James is very strong in speaking of the world’s wisdom which guides its religion and practice. ‘This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic’, Jas. 3. 15. Its horizon is the earth; it scoffs at those who are ‘heavenly minded’. Its character is sensual, constantly striving for an emotional high. This obsession fuels the hunger for drugs and alcohol, mindaltering drugs. Sex is above all sensual, the peak of sensual excitement. This insatiable drive leads people to sex perversion in its myriad forms, a hunger that is never satisfied. The source of all of this evil and confusion is Satan himself. This wisdom is demonic. The master mind behind all of this evil confusion is the devil, the ‘father of lies’, John 8. 44.
Satan is constantly trying to influence churches away from the truth of God and to lead them into confusion and immorality. Corinth is a prime example of his tactics and success. There was division, immorality and confusion, along with church meetings that were dominated by extreme emotion and women audibly participating. There was confusion, instead of a godly order, 1 Cor. 1. 10; 5. 1; 6. 1; 11. 29-34. Paul insists that there must be church discipline and immorality must be judged, 1 Cor. 5. There must be a striving for unity, a fruit of the Spirit, 1 Cor. 1.
The Lord’s Supper is a place for reverence and worship, not sensual gluttony, 1 Cor. 11. There should be male leadership in the church and women should be silent in the church meetings, 1 Cor. 14. The goal of the meetings should be edification and godly order with messages in a language that can be understood by all, 1 Cor. 14.
The Corinthians were obsessed with tongues, glossa, glossolalia, ‘to speak in tongues’. The spiritual gift of tongues first appeared on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given. The believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, were speaking in known languages which they had never learned, speaking fluently even in the local dialects of languages, Acts 2. 6. Jews from all over the Roman Empire were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. They came running to hear God being praised in their own native languages. ‘Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers’, 1 Cor. 14. 22. Pentecost with its tongues was a sign of God’s power to unbelieving Jews.
But the glossolalia of today are not translatable, human languages. Linguists have examined hundreds of these messages and none of them has the structure of intelligent language. ‘They are nonsense syllables strung together’, says William Saamarin in his work, Tongues of Men and Angels, New York, 1972. Also it can be a learnedphenomenon. Oral Roberts, a famous Pentecostal preacher, used to say that he could teach anyone to speak in tongues. The spiritual gift of Acts chapter 2 was not taught! This glossolalia, translated ‘ecstatic speech’ in the New English Bible, is not restricted to Christian churches. It was common in ancient religions and marked the shaman or witch doctor and prophet. This ecstatic speech was associated with spirit possession when one gave himself over to the spirit being worshipped. Ancient Greek religion also was marked by such possession, resulting in ecstatic speech and a trance. A second person stood by to interpret these utterances to the paying customer who came to consult the medium.
It is very likely that the Christians in Corinth had participated in such pagan services in their unconverted days. They were apparently bringing some of these practices into their church meetings. Paul was anxious not to quench the Spirit but to remove false teaching and practice. It is interesting that this practice of glossolalia was not a problem in other churches. Spiritual gift can be defined and recognized. Pentecost was the first occurrence of this gift and defines it. People were speaking known human languages that could be learned and translated. If they were babbling the onlookers would have accused them of being mad, ‘Will they not say that you are out of your mind?’ 1 Cor. 14. 23. Paul gives guidelines that would root out this heathen practice. His clear instruction was that only two or three were to speak and there must be a translator. Ecstatic babbling such as is practised today cannot be translated since it is not a language. Women were to keep silent in the meeting and they are usually the most active in tongues meetings today as well as the most emotional. These restrictions bring the focus back to the intelligent proclamation of God’s word and edification of the church.
No doubt in some instances this glossolalia is demon inspired, as is true in heathen religions, and Satan is the father of lies and all error. Some of it may be self-induced. It is human behaviour being glorified as the real power and working of the Holy Spirit. People in such a group will then try to have the experience and will imitate their leaders in what they do. Such ecstatic, emotional experiences are an emotional release and have a ‘feel good’ factor in them for the participants. They can become addictive so that one may find good Bible teaching loses its place and attraction to the excitement and drama of this practise. Music has a big part in such meetings. Skilled preachers can work up a crowd, increasing the volume and the tempo of the music and the preaching. It is sensual religion. With such an emphasis on emotion and so little on God’s word it is easy for people to slide into sensual immorality. Such was the case with Corinth. They were boasting in their ‘tongues experience’ and indifferent to the gross immorality in their midst. The true evidence of the Holy Spirit is selfcontrol and godly character, see Gal. 5. 23. Godly preaching and teaching of God’s word will bring a spiritual and emotional response that will result in a change of character after God and His character. The goal of preaching should be, ‘love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith’, 1 Tim. 1. 5. Be filled with God’s word, and you will be filled with the Holy Spirit too. This alone is true spiritual satisfaction, Col. 3. 16; Eph. 5. 18.
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