Of all of the Gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, Tongues are by far the most controversial.
There are seven Gifts in the Old Testament, but the other two, Tongues and Interpretation, have been given to the church. Why did two have to be added to the seven? The Lord manifested Himself in the pillar of cloud for Israel, and the supernatural evidence was visible to all in the camp. Today, His people are scattered all over the world, and these two gifts are proof of His supernatural presence in our lives.
Gift of Tongues is a promise in the Scripture:
For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.
So Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, quoted Isa 28:11 as a prophecy of speaking in tongues. In 1 Cor 14:21, Jesus promised the Gift of speaking in Tongues:
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues.
Now some would argue that the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel are not in some of the earliest manuscripts. Indeed, these last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel are not in the Codex Sinaiticus or the Codex Vaticanus, which are both a part of the Alexandrian family of manuscripts. However, it is interesting to note that the early church fathers, Iranius, who lived from AD 140 to 202, and Hippolatus, who lived from AD 170 to 235, both quote from these last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel. The scholars argue that Mark’s Gospel does not appear in the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete manuscripts we possess (though it is not complete). To them, this passage was inserted later by a copier. However, Codex Sinaiticus dates back to some time into the AD 400s. They do not know the exact date; however, 420 to 460 are the established dates for the Codex Sinaiticus. Here is Iranius, one of the church fathers, 200 years before the Codex Sinaiticus, and he is quoting, no doubt, from an earlier manuscript. And so, the overwhelming evidence is that the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel actually were in the original manuscripts and somehow got deleted from the Codex Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus, which comes, as I say, from the same Alexandrian family of manuscripts.
These promises and prophecies are fulfilled in Acts.
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
It can be translated, “as the Spirit gave them the ability” or “as the Spirit prompted their speech.” So here they are on the Day of Pentecost, the church receives the Holy Spirit, and one of the remarkable signs was that they were all speaking in other tongues.
We know that there were Jews from all over the world who had come to the Feast of Pentecost. Under the law, there were three significant feasts each year, and the adult male Jew needed to attend these three feast days or holy days in Jerusalem. If they lived within a close radius, they had to be there. If they lived in another nation, then they had to make a pilgrimage as often as was possible to be in Jerusalem for these feasts.
And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and was confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
They heard them speaking in their own languages or their dialects. They were declaring the beautiful works of God.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
The Spirit led Peter to the house of Cornellius, and here the manifestation of speaking in tongues came upon the Gentile believers.
Paul came to the church at Ephesus and saw that there was a lacking in the church, and he asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?”
And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples, he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
What is the purpose of tongues?
First of all, it is to assist the believer in his prayer life.
1 Cor 14:2,4
For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries… He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.
Now, Paul said that no man understands the person speaking in tongues. How do you equate this with Acts 2, where all of them understood in their own dialects as they were declaring the beautiful works of God? They were all amazed. They said, “Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each one of us is hearing in our languages as they are declaring the wonderful works of God?” Paul said, “No man understands him.”
Now, this has led us to conclude that there are two types of tongues. One we call the “sign gift” of tongues, and this is a known language or dialect. And then we have a “prayer language.” Paul, here in 1 Corinthians 14, is talking about a “prayer language” that God gives to the people to assist them in their prayer life.
In 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul is talking about the supremacy of love, he said, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…” And so, the tongues of men would be the dialects or the “sign tongues,” which could be understood by man. And the tongues of angels would be the “prayer language,” which would be a heavenly language that is unknown.
1 Cor 14:14-15
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.
So Paul, by his admission, prayed in tongues and sang in tongues. But it should be noted that he did not do this in the public worship services.
1 Cor 14:19
Yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
And yet he did declare that:
1 Cor 14:18
I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;
The Christian experience of being born again is, in a sense, the ultimate experience. It is hard to describe a person who does not have any spiritual understanding.
1 Cor 2:14
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
So it is like trying to relate the beauty of the symphony to a deaf man. He lacks the faculties by which the enjoyment of the symphony is held. And so, try to describe to the blind man the brilliant colours of a sunset on a cloudy day. They lack the faculties. And so, the natural man lacks the faculties to understand the things of the Spirit.
And that is why we have difficulty expressing to people the joy and the peace we have because how can they relate. They have no base to relate to the things of the Spirit. They are foolishness unto him. Yet he who is spiritual understands these things, though he is not understood.
1 Pet 1:8
You rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Until you taste it and experience it, I cannot describe it to you.
Imagine you travelled to Africa some hundred years ago and you meet a lost tribe. You start eating chocolate, and you say, “Oh, this tastes so good. Ooh!” These people have never tasted chocolate, and they do not know. It is hard to describe to someone the taste of chocolate.
So there are those experiences, there are those feelings, and there is that joy that is unspeakable.
To know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
So you are dealing out here in realms that are beyond us. It passes knowledge, and it passes human understanding. It is indescribable and full of glory. And thus, we are talking about feelings and sensations that we have as we walk with God. Again, we find the limitations of language in trying to express our thankfulness and our gratitude to God for these marvellous things that He has done. And I always feel like what I have said is inadequate to describe what I am feeling in my heart.
Now the next purpose of speaking in tongues is also to edify the believer. The word “edify” means to build up or to be built up. And here Paul declares that when a person is speaking in tongues, he edifies himself.
In church services, tongues are restricted to a person being present with the Gift of interpretation.
1 Cor 14:28
But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
And then Paul places other limitations on it.
1 Cor 14:27
If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.
Order in the church is essential. Therefore utterances in tongues must never be disruptive.
1 Cor 14:40
Let all things be done decently and in order.
1 Cor 14:33
For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
Please note that the Toronto Blessing, which started in 1994, caused a worldwide phenomenon with manifestations of religious ecstasy, ecstatic worship, uncontrollable laughter, emotional euphoria, crying, roaring like lions or making other animal noises. These services were uncontrollable, and the pastors were mostly unable to deliver a message. This phenomenon caused a deep split in the Charismatic movement. For more information Google: “Kundalini Spirit in the Church.”
We are not to forbid a person to speak in tongues, as long as it is within the Scriptural parameters.
1 Cor 14:39
Do not forbid to speak with tongues.
Are Tongues still valid for today?
So what about the Scripture, “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease”? People who say that tongues are not for today use this Scripture as their proof text. “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease,” in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is comparing, first of all, the eternal things with the temporal things. Love will never fail. But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail. Whether there be tongues, they shall cease. Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. So, whether there be tongues, they shall cease.
Now the controversy arises then over the interpretation:
1 Cor 13:10
But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
Now, what is “that which is perfect?” Those who try to relegate the Gift of tongues only for the apostolic period (only for the early church) interpret “that which is perfect” as the full canon of Scripture. Until the full body or canon of Scripture, John’s “amen” at the end of the Book of Revelation – Word of Knowledge, Gift of Prophecy and Gift of Tongues was useful.
Now there is no indication at all in the Scriptures where speaking in tongues was ever what you would call “revelatory” or the “revealing” of God’s word-of God’s will. That did happen in prophecy, and it could happen in the word of knowledge, but never were tongues used in the Scripture as a teaching tool.
1 Cor 14:2
For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.
Act 2: 38-39
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call”.
And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also, on My menservants and on My maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
According to Joel, this “gift of prophecy” would be exercised in the last days, even through the tribulation. Thus, if you take “tongues, they shall cease, whether there be prophecies they shall fail,” if that is all tied together and knowledge is vanishing away, then we realize that prophecies have not failed. They continue and will continue until the last days, according to the promise of God through the prophet Joel.
Gift of Prophecy was to fail concurrently with the ceasing of Gift of Tongues and Gift of Word of Knowledge. So the assumption that I would have to make is that the Gift of speaking in Tongues is indeed an ultimate gift for the believers today.
The Best Gifts
Now we are told at the end of 1 Corinthians 12 to “covet earnestly the best gifts.” What are the best gifts? That all depends upon what you need. If there is someone here tonight who is blind, then I would say one of the best gifts would be the Gift of faith and perhaps the working of miracles. So it all depends on what the situation is as to what is the best Gift. And if the situation is involving your own personal devotional life, then the Gift of Tongues would be the best Gift to enhance your personal prayer life and worship and that intimacy of worship with God.
Speaking in tongues is extremely difficult on the human intellect. Our intellects rebel against uttering sounds that we do not understand. It is an insult to the intellect, which is why many sincerely declare that they do not see any reason or purpose for the Gift of tongues. Why should I speak to God in a language or a tongue that I do not understand? It is an insult to the intellect, and thus, it is understandable that a person would feel that way.
However, if God has given a gift, there must be something worthwhile in having that Gift or else why would God give it? I want to be open to whatever God might want to do for me to enhance my walk with Him. I desire to be everything that God would have me to be, and I desire to have everything that God would desire for me to have. I do not want to close any doors to God. I do not want to say, “God, I want everything but maybe not that.” I just want everything that God knows is necessary and good for me. I do not want to close any door to what He might want to do in my life.
Language is an agreement between people that certain sounds express specific ideas. We have a covenant or an agreement with each other. We can form certain sounds, and we have agreed that these sounds are conveying these particular ideas. And as long as you and I have this covenant and we have this agreement that this is what these sounds mean, we can communicate to each other in these sounds, which to others would sound like babble.
So it would be possible to invent a language, provided that we agree that these particular sounds were expressing these particular ideas. So “ugh” means “let us go out after service and get an ice cream “Nugh” means “who’s buying?” “Tug” means “I will treat.” And “lug” means “you are on!” So after service tonight, you could say, “Ugh.” And I would say, “Nugh.” You would say, “Tug?” And I would say, “Lug.” And we would head off to the ice-cream shop because we have agreed that this is what these sounds mean. It is a covenant that we make with each other by which we express our thoughts and our ideas with sounds upon which we agree.
I see the Gift of Tongues as a covenant between you and God. By faith, I will utter certain sounds that I do not understand, but I am going to trust the Holy Spirit to prompt those sounds so that they are a language of praise and worship from my spirit unto God. I make that covenant with God. I am going to trust the Holy Spirit to prompt the sounds. Although I do not understand them, “Lord I trust that You will understand these sounds to be praised, to be thanksgiving, to be worship, and to be the expression of my spirit unto You.” It is a complete act of faith, and my intellect will rebel against it.
But it is also a confession of my intellectual limitations. I do not have an adequate vocabulary to express to God the extreme joy and thanksgiving at the abundance of His grace that He has manifested to me. I often find that words are inadequate.
I do not always know how to pray as I ought. I know that it is essential when I pray that I pray according to the will of God.
1 Joh 5:14
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
1 Cor 14:14
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
Well, if the Spirit is praying, you can have the confidence that you are praying according to God’s will, though you still do not understand what the will of God may be.
It’s a comfortable experience being aided by the Spirit in worship, praise and prayer according to Gods Will. He can know and understand that I want His work and His will wrought in the situations for which I am praying. I am praying according to His will, and thus it is very restful. It is very satisfying and fulfilling to just rest in the fact that God understands and interprets my spirit-aided prayer as worship and praise and intercession, as the case may be.
Now in the Pentecostal circles, they have developed various traditional ways by which they seek to help or aid a person to speak in tongues. And I have observed these methods through the years. One way is through the encouragement of the person to repeat a word repeatedly, such as the word “glory, glory, glory” or “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” When you repeat this word over and over, in time, your tongue will twist, and a sound will come out that does not sound like glory. And a person, at that point, often begins then to speak in tongues.
But in looking at these practices, I see them as unscriptural, but I see perhaps a principle at work. One of the most challenging obstacles that we have to overcome is our intellect. And if God has a gift for me, the only way I can receive God’s gift is through faith. I have to receive the gifts of God by faith. Salvation is the gift of God. By faith, I have to receive that gift of salvation for it to be mine. I have to appropriate God’s gifts through faith. I cannot earn them. I do not deserve them. They are mine as I appropriate them by faith.
In Matthew 9, the woman who had the issue of blood for twelve years felt, in her heart, that if she could but touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, she shall receive healing of her plague. She pushed through the crowd, touched the hem of His garment and Jesus felt virtue had gone out of Him. Immediately she was healed. Then Jesus said to her, “Your faith hath made you whole.” Her faith was to be triggered by an action. She thought, “The moment I touch Him, I will be healed.” Now I believe that she could have said, “The moment He smiles at me, I will be whole.” And she could have made that the point of contact. And she could have kept trying to run in front of Jesus smiling real big and hoping that He would smile back. And the moment that He responded to her smile, she would have been healed. And Jesus would have said, “Who smiled at Me?”
I believe that we can set actions for the release of faith. The reason we lay hands on the sick, it gives them a point of releasing their faith. I know that when the elders come, and they lay hands on me, the moment they lay their hands on me, God will touch and heal me. Or the anointing with oil is the same idea. The moment that I am anointed with oil and prayed over by the elders, I know that God will heal me. And it is a point of releasing or of activating faith.
Now, getting back to these Pentecostal practices of saying “glory, glory,” I think that their faith is activated when they repeat the word until their tongue twists. They think, “I have it! Praise the Lord!” And by faith, they receive the Gift.
Faith is the key to receiving the gifts of God by believing that He has promised and that He will do what He has promised.
This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
And the answer is they received it by the hearing of faith.
The Holy Spirit is given to us to make us holy and not give us exciting, exhilarating experiences. But He is given primarily to give us the power to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
1 Cor 13:1
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
Having the Gift of Tongues is not evidence that I am more spiritual than the others who have not received the gift. If the gifts of God in my life do not produce love, then they are meaningless.
Do not despise those who do not understand the Gift and think of yourself as somehow spiritually superior to them. If you do not speak in tongues, do not despise those who do, nor attribute that Gift of God to Satan. They love our Lord and are as much part of the body of Christ as you are. Tongues are not the issue. The issue is how much love is manifested by the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.