Gifts of the Spirit

Gifts of the Spirit

discerning of spirits

Gift of Tongues

Audio Version

A. What is the supernatural gift of tongues?

A language spoken somewhere in the world or in heaven either in the past or at the present time. Some call it a heavenly language. However, Iíve heard languages that sound like French, Arabic, Italian, Hebrew, Russian, Vietnamese.

It is a fluent language complete with accents. Not all experiences are the same so I say this with caution, others may experience this wonderful gift differently that I and that doesn't mean that something is not right. Absolutely not. We can go by scripture to get an idea of what this is like. On the day of Pentecost people heard the apostles and others speak in the language of the countries they happened to have come from. So in that case it was a known language spoken somewhere on the earth.

There were people coming to Jerusalem to worship from different parts of the known world. They could all speak the same language as the apostles because it was the land of their heritage and faith but, they also lived in countries that spoke different languages than that which was spoken in Jerusalem so they were amazed to hear people speak in their own languages where they had come from.

This gift is the most controversial because of lack of understanding or else the tradition of men that changed its meaning over the years.

It is possible for tongues to be understood by someone or in some place but not always by the one speaking. Even if we interpret the tongues we speak, we usually do not understand the words we speak at the time we speak them. Interpretation will usually interpret the meaning rather than a word for word translation and it comes after the tongues are spoken in most cases and we donít know ahead of time what the interpretation is until we speak forth by the spirit and give the interpretation.

So having the gift of interpretation does not mean that we understand what is spoken directly when it is spoken unless we happen to naturally understand the particular language in the natural. I have heard of cases where the Lord gives an interpretation to someone as the speaker is speaking but it has not happened to me that way at any time past or present.

Again many experiences are different. I spoke to one young lady who told me that when the Lord wanted her to give an interpretation, she saw the words like a ticker tape given to her in a vision. That has never happened to me in that particular way but perhaps that is the way God chose to give her the interpretation.

With me, I just open my mouth and start speaking not knowing ahead of time what Iím going to say. I just know that God wants something said. We will get into interpretation in a different lesson. All utterances in tongues do not have to be interpreted if it is worship and praise and not meant to be a message for others present.

B. What the gift of tongues is not:

Babbling or baby talk.

Gibberish- When a person first starts to speak as the spirit is trying to speak through them, they may sound garbled at first but as the person yields to the spirit the language becomes a clear language. Keep in mind that some languages in the world do sound a little strange so if the speaker is speaking in some native tribal language, it may sound a little strange. Lets be careful not to judge in these cases.

We actually do not ever have to judge the tongues itself but the interpretation or a word of prophecy. The actual tongues speaking does not have to be discerned whether or not it is from God because we canít understand what is being said. It is the interpretation that we have to worry about. It is what is spoke in English that is the concern if English happens to be the language we normally speak. If no one understands what is being said then we donít have to worry about it unless the speaker is interrupting a someone preaching or trying to give the word by teaching. There is always a right time to speak and we will usually know when that is. 

Tongues are not of the devil Ė Smith Wigglesworth speaks of a time when someone came into his service speaking in tongues and it was not of God. While I will agree this may be possible and I myself did hear someone I thought was ďnot of God,Ē I have no scripture to back this claim up with though. It is safer for me to leave that to God except to remind us that tongues is a language and someone can come and just speak another language they know in the natural.

Tongues are not of no value Ė If tongues are of no value, why did God choose that particular gift to announce the arrival of the Holy Spirit that was poured out upon those on the day of Pentecost and then later in the house of Cornelius? Why did the apostle Paul claim to speak in tongues more than all of them and did warn us not to forbid the speaking in tongues?. Why would God even give something that was no value? No matter whether we understand this gift or not, it is a gift from God. Any gift from God is bound to be better than any gift coming from man.

Tongues is not the least of all the gifts- No where in the bible does it say that tongues is the least of all gifts. Just because Paul mentions it last in chapter 12 does not mean that it is the least gift. The only time he hints of any criticism is when he says that it is better to prophesy that all present can receive edification than just have people praying in tongues and they only are edified. He did say that they spoke in tongues well but that there is a time when they must speak quietly to themselves and to God so prophesies, interpretations, preaching, and teaching can be done to edify the whole body.

  • 1Corinthians 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
  • 29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
  • 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
  • 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.

The church started with the apostles, then we see God gave them prophets. He then gave them teachers, miracles, healings, helps, governments, and different kinds of tongues. He didnít say one was greater than another or that one was least. In fact chapter 14 shows us the importance of all parts of the body working together.

There is no big me and little you. Jesus refuted that type of teaching when he taught the lesson of feet washing. That was the whole reason for foot washing. It was to show the apostles that they were servants not lords over their brethren. Hierarchy is not taught in scripture after the coming of Jesus Christ. We need pastors and overseers to keep the flock safe from predators, to watch for souls and take care of the hurting, hungry, those needing correction but never to lord over, control or dominate flock. I doubt if I would be part of a church with no pastor.

We are never to use any position, however, for self exaltation and be called Rabbi, father or some title that makes us look higher than others. That is why the some churches use brother and sister for all believers even those in the ministry.

C. Scriptures that concern the speaking in tongues associated with the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

  • Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
  • 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
  • 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
  • 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
  • 19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
  • 20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

Before anyone wants to discredit tongues or limit it to just when the Holy Spirit was just poured out, it is better to read all scriptures that speak of this gift before assuming things previously taught.

  • Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
  • 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
  • 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
  • 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Notice verse 4 of Acts 2 says that the Spirit gives the utterance. This shows us the this gift is definitely from God. Notice that it says all were speaking in tongues. It is not wrong to speak in tongues at the same time in the congregation. When it is worship, when it is first poured out upon someone or a group of people for the first time, when interceding in prayer, when we are praising God and when God uses tongues to precede an interpretation to give a public message to is okay.  It is not wrong. When it is out of only when a leader is teaching or preaching the word to those who are present thereby causing confusion. That when we are to be quiet. Tongues would not be the only way to interupt the preaching.  Someone could break out in son singing Amazing Grace while someone was speaking and be out of order too. 

  • Acts 10:43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
  • 44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
  • 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  • 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
  • 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
  • 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

So we see also among the house of Cornileus people speaking in tongues at the same time.

God uses Paul the apostle.

  • Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

Look whose doing the laying on of hands. It is Paul. It is the same Paul who wrote chapter 12 and 14 of Corinthians. The same Paul who said that it is better to prophesy than to speak in tongues was the same Paul who laid hands on some people and they spoke with tongues. If tongues are such a bad thing, why did Paul allow it at that time?

Notice that tongues are one of the signs following believers. Mark 16:17 is not the words of Paul here but Jesus Himself. Notice also like all other gifts they are associated with the preaching of the gospel. Signs follow those that preach or bring the gospel. We have to have supernatural signs to convince the lost that what we teach is true. Signs also accompany believers as they meet to worship God and teach the word. So they are used to edify believers as well and accompany the gospel preaching.

Tongues are special in one way in that it edifies believers in their private prayer life as well. Praying and even singing in tongues is a way of worshiping God and should never be taken lightly or be criticized by those that do not understand.

Some people are quick to point out that the rushing wind and the tongues of fire were not repeated. My answer to that is how do we know? Why limit God to what we see and know? I have seen flickers of light and I have heard of rushing of wind entering into church meetings but even if I had never heard or seen this, I would not ever say anything that makes the assumption that it was a onetime occurrence.

We have not been in every church meeting since the days of the apostles. We were not at Azusa Street or the outpouring in North Carolina. Most people pray with their eyes closed so how would we know if tongues of fire did not accompany the baptism of the Holy Ghost today? It is still the same God and the same Holy Spirit with us today as they had then.

We see tongues as another sign in Acts chapter 10, that the Holy Spirit baptism was for Gentiles as well as Jews. We should rejoice in this. They simply heard the word. What word? They simply heard the word about remission of sins through faith in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit fell upon those that heard the word. How did they hear? They believed what they heard and their heart received what they heard.

This reception of the word of God was powerful enough to cause the Holy Spirit to fall upon them and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. This is enough to make us run the aisles with the joy of the Lord. The word was spoken, the word was believed, the word was received and they were filled with the Holy Ghost.

Now speaking of this event. If tongues were only for private times like some are teaching today, why did these people speak in tongues when they were all together? On the day of Pentecost all spoke in tongues at the same time as they did when Paul laid hands on those in Acts chapter 19. Let us stop trying to suppress the worship of God just because we donít experience the same type of worship. When its time to worship, praise and pray at the altar, tongues are perfectly okay.

D. Different Kinds of Tongues

Private individual tongues used to edify the one praying and build him or her in faith.

  • 1 Corinthians 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

Tongues used to praise and glorify God.

  • Acts 10: 46- For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God

Tongues used to intercede in the spirit with groaning that cannot be uttered.

  • Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

The gift of Tongues given to the church by the will of the spirit that is meant to be interpreted as a prophetic message from the Lord for edification, exhortation and comfort of the church body as a whole.

  • 1Corinthians 14:27-28 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

E. Purpose of Tongues

A Sign that the Holy Spirit is present. Acts chapter 2

A Sign that someone has received the Holy Spirit. Acts 10, Acts 19

A supernatural sign to unbelievers. They know something is occurring that is supernatural and not the usual.

  • 1Corinthains 14:22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

Also Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost.

Assurance that God is real, that He is with us and that the word is true. When someone who has never studied a foreign language and does not know how to speak any other language, speaks by the spirit a language they do not understand, I would say that was a sign of the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit. This miracle of tongues also can be one proof of the power of the resurrection of Jesus giving us hope of a resurrection. It is supernatural and not just an ability to speak foreign languages that we learn when studying a language.

F. Misconceptions of Tongues

Not of the devil. No where in the bible can you find that any supernatural speaking in tongues is of the devil. If there is such thing as false tongues or tongues that are of the devil, the bible doesnít cover it so we canít really get into it too deeply because then we get into words and stories of man instead of the bible itself. We can suppose that there is fake tongues, we may have heard them ourselves and have seen it, but we have no scripture to back it up.

There is an old story and a rumor that someone in church was speaking in tongues and there was a person from another country present who heard the tongues and said that the tongues were actually cursing God, not praising God. This rumor is as old as the hills with no eye witness or documentation to back it up. I heard it first when I was a young person in the church of God, I heard another brother mention it in more recent years, the exact same story. I heard Chuck Smith repeat it once but he was totally debunking the story as just a rumor.

This is why we must be very careful not to base doctrine or theology on rumors, words of men, experiences of men or even our own experiences. Use the bible. The bible is itís best interpreter. Stories are just that. They are stories. Someone can make them up. That visitor could have misunderstood or was lying. The devil could have sent him instead of God. We just do not know.

If Jesse so and so is full of the Holy Spirit, heals the sick and does miracles yet he has affairs without repenting, does that mean that affairs are okay with God? I believe the church needs to get back to scripture and get our eyes off peopleís experiences, words of men, rumors, stories and holding menís persons in admiration. If we want to prove something is for us today, is holy, is from God, then lets use the word of God to teach it and not the experiences of men. I do describe my own experiences now and then but with caution. Do not base the truth on my experiences either but on the word of God.

2. Not to be forbidden in public assemblies- Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14 that we are not to forbid the speaking in tongues. He has to mean in public assemblies because there is no way to forbid someone to speak in private. Also every time someone spoke in tongues in the New Testament, they were in a public meeting. If it was not wrong then, how can we say it is wrong now?

3. Not for baby Christians only- Tongues is not a sign of immaturity or a baby Christian. We cannot use 1 Corinthians 13 to call this a childish gift that is done away with when we grow in the Lord because that chapter also speaks of knowledge, understanding mysteries, giving to the poor etc. Are we going to stop having knowledge also?

4. Not something just for the apostles. To all are afar off means us too.

  • Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  • 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

When Peter got up and spoke those words, he was addressing their confusion over hearing people speak in tongues. Tongues was definitely associated with the outpouring of the Holy Ghost even if modern teachers are straying away from that fact today. We cannot get away from it. If it was for that day, it is for this day also. If it accompanied the Holy Spirit outpouring on the day of Pentecost, then we can expect it to accompany any outpouring of the Holy Spirit today.

5. The gift of tongues is not the ability to learn foreign languages.

I have a son that is learning Hebrew. He is able to pick it up faster than I can. Iím still on the alphabet. So the ability to learn languages is not the gift of tongues. Rich also has the supernatural ability to speak in tongues by the spirit. I only have heard him one time when he was praying for his dad but it is different than when he speaks in Hebrew that he has studied. He spoke in tongues supernaturally long before he spoke in Hebrew.

I donít want to get into experiences too much here. I never spoke in tongues before the day when I was baptized in the Holy Ghost. It was completely supernatural. I was not worked up. No one was laying hands on me. I was not even in church. I was not trying to speak in tongues. He just came out of the blue as I was sitting in the car and thinking about God.

It was a fluent language and not gibberish although when the spirit first was trying to speak through me, the first couple of syllables did sound a little strange. After a couple of seconds a fluent enunciated language poured forth that I had never spoken before. If scripture does not back this up, ignore it as just a personal experience but since it did happen in scripture, we cannot say it does not exist.

It is not to puff up self and exalt oneís self Ė It is to magnify God. Paul says that he that speaks in tongues edifies himself, not magnify himself. Edify is to build up, strengthen and is like a spiritual refreshing or restoration. It is not something selfish.

Remember the place in scripture where Jesus said that if these held their peace, the rocks would cry out. People back then tried to silence the worship and praise deserved by our Lord as they do now. Speaking in tongues is another way to glorify and praise the Lord. The only people offended are those that do not praise the Lord themselves. When it is time for praise and worship, praying in tongues is no different than praying in English. It does not have to be understood by those present because they should not be listening to anyone else praying, they should be praying themselves.

Paulís instructions concerning tongues are not to put down tongues or to discourage its use. It is to silence us when itís time for preaching, teaching, giving a word of prophecy, giving a message in tongues and interpretation and edifying the whole body. When itís time to pray and worship together as a group, tongues are not to be forbidden. There is always in every worship service, a time for prayer and a time for silence so the whole body can be edified.

If a pastor was preaching and someone decided they wanted to start singing and interrupt the message that God lays on the pastorís heart, then they would be making the same kind of mistake that a person that spoke in tongues out loud when a message is being preached would also be making. I would venture to guess that the Corinthians were all excited about receiving the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues that they just didnít know when to stop. They assumed that since it was from God, they could speak anytime they felt like it. Remember though that the bible says the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. The gifts are from God but we are to exercise them at the right time and the right place.

If the pastor was giving a message that he knows for sure God wants him to give, it would not be the time to lay hands on the sick either. It would not be time for us to have fellowship or shout in English. So we must not just pick on tongues as an unwelcome interruption.

So if we break out in tongues while the pastor is preaching, does that mean we are not of God?

Did Paul say anywhere in his writings that the Corinthians were ďnot of GodĒ or ďof the devilĒ or even ďout of order?Ē No. he did not. They were just a little over zealous in their praise and worship. That is also what tongues is by the way, ďPraise and worship.Ē

Tongues are the only one of the nine gifts that is for individuals rather than for the whole body. It is the one gift that is individualized and is meant to be given to individuals whereas the other gifts are for the church as a whole body. Some believe the gift of tongues is different than the private tongues that accompany the baptism in the Holy Spirit and it is the gift of tongues that is meant to be interpreted not a personís private prayer language.

So now we will address what Paul meant when he said, ďDo all speak with tongues?Ē Many assume this means that not everyone who is baptized with the Holy Spirit shows the sign of speaking with tongues. First of all that is not what Paul said.

He said also that he would that all spoke with tongues. We know that all do not speak with tongues. We know that all do not heal. Paul was saying a fact. All do not speak in tongues and all do not prophesy. He was not saying that all could not heal, prophesy or speak with tongues but just stating the fact that all do not do these things.

He was not saying that tongues do not accompany the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We see from the book of Acts that it did in every case. Even when it wasnít mentioned Simon the Sorcerer saw something that caused him to desire the power to lay hands on people and give them the Holy Ghost. If there was no visible sign why would Simon ask for this power?

If it was not for tongues, how would we know that we were baptized in the Holy Spirit?

Iím not going to tell someone that they do not have the Holy Spirit baptism if they say they do yet have never spoken in tongues. We shall know them by their fruits. Most of us can usually spot a spirit filled person as opposed to one that is not spirit filled even if we do not hear anyone speaking in tongues. They will usually desire to seek the face of God. They will not be bound by the love of the world. They will hate sin. They will love each other and love righteousness. They will love the bible and believe it as the word of God. So there are other signs to look for but for the one being filled with the Holy Spirit, they would have to have some kind of a sign that the Holy Spirit filled them. Tongues make a good sign is all Iím saying.

If someone never spoke in tongues yet gave a message of prophecy or an interpretation of tongues, I would assume they were spirit filled so all we can go by is what Thus saith the Lord.

We must not base interpretation by our own desire but have the attitude that we are willing to believe what God reveals to us even if we do not like it personally. I will close out this session by reminding us of the other words of Paul. "covet to prophesy and forbid not to speak with tongues. If we forbid this in our churches we are being disobedient to the word of God.


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