Unfortunately, in America there is a great deal of confusion about this area of “speaking in tongues.” In this article we are going to look at tongues from A-Z so that you can fully understand the role of this interesting New Testament practice.
The day of Pentecost was an unusual day to say the least. Let’s begin with the biblical account. Acts 2:1-4 “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.”
The New Testament church opens with the Holy Spirit baptizing 120 believers with an outpouring of supernatural power. The bible says that in that moment that all 120 began to speak in languages that they did not know. What is interesting to me is that the first thing Peter did was to stand up and explain it! That is what I am going to do today. I am going to explain the purpose of tongues in a way that can be easily understood.
Many people have looked at “speaking in tongues” and they have said, “Isn’t that a little bit weird. Isn’t that on the strange side? Isn’t that kind of cultish?”
Why would God have his people to speak in tongues? Why tongues?
Let me just begin by saying this:
- God gets to choose what he does.
Guess what? He is God! We do not get to tell him what to do! He does what he wants. His ways are higher than ours, His thoughts are higher than ours. If one day he wants to change the grass and make it all bright blue and make the sky green. He can do it because He is God. I marvel at the audacity of modern-day believers who think they get to pick and choose what God does and what he is like and in a real sense make up their own version of God. You do not get to do that. If he wants his church speaking in tongues that is His choice.
He is who he is. He does what he does for his purposes. There is a purpose in everything God does – including speaking languages they do not know! So before you criticize glossolalia, consider that this was God’s idea.
2. God chose tongues because the tongue is hard to control.
Have you ever said something you wish you wouldn’t have? I have. Every single one of us has. The tongue is the most difficult member of the body to control. James 3:5,8 “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts….but no man came tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
If a person can keep their tongue under control, they are a very spiritual person. Isn’t that true? Just a quick reading of the Bible and you would know that from the very beginning God has wanted for men to choose him. God has wanted for men to choose his way. God looks for men who will yield their entire lives to be what God wants them to be. And I think that is why God chose speaking in tongues. Because when you speak in tongues, it is symbolic of what God wants to do in your entire life. When you yield your tongue to God and you speak in a language that you do not know. It is symbolic to you.
If you can yield your tongue, the hardest member to control, then it only makes sense that
- You can yield your hands.
- You can yield your feet.
- You can yield your mind.
God wants for every believer in Jesus to give all of our members to God for his use, so God chose the difficult member to yield supernaturally because it is symbolic of what God wants to do with our whole body.
Does that mean that someone who has spoken in tongues can’t curse or use their tongue for evil? Of course not. God does not violate our freedom of choice. In fact, that is one of the things God values most of all. He wants you to choose him. He wants you to choose to do right. Being filled with the Spirit of God and speaking in tongues is nothing like Demonic Possession. If you have read the Biblical accounts or have seen a movie like the Exorcist or have experienced someone who is demon possessed, you know that demons violate that right of choice. The demon speaks through the person. A demon takes control of a person forcefully. A demon will take a person’s tongue and make them say vile things.
The Spirit of God is not that way. He will not force anyone to speak in tongues. You yield your tongue to God. You choose to speak in tongues. You can choose to stop.
“The spirit of the Prophet is subject to the prophet.” Don’t misunderstand me, sometimes the Holy Spirit comes and His presence is very powerful and so wonderful. People just keep speaking in tongues or worshiping. Or maybe they just keep crying tears of joy. It is because they are continually yielding themselves to God.
3. God chose to take what was a curse in the Old Testament and make it a blessing in the New.
Some of you may recall that in Genesis all the people spoke the same language. The rebellious heart of man decided to build a tower that would reach to the heavens rather than spread out and multiply and replenish the earth as God had said. And as they were building this tower, God came down and confused all the languages. It was an incredible thing. In a sense it was a curse upon man for disobedience.
I think God has a sense of humor. Just to show he is God He is powerful, He takes what was in the Old Testament that was a curse, and in the new he makes it a blessing.
What are the uses of tongues in the New Testament?
Four Basic Uses of Tongues in the New Testament
Speaking in tongues is used….
- As the initial physical evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Let me just say right off the bat – that being baptized in the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with a persons’ salvation. A person is born again by accepting Jesus Christ both as his forgiver and his director. It is because of the blood of Jesus Christ upon the cross that a person is saved. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit doesn’t make you more saved. The work of the cross is sufficient. Jesus said “It is finished.” The disciples knew this. The disciples were Christians. They believed in who Jesus was. They accepted what he did in the cross as paying for their sin. They were born again. They were believers. But God had given those New Testament believers a job to do. It was a tremendous job. They were to take the gospel to the entire world. God knew that task would require men and women who not only had Jesus in there heart but were filled with a supernatural person – the Holy Spirit.
And so God did something new in the Book of Acts. He poured his Spirit out upon believers. There are six times in the book of Acts where it talks about someone received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit or being “filled with” the Holy Spirit. The two terms are synonymous. And a careful study will show that there is very strong biblical evidence that the initial physical evidence that someone had been filled with the Holy Spirit was that they spoke in tongues.
- In three of the six occasions it says it specifically.
- In two of those six, it can implied by the context and other scriptures that they spoke in tongues.
- In one of those instances- the Holy Spirit who wrote the scripture wanted to bring something else out.
We are going to take a look at these one at a time today. First of all, there was the initial outpouring in Acts 2:4. This was the first time anyone had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It very plainly states. Acts 2:4 “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” So, all 120 spoke in tongues.
Secondly, there was the Initial outpouring on the Gentiles. Up until this time only Jews had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It also reports they speaking in tongues. In Acts 10:45 “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues…”
Then the third time it states it very plainly – is probably the strongest Biblical evidence there is. It is in the city of Ephesus in Acts 19:6. This came 20 years after the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Years had passed! But God allowed for this record to be included in the scripture. Acts 19:6 “When Paul placed his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues…” I want you to understand that was the normal procedure for people to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. They put their hands on them. They received. They spoke in tongues. Speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence that someone has received.
Then of course there is the filling of Paul the Apostle who at that time of course was known as Saul. Saul was a great persecutor of the church. God revealed himself to Saul. He became converted. You know by reading the scripture he was struck with blindness for three days. God supernaturally speaks to a prophet of God named Ananias and he goes and prays for Saul. He explains to him why he had come so that he could be healed and that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 9:17. Some people say- it doesn’t say he spoke in tongues at that point. It doesn’t say he didn’t either.
However we know that Paul was a tongue talker because in 1 Corinthians 14:18 “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” Paul understood about tongues and he spoke in tongues. Therefore, we can strongly imply that he did speak in tongues when he initially received. We have to remember that this book is not written as a doctrinal treatise but rather as a historical book. But all the word is profitable for doctrine.
Then of course there is yet another place. A fifth place in scripture where it is strongly implied because of the context that people spoke in tongues upon receiving. This is in Acts 8:17. What was going on there? There was a man who was a sorcerer. His name was Simon. He was a real man who existed. He watched Peter and John pray for people. This particular day they were praying for people to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit
Now what happened? Acts 8:17 “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” Notice it does not say that they spoke in tongues. But something must have happened. Something powerful and supernatural must have happened. Because look what happened next. Acts 8:18 “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands. He offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability…”
It is obvious by the context that something happened. I say because there is such strong biblical evidence for speaking in tongues. I believe what Simon saw was people speaking in tongues.
The last place where it states that a group was filled with the Holy Spirit is in Acts 4:31. Once again – context is everything. You have to understand what the writer and the Holy Spirit were trying to get across. The disciples had been told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. So, they go back and have a prayer meeting. The people are filled with the Holy Spirit. It does not say they spoke with tongues. It does not say they didn’t either. But it does say that the result of that filling was boldness. Acts 4:31“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.” If you understand the context – it makes sense that they would talk about an effect of the Holy Spirit that would go with the context. They were fearful – they prayed – they got bold.
Let me explain this to you. Around the turn of the century in 1900 a group of Bible College students did a study just like we did today. That was Charles Parham and Stones Folly Mansion in Topeka, KS. They concluded that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was received when people spoke in tongues. They began to seek God for this experience. Guess what? They received. They spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave the utterance. Today, there are literally millions of tongue talkers around the world. Tens of thousands of believer have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and they used their tongues to speak in heavenly languages as as the initial physical evidence.
I say, don’t stop until you receive the wonderful blessing of being able to communicate with God through tongues. Because it is more than just the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. That leads me to the second use.
- It is a Prayer Language
Maybe you don’t understand this. But there are sometimes you don’t know how you should pray. Some things – some situations are so complex, so difficult to understand, that with your natural mind and senses you don’t know how to pray. The writer of Romans 8:26 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
It is like the story of the guy who fell in love with this gal. He knew this was the one. And he prayed, O God just let her be my wife. She was gorgeous. He prayed and prayed and it just never happened. They lost touch. Years passed. Finally, 30 years later, He meets her again. She has lost all of her hair. She has gained 287 pounds. She is dipping tobacco. Her teeth are rotting out of her head. She hasn’t taken a bath for a week. She smiles up at him and says, do you remember me? He says, “Thank you God- you didn’t answer all my prayers.”
How many of you want to pray God’s will? That’s a funny little made up scenario. But what about the times when things happen that you don’t understand. How many of you have ever looked at something and you are saying, I don’t know how God can work for good in this situation.
- My son is on drugs.
- My daughter is pregnant
- My wife was in a car wreck.
- My father passed away.
- My cousin has leukemia
All of us know the verse Romans 8:28 “For we know in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Did you know this: That is the very next verse after the verse that speaks of the prayer language that we have. It is possible for your spirit to pray in a language you don’t understand, about a situation that you can’t figure out and you can see God turn it around and bring good out of it.
There have been times in my ministry – when I was facing mountains. When I was facing complex situations. I didn’t know the way out. I have gotten down on my face. Perhaps laying in my bed at night. I will begin to pray in that heavenly language. The presence of God comes even though I don’t understand what I am praying God does.
1 Corinthians 14:2 “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.”
It is a prayer language! You can pray until you feel a release in your spirit and you know you have touched God and God has touched you. You have prayed through – the answers on its way. Does that mean we don’t pray with our understanding? Of course not.
1 Corinthians 14:15 “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind.”
You pray both ways. I would not trade the baptism in the Holy Spirit for anything. I know one thing. It is a prayer language. I can pray directly to God and pray exactly in accordance with Gods will. It takes Bob all the way out of the prayer. Not only can you pray in tongues but you are built up spiritually. It builds you up 1 Corinthians 14:4a “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself…”
The third use of speaking in tongues is…
- As a Gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible tells us that God has given to the church various supernatural gifts. Those gifts are for today. 1 Corinthians 12:4,7, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit…Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.”
This tells us of yet another use for speaking in tongues. It is the initial physical evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is a prayer language. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is to be used in public worship.
When we come together to worship God and have church. God never ever intended for all of us just to get up and speak in tongues. That would not be edifying. I’ll speak in tongues for a while, then someone else. God never intended that. God prefers five intelligible words to 10,000 words in a tongue.
However, from time to time, in public worship. God wants to get someone’s attention. That is why – God will use someone to give a message in tongues, but always with interpretation. 1 Corinthians 14:27 “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two- or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.” God puts limits on it. Two in a service- at the most three and always an interpretation. Well why tongues? God is trying to get someone’s attention. Who’s attention is God trying to get? Let’s look at the Bible!
1 Corinthians 14:22 “Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers.” I believe that every time someone gives a message in tongues in a public sense in a service- on the authority of God’s word – it is a sign for someone who is an unbeliever. God is saying to that unbeliever. I am a supernatural God. I think although they may not understand all of it. They feel it. They sense it.
The interpretation- that is for everybody. The scripture says-that the interpretation builds up everyone. Tongues in this sense are a gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. I have never in my entire life been used to give a message in tongues. I have interpreted. I don’t know why. God chooses who will give a message and who won’t. That is God’s business. However in the church I pastor, we welcome the gifts of the Holy Spirit in this church.
There is one more use of speaking in tongues…
- As a means of Worship
Spirit filled worship is something that is absolutely tremendous. Remember tongues are a way of communicating with God. It is only natural just like when you are praying in English that those prayers are often interspersed with worship. When you pray in the Spirit, no doubt you will intersperse worship. God takes delight when we sing and we worship him. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14: 15c “I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”
It is a scriptural and spiritual thing to worship God with your spirit. In other words, singing in tongues. In another passage Paul says, Ephesians 5:19 “Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”
God delights when you just invent a melody. Maybe you have never done it. The next time you are praying and you just want to worship – just sing a spiritual song to God! You can sing it in English, making music in your heart. “Lord, I want to worship you today. I love you Jesus! You are my everything.” Or sing it in tongues.
God says worship him! You might be thinking, that’s a bit weird for me. I don’t understand that at all. Let me explain something about worship. It isn’t about you or for you. It’s about God and it’s for him.
A number of years ago, I would sit and plunk on the guitar. I never did play – but I did plunk. On occasion, I would plunk out a song for my wife Jureen. Or maybe I would invent one. This was back in our dating years. Hey! She acted like she enjoyed it anyway! How would you feel if your four year old came up and said, “Daddy, I wrote a song for you.” And then began to sing:
Daddy, I love you
I think your wonderful
I am glad you’re my daddy.
The same thing happens in spiritual worship. God doesn’t care how well you can carry a tune. You may sound like frog with a bad cold. You see worship is not about how good you can sing. It is about how much love you have for God. It’s about loving God. The beauty of it is that those praises, that worship, that spiritual song pierces the heavens and comes into the ears of a mighty God who says, I love it when my children praise me. Those are the four uses of speaking in tongues in today’s church and in the New Testament.