This week, as we continue our 6-week study on the person of the Holy Spirit, we will be looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In Corinth, Paul is clearly correcting an overemphasis and poor use of the gift of tongues. However, he does not tell them to cease using it. He corrects their use of it.
WHAT IS THE GIFT OF TONGUES?
‘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. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.’ (1 Corinthians 12:1, 10b-11)
‘…Try to excel in those (gifts) that build up the church. For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:12-14)
‘Tongues’ (glossolalia) refers to the tongue or a language. Many feel uncomfortable about this gift. It seems strange. Can it be explained away as simply, the gift of an aptitude with languages? Is it a gift that is no longer in operation? This does not fit the Bible’s teaching on the subject. It’s presented as a gift given by the Spirit in the moment, rather than a learned language. When Christians meet (then as now) some may be given the gift of tongues and others the ability to interpret.
We may define tongues as:
The gift of speaking for self-edification (unless interpreted), in a language (human or angelic) unlearnt by the speaker. Speaking in which the conscious mind plays no part.
We may define the interpretation of tongues as:
The God-given inspiration to speak in the language of the hearers, the dynamic equivalent of what was spoken in a ‘public tongue’.
Tongues, like all the gifts, are given by the Spirit and for the ‘common good’. It’s important that we don’t despise or seek to explain away what the Spirit determines to give to us.
CAN EVERYONE HAVE THIS GIFT?
It seems simple to just quote 1 Corinthians 12:10, 30 as teaching that not all have this gift. However, 1 Corinthians 12 is about the public setting so one could see this as teaching that in the gathered church not everyone will have a public tongue to use. On balance, my conviction is that all can have the private prayer language of tongues. Paul even says,
‘I would like every one of you to speak in tongues… I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.’ (1 Corinthians 14:5,18)
HOW CAN I START SPEAKING IN TONGUES
Of course, on occasion, the Spirit comes on one in such a way that one begins to speak in tongues as we see in 3 of the 5 accounts in Acts that we’ve looked at in previous studies. Most of the time, and this is my experience, one desires to have the gift, asks God for it, has someone pray for them and then begins to speak by choice as one takes a step of faith – this is as helpful as I can be!
HOW DO I USE TONGUES IN THE CHURCH?
‘If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.’ (1 Corinthians 14:27-28)
Similar to prophesy, because of limits on time and capacity to digest what’s said, God has put wise limits on the use of public tongues.
Public tongues must be interpreted so that the church and guests understand and are built up. Getting an interpretation is similar to the process of receiving a prophetic word. In my experience, in response to someone bringing a public tongue, one usually experiences a burning desire - to pray, praise or sing toward God about who He is, His salvation etc.
Tongues are toward God rather than prophecy which speaks toward people (See 1 Corinthians 14:2-3)Therefore, we should expect interpretations to be in the form of a prayer or worship toward God.
PRIVATE USE OF TONGUES
Tongues is also presented as a powerful private prayer language.
‘Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2; See also 14:4-5)
Paul teaches that tongues is particularly apt for the private setting. It is speaking to God and it edifies us. Paul speaks of his own use of tongues:
'I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue...' (1 Corinthians 14:18-19)
Clearly, here, he is referring to his private use of gifts where he uses it 'more than all of you'!
‘Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. No one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit… Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves… if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, I will also sing with my understanding.’ (1 Cor.14:2,4,15)