Edifying the Church Through Tongues & Interpretation

by Nick Sharp, Grace Church, Nottingham, UK

I will never forget the first time I heard it!

We had been enjoying a lively time of worship when all of a sudden someone spoke in a language I had never heard before. It sent shivers down my spine. The atmosphere was electric; it was as if the whole congregation was on tiptoes waiting, hearts open wide to heaven. Then, from the other side of the room, someone else spoke out a prayer, this time in English, but following the same tone and rhythm of the utterance in tongues.

And what a prayer!

It was a heart cry of love and passion for Jesus, full of insight and scriptural truth. The prayer had hardly finished when the whole congregation lifted their voices in a crescendo of spiritual songs and praise. It was as if we had ‘changed gear’ in our worship; we all sensed that God the Holy Spirit was manifestly among us!

This is a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Paul’s plea is for intelligible speech in the gathered church, through prophecy or through tongues with interpretation following (1 Cor. 14:27). Interpretation can either be through someone other than the tongue speaker (1 Cor. 14:27) or through the tongue speaker interpreting his own utterance (1 Cor. 14:13). Paul says that both of these gifts edify the church just as prophecy does (1 Cor. 14:5).

How does that happen? Well, speaking in tongues is ‘not to men but to God’ (see 1 Cor. 14:2) and so it follows that the interpretation will be God-ward also. Through this gift the Spirit takes us deeper into worship and there is nothing more edifying for the church than that. Notice that it is an ‘interpretation’; it is not an exact translation, rather it captures the ‘theme’ of the utterance.

So, how do you know when it is the right time to speak out (or sing out!) in a tongue? The simple answer is that you often don’t, especially when you are just starting out! Ask God to use you in this way and then look for an opportunity. Be aware of the flow of the meeting and of other contributions being made (Eph. 5:21). You will need faith, hope and love to do it (1 Cor. 13:13), especially as you wait in the silence to see if someone interprets!

Sometimes you might hear an ‘interpretation’ brought in the form of a man-ward ‘prophecy’. I think that this is a mistake. We often move too quickly into ‘God-speaking-to-us-mode’ when we should press deeper into Him through worship. Often a tongue sparks off the prophetic gifting in the meeting and sometimes a genuine prophecy is brought too quickly as the ‘interpretation’. Hold back, you prophets! Let’s give room to this exciting manifestation first.

How do you know when you have the interpretation? You may feel a slight rise of faith and excitement as a tongue is being spoken and just ‘know’ that you have an interpretation arising within you. Ask God, prepare your heart and mind in your private devotions with Scripture and worship, and get ready to unleash a river of praise!

I often find that I come into a meeting with a ‘theme’ of praise/prophecy bubbling in my heart and am uncertain whether it will lead to me speaking in tongues, bringing an interpretation or prophesying! I just flow in worship and let the Spirit prompt me. These are gifts given by the Spirit, not badges of spirituality or merit.

Let’s follow the way of love for the Lord and His church by eagerly desiring such gifts (1 Cor. 14:1).

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