passage, the apostle Paul’s paean to love. Given the nature of the case, and the nature of our particular shortfalls, it would be a shame to rush through it.

A common preacher’s trick is to have everyone substitute their own name for the word love here, and then to ask searchingly how everyone measures up. The answer of course is no one, and we are all suitably chastened and abashed, and crawl home like a dog that’s been beat too much. But that response is not fitting, not even on its own terms. The passage does not end with Charity is furtive, and guilty; charity does not know where to look.

We are Christians, and we follow Christ, and He is the one who has liberated us. So we should begin by substituting the name of the Lord Jesus here. It fits perfectly, and it is consistent with good news. Because He is like this, we are not consumed.