Speaking in Tongues
Speaking in tongues is perhaps the most divisive and derided experiences among all those who claim to believe in Jesus. Many opinions and beliefs exist, such as: tongues ceased with the completion of the New Testament scriptures; tongues are now demonically inspired and tongues are a gift of the Spirit that only some in the body of Christ receive. Still others claim that tongues must be interpreted at all times or that tongues are always a known language [to someone hearing them]. Just a few hold that speaking in tongues is God's sign that a person has been born again.
The confusion over tongues is paralysing for many who are feeling their way after God. What is the truth? Do all speak in tongues? What is the purpose of tongues? Here you will find solid resources to help you come to understand the relationship between speaking in tongues and the receiving of the precious gift of God, His Holy Spirit!
Speaking in Tongues
Paul, in 1Corinthians 14:5
If we believe Paul’s words, then we must admit that there is such an experience as being moved by God’s holy Spirit to speak in a language that we have not learned. The Scriptures bear witness to the presence of this experience among both Jewish and Gentile believers.
A few years after the initial outpouring of the Spirit baptism on the Jews at Pentecost, God began admitting Gentiles into His kingdom through the baptism with the holy Spirit. This grace is recorded in Acts 10:45-46: “All the believing Jews who came with Peter were astonished because the gift of the holy Ghost was poured out on the Gentiles also, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” Later, another group of disciples began speaking in tongues when they received the Spirit: “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the holy Ghost came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6). These were not isolated events; on the contrary, the context of Acts 19 suggests that Paul was surprised that these believers had not already received the Holy Spirit baptism. Further, in all his letters which speak of the subject, Paul speaks of this blessing as if it were a normal part of life in Christ.
In reality, there is no life without the language of the Spirit, for receiving the holy Spirit and speaking in tongues are indissolubly united as two parts of one experience in Christ. The moment one receives the holy Spirit baptism, he is moved by the Spirit to make “groanings which cannot be uttered” by man. This is true in every case, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus (Jn. 3:8). When all the evidence is rightly divided, it becomes clear that every person who receives the holy Spirit baptism speaks in tongues (or has “stammering lips”) when he receives it and that if one has not done so, then he has no basis on which to claim that he has received the Spirit of God.
Jesus said, “When the Comforter is come, whom I will send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, HE will testify of me” (Jn. 15:26). Paul would later write, “The Spirit ITSELF bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16). The Comforter’s “testimony” mentioned by Jesus and the Spirit’s “witness” mentioned by Paul both refer to speaking in tongues. So, a prime purpose of speaking in tongues is to distinguish those who have truly believed and repented from those who have not.
Speaking in Unknown Tongues
“Let him who speaks in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also. I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” 1Cor. 14:13-15
Those who received the holy Ghost when it was first poured out spoke in tongues languages that were unknown to them, but were well known to the Jews who had traveled from great distances to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost. The visiting Jews marveled that the disciples spoke fluently in foreign tongues or languages. They asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears our own native language?”
Speaking in Tongues Foretold
Long before Jesus suffered and died to make the holy Ghost available to men, God had chosen tongues as the sign of this New Covenant; and He announced His choice through the prophets. Through Zephaniah (3:9) God promised, “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent.” Through Isaiah (28:11-12), He said, “For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people, to whom He said, ‘This is the Rest wherewith you may cause the weary to rest’, and ‘This is the Refreshing’, yet they would not hear.” When a sinner hears someone speaking in tongues, the call of the Spirit is to his heart, not to his head; it is to his feelings, not to his understanding.
“There appeared to them cloven tongues like fire, and it rested upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:3-4
Speaking in Tongues - God’s Purpose
Referring to Isaiah’s words, Paul wrote, “In the law it is written, ‘With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people, and yet for all that they will not hear Me, saith the Lord.’ Wherefore”, Paul concludes, “tongues are for a sign . . . to them that believe not” (1Cor. 14:21-22). Notice Paul’s words, “tongues are for a sign”, and then ask yourself, “A sign of what?” Clearly, tongues are God’s designated sign of the way of eternal life. A singular beauty of the New Testament is that God Himself, through the Spirit, speaks when He enters our hearts. In this covenant, we are not dependent upon men to tell us when we are born again.
Long ago, my father dreamed he was carrying the crucified Lord to a cemetery to bury him. As he was lowering Jesus into the grave, Jesus opened his eyes and raised his hands, and both of them were holding money. Then Jesus spoke. “Take this,” he said. “This cannot be buried with me.” Obeying the Lord, my father took the money from his hands and saw that in one hand was twenty-eight dollars and eleven cents, while in the other hand was eleven dollars and twenty-eight cents. As he stared at the money, the twenty-eight dollars and eleven cents changed into the word “Isaiah”, and the eleven dollars and twenty-eight cents changed into the word “Matthew”. When he awoke, he knew the Lord had shown him something of remarkable value from those two books. He took his Bible and turned with great anticipation to Isaiah 28:11 and to Matthew 11:28, wondering what this revelation should mean.
In Matthew 11:28-29, he found Jesus pleading with his people, “Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you REST. Take of my yoke and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find REST for your souls.” Then he read from Isaiah 28:11-12, “For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak unto this people. To whom He said, ‘THIS IS THE REST wherewith you may cause the weary to REST, and this is the Refreshing,’ yet they would not hear.”
Speaking in tongues is a misunderstood blessing, but it is part of the reason Jesus suffered and died. How can it not be of God? Is it not clear that only those who have repented and have received the holy Spirit baptism with the evidence of speaking in tongues have found this REST which God promised to His people?
Speaking in tongues enables God’s children to pray more effectively. Paul wrote, “Likewise the Spirit helps our infirmities. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
Speaking in Diverse Tongues - A Gift of the Spirit
In his list of a few gifts of the Spirit (1Cor. 12), Paul mentions the gift of “diverse tongues.” This is not the same thing as speaking in tongues when one receives the holy Ghost. It is an added measure, a deeper walk in the Spirit for those who already speak in tongues, just as the “gift of faith” is for those who already have faith. It should be noted that Paul never says that “speaking in tongues is a gift.” He knew better. The gift is “diverse tongues”. Multitudes have received the holy Ghost baptism and speak in tongues, but only a few in our time have received the gift of “diverse tongues”.
Many a person has excused his lack of the Spirit by teaching that speaking in tongues is a thing of the past, or is merely a gift that only a few saints receive. Don’t swallow that poison, my friend. It is the gift of “diverse tongues” that is given only to some, but as for speaking in tongues, every member of the body of Christ has that blessing.
Speaking in tongues (or “stammering lips”) is God’s sign of the new birth as every born again person speaks in tongues beginning the moment the Spirit enters. If you have not received this experience, please do not take this message as a belittling of your faith in Jesus. It is not. There were sincere followers of Christ in the days of the apostles who did not receive the holy Ghost until someone came along and “taught them the way of God more perfectly.” The baptism of the Holy Spirit is for you, and so are we.