Tongues and the Gifts of God


    There are many views on the gift of Tongues and its role in Christian practice today. At one end of the scale, some Conservative Christians claim that the gift of Tongues ended long ago and that those who practice it today are deceived by Satan and serve him instead of Christ. At the other extreme, the radical Charismatics believe that all true Christians must speak in tongues. The truth, as revealed in God's Word, is somewhere between these two views.
    Before we go any further, let us establish what the gift of Tongues really is: talking in a God-given language unknown to the speaker. There are four uses for the gift of Tongues shown in the Bible: to evangelize foreigners in their own language; to communicate with believers (which requires interpretation); as a sign to unbelievers and to pray to God privately.
    The first passage addressing the issue of tongues is in Acts 2:1-18. Here we see the gift of tongues being used to evangelize people from diverse countries and languages:

    And while the Day of Pentecost was being fulfilled, they were all with one accord in one place.
    And suddenly there came a sound out of the heaven, just like a rushing mighty breath, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues, just like fire, such that one sat upon every one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, just as the Spirit gave them utterance.
    Then there were Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under heaven. But these voices having taken place, the multitude came together, and were puzzled, because everyone heard them speak in his own dialect.
    Then they were all astonished and wondered, saying to one another, "Behold, are not all these who speak Galileans? "And how do we hear, each in our own dialect in which we were born? "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, not only Judea but also Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Not only Phrygia but also Pamphylia, Egypt and the portions of Libya near Cyrene, visitors from Rome, not only Jews but also proselytes, Cretans and Arabs; we h ear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God."
    So they were all astonished and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
    But others mocking said, "They are full of sweet wine."
    Then Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and harken to my words. For these are not drunk, as you assume, for it is only the third hour of the day. Instead this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
    'And it shall be in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall behold visions and your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy.
Acts 2:1 to 18
 
    This occurrence was unique in several respects: it was the first time God had poured out His Spirit on Jesus' followers and it is the only recorded instance that all of the brethren spoke in tongues. Furthermore, when the many foreign pilgrims arrived, each of them heard at least one disciple speak in their own language.
    Some people claim that all of the pilgrims simultaneously understood everything that was spoken in their own language. But if this was so, it would mean that the miracle was in the hearing, not in the speaking (i.e. Tongues). With such a hearing miracle there would be no confusion about what was spoken, nor any need for more than one disciple to speak. Instead, we find that some of those present, most likely the local Judeans, were not able to understand much of what was spoken as most of it was in foreign languages that they did not know. And as they knew that those speaking were “ignorant” Galileans, they assumed that they were so drunk that they could not speak properly. The foreigners knew better, as each of them heard the disciples praising God in their own dialect. And as travellers, they heard other dialects that they were familiar with being spoken by the disciples too!
    As Peter makes clear, these disciples were in fact prophesying to the various pilgrims present. Peter, also prophesying, speaks to the multitude in the local dialect that almost everyone present can understand.
    Pentecostals like to point out that all of the brethren present on that day did speak in tongues. But we find that the “normal” gift of tongues, unlike this unique Pentecost event, is not for all of the brethren. Paul suggests that in this passage:
    Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
    But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
    But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each separately as He wills.
1 Corinthians 12:4 to 11
    But if any wish to argue, Paul makes it crystal clear that not all Christians have to speak in tongues:
    But you are the body of Christ, and members out of this portion. And of whom God has indeed established these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, and then powers, then gifts of healings, understandings, administrations, kinds of tongues.
    Not all are apostles. Not all are prophets. Not all are teachers. Not all are given powers.
Not all have gifts of healings. Not all speak with tongues. Not all interpret.
1 Corinthians 12:27 to 30
 

    Just as we are not all prophets, teachers or healers, we do not all speak with tongues. And more than this, the passage reveals that the gift of tongues, though conspicuous, is not the greatest gift of the spirit. Instead, we are to desire the greater gifts, but within the embrace of God's Love :

    But earnestly desire the better gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
    If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as roaring brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
     Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
    For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
    When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
    And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
1 Corinthians 12:31 to 14:1.
 
    None the less, the Bible does show that tongues are valuable. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 14:5 Paul says he would be delighted if all could speak in tongues. But what is the value of tongues? Is it the same as what occurred on the Day of Pentecost in Acts where tongues were used to prophesy directly to foreigners in their own language? The Bible shows us that the gift is not the same as the unique Pentecost event:
    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. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
1 Corinthians 14:2 to 4
 

    So we see that the “normal” gift of tongues is predominantly intended to be used in private prayer between a person and God. It is not understood by other people. It is a gift that needs humility and the Spirit of God to function properly. Without God's Spirit there is no gift, and without humility we would not allow God's Spirit to speak through us. It is a beautiful gift that God uses to strengthen our own personal faith. But a Christian is not required to speak in tongues to be spiritual. Each person has a particular gift that God has given them. Using their gift, under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, will strengthen their faith and generally strengthen their brethren too.
    As an example, prophecy is a greater gift than tongues as it helps and strengthens others. Paul expands this concept in the next few verses:

    I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
    But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?
    Even soulless things, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
    So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
    There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the power of the sounds, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.
    Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
    What is the result 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. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.
    I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 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.
1 Corinthians 14:5 to 19
 
    Paul then shows that tongues also have a place in church meetings, but it is a carefully controlled position. Tongues can be used as a sign to unbelievers, and must always be interpreted. Moreover, only two or three messages in tongues will be allowed. God does not authorise communal “singing in the Spirit” such as occurs in many charismatic churches.
    Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord.
    Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
    But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is judged by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
    How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
    If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
    Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
    For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
1 Corinthians 14:20 to 33
 

    In verse 32, Paul shows us that God does not take away our self-control even when he is speaking through us, either in tongues, interpretation, knowledge or prophecy. We can reassert our control at any moment. It is not like the demonic possession which occurs in dervishes or other pagan religions where the person's self-control is ripped apart. God loves us and always respects our freedom to choose to participate with Him. “Slaying in the Spirit” and similar practices do not comply with God's Word nor His Way and therefore must not be accepted in Christian assemblies.
    As in most other things, Satan does indeed have his counterfeit of tongues. In the author's experience God's gift of tongues came as a gift that descended from above, and filled us from our head to our toes with peace, joy and a deeper love for God and his Word. It did not require an 'initiation” ceremony where you chant meaningless sounds surrounded by others who encourage you to duplicate their noises. Those who “learn to speak in tongues” in this way frequently say that the power comes up through the ground into them in an overwhelming manner -much like the Kundalini power of Hinduism. One can only have grave doubts about the source of their “gift”. These people also generally claim that God's commandments have been “done away” by Christ and they are free to do what they like. Compare this attitude with Matthew 5:17 to 20, 1 Peter 2:11 to 16 and Revelation 14:12. This anti-law teaching is dealt with fully in the Appendix of our Ten Commandments article.
    It is also important to see in 1 Cor 14:26, quoted above, that God, through Paul, wants us to have a vibrant, but controlled, creativity in our congregations. God Himself will give songs, revelations, etc to numerous members of the assembly to bring to the meetings. He does this to strengthen the faith of the entire congregation and to ensure that we remember that He is the head of the church, not any man.

Has the Gift of Tongues ceased?
    These scriptures clearly show the importance of God's Gifts in the life of every Christian. In particular, Paul shows us how much we need prophecy and the interpretation of tongues in our assemblies and how useful prayer in the Spirit (tongues) can be in our personal relationship with God. Rejecting these gifts creates a powerless Christianity (2 Timothy 3:5). Indeed, God actually demands that we do not forbid our brethren from exercising the gifts He gives us:
    If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
    Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.
1 Corinthians 14:37 to 40
 
    The idea that Tongues has ceased is based on the mis-interpretation of a passage that we quoted earlier:
    Love never falls. But where there are prophecies, they will come to an end; where there are tongues, they will cease; where there is knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will come to an end.
     When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
1 Corinthians 13:8 to 12
    The issue here is what is the “perfect” which will come and bring these things to an end?
    Those who claim that these gifts have been “done away” say that the “perfect” is the written Word of God. They say that because we have the completed Scriptures, this means that we no longer need prophecy. And therefore tongues and interpretation are no longer needed as they are an indirect method of prophecy. And if they were consistent, they must also mean that knowledge has been “done away with” too. (Though it is not knowledge in the sense of knowing anything that will one day be done away with, but the gift of knowledge, meaning that God's Holy Spirit directly imparts information or understanding to a believer about certain things that affect their congregation and/or those around them.)
    Our belief is that the “perfect” refers to Jesus and the events surrounding His Return. The Bible is designed to lead us to Jesus, not to replace Him. Through the Bible, and the indwelling of God's Spirit, we know in part, like seeing Jesus in a mirror. But it is only when we have been resurrected at the last trumpet that we shall know Him just as He knows us. (1 John 3:2, Hebrew 11:40)
    One also needs to understand that the Greek word translated in the above passage as “perfect” is teleiow, which means “to be completed, made perfect”. The completion of our begettal by the Holy Spirit is our transformation, or birth, as perfected children of the one True God and brothers and sisters to our Lord Jesus Christ at the first resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Revelation 20:4 to 6). This event is part of the Return of Jesus.
    Paul does not restrict the sign of tongues to the unbelieving Jews of his day, so it is just as applicable to the unbelieving Jews of today. Paul also says nothing to restrict the use of tongues as a sign to Jews only. Instead he applies them as a sign to all unbelievers. As there are still uninformed and unbelievers today, both Jews and Gentiles, there is no reason to assume that tongues have ceased yet.
    The argument to support the ongoing gift of prophecy can be easily supported from Scripture. When Peter quotes Joel it is clear that what happened at Pentecost was only the beginning of the fulfilment of this prophecy:
    'And it shall be in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall behold visions and your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy.
Acts 2:17 to 18
 

    We have been in the “last days” ever since then, and with each passing year we draw closer to the time of Christ's Return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
    Prophecy is not limited to the writing of the Bible. There are many references to prophets in the Bible whose messages have not been recorded for us. (Acts 13:1, Acts 15:32, Acts 21:9, etc). It is reasonable to assume that this is because they had messages intended for local situations and congregations and thus they were not included in the Word.
    Prophecy specifically means to let God speak through you. This is different from preaching, which is teaching others from God's Word. Indeed, they are translated from two different Greek words. Prophecy comes from propheteia, which means “a discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; esp. by foretelling future events”.
    Preach is translated from kerusso, meaning “ to publish, proclaim openly: something which has been done; used of the public proclamation of the gospel and matters pertaining to it, made by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the apostles and other Christian teachers.” (Both definitions from the Online Bible)
    This type of prophecy should be happening today as we move into the end times.-We need it to guide and strengthen us in our spiritual fight against the forces of darkness which are gathering strength for their open rebellion against God.
    We can see that even at the very end of this era, God will still have His Prophets:

    "And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."
    These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.
    These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
    Now when they finish their witness, the beast that ascends out of the abyss will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
    Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their corpses three and a half days, and not allow their corpses to be put into tombs. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

Revelation 11:3 to 10
 
    Eventually there will be a time when prophecy is no longer needed. This will occur once the Kingdom of God has been established on Earth and everyone knows God:

 

    Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them," says the LORD.
    "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days," says the LORD, "I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.
    "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawlessness I will remember no more."
Hebrews 8:8 to 12
    Though all Bible-believing Christians already have God's Laws written in their hearts, this is not yet the case for the houses of Israel and Judah. Zechariah shows us when this will happen:
    "It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.
    "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.”
Zechariah 12:9 to 11
 

    "In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.
    "It shall be in that day," says Jehovah of Hosts, "that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land.

Zechariah 13:1 to 2
 
    God's gifts -every one of them- are needed by God's children on a day to day basis to enable us to fulfill our part in God's Plans. These gifts were given to us at Pentecost in the year of Christ's crucifixion, and will remain with us until we no longer need them. - And we will need them until we are transformed into spirit-based children of God with abilities and composition like -but not equal to- God our Father.
    As we draw nearer to the time of Christ's Return, our need for God's Gifts grows greater as Satan's corruption of this world intensifies. To deny and reject these gifts is to leave ourselves and our brethren poorly defended against Satan's attacks. Those who refuse and suppress the gifts of God are either very foolish or servants of our enemy.
    Let us ask Our Father to help us all find and develop our gifts, that we may be able to edify, exhort and comfort each other as He intended us to do.




The Bible passages used in this article are taken from the Central Highlands Christian Publications or the New King James translations.


We have a variety of other free Biblical articles and software available, covering such diverse topics as Creation, the nature of man, who God is, and prophecy. We also operate a free lending library service within Australia. Please contact us for details. Most of this material may be downloaded from our WEB page.



Copyright © 2003

CENTRAL HIGHLANDS CHRISTIAN PUBLICATIONS
289 Stag Rd, Kingston, Vic. 3364 Australia
Phone (03) 5345 7367 or (03) 5345 3109
Email info@chcpublications.net
Home Page http://www.chcpublications.net


Permission is given to copy and distribute this document provided it is not altered and is copied completely. We ask only that you notify us if you are making multiple copies. We may be able to provide additional printed copies.