We are wrapping up (pun intended) our Gifts Series today with “Gifts of Tongues/Special Languages and Interpretation!” And as I’ve stated repeatedly, these gifts are not given to us so we can have a personal or church spiritual platform! They are only given to individuals and the church to resource us for facilitating and fulfilling the cause of Christ. Our mission is to reach people who need restoration back to God and we need spiritual resource for this to happen.
Text: 1 Cor. 12:10 “…Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, and another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.”
At the onset I want to establish this- that speaking in unknown languages or tongues is for today and it does happen and yes, it is often misunderstood and misused. But the Bible makes it clear that this supernatural “ability” is primarily applied in two areas:
Publicly: The person speaks or interprets a “known” language they did not learn in a setting where, as a result of it, people hear and/or receive the Good News (Acts 2:1-4) OR it is a prayer or praise…
Privately: The person speaks a “heavenly” language that is foremost a significant aid in prayer; especially in an “intercessory” context (Rom. 8:26-28)
It is undeniable that God, by His Spirit, can and does enable people in profoundly supernatural ways; and certainly that includes the “gifts” of tongues and interpretation. Perhaps the primary reason there is so much controversy with these gifts is because again, they are misappropriated. It is my opinion, in Pentecostal/charismatic churches, the vast majority of “messages” given in services are either hyper-spirituality or someone speaking in their “prayer language” and once this occurs there is a significant burden on someone to interpret, let alone the potential for further abuse…
Paul reminds the Corinthians and me and you that it is “better to speak in five known words” than a bunch of words no one understands!” He also reminds his readers that “he speaks in tongues more than they do” so, his point is not that “tongues” is inappropriate, but the application is often very inappropriate. That certainly was the case in Corinth, requiring Paul to address it as he does. If you believe in the “charismata” and that the gifts are for today to both complete the church and resource us to accomplish the cause of Christ, then you believe in “speaking in tongues!” But, you’re also probably a part of the chaos and confusion that’s out there about it; and maybe you’ve even contributed to the
We know from the NT, especially Acts, that speaking in tongues was indeed an “experience” for the early church; and was seemingly something that wasn’t necessarily encouraged (you don’t see anywhere in the NT where someone is told they have to speak in tongues to validate their spirituality, etc.); however, it was something that “came on” people at particular times. So, how do we deal with speaking in tongues and when it’s appropriate, etc.?
SPEAKING IN TONGUES IS NOT…
- Simply babbling “shundia” over and over again! It’s not gibberish and it’s not something you can’t control! It is an “unknown” language- either one of men (Acts 2) or one of angels (Rom. 8:26-28; 1 Cor. 13:2 ref.). Sure, sometimes the “tongue” may not be well-developed (listen to me try to speak Spanish) and needs to be “practiced” in a setting appropriate for that- prayer, etc. This is primarily “speaking to God…”
- Speaking in tongues is not about preaching the gospel to unbelievers– yes, in rare or peculiar situations, God may enable someone to do so (Mark had no interpreter and his father-in-law was an avowed atheist who subsequently was saved!); however, God isn’t going to give you the language of the Shintu tribe in Africa because you feel compelled or called to go and preach Jesus to them- you will most likely have to study and learn the language!
- Tongues was not just for the early church; it is for today. Those who suggest otherwise often quote Paul talking about how “prophecies will cease and where there are tongues, they will be stilled, and knowledge will pass away…” This is absurd because Paul is talking about the “age” when Jesus comes back, etc.
- Speaking in tongues is not to be ignored. We should never make the assumption that because Paul so strongly speaks about prophesying versus speaking in tongues in 1 Cor. 12-14 that tongues isn’t important. Paul did tell the church in Corinth that they were speaking in tongues way too much in their gatherings and it was getting ridiculous (think about that for a minute….); and he also told them to not give a message unless you had the interpretation- implying that the person giving the message is responsible for the interpretation! He corrects these but doesn’t say we shouldn’t speak in tongues!
WHAT SPEAKING IN TONGUES IS…
- Primarily about speaking to God! 1 Corinthians 14:2 “Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.” The gifts of tongues and interpretation are the only gifts of the nine in 1 Corinthians 12 not illustrated for us in Old Testament times. But we do have some inclinations from the OT that there may have been a corollary experience parallel to speaking in tongues in the NT. The phrase used in the OT identified as “pouring out my soul” or “pouring out my heart.” Let me cite several examples: Psalm 42:4“These things I remember as I pour out my soul.” Psalm 62:8 “Trust in Him at all times O people, pour out your heart before Him. God is a refuge for us.” Lamentations 2:9 “Arise, cry out in the night at the beginning of the watches. Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:15 where Hannah is praying for a child to be born. Her lips move but her voice is not heard. The priest Eli came along and thought she was drunk. But Hannah answered “No, my lord, I’m not drunk. I am a woman sorely troubled. I drunk neither wine nor strong drink. But I have been pouring out my soul unto the Lord.” Here is speech that defies expression. It is a deep heart to heart communication with God that cannot be encapsulated within verbal communication. Speaking to God, that’s the first and foremost definition of what utterances in tongues are.
- Secondly, but very much in accordance with “speaking to God”, speaking in tongues is primarily about prayer- speaking to God through the communication medium of prayer! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:16”I will pray with the Spirit and conversely I will pray with my understanding. [That is, my known language.] I will sing with the Spirit and conversely I will sing with the understanding.” The ability to “speak in tongues” as a significant part of your prayer life cannot be overstated. Simply put, it enables us to be expressive on another level- not imply spiritual elitism, but connecting with God in a way that the Psalmist described as “deep calling out to deep!” In other words, it’s the “pouring out of our soul” that we talked about already! Also, speaking in tongues in prayer, is very much about intercession. Rom. 8:26-27 Paul says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we ought.” Isn’t this the case many times in our praying for a specific person or subject – we do not know how to pray as we ought even for ourselves. “but the Spirit prays for us.” The literal force of what he is saying “and He who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God.” In Eph. 6:18 Paul says, “Pray at all times in the spirit.” Again, tongues is implied and for good reason- to help us to pray in line with God’s will; especially because most of the time we do not know what to pray!
IS SPEAKING IN TONGUES FOR EVERYONE…
Sadly, this is a point of great contention and debate, and I’m not going to get on a soapbox today! As we’ve gone through these gifts I’ve been careful to tell you that all of these gifts have various expressions among believers. Further I’ve said that although there is a gift of wisdom we are all to exercise wisdom- the same with knowledge, and faith, and discernment. So, while special gifts operate at special times, all of these abilities and attributes should be present in our lives!
So, if you ask me if speaking in tongues is for every believer, I’d say yes and no! Yes, when it comes to its personal private expression in praise and prayer! No, when it comes to the times when it is appropriate in a public setting! I believe that Paul’s teaching on the matter clearly makes the case in both instances. Especially when you consider that he places strict limits on speaking in tongues in a public setting and further asks rhetorically, “so do all speak in tongues” in the sense of the public expression, not the private one!
Regarding the private expression there are many examples in the NT- from Cornelius’ household in Acts 9 to the believers on the road to Ephesus in Acts. 19. Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:4“He who speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself.” Here Paul’s talking about the private personal use and saying that when a person speaks in tongues in a public setting and it’s not interpreted then nobody’s edified except the person doing it! Which compels me to believe that there is an appropriate means of self-edification; where a person grows spiritually, and certainly tongues enables this- therefore, since God is not a God of inconsistency, we could say that He wants everyone to be so edified- but in the private context!
Paul stated “he spoke in tongues more than they did” but not publicly- this was a statement about his private prayer life! Remember, how much emphasis he places on prophesying publicly; well, he is also placing the same emphasis on speaking in tongues more so privately! Beyond the obvious reason, it’s only “self-edifying”, is this fact, you can control whether you speak in tongues or not! I’m tired of the very poor and greatly spiritually immature attitude and response of “I couldn’t help it, it just came on me….” That’s “hyper-spirituality” and that’s not the Spirit! Speaking in tongues is not some experience where we’re in an unconscious state.
WHEN TONGUES ARE MADE PUBLIC…
- First: When the gift of tongues is made public it will be integral to the situation and it must be interpreted! Illustration: Doug Corbiser’s message in tongues- India! If Doug would have done that and there was no interpretation then he alone would have been edified- the rest of us? Confused! When someone jumps up and gives a message in tongues (often interrupting the speaker, which in and of itself should tell us something) and there is no interpretation the church is not edified, but confused. And then the onus is on the pastor to explain that! Or so often, the pastor may now feel obligated to interpret it- not this pastor! We’ll correct it and help people to learn from it so we grow more spiritually responsible! There’s two rules here: 1) Before giving a message in tongues, pray that you have the interpretation (1 Cor. 14:13). And 2) Before giving a message in tongues know that there is someone in the gathering who has the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 14:28 “If there is no one to interpret let each of them keep silent in the church and speak to himself unto God.”
- Second: The gift of tongues and interpretation is to be limited to no more than 2 or 3 times in a gathering. This goes for prophecy too. God’s Word is clear on this and we need to specifically adhere to it!
- Third: The interpretation of tongues proceeds from a proper understanding of the function for tongues. Now pay attention: Most of the interpretations of tongues I’ve heard have really been prophecies! A message is given and right away someone says, “The Lord your God says to you…” That’s a prophecy- speaking for God. Tongues is about speaking to God! And this needs to be understood. Remember tongues is speaking to God or pouring out your soul in prayer. Tongues is primarily used as intercession and praise. So, when someone is used in the gift in a service, it will be in that respect, and the interpretation will follow accordingly- a prayer, intercession, or a praise to God! There are those exceptions when the gift of tongues will be a known language that the person speaking did not learn. This is where we’ve got to get this right! The interpretation will be in the form of a prayer or praise to God! Prophecy speaks for God! Certainly, people are developing in respect to the gifts and there are times when this needs to be explained, etc.; but we all need to take responsibility for functioning in the gifts.
- Fourth: An interpretation of tongues may be longer or shorter in duration simply because it is NOT a translation, but an interpretation!
- Fifth: Speaking in tongues in a public gathering must come at an appropriate time. And that is NOT during the message! These times will be during worship or prayer. It’s NOT appropriate during response times to the good news, etc. Prophecy, yes, but not tongues. And while I’m at it, when we speak in tongues it should not be in some dramatic voice other than our own.
Here’s the deal: The gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues IS for the church today. Not everyone will have these gifts, but everyone should seek to “pray in the Spirit.” Tongues should be primarily private, but when they are public there are specific guidelines to be followed.
Something I’ve not touched on is whether or not speaking with other tongues is the initial physical evidence of the baptism with the Spirit. I know many people say it is and I have no problem with this. But I will also say that there is really no need whatsoever to debate this, to make this an issue. Because when we do we’re causing separation and schism in the body and that’s not the heart of God!
So, there you have it- we’ve dealt with all nine gifts of the Spirit and I hope you’ve been enlightened and come to a better understanding.