What About Speaking in Tongues?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

I am a member of your church. We take the girls to various Assembly of God Churches, but I am allowed to bring some of them to Casas on Sunday mornings and they love it. The Church we go to on Saturday night is offering Bible classes that I thought about taking…. The application is very detailed and asks if I have been filled with the Holy Spirit with evidence of tongues, and (do I use) tongues in current prayer life? This was the only question on the application that I did not know how to answer… except (to say) “no”. 🙂 I welcome any advice and suggestions.

Thank you,
T (Name Withheld)

Dear Name Withheld,

I think that the best way for me to answer your question is to simply lay out for you the Biblical teachings regarding the gift of tongues. My answer will be rather pedantic; but, be patient; I believe this is the best format for helping you understand the gift. I will finish answering your question with a description of how we integrate the gift of tongues into our own Casas church.

The gift of speaking in tongues is described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30; and 14:1-28, 39. It is one of many spiritual gifts which God gives to Christians to fulfill His Kingdom work.

The spiritual gifts are: Apostleship; Evangelism; Administration; Leadership; Pastor-Teacher; Miracles; Healing; Mercy; Prophecy; Teaching; Wisdom; Knowledge; Encouragement; Giving; Helps; Distinguishing Between Spirits; Faith; Interpreting Tongues; and Tongues.

At Pentecost (Acts 2) tongues was the ability to speak fluently in a previously unlearned language so that people from sixteen different nations who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost could hear the gospel in their own language.

At Corinth (1 Cor. 12-14) tongues were ecstatic utterances which were understood only through one who had the God-given gift of interpretation. Tongues is described in1 Corinthians 14:2 by the words, “he utters mysteries with his spirit”). Most people who speak (or pray) in tongues describe these “utterances” as an angelic prayer language that touches the very heart of God.

The gift of tongues was a “problem” gift in the Corinthian church. It was divisive and provided a strong temptation of falling into the insidiousness of spiritual pride. Because of this problem Paul wrote an entire chapter on how to handle this gift. While all spiritual gifts are important, Paul is careful to identify tongues as the least important of all the gifts.

Tongues have sometimes been a divisive gift in contemporary Christendom. It breaks my heart that any spiritual gift would cause conflict in the church. I choose not to get in the fight over the validity of tongues for today. I will try to answer your question by simply stating and explaining the Biblical teachings on tongues. I hope, “T”, that this gives you a better understanding of the gift as you develop and mature in your own spiritual gifts.

One of the questions often asked is, “Are tongues still for today or did the gift die out early in church history?” Some maintain that the gift was temporary to meet the special conditions of the early church and was withdrawn after the written New Testament. First Corinthians 13:8 appears to teach that tongues will cease of themselves while knowledge and prophecy will go on to cease at a later time. The verb referring to prophecy and knowledge is in the Greek passive voice and connotes the idea that prophecy and knowledge will be stopped by an outside source, ie God, when He is finished with them. Surprisingly, the verb referring to tongues is in the Greek middle voice and connotes the idea that tongues will “automatically” cease of themselves. Those with this view use several verses to affirm that the gift ceased once the church was established because it was no longer needed. First Corinthians 14:39 asserts: “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” My opinion is that it would take a bold man or woman to say that the Holy Spirit cannot or will not bestow the gift today.

The Christian and Missionary Alliance Denomination has twice faced the tongues question in official capacity, in 1907 and again in 1963. Its position, put forth by A.W. Tozer, wisely and succinctly summarized Paul’s instructions about the gift of tongues, “Seek not, forbid not”. In my experience some try to teach people to pray for the gift of tongues and even attempt to lead people into obtaining the gift of tongues. I believe that this is false and unbiblical practice.

The Holy Spirit is not the only source of tongues? On a famous and influential Christian television program a Muslim convert said to the host: “Praise God, I got the gift of tongues before I even became a Christian!” The host was so excited! However, according to the Bible, spiritual gifts are given at the moment of conversion (additional gifts may well come later) and never before a salvation experience. Tongues are not the exclusive domain of Christianity. Tongues-speaking has been reported from the days of Plato, known among the Zulus, and practiced in Hinduism. Tongues-speaking has been heard among Muslims, Mormons, and spiritualist mediums. Unitarian Pentecostals, who reject the deity of Christ, are known to talk in tongues. It appears that there are generally three categories of sources for tongues. First, the Holy Spirit can give the gift. Second, Satan can counterfeit it. Third, it can be a psychologically self-induced experience.

According to the Bible tongues had several purposes.

First, tongues were used at Pentecost to authenticate the addition of non-Jewish people into God’s church (Acts 2, 10, 19) and thus show that God’s church was to be universal.

Second, at Pentecost tongues-speaking attracted a crowd and provided a springboard for Peter’s first gospel sermon, and helped win 3,000 souls.
Third, tongues were used to convince skeptical Jewish believers that the Gospel was for Gentiles too. God needed to teach Simon Peter this lesson at Cornelius’ house in Acts 10.

Fourth, at Ephesus when the gospel was declared to the followers of John the Baptist, tongues offered evidence to the Jews living there of the reality of Paul’s new message of the gospel of Christ.

Fifth, interpreted tongues were used for edification in the gathered church (1 Corinthians 14:5, 22, 26, 27). Coupled with one who has the spiritual gift of interpretation, tongues relayed a message directly from the Throne of God to the church on earth. In this sense it edifies the church: 1 nickel (tongues) + 1 nickel (interpretation of that tongue) = 1 dime (prophesy).
Sixth, tongues promote personal-spiritual edification (1 Corinthians 14:4, 14-16a).
Seventh, tongues are useful in prayer to express ideas and concepts which are deep in the human spirit (1 Corinthians 14:2, 14-15).
Eighth, tongues are a tool for praising God (1 Corinthians 14:16a).

By the way, praying in tongues is not the Biblical method of Christian growth nor necessarily a part of it. In all the explanations of the spiritual life in the New Testament epistles, tongues-speaking is completely ignored. Also, sanctification is not a sudden acquisition of spiritual maturity by receiving the gift of tongues. Spiritual growth is a long-term process by which likeness to Jesus Christ is produced by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul lays down a number of rules for using the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.
First, Uninterpreted tongues are a negative, often misunderstood, sign to unbelievers in attendance at a worship service of judgment (1 Corinthians 14:20-25). In the middle of Paul’s instructions about the use of prophecy and tongues he includes a six-verse admonition to the Corinthians in which he says that they should not think in childish ways but should be mature. He then concludes by saying that they should seek to prophesy, because unbelievers will be driven away by tongues (without interpretation), but they will be convicted and convinced by prophecy. The context of Paul’s quotation from Isaiah 28:11-12 is one of judgment on unbelievers in Israel. The Lord repeatedly warned His people; but, they had refused to listen. So, God relayed to them that he would send on them foreign invaders (the Assyrians) whose speech they would not understand. Uninterpreted tongues leads to judgment for unbelievers because if unbelievers come to a church service and people speak in a language they cannot understand, they will simply turn away in disbelief and confusion from ever hearing the truth. Thus, they will continue to stand in God’s judgment because of their sin. So when you come together (v.26), if anyone speaks in a tongue, be sure someone interprets (v. 27); otherwise, the tongue-speaker should be quiet in the church (v.29).
Second, tongues in public worship are to be used only in the presence of an interpreter. Otherwise, the tongue speaker is to be silent (1 Corinthians 14:5, 16, 27-28). The Scripture is clear that one who knows he or she has the gift of tongues should determine in advance of a public meeting whether or not one with the gift of interpretation will be present.
Third, no more than two or three are to speak in tongues during any one gathering (1 Corinthians 14:27).
Fourth, the entire church is never to erupt in tongue speaking simultaneously (1 Corinthians 14:23). This is confusion and not order; and God is the author of order not confusion. Any unbeliever there will think that all are mad.
Fifth, those with the gift of tongues should pray to also receive the gift of interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:13).
Sixth, do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:31).
Seventh, all spiritual gifts are to promote peace and harmony and maintain the unity of the Spirit—whatever has a divisive tendency is open to suspicion (Ephesians 4:1-8).
Eighth, God does God intend for every Christian to speak in tongues? The gift of tongues is definitely not given to all. This truth is made unmistakably clear by the Greek grammatical construction of 1 Corinthians 12:30.
Ninth, an overview of the Biblical teachings about tongues seems to indicate that the gift of tongues is not a gift which can be developed. It is given spontaneously. You either have it or you don’t.
Tenth, an entire congregation which is dependent on only one interpreter to receive a message from God through the gift of tongues, is in quite a dangerous position. Truths from God must be verified by two or three witnesses. A pastors preaching and teaching may be checked by comparing them with Scripture. But in a tongues message the congregation is at the mercy of the interpreter. The message needs two or more interpreters to verify the truth of the what is spoken by the one using tongues. Since interpretation is the key to meaning, interpreting tongues stands in a place of even greater importance than does the gift of tongues itself. Nevertheless, one without the other is meaningless toward the goal of edification.

Well, “T”, I hope this gives you a basic Biblical understanding of the gift of tongues. You answered correctly on the application form. If you don’t know you have the gift, you don’t.

The Holy Spirit is well able to reveal your spiritual gifts. Pray for discernment and to be filled daily with the Holy Spirit.

Love, Roger

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