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Speaking in Tongues

This is the subject of much confusion today. There are those that claim that to be a full and complete Christian that you must speak in Tongues. On the other hand, there are many that never speak in Tongues and yet walk with God. The truth concerning Tongues is subtle, like most biblical truths.

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (NIV84)

Some people today look at this passage and conclude that speaking in Tongues is evidence that a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, but is this correct? What exactly is going on here?

Well, for starters, this sign of Tongues was a sign that the Holy Spirit was given to the believing Jews in Jerusalem.

1 Corinthians 14:21-22

In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord.

22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. (NIV84)

We see here that Tongues is a sign for unbelievers; not believers. This is important and significant. On the day of Pentecost, Tongues were a sign to the unbelievers that the Holy Spirit was given to the Church.

Acts 2:5-11

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs -- we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! (NIV84)

The unbelievers were amazed that each of them, being whatever sort of foreigners, heard the wonders of God being proclaimed in his or her own native tongue. The believers were speaking known languages. The hearers understood what was spoken. The tongues were a sign to the unbelieving foreigners that something important concerning God was taking place. This event of Tongues prompted an action on the part of the unbelievers.

We can then understand that the sign of tongues is the Spirit-given speaking in known languages that are not known to the speaker.

Acts 2:12 12

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean? (NIV84)

They wondered at these events and asked "What does this mean?" Thus enabling Peter to respond...

Acts 2:16-18

...No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ""In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (NIV84)

Do you see? The tongues were a sign that God was pouring out his Spirit in the last days upon his followers. It was a sign of the start of the Church Age.

Peter went on to tell the people about Jesus, and of the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that he was now Lord and Christ. He told them that they had crucified the Messiah, but that God had raised him up. The people responded...

Acts 2:37-41

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off -- for all whom the Lord our God will call."

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (NIV84)

So, we see that the sign of Tongues was for those that did not believe, and it was an attention grabber, that caused the unbelievers to call out and ask, "What does this mean?" and this opened the door for Peter to respond.

We hear no more about this sign of Tongues until the gospel was taken to the Samaritans. Notice that Tongues were not mentioned when the three thousand were added to the church.

Acts 8:14-17

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (NIV84)

It is evident that when the apostles laid their hands upon the Samaritans, that something visible took place, that enabled all that were present to see that the Holy Spirit was given. It is very likely that the Samaritans spoke in Tongues. In this case Tongues were present to tell the Jews that God had indeed accepted the believing Samaritans. This again is an example of the sign of tongues.

In Acts chapter ten Peter is led by God to preach the truth concerning Jesus to the Gentiles. As Peter was speaking these words we see the following.

Acts 10:42-46

...He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. (NIV84)

It is clear that the Jews did not think that the Holy Spirit would be given to a Gentile. They were "astonished" when they heard the Gentile people speaking in Tongues.

So, again, we see tongues was a sign to the unbelieving Jews that God had accepted people from every nation and race of man.

Now I want you to read the next passage very carefully. Think about what is being said...

Acts 11:1-4, 15

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."

4 Peter began and explained everything to them...

15 "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. (NIV84)

It is very clear that the circumcised believers, that is, the Jews, did not believe that the Holy Spirit would be given to a Gentile. They criticized Peter for having entered the house of a Gentile. Now what I want you to ponder on is what Peter meant when he said that the Holy Spirit had come upon them as he had come upon the Jews at the beginning. "...at the beginning" Now, if the sign of tongues is evident each and every time a person is added to the church, then why would Peter not have said this instead? "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he does with us?" But no, Peter did not say that. He said "..as he had come on us at the beginning." This subtle little fact is important for a true and accurate understanding of the sign of tongues accompanying the receiving of the Holy Spirit.

If Tongues are a sign that a person has received the Holy Spirit then Peter would not have said "...at the beginning", but he did say that, so we can understand that like on Pentecost, (when the Jews first received the Holy Spirit), and like when the Samaritans first received the Holy Spirit, the tongues were a sign that the Holy Spirit was given to the Gentiles. And, let us not forget that this sign of tongues is not a bunch of unintelligible speech, but rather is intelligible speech in a foreign tongue, for..."because each one heard them speaking in his own language." Acts 2:6

Now, I have been talking about the sign of Tongues, but there is also a gift of tongues. Let us examine that a little, shall we?

1 Corinthians 12:1, 7-10

1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant...

7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. (NIV84)

This is not speaking of the sign of tongues, but rather the spiritual gift of speaking in different kinds of tongues. This is one of the gifts given to those that are in the body of Christ. This gift is given for the common good and is intended to be used for the edification of the body as a whole. Notice carefully the gift of the interpreter of tongues. This is a person that God has gifted with the ability to listen to another person speak in foreign tongues and then repeat the message in a language that the hearer can understand. These two gifts working together are exactly like the person who has the gift of prophecy.

I don't want to get off on another tangent, but I would like to point out that a person that has the gift of prophecy is not necessarily operating in the ministry of the prophet. A prophet will have the gift of prophecy, but a person speaking with the gift of prophecy is not necessarily a prophet. A person speaking prophecy, by the gift, is speaking the words of God, that is, God is talking through that person. The same is true for the person speaking in tongues, that is, it is the Holy Spirit that is giving the words that are spoken.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. (NIV84)

I would like to point out that the above passage is very clear regarding the fact that not all Christians speak in tongues. I say this because many teach that you must speak in tongues or you do not have the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This is absolutely not true! Speaking of this, I would like to point out that the definition of a Christian is one having the Holy Spirit inside them. Some teach that there are two levels of having the Holy Spirit, and this too is not correct.

1 Corinthians 14:1-6

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.

6 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? (NIV84)

The gifts of the Spirit are given primarily for the good of the body as a whole. Now, in the case of speaking in tongues in the presence of the congregation, unless an interpreter is present, there is no benefit to the congregation, and therefore the speaker should remain quiet.

1 Corinthians 14:13

For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. (NIV84)

It is clear that tongues should not be spoken when the church is assembled, unless the tongues are interpreted.

1 Corinthians 14:18-20

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

20 Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (NIV84)

 

1 Corinthians 14:21-22

In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord.

22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. (NIV84)

Here Paul tells us that Tongues, then, are a sign for unbelievers. This we clearly saw in Acts chapter two, when the unbelievers heard the wonders of God proclaimed in their own languages. This moved the unbelievers to ask what it all meant, and this led Peter to proclaim the gospel to them.

1 Corinthians 14:23-25

So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you! (NIV84)

To the unbeliever the gospel message is unintelligible, but if God opens their ears so that they can hear and understand the words, then they can become believers. The problem with tongues as it is frequently spoken within the congregation is that no one but God knows what is said, and therefore it doesn't impart any benefit to the congregation. For this reason it should not be spoken in the congregation. If tongues are spoken in the congregation and no one interprets and if some unbelievers are in attendance, then the unbelievers will not understand and think that you are a bunch of kooks.

Whether or not a person speaks in tongues is not a measure of their faith. One person speaks, and another does not; it means nothing. It is my opinion that many congregations put an unhealthy emphasis on tongues. These congregations tend to be emotionally motivated. The pastors tend to whip up their people's emotions. Faith does not come to us through our emotions.

Romans 10:17

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (NIV84)

This is the only way to get faith. You must know and understand what the Scriptures say, and be firm in your belief that the Scriptures cannot fail. To have someone whip up your emotions and get you to feel guilty, and so rededicate yourself to Christ, will not increase your faith at all.

Basically tongues should not be heard in an assembly of believers. Consider this; the Holy Spirit will not lead one person to speak in tongues if an interpreter is not present. If tongues are being spoken with no interpretation then the Holy Spirit is not leading the speaker. Is such a speaker in God's will?

Congregations that have a lot of tongues going on, (without interpretation), tend to be quite zealous. But, with zeal that is not in accordance with the truth.

 

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