Speaking in Tongues Debate - 12 - He Edifies Himself

Chapter 12 

    Once again I must go back and speak of this verse quoted a thousand times. "One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself " (I Cor 14:4). This affirmation does not contradict the end of speaking in tongues, of which we have spoken at length. If we speak of this matter again, it is to place it in its historical context. It is like talking about the inspiration of the Bible-to say that it is inspired does not mean that new pages can be added today to the old ones. We have seen that the purpose of speaking in tongues was to be a sign for the unbelieving Israelites who opposed the salvation of the Gentiles. But at that time I was only partially clear about this truth, and I wondered if this was the only purpose. If so, speaking in tongues was really finished. But I was of the opinion, along with many others, that speaking in tongues was principally meant to edify the one speaking. I had heard it said so many times that I could repeat it by heart. At my immature level of understanding, this text all by itself seemed sufficient to me to silence all those denying the pertinence of speaking in tongues today. It was a gift of the Spirit to be used for personal edification. There was a triumphant arrogance in wielding this verse. It seemed as absolute to me as "you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church," (Matt 16:18). Being Catholic from birth, I had to change my tune about that famous verse. This weapon which, in my euphoric ignorance, I once believed to be infallible, ended up to be a wet fire-cracker, as wet as the other verse that did not say what Rome tried to make it say. Having been burnt before by similar mistakes, I decided that it would be useful to check out the text in its context, that is, chapters 12, 13 and 14 of I Corinthians. So, I started at zero, reading again all three chapters with great care. I had the impression that it was a bomb that backfired and blew up in my face.

Main Idea

    What was the main idea that Paul was trying to get across in these three important chapters? Others. The common good. Throughout these verses, the obvious concern is for the good of others, for the edification of others. The theme is: others, others, others expressed in different words.

12:7 "...to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
12:15 "...that the members should have the same care for one another."
14:3 "...one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation."
14:4 "...one who prophesies edifies the church."
14:5 "so that the church may receive edifying"
14:6 "what shall I profit you"
14:7 "how will it be known"
14:8 "who will prepare himself for battle?"
14:9 "how will it be known what is spoken?"
14:12 "for the edification of the church"
14:16 "how will one"
14:16 "since he does not know what you are saying"
14:17 "the other man is not edified"
14:19 "that I may instruct others"
14:26 "Let all things be done for edification."
14:31 "that all may learn"
14:31 "that all... may be exhorted"
All of the thirteenth chapter of love which is the most excellent way, a fruit for others, for a tree does not bring forth fruit for itself.
    But right here, springing up in the middle of this general spirit of altruism, which is the purpose of every gift of the Spirit, we find the best specimen of selfishness ever imagined, "One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself".  How degrading to take the "charisma" (gift) that God had given as a sign for others and use it for one's own personal advantage! How egotistical can one get? The Apostle Paul definitely uses a tone of finding fault (Heb 8:8) when he stigmatizes, saying ".... edifies himself". Cursed be those who monopolize the gifts of the Spirit. Shame on the "Samsons" who are more agitated by the Spirit than they are filled with the Spirit, and who play around with this gift like foolish, spoiled children who want everything for themselves.
The Blame

    "Look at the prophets," says Paul. "They are the example that we should follow. Obviously their gift builds them up too, but at least they edify others in the process. They prophesy for others, not just for themselves. When the eye sees, it sees for the whole body, not just for itself. It doesn't hoard the light it receives but allows the entire body to benefit from it. A foot does not walk all by itself. It carries the rest of the body." So, when the gift of tongues had its full reason for being, practicing it outside the presence of those to whom it was destined (unbelieving Jews) was forbidden by Paul who mastered this gift more than anyone else. He would have flogged those who misused it or who used it for personal ends. The pastor edifies himself but he also edifies others. The teacher, too, edifies himself also when he expounds Bible doctrine, but he edifies others at the same time. The evangelist gains personal edification from his gift, but it is the unsaved who really benefit from it. As a matter of fact, Paul placed prophesying in opposition to speaking in tongues in the same verse (I Cor 14:4). One edified the church while the other, on the contrary, only edified himself.  And not only that, but he was taken for a barbarian by those listening (I Cor 14:11). In others words, the one who prophesied reached his goal-to edify others-while the one who spoke in tongues missed the goal completely. Using "...he edifies himself..." in this way is an abuse which Paul reprimanded. Paul meant: He edifies himself, but only himself! This reproach coming from the master of the gift of tongues must have shaken these Corinthian chatterboxes whom he classified as children in a previous chapter (I Cor 3:1; 14:20).

    I felt so alone in my discovery. What a joyful surprise to read from the pen of John Stott in his book From Baptism to Fulness of the Spirit that he taught along the same line as what I have written in this chapter. After having said that self-edification is by no means conformable to the New Testament teaching on edification, Stott continues ".... aren't we forced to confess that there was an abusive use of a spiritual gift? What should we think of a professor who would only give himself private lessons? Or what should we think of a man, possessing a gift of healing, who would only heal himself? It is difficult to justify the personal use of a gift expressly given for the good of others."