The Gift of Tongues

The Gift that Divides

Of all the Christian practices, speaking in tongues is second only to baptism in causing divisions in the body of Christ. And ironically, most of the truly Biblical instruction about this subject comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It’s not where he praised them for using the gifts properly, but instead for misusing Spiritual gifts. Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about speaking in tongues.

History of Tongues

Until the episode at the tower of Babel (recorded in Genesis 11), everyone had a single language with a common speech. The desire for power and control which first showed itself at mans’ fall, became evident when some “would-be” leaders decided to make themselves appear as gods by creating a great tower that reached up to the heavens where “only God can be.” To put down the rebellion, God blocked their ability to lead and control others. He did it by confusing the language and speech –making it unintelligible. The opportunity for a small number of people to have power over all humanity was lost because the people were divided into many smaller groups –each group speaking its own language, going its own way and selecting its own leader. Throughout the Bible these groups are referred to as countries or nations.

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What Are Tongues?

The Bible passages used to support speaking in tongues state very clearly that tongues are all languages that are known and used. Yet, many of the “New Testament” churches today neglect what is said in chapter two of Acts. It pictures “God-fearing Jews” who came from every country under heaven; they gathered to listen to the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the apostles spoke, there was no unintelligible babbling, rather each man plainly heard and understood the gospel message in his own familiar language.

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What Is the Purpose of Speaking in Tongues?

All spiritual gifts have one, and only one, purpose. Their purpose is to promote the common good of the body of Christ; they are never for the benefit of the individual. That would only inflate the pride of the gift holder!

In regard to speaking in tongues, the book of Joel (referenced in Acts 2) declares that God’s people –the Jews– have wandered away. And yet, through His Spirit God will bring them back for salvation. He will reach them with prophesy through people from all over –Jews and Gentiles– retelling the gospel message which was fulfilled at the resurrection. The Jews are still mixed into the nations of the world and they have adopted their languages. So the gospel needs to be told to them in the language that they understand. That’s what tongues are for!

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Can Every Christian Speak in Tongues?

Paul said that he wished that all of us had the gift of speaking in a foreign language (he spoke in several “tongues”). But God distributes His Spiritual gifts as it pleases Him. Just as God chooses who He wants to be a teacher in the church, He also chooses who He wants to speak in tongues. He doesn’t give everyone in body the same gift. There are many gifts for the many functions of the body of Christ. Yet there is one common ability that every Christian has; it’s sharing His love to a fallen, hurting world. Paul refers to it as the “most excellent way”!

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Can Speaking in Tongues Be Beneficial?

The answer is yes, but only if it is used as intended. The purpose of speaking in tongues is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. Before Jesus came and lived among us, God spoke to a specific few people –giving them a message to repeat (prophesying) to a particular audience (usually Israel). Hebrews 1:1 describes how God changed the way that He communicates with people; He has now spoken to us through His Son. So a person prophesying Biblically today will be retelling the message that Jesus has already told us. And that message is an explanation of God’s plan for redemption –although it is concealed in the Old Testament –it is revealed in the New Testament! There is no other reason to have tongues except to proclaim the gospel to those –particularly the Jews– who haven’t heard it in their normal, everyday language.

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What About Praying in Tongues?

For being such a supposedly important gift, there is only one Scripture passage that talks about praying in tongues. What’s more, it is described as being unfruitful –of no benefit! What more needs to be said? Yet it continues to be elevated and flaunted by so many Christians.

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In Summary . . .

With only a short time available each week in church, speaking in tongues isn’t the best way to use that time. It’s much more beneficial to the body to have the gospel story retold. That can be by explaining how the Old Testament relates Jesus to people through foreshadows (He said that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms were about Him). Or using the New Testament which shows the requirements of the Law being fulfilled through Him so that we can live an abundant life of love instead of constantly checking to see if we are adequate for God’s acceptance.

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