Originally published on James and Dave’s Bible Page
How intimate with Jesus do you want to be? Consider for a moment the wonderful possibility that we can communicate with our Heavenly Father in a way that is totally unlimited by our finite minds. A way that we can receive from Him in fresh, wonderful new ways. If this appeals to you, I encourage you to read on with an open mind, and an open Bible as I share with you one of the most cherished elements of my Christian life: The practice of speaking in tongues.
Although tongues have raised a degree of controversy within the church, more and more Christians are discovering the life-changing power that comes through communicationg with God in this manner.
This message will be in an FAQ (frequently asked questions) format.This will be a three part message.This one will deal with general questions about tongues, the second one will deal with questions concerning the availability of tongues to all Christians and the third one will deal with the actual benefits of speaking in tongues (and there are many)! So without further delay, let’s look at God’s Word together!
I.WHAT IS SPEAKING IN TONGUES?
First,let’s look at a few things that speaking in tongues is NOT:
1.Tongues are not a status symbol, indicating that one Christian is more spiritual than another. The Corinthian church was a hotbed of tongues speaking, yet the Apostle Paul still chastised them for being carnal (1 Corinthians 3:3).
2.Tongues are not a shortcut to instant spiritual maturity.
3.Tongues are not a hypnotic, zombie like state in which the person has no control of his faculties.
Speaking in tongues is, to put it simply, Holy Spirit inspired speech in a language unknown to the speaker. As we will examine, it can be spoken in a Christian’s private prayer life, or in a public worship service with interpretation.
People have a natural hunger for the supernatural. Unfortunately, many turn to the false, satanic supernatural found in psychics, the New Age, and other cultic activity rather than seeking the true supernatural power of God. This is tragic. God is a supernatural God! He can fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts with His love and power. Tongues are one of the avenues that He works through in order to do this.
II. ARE TONGUES STILL IN OPERATION TODAY?
Yes, there are more Christians on earth today who speak in tongues than there have been at any other time in history! Although they have always been around in varying degrees throughout church history, there has been a strong revival of tongues in this century.
It is true that the Bible refers to a time when tongues shall cease (1 Corinthians 13:8). However, this same passage also tells us when this will happen: When perfection comes, we see face to face, and we know, even as we are known (verses 10-12). Have these other verses been fulfilled yet? Obviously not,since true perfection will not happen until after Jesus returns (1 John 3:2-3; Ephesians 5:27). We are still very much “seeing through a glass darkly,” as Paul put it in verse 12 .Until the veil of our mortality is removed, and we see Him face to face, our communication with God will always be filtered through our finite, human limitations.We don’t always know how to pray properly. This is why God has made available to us this Heavenly prayer language, that takes us beyond our infirmities (Greek:inability to get results) and help us pray with the Spirit making intercession with us through groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26). According to respected Greek scholar P.C. Nelson, the literal Greek translation of this implies “groanings which cannot be uttered in articulate speech.” We need the Holy Spirit to help us this way just as much, if not more,than the first century church did.
In 1 Corinthians 1:7, Paul expresses his desire that we come behind in no spiritual gift, as we wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, until Jesus does return, the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, including tongues,will be in full operation, and we should not be lacking, or come behind, in having these gifts in our own lives.
III.HOW DOES SPEAKING IN TONGUES OPERATE?
In order to answer this question properly, we must look at the fact that the Bible describes three different manifestations of speaking in tongues:
1-Evidential tongues-The initial evidence when someone is baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1- 4;10:44-46;19:2-7). More on this in part 2 of this study.
2-Intercessory tongues-the ability to pray in other tongues, or “In the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:14- 16; Ephesians 6:18;Jude 20) in order to pray beyond our limited human understanding , speak mysteries to God ( 1 Corinthians 14:2) and edify (build up) ourselves (1 Corinthians 14:4).
3-The ministry gift of tongues, described in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14, involves giving a message in tongues in a public worship service, which is to be interpreted (12:10).This is a powerful sign to unbelievers ( 14:22).This gift is only given in certain situations, as the Spirit wills. Therefore, not all Christians are used in this gift (12:30).
IV. WEREN’T TONGUES GIVEN SO THAT THE EARLY CHURCH COULD PREACH THE GOSPEL IN FOREIGN NATIONS WHERE THEY DIDN’T KNOW THE LANGUAGES?
I once read an article by a certain denominational minister in which he tried to explain tongues by saying that, when Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into all the world, He didn’t want them to spend all of their time taking language classes, so He gave them tongues to preach in foreign nations. While I don’t question that this brother meant well, this theory is simply not Biblical. It is true that on the Day of Pentecost, the people all heard the works of God proclaimed in their own language (Acts 2:11). However, this was not preaching. When it came time to preach, notice that Peter preached in a language understood by the entire crowd. Nowhere in the Bible do we ever see an example of a person preaching in tongues.
V.ARE TONGUES HUMAN LANGUAGES?
They can be, but are not necessarily. They can also be Heavenly languages-tongues of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).
VI.WHY DIDN’T JESUS SPEAK IN TONGUES?
Actually, I’m not totally sure that He didn’t. Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit (Luke 10:21,) and groaned in the Spirit (John11:33.) This terminology is very similar to the term “Praying in the Spirit,” which Paul uses to describe praying in tongues (1 Corinthians 14: 14-16.) However, even if Jesus did not speak in tongues, there are several possible explanations:
1.Since He was God, there were no languages He didn’t know.
2.Since He was sinless, He had perfect communication with the Father, and therefore, He did not need tongues.
3.He was the last person to function as a prophet under the Old Covenant. Tongues are a New Testament phenomenon.
Even if Jesus didn’t personally speak in tongues, He Himself stated that tongues would be a normative sign to follow believers (Mark 16:17). The entire New Testament was written by people who spoke in tongues.
VII. ARE TONGUES THE LEAST OF THE GIFTS? ARE THEY REALLY THATIMPORTANT?
In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul gives us a basic primer on the nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues. Since tongues and interpretation are the last Gift Paul mentions, some have taken this to mean that tongues are the least important of the Gifts, and that we shouldn’t really be concerned with them. However, I would respectfully reply that this argument is based on a very presumptuous and inconsistant approach to Biblical interpretation.
Chronological order of how something is listed is not necessarily an indication of importance. For example, in 1 Corinthians 13:13 , Paul tells us that faith, hope, and love remain, yet the greatest of these is love, in spite of the fact that it is listed last. Likewise, in a list of sinful activities recorded in Galatians 5:19-21 , murder is named near the end of the list. Does that mean that murder is a less serious sin than the others? Of course not.
Paul definitely did not view tongues as being unimportant. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter in the Bible to teaching on the subject (1 Corinthians 14). In this chapter, he tells the Corinthian believers that he desires that they all speak in tongues (verse 5), and thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than all of them! (verse 18) Three times in Scripture we are exhorted to covet (Pursue with passion) the Gifts of the Holy Spirit-including tongues (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1, 39, the same Greek word is used in all of these Scriptures). Note that this is worded as a commandment, not an option. To downplay or dishonor any of God’s gifts is to dishonor God Himself. May we never, ever fall into this trap.
VIII.ARE TONGUES SOMETHING TO BE FEARED?
Not at all. Tongues are a wonderful tool God has given His people to enjoy His presence more fully and intimately, and to make us more effective in our service for Him.
Being a supernatural phenomenon, speaking in tongues is approached somewhat hesitantly by many Christians. However, this is nothing new. In the Bible, when God’s presence showed up in a tangible manner, it was not unusual for onlookers to respond with fear. We see this in events like the angelic vision the shepherds had when Jesus was born (Luke 2:8-12), when the disciples saw Jesus walk on water (Mark 6:45-50,) and when John had his vision of the risen Jesus (Revelation 1:4-17.) Notice that each time, the first reaction of the people who witnessed these supernatural occurrences was to be afraid. However, in each of these cases, these people were assured to “Fear not,” or “Be not afraid.”
In Luke 11:9-13, Jesus makes the solemn promise that if you ask God for bread, He isn’t going to give you a stone. According to verse 13,the context of this verse is asking the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life is something to be cherished, not feared. It is the purpose of this series of messages to share with you one of the important ways that the Spirit does work in people’s lives to draw us closer to Him, and to the ultimate goal: Christlikeness. As one of my favorite Scriptures, 2 Corinthians 3:18, puts it so beautifully:
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.