Speaking in Tongues

By: E.S.N.

A young Christian told me that he was talking to one of his Christian classmates who told him that he heard that every Christian needed to be blessed with the second blessing and to be able to speak in tongues. I was not surprised for I know that this topic is often talked about among young and older believers alike. I then told him that the Bible teaches us that every true Christian “is blessed with every blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” the moment the person accepts the Lord Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior, as found in the epistle to the Ephesians chapter one. That answer gave him a clear understanding about the matter of blessing. I also told him that I would like to examine the matter of speaking in tongues with him prayerfully in the light of the Word of God and to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. “Great” said my friend for I have a lot of questions for you. So, let us begin.

It is obvious that the Corinthians, in chapter 7 of the first Epistle, were writing to the apostle Paul about certain things which were going on in their local assembly. They had some difficulties, to say the least. So we find that chapters 12-14 in this Epistle form distinct sections to deal with the questions they sent to the apostle Paul, among them the matter of “speaking in tongues” in their local assembly. Therefore, when these questions come up at the present time, we should not be surprised that we already have the answers that are provided by the Word of God.

We are told that the epistle to the Corinthians was written about the year 59 A.D., when the Church of God was at its beginning. These questions are being asked again, and the answers the Spirit of God gave then to address the matter are still valid today. Let us therefore take a look at these chapters.

In chapter 12, we learn that the Spirit of God gives the gifts to every believer in the Lord Jesus, those who are members of the body and He gives to each member according to His sovereign will.

Chapter 13, the chapter that speaks of love, almost seems like a parenthesis between chapters 12 and 14. In chapter 12, we have the giving of the gifts to the members. In chapter 14, we have these gifts in operation in the assembly and how they are used. However, chapter 13 shows us the way in which those gifts ought to operate. This way is the more excellent way, the way of love.

Unless the use of gifts given by God is motivated by the love of God in our hearts and love to His people in this world, then the gifts may be operated by self-centered interests rather than Christ-centered interests. We should learn from chapter 14 that every member of the body of Christ should benefit from these gifts.

Are you a Charismatic?

We often hear today of the charismatic movement. It is interesting that the word charisma means “a gift of grace.” In one sense every child of God is charismatic, because we read in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death but the gift (charisma) of God is eternal life.” Therefore, each one that believes receives the “charisma,” which is eternal life. The word is translated as gift in 1 Cor.12. (“Interesting” he said!)

Why did the believers speak in tongues book of Acts?

Speaking in tongues, as we see in the book of Acts, was speaking in known languages (Acts 2:6-11) that were unknown to the speakers but clear and understood by the hearers. The great Bible teacher J.N. Darby, in his collected writings (Vol. 6), wrote that these known languages spoken by those Jews were a miraculous aid for this occasion, and definitely appropriate for the establishment of Christianity in this world by the means of oral speaking. He goes on to state that Christianity was rooted in the world by the means of oral speaking. He further writes that it was established by the means of speaking in tongues.

Is there any mention of speaking in tongues in the Epistles?

It is good for us to note that this matter of speaking in tongues is only mentioned in the first Epistle to the Corinthians (one of the early letters the apostle wrote) and that this is the only place where the matter is taken up in any detail. In the second Epistle, the prison Epistle, there is no reference to it.

I wonder why? Is it because that after a few years the practice simply came to an end? Let us examine this closely! I said to my friend, “Shall we”?

The apostle goes on to say if there is prophecy, it shall fail; if there are tongues, they shall cease; if there is knowledge, it shall vanish away. If we look at this verse closely, we will notice that the words used for both prophecy and knowledge, “it shall fail” and “it shall vanish away,” are the same words in Greek. The meaning behind this word is that somebody or something else had come in order that this thing will be done away with. Now prophecy in itself and in its original form was that which God gave first in New Testament times concerning the revealing of His mind and His will while the Bible was not yet complete. Knowledge in relation to revealing His mind and His will could not fully be known until the written Word of God was completed. But now, all that can be known of our God is known in the Word of God under the leading, the guiding, and the instruction of the Holy Spirit.

“So what about tongues?” said my friend!

The interesting thing is that the word “cease” that it is used to describe what will happen to tongues is a different word than that used for prophecy and knowledge. The word “cease” means that tongues will come to an end of themselves when they have accomplished the purpose for which they were intended. Now when we look at Acts 2, we find that the speaking in tongues by the disciples was used by the power of the Sprit of God to unfold and to establish the truth of God concerning His church in this world. What the apostle Paul was saying was that tongues would cease of themselves when they fulfilled their purpose and the full revelation of God was complete and when the apostles themselves, toward the end of the first century, were no longer living. Christianity became an established entity here in the world and that which was needed to get it established in this world was no longer needed. The Spirit of God carefully uses this specific word to indicate that the speaking in tongues will come to an end (as they have). It is instructive also to note in the following verses that He said, “we know in part, we prophecy in part,” but He does not say we speak in tongues in part. The tongues are left out, because tongues came to an end by themselves after they served their purpose. “But when that which is perfect shall come,” is referring to the complete revealed Word of God, the Holy Bible, and all that we need as we go on in this life’s journey we find in the Word of God.

In the following verse, he described the church in Corinth as in its childhood; they spoke as children and they thought as children. However, as the church grew and matured things that were normal for children would not be suitable for mature persons. The Corinthians were acting like children who like to show off.

“How about the tongues of angels?” asked my friend!

In 1 Corinthians chapter 13, the apostle writes that if he could speak in tongues, not only in every known language but even in the tongues of angels if there is such a thing, (by the way, every time you read in the Bible of angels speaking, they spoke in languages that man could understand) but did not have love, he was nothing more than a clanging cymbal.

Can I speak to God in tongues?

It is very clear that most of the activity in chapter 14 is manward. Only in verses 14-17 are activities Godward.

The rest, as we said, are activities of the saints of God for the people of God. But in verse two we have a man who spoke in tongues, not unto man, but unto God. It seems he had a language that was unknown to the listeners. Let us apply the test of Acts 2 to see if it was correct for this man to speak in tongues. It must be a language that could be understood, if not by others, at least it must be understood by the person that speaks other wise he can not edify himself (verse 4). But in this verse the only one that understood was God. Why speak to God in tongues, for God knows all the languages? (that made sense said my friend) Again, we learn from Acts 2 that in speaking in tongues they brought a message from God to man, but this man in verse two was doing the reverse. He was speaking in tongues to bring a message from man to God.

What does it mean to prophecy?

The apostle said to them in verse 5 to, “Follow after love and to desire spiritual gifts, but I rather that ye may prophesy.” Now what is prophecy? Prophecy brings the soul into the presence of God. Prophecy is not only telling the future (foretelling) but as we see in the New Testament, it is (forthtelling) or declaring the mind of God to His people in the present moment. You may notice that in this chapter there are a number of contrasts between prophesying and speaking in tongues. Prophesying is mentioned 14 times; speaking in tongues 16 times. The main thing that the apostle is concerned about in writing this chapter is the edifying of the saints; or building them up in the things of God.

So what should a person that can speak in a known language that is not known by those around him in the local church do?

As we see there are a few contrasts we see in this chapter between prophesying and speaking in tongues. “He that speaketh in tongues speaketh to God and not to man.” In verse 3, however, he that prophecies speak to man so all may get the gain, and the result of speaking the Word of God in languages is that the hearer understands. They will obtain edification, exhortation, and comfort. So, by edification the saints are built up; by exhortation they are stirred up and by comfort they are bound up. In verse 2 it seems that the person who was speaking in tongues was not interpreting, therefore the Spirit of God put some regulations in regard to this matter so order would be maintained and not confusion. Therefore, unless some one is present to translate the person who is speaking in this way, he should be silent in the church (compare vv. 3, 13, 27).

For what shall they profit from your speaking if they don’t understand it?

It is also clear that the apostle in this chapter is talking to believers, those who are gathered in an assembly in a certain locality. So the apostle again underlined the matter of understanding when he said, “If I come to you speaking in tongues what shall I profit you?” Then he uses the illustration of the trumpet to further emphasize the importance of clarity and understanding, otherwise how could the listeners say “Amen” to the utterance if they did not understand it.

The apostle, who apparently knew many languages, said that he would rather speak 5 words that others would understand and benefit from, than 10,000 words that no one could understand. In that, I see that it is 2,000 times better to speak in a language that the people of God understand than to speak in unknown tongues. So he tells them to grow up in verse 20 and in chapter 13:11 and to stop being like immature children.

In verses 14-16 we see first that the person who is speaking, praying, or singing in tongues must know what he is saying otherwise he is speaking in tongues to gratify himself only, since no one present can translate. That person must sing and pray with the Spirit and with understanding.

Another thing we learn from these verses is that praying, singing, and speaking are normal functions that have been going on in local assemblies since the beginning of the church.

“Did you know that Speaking in tongues is not for the believers but it is a sign for the unbelievers?” I said to my friend!

The apostle made clear in verse 22 that speaking in tongues is a sign for those who are unbelievers as he refers to Isaiah.28:11-12. At Corinth, it is clear that speaking in tongues was taking place among the believers; but the Spirit of God is showing them that speaking in tongues is not for the benefit of believers. So let us apply the test of Acts 2 again. Does it apply? Yes, it does. The word of God went out to unbelievers and 3,000 people were saved.

So, in conclusion, if any man thinks he is a prophet or spiritual let him see that this is the commandment of the Lord. It carries not only apostolic authority but the supreme authority of the Lord.

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