Last Sunday I started teaching on the Holy Spirit in a series called Flood. I believe God is bringing a beautiful expansion of his supernatural power through our church, and I think he therefore wants us to understand more about how the Spirit operates so we can co-operate with Him.
Some of you who don’t know me well yet might think: “Hmm, he’s teaching on the Holy Spirit. Does that mean he’ll try to get us all speaking in tongues?”
Speaking in tongues is for some Christians the #1 sign that one is “spirit-filled”. Indeed, tongues is listed in 1 Corinthians 12:10 as one of the spiritual gifts. To speak in a “tongue” means to be divinely empowered to speak a foreign language without having studied it. In Acts 2 the foreign languages spoken were human languages such as Arabic or Egyptian. But in 1 Corinthians the foreign language is “angel language” (glossolalia in Greek), a language that is unintelligible to us unless interpreted by a person who is also divinely empowered to do so. Even in the apostle Paul’s day tongues was controversial and needed clarification. Paul spent almost a whole chapter addressing that controversy in 1 Corinthians 14. Tongues remain controversial to this day, and that’s why I’m addressing it in this blog.
What I believe about tongues, based on scripture, is that it is a valid gift of the Spirit. It’s an overflow of the Spirit’s presence. That’s why Paul says do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:39). Paul also says I would like every one of you to speak in tongues (1 Co. 14:5). Many people who have the gift of tongues use it as a private prayer language, and to them it is a precious experience of the Lord.
But I’ve also seen the gift of tongues misused in public. When used in public, Paul says the tongue must be interpreted (1 Cor. 14:27-28). Otherwise it’s useless for others. There are churches that regularly violate this teaching. Moreover, I have been turned off to tongues because I’ve felt it was accompanied by a strong dose of ego. Paul may be implying the same thing when he says He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself (1 Cor. 14:4). Paul concludes the matter by saying I would rather have you prophesy. Paul considers tongues a true gift, but a lesser gift. The greater gifts, he says, are those that benefit others. Since you are eager for spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church (1 Cor. 14:12).
So I encourage you to ask for the gift of tongues, but to use it as scripture teaches. If you are in a worship or prayer gathering and you feel an urgency to speak in tongues, go ahead. But if there is no one to interpret (including yourself), do not continue.
I’ve asked God on three occasions to give me the gift of tongues, but I’ve never received it. To be fair, I didn’t really want the gift – I only asked in case God wished me to have it. But I do long for an overflow of the Spirit in our prayer and worship services. Something in me pines for that indelible experience of God’s glory that the Spirit brings. For that reason I’d say to those of you who are skeptical about tongues, be careful you are not resisting the Spirit. For while it is natural to resist a powerful emotional experience such as the Spirit can bring, to do so may be to refuse a supernatural gift that God longs to give us.