In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter fourteen, we will look at what Paul meant by speaking in tongues and compare it to what is going on in the church today.
"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." NIV translation
In chapter 13, Paul explained what love is and he continues by telling us to want spiritual gifts so that we can serve the body of Christ and not for ourselves. He specifically tells us to desire the gift of prophecy. So, what is this gift? It is simply the ability to teach the Word of God in a way that can be understood by others. There are some who have misunderstood this gift and tried to make it some kind of circus sideshow telling people their future but that is not prophecy.
"For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church." NIV translation
Now, Paul compares the gift of prophesy (teaching the Word of God) with speaking in tongues. So what is this "speaking in tongues" that he is talking about?
In Acts 2, we see that the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.
There were people there from all different parts of the world and, although the apostles did not know their language, they were able to share the gospel with the people in their own languages. This was clearly from God as they had no training in these other languages.
Paul compares this speaking in tongues (without someone to interpret) with the gift of teaching in a language that people understand. If someone speaks in a foreign language that his audience does not know, then, it is as if he were speaking only to God. Many in the church today have misunderstood this gift of tongues and it has become babbling in a supposedly "unknown" language that is known only to them and God. This is a lie and goes against what Paul taught as the reason for the spiritual gifts which is to build up the body of believers. I have actually been in the midst of bodies of believers that were trained to yell and scream in these "unknown tongues" on cue and they would call it praying. They would even criticize you if you did not take part in it and others would go so far as to say you are not in Christ if you don't have your own language. This is not of God but a learned behavior of men.