On Tongues & Other Spiritual Gifts

140778591_640Recently in my high school Bible class, a student asked me a question about the gift of tongues. I responded, “Your question is like asking me if I want to be cut into pieces or stoned to death.” It seems like no matter how one answers the question (s) about the gift, someone disagrees, is offended, or has a thousand different other opinions. My goal in this blog is to simply list what I think the New Testament teaches about this spiritual gift. As some background, the topic of spiritual gifts is one that is near and dear to my heart. There are various topics within our faith that I have spent serious amounts of hours studying. This is one of them. I even wrote my thesis for my masters on the duration of the spiritual gifts. In light of that, below is a list of what I think the Bible teaches about the gift of tongues and spiritual gifts in general.

  • A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in the ministry of the church. Spiritual gifts are given to equip the church to carry out its ministry until Christ returns (1 Cor. 1:7). They are also for the enrichment of the Christian (1 Cor. 1:5).
  • There is no distinction within the New Testament between supernatural and natural gifts, miraculous and non-miraculous gifts, sign gifts and other gifts, etc. Such distinctions are placed upon the Bible instead of derived from the Bible.
  • Glossa is the Greek word for tongue. Glossolalia is the plural Greek term for tongues. Tongues are “spiritually-inspired utterances that are unintelligible to the speaker without an interpretation.” Said another way, speaking in tongues is prayer or praise spoken in syllables not understood by the speaker.
  • God is the giver of whatever gifts that are bestowed upon us. The Spirit appears to be the agent of gift-giving (1 Cor. 12:7, 11, 27-30). Not all the gifts are open to everyone (1 Cor. 12:29-30). It is not the case that tongues are open to everyone anymore than teaching or administration is open to everyone.
  • Some or all gifts can be ignored or lost through neglect (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6-7). Gifts may also vary in strength (Rom. 12:6).
  • There are many gifts in the body of Christ and we need them all to fulfill our mission (1 Cor. 12:14-26).
  • We are to exercise our gifts in a loving manner or fashion (1 Cor. 13)
  • The gifts of the Spirit will end at the Second Coming of Christ (1 Cor. 13:9-12). There’s no indication from the Bible that the gifts of the Spirit would pass away at the death of the Apostles or the closing of the canon.
  • Tongues are for private prayer or praise (1 Cor. 14:2, 14, 28). Unlike prophecy, they’re specifically said to be directed to God; not man.
  • Tongues are not understood by the speaker without interpretation (1 Cor. 14:2, 11, 13-19).
  • tongue-of-fireTongues edify the person with that particular gift (1 Cor. 14:4). This isn’t wrong. Jude tells us to build ourselves up in the Spirit (Jude 20).
  • Paul the Apostle wants us to speak in tongues (1 Cor. 14:5) because he also spoke in them (1 Cor. 14:8).
  • When assembled together as a Church, we are not to speak in tongues without an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:5-12, 19, 23, 27-28). The gift of interpretation would be reporting to the church the general meaning of something spoken in tongues.
  • Though they do not understand what they are praying or singing in tongues, the speaker is still in control. It not ecstatic and uncontrollable. Paul says we can essentially control and exercise our gifts (1 Cor. 14:27-28, 30-33).
  • Acts 2, 10, and 19 indicate that tongues aren’t a gift for evangelism. Only believers were present when tongues occurred. Even in Acts 2, tongues are praise to God (Acts 2:1-13). The people present are hearing praise or prayer to God in their own languages. Tongues may be known languages like in Acts 2 (French, Spanish, Hebrew, etc.) but 1 Corinthians 14 indicate that that’s not always the case. Paul says there are various kinds or species of tongues (1 Cor. 12:10).
  • Paul tells us to seek to be continually filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
  • Tongues aren’t irrational but a transrational experience. They go beyond the mind. It is a gift to strengthen your faith, deepen your intimacy with God, and help you experience more of the Lord’s goodness. It is prayer with the spirit and not with our mind (1 Cor. 14:14-15). As one uses the gift, the non-material aspect of the person (their spirit) speaks directly to God, even though their mind does not formulate words and sentences and decide what to pray for.
  • Paul tells us not to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:39-30).bible_0_0
  • Romans 8:26-27 does not appear to be a passage about speaking in tongues. It is about our inarticulate sighs and groans which we ourselves utter in prayer, which the Holy Spirit then makes into effective intercession before the throne of God. Jude 20 also does not appear to be about speaking in tongues.
  • We’ve got to avoid a two-tier Christianity. The gifts of the Spirit are for unity, intimacy, and mission. You’re not more spiritual if you have the gift of tongues. You’re spiritual if you’re in Christ, exuding the fruit of the Spirit, and submitting to the Word of God (1 Cor. 14:36-38). We (all Christians) have the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-3, 13). In fact, we must never evaluate spiritual maturity with spiritual gifting (Matt. 7:22-23). Walking like Jesus brings maturity (1 John 2:6).
  • No where does the Bible say tongues are a way to speak to God so that the devil cannot understand your speech. It never actually says it is God’s language.

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