Sunday School Lesson


May 24

Lesson 13

Gift of Languages

Devotional Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Background Scripture: Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Acts 2:1-7, 12

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.

6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?

12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?

1 Corinthians 14:13-19

13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.

14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?

17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

Key Verse

What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. —1 Corinthians 14:15

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Describe the purpose of speaking in tongues in the New Testament church.

2. Suggest some modern innovations in communication that enhance the transmission of the message as the gift of tongues did in the first-century church.

3. Identify one barrier to communication within his or her church and offer assistance to change the situation.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Understanding Means Belonging

B. Lesson Background

I. Tongues at the Church’s Birth (Acts 2:1-7, 12)

A. Event (vv. 1-4)

B. Reaction (vv. 5-7, 12)

Attention Grabbers

II. Tongues in the Church’s Life (1 Corinthians 14:13-19)

A. Interpreting for Others (vv. 13-17)

B. Speaking for Others (vv. 18, 19)

“I’m One of You”

Conclusion

A. Everyone Fully Welcomed

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

A. Understanding Means Belonging

What makes you feel like you really belong with a group of people? We appreciate a warm welcome, the offer of a place to sit, etc. But what we need most is to understand what is going on around us. We want to listen to conversation that we can understand, and we want to be understood when we speak. Without such understanding, we easily feel that we do not belong. We can make an effort to relate with gestures or facial expressions, but words are our best means of making a connection.

Today’s text is about an extraordinary way that God enabled some followers of Christ in the first century to make a connection with language. But that enabling was a double-edged sword, and Paul needed to issue special instructions to the believers in Corinth in that regard.

B. Lesson Background

The issue of language in human relationships has deep roots in the Bible. It tells of the tower of Babel, where people of one language banded together to build a tower “unto heaven” so that they could “make ... a name” for themselves (Genesis 11:4). In response to their unholy ambitions, God caused their language to be confounded as He scattered them across the earth (11:6-9). In doing so, God restrained peoples’ ability to work together for evil.

The story of Babel becomes foundational to the rest of the biblical worldview. The division and resulting conflict between tribes and nations, epitomized in the multiplying of languages, is rooted in human pride and rebellion against God.

But God promised to bring blessings to the plurality of nations that resulted from His judgment on human pride. He promised a blessing on Abram, to make his descendants a great nation so that in him “shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). As the nation of Israel grew, God sent prophets who repeated that promise. Sometimes those prophets delivered the promise with an image of people of many languages coming to know the true God (Isaiah 66:18; Zechariah 8:23; etc.).

With Christ’s death and resurrection, God brought to the point of fulfillment His promise to bless the nations. The risen Christ commanded His followers to wait for power from on high, the Holy Spirit, who would enable them to be witnesses to the entire earth (Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:4-8). The Spirit would enable the worldwide triumph of God, the fulfillment of His promise to Abram and a reversal of the judgment of Babel. That enabling began on the Day of Pentecost, about seven weeks after Christ’s crucifixion.

What Do You Think?

What lessons have you learned from situations in which a time of waiting on God was followed by a surprising blessing?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Inside the church

Outside the church

Pentecost is known in the Old Testament variously as the feast of weeks, day of the firstfruits, and feast of harvest (Exodus 23:16a; 34:22a; Leviticus 23:15-21; Numbers 28:26-31; Deuteronomy 16:9-12, 16). Meaning “50 days,” Pentecost came seven weeks after Passover to celebrate and dedicate the grain harvest of spring (Deuteronomy 16:9, 10). By the first century AD, Jewish tradition had come to associate Pentecost with God’s giving of the law to Moses at Mount Sinai 50 days after the exodus, although there is no trace of such a time line in the Bible.

I. Tongues at the Church’s Birth

                                                                                  (Acts 2:1-7, 12)

A. Event (vv. 1-4)

1. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

The word they refers to Jesus’ apostles, who are gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 1:26). This is according to Jesus’ instructions as they await the promised Holy Spirit (1:4, 5). They are about to participate in one of the great demonstrations of God’s saving power, greater even than the giving of the law that they celebrate on the day of Pentecost (see the Lesson Background).

2. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

That which is about to take place unfolds with a great demonstration of power. The details serve to underline the significance. In both Greek (the common language of the New Testament world) and Hebrew (the ancient language of Israel), the word for wind sounds much like the word for “spirit” (compare John 3:8). So a sound ... as of a rushing mighty wind can easily suggest the idea of God’s Spirit. The fact that the sound comes from heaven indicates that what is about to be given originates with God himself.

We note that the text does not say an actual wind is present, only the sound of one. The particular house mentioned is not identified.

3. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

Added to the sound is a visible sign of cloven tongues like as of fire, which appears upon each of the gathered apostles. John the Baptist prophesied of the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16); the image of fire may be intended to recall that promise.

4. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The sound and sight are followed by an act of empowerment as the Holy Ghost fills the followers of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was active in Old Testament days, but only with a few of God’s people, primarily to empower prophets to speak (Numbers 11:25-29; 1 Samuel 10:6, 10; 19:20, 23; Nehemiah 9:30). But now the promise of God is coming to fulfillment, the promise that He will pour His Spirit on His people (Isaiah 44:3-5; 32:15; Ezekiel 36:27; 37:14; Joel 2:28).

The Holy Spirit at this point empowers a gift of speech as He did for the prophets. But this event is distinct: Jesus’ apostles speak with other tongues or known human languages (Acts 2:6, below). It is as if Babel is happening again (see the Lesson Background), but this time in reverse—a sign that God is now blessing all nations as He had promised so many centuries before.

B. Reaction (vv. 5-7, 12)

5. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.

For centuries the Jewish people have been scattered across the Near East and around the Mediterranean Sea. The Assyrians had taken many Israelites into exile in 722 BC. The Babylonians had finalized their conquest of Judah in 586 BC and taken its people as captives to Babylon. Those exiled there were allowed to return decades later, but most chose to remain where they were (Ezra 2:1-65; 8:1-20). Jews continued to migrate in later generations—sometimes willingly, sometimes not. The result is called the Diaspora, the scattering of Israel (compare John 7:35; James 1:1).

But Jerusalem remains the center of Jewish life and hope nonetheless. Diaspora Jews often abandon homes elsewhere to return to Jerusalem to settle there. Others visit the city periodically for the three annual pilgrimage feasts (Deuteronomy 16:16; Exodus 23:14-17). A crowd of such people is gathered on this occasion. They are from so many places that the text describes them as out of every nation under heaven (further defined in Acts 2:9-11).

What Do You Think?

What are some good ways for a church to use cultural observances and celebrations to spread the gospel? What are some dangers to this?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding observances having religious overtones (Thanksgiving, etc.)

Regarding observances not having religious overtones (Labor Day, etc.)

Regarding cultural celebrations not connected with a holiday

6. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

The unfolding miracle draws a crowd! What they witness is utterly unlike anything previously experienced. The wording of this verse and the six that follow suggests not a quiet state of confusion and murmuring but open consternation, with plenty of talking and questioning. It is an uproar.

What causes amazement is hearing people speaking many languages. Individuals in the crowd gathered for Pentecost can hear their native languages being spoken as they detect familiar sounds from among the other languages that they cannot understand. What causes a group of people to be able to speak so many languages?

7. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?

Perhaps by their dress, perhaps by their accents, the speakers are clearly identified as being from Galilee (compare Matthew 26:73; Acts 1:11). This is a key part of the amazement. One does not expect a group from one region to speak the languages of so many places at once!

What Do You Think?

How can we exercise of our giftedness to draw attention to God rather than to ourselves?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding leadership skills

Regarding musical talents

Regarding ability for public speaking

Other

12. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?

An event so spectacular must mean something! So the crowd asks that question, which leads to Peter’s sermon to provide the answer. Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended to God’s right hand. From there He has poured out the promised Holy Spirit on His followers. This means that God’s promises are being fulfilled. He is now making himself known to all the nations. The gift of tongues represents the global impact of Christ’s work and the global scope of the church’s mission.

Attention Grabbers

You may have heard the old story of the man who lived by a railroad track for most of his life. Like clockwork, a freight train would come roaring by at 2:00 a.m. daily, rattling the windows of the man’s house. He became so used to the sound that eventually it no longer awakened him. However, the train didn’t come one morning. So exactly at 2:00 a.m., the man awoke with a start and exclaimed, “What was that?”

The crowd gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost seems to have reacted in a similar way. The noise created by the mass of people crowding the city was expected. Sudden quiet would have caused everyone to look around to see why. But sudden quiet isn’t what grabbed everyone’s attention; rather, it was the distinctive, unexpected hearing of native languages being spoken by Galileans (compare Acts 22:2).

In the pages of the Bible, God sometimes uses quietness to command attention (example: 1 Kings 19:11-13); sometimes He uses the opposite (example: Job 38:1, 2); sometimes He uses something in between but distinctive, as at Pentecost. What does God have to do to get your attention?—C. R. B.

II. Tongues in the Church’s Life

                                                                           (1 Corinthians 14:13-19)

A. Interpreting for Others (vv. 13-17)

13. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.

There is controversy today over what exactly the gift of speaking in tongues is. In the text from Acts just considered, to be able to speak in tongues obviously is miraculous empowerment to speak human languages otherwise unknown to the speaker. The same may be the case in Corinth. However, some interpreters believe that the unknown tongue at issue is empowerment to speak not in human languages but in an ecstatic expression of deep connection to God (with reference to 1 Corinthians 13:1; 14:2).

We cannot settle that debate here, but we can certainly pay close attention to the gift’s significance. We dare not neglect Paul’s instructions because of controversy. Whatever abilities God’s Spirit gives to His people, then or now, all those abilities must be used to serve God’s purpose, not to boost our own positions.

Some in the Corinthian church apparently are empowered by the Holy Spirit to have the gift of tongues (however construed), and at least some of them choose to exercise the gift when the church is gathered. Paul criticizes this practice because those who so exercise their gift are less concerned for others’ benefit than for their own prestige (1 Corinthians 14:4). Others cannot understand what those speaking in tongues are saying, but the speakers want attention and prominence for their spectacular exercise of this gift.

Paul corrects this behavior by putting the emphasis on understanding. At Pentecost, God’s gift enables many to hear Him praised in their most familiar language; at Corinth, the same breadth of understanding is not present (1 Corinthians 14:2). So Paul insists that those who are gifted to speak in tongues should pray that God will enable them also to interpret what they are saying. Without interpretation, others are left out. A gift intended to show that God seeks everyone must not be used in a way that excludes anyone.

What Do You Think?

Which church activities, parts of worship, etc., are most in need of “interpretation” today in terms of meaning and significance? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

For believers

For unbelievers who are seeking

For the culture at large

Other

14. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

The gift of speaking in tongues has limits. The person who so speaks may be expressing deep feelings to God, things of that person’s inmost being or spirit. But is that person able to put those feelings into words that the mind (understanding) can genuinely grasp? Paul’s implication is clear: it would be far better for that person, let alone for those listening, if that which is expressed through tongues is shared by means of interpretation. Then everyone, including the speaker, can understand, and all will be strengthened.

Visual for Lesson 13. Ask, “Which of the six areas at the top of this visual need the most work to promote understanding?”

15. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

The Holy Spirit does not seek a display of deep feelings that cannot be expressed in words. But neither does the Spirit seek a faith that we articulate but cannot feel. Both heart and mind are the Spirit’s territory, and both should express themselves together in the life of the Spirit-filled person.

Some in Corinth imagine that their mode of expression—the “heart mode” expressed in speaking in tongues—is spiritually superior. Paul says otherwise. But neither is the “mind mode” superior. Both are needed. Each depends on the other. Whether singing or praying, both heart and mind can submit to God’s Spirit and come to expression.

16. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?

To this point Paul has been considering the effect that uninterpreted tongues primarily has on the individual doing the speaking. Now he turns outward. If the individual speaking cannot understand or articulate the meaning of the utterance, then how will others be expected to do so?

Imagine, Paul says, another person who is unfamiliar (unlearned) with this gift. Such a person might be an unbeliever, but could just as well be a Christian. What good does the tongues-utterance do for such a person? He or she cannot understand what is being said, and so cannot give the deep agreement and affirmation of an Amen. The experience thus belongs only to the speaker, with limited benefit, and not to anyone else. Others do not understand, so they are excluded from the event. They become (or remain) outsiders.

17. For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

The one who praises God with utterances that others do not understand is acting selfishly, without respect for the benefit of others. Such a speaker givest thanks well personally to God, but what of everyone else? They are not at all built up (edified).

Elsewhere Paul pictures the church as a building constructed of many, varied people to be a habitation of God (Ephesians 2:19-22). To use the Spirit’s gifts in ways that do not edify (build up) other believers is rank abuse of those gifts.

B. Speaking for Others (vv. 18, 19)

18. I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all.

Paul’s criticism of those who abuse their gifts is sharp. But is he saying that they should not exercise their gifts at all? By no means! All gifts of the Spirit have legitimate, vital uses. Paul affirms that truth by revealing that he too exercises the gift of speaking with tongues. In fact, he says he does so more than any of them! For this he thanks God.

But as Paul noted before, it is useless to thank God in the presence of others if they cannot comprehend and share in that thanks. What the Corinthians must do is focus their exercise of spiritual gifts on others, not on themselves.

“I’m One of You”

U.S. President John F. Kennedy gave an important speech in West Berlin on June 26, 1963. That was at the height of the Cold War and some 22 months after the Communists had erected the Berlin Wall. Kennedy’s intent was to warn the Soviets against further belligerence and to reassure the West German people that he stood with them.

In what is considered one of his best speeches, Kennedy declared “Ich bin ein Berliner!” Translated, that means “I am a Berliner!” In identifying himself (in German) with the residents of Berlin, President Kennedy was declaring his solidarity with a people in distress.

Paul did something similar when he said, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all” (compare Acts 22:3; 23:6). What an important declaration! Having made this statement, no one could say, “Well, he’s limiting our tongues-speaking because he isn’t familiar with the gift.”

This is an important principle in Christian communication. Before we pontificate on who should do what and why, have we taken time to identify ourselves with the situation of the other person? Have we done so in such a way that he or she accepts that identification as realistic?—C. R. B.

19. Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

Paul’s own exercise of the Spirit’s gifts is focused on building others up. That requires that his mind (understanding) be fully engaged so that others’ minds can also be engaged with him. Just a few words from the mind are therefore far more valuable to all than is a great volume of words that no one, not even the speaker, can understand. The words spoken with the gift of tongues may be deeply felt, but they cannot communicate without the engagement of the mind.

What Do You Think?

What have you found effective in protecting yourself from self-seeking motives in service to Christ? What has been less effective? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Spiritual disciplines practiced alone

Spiritual disciplines practiced in group settings

Other

Conclusion

A. Everyone Fully Welcomed

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to do something amazing: speak in languages understood by an international multitude. God declared by that act that His promise to bless the nations was coming to fulfillment. The doors of His sanctuary were thus opened to those who had been previously excluded. Understanding was the first step to belonging.

How tragic it was, then, when the Corinthians used a gift that should signal the inclusion of all in a way that excluded! By using their gifts inappropriately, seeking their own prestige rather than others’ benefit, they sent a bitter, haughty message to those around them. In effect they said, “You do not belong; you are not important.” Lack of understanding meant exclusion.

Clearly, we all need to consider how we use the abilities that God’s Spirit has given us. We need to look past the controversy about speaking in tongues in our day and instead give careful thought to whether we act in the name of Christ in ways that make others feel second-rate or left out altogether.

What do we say or do in the church that is hard for others to understand? Do we ever speak or act in ways that put others in the position of outsiders? What should we do to assure that everyone is fully welcomed, fully engaged, fully a part of the life of Christ’s church? How do we tell every person for whom Christ died that he or she is at home among Christ’s people? Is our church more like the Day of Pentecost or the tower of Babel? Is our church more like the church at Corinth as corrected or as uncorrected?

B. Prayer

Father, we thank You for creating us with such variety! But we confess that instead of celebrating that variety, we often create barriers. Empower us to remove those barriers as we build one another up as Your holy temple. In Jesus’ name, amen!

C. Thought to Remember

Use spiritual gifts to include and edify.

How to Say It

Assyrians Uh-sear-e-unz.

Babel Bay-bul.

Babylon Bab-uh-lun.

Babylonians Bab-ih-low-nee-unz.

Diaspora Dee-as-puh-ruh.

Mediterranean Med-uh-tuh-ray-nee-un.

Pentecost Pent-ih-kost.

Zechariah Zek-uh-rye-uh.


May 31

Lesson 14

The Greatest Is Love

Devotional Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21

Background Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 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.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 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.

12 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.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Key Verse

Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. —1 Corinthians 13:13

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. List the characteristics of godly, self-giving love.

2. Explain why godly love is the defining feature of the truly spiritual life.

3. Propose one way that his or her class can express love as a group in a tangible way to another class or individual in the church.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Authentic Spirituality

B. Lesson Background

I. Supremacy of Love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

A. Regarding the Tongue (v. 1)

On Being Multilingual

B. Regarding Spirituality (v. 2)

C. Regarding Personal Sacrifice (v. 3)

II. Behaviors of Love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

A. Patient, Kind, Helpful (v. 4)

B. Concerned, Unselfish, Forgiving (v. 5)

C. Truthful, Faithful, Hopeful (vv. 6, 7)

Second Place?

III. Priority of Love (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

A. Temporary Gifts vs. Perfect Love (vv. 8-10)

B. Childhood vs. Adulthood (v. 11)

C. Present vs. Future (vv. 12, 13)

Conclusion

A. Learning to Love Now

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember


Standard Lesson Commentary 2014-2015 (KJV).

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless