Question: I have always had difficulty with a spiritual gift. The gift of tongues. In my reading I have come across the groaning of the Spirit, and Paul saying he speaks in tongues often.
From Greek translations one means speaking as the pagans did to their gods and another means speaking in another language. I know as long as it is uplifting to the benefit of the body it is good. I, however, had an experience where the entire church was speaking in tongues. No one could explain what was going on. I felt this was not the Spirit of God. Some even confessed faking it afterwards.
Answer: I am glad you have asked these questions because I had these same questions in the past. Here is my belief about ‘tongues’ (varieties of tongues 1 Corinthians 12:28).
The following information is taken from our commentary on First Corinthians. You can find it in Part Four, Chapters 13-16. We will start at verse four in Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, where it is speaking about the gifts of tongues. I will not include the verses, so you can use your own Bible to look at these.
(4) You see tongues are for edifying yourself. Some call this a ‘prayer language.’ He or she who is prophesying is edifying the church because people can understand what they are saying. This is why this gift of tongues would be better used at home or with only believers in a prayer setting.
(5) Paul says I wish you all spoke with tongues (had a prayer language). I believe this is available to all Spirit-filled Christians, or why else would Paul say this? However, he really wishes that you prophesied (could preach the Word in a language people could understand). A person who can preach is meeting the needs of others so this is better than speaking in tongues, unless the tongues are interpreted. That way the church could understand what is being said.
Again it says the church (believers) would understand the message. This is important to remember, even tongues with interpretation are meant only for believer’s ears. This is why Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel, has decided to have the tongues and related gifts used in a setting where only believers are present.
(6) What if I or someone else starts speaking in tongues, but does not have someone interpret it? What good does that do the congregation? If I speak a revelation (which is a form of prophecy), or a word of knowledge, or am prophesying (preaching), or teaching; all of these are in a language which people can understand.
(7) If you have a musical instrument you are playing, and you just make sounds with no melody that people can recognize, what will people think?
(8) What about a trumpet that is supposed to prepare soldiers for battle, what good would it do to play it if the notes were not the right notes?
(9) The same thing is true of speaking in tongues in the congregation, how are people supposed to understand what you are saying?
(10) There are a lot of languages in the world and they have their place where people understand them.
(11) If you speak in Chinese and I do not understand Chinese it will be of absolutely no value to me, because I do not understand it.
(12) Since you are eager about gifts, let it be for some good to the church, then you will be doing well.
(13) If you are with believers in a prayer group, and you pray loud enough for everyone to hear, you need to also pray for the interpretation.
(14) Even you are not going to know what is being said, if it is just a message in tongues.
(15) Let us sum this up. If I am praying in the church, I will pray with my spirit to myself, but I will also need to be praying in a language I and other people can understand. I can sing in the spirit, but it will also need to be in a language that I and others can understand.
(16) If you are using your prayer language in the church, how is a person who is not saved or a new Christian going to know what you are saying? (They may not even know there is such a thing as tongues.)
(17) You may be giving thanks with your prayer language, but the rest do not know what you are saying.
(18) Now there is nothing wrong with tongues (a prayer language) Paul says, I use it more than any of you when I am by myself.
(19) However, when I am with the congregation, (where there very well may be unsaved as well), I would rather speak five words in a language people can understand rather than ten thousand words in a tongue no one will understand!
(20) Grow up, and learn the things you need to know. Ok, be careful not to learn wrong things, but please start maturing in your understanding of spiritual things!
(21) The reason God allowed tongues in the Church Age, for one thing, is to speak to the Jewish nation in fulfillment to this prophecy of Isaiah 28:11-12.
(22) Tongues then, for one thing, is given so the Jews will also know that God is speaking through these people. Look at what happened on the day of Pentecost, even though the Nation of Israel as a whole did not receive the message, they cannot deny the prophecy of Isaiah 28:11-12 was fulfilled.
So in this case, tongues can be a sign for the unsaved Jews and others who hear the tongues, which is in a language they can understand, like on the day of Pentecost. However, in this case, prophecy is used more for the saved in the congregation. It is not as much of a sign gift as tongues. (That is not to say prophecy is not used for the unsaved because most of the Old Testament Prophets spoke to many nonbelievers.)
(23) So what is going to happen if you are speaking in tongues to the congregation which has unsaved and new converts in it? Will they not think you are out of your mind? Needless to say this is not going to accomplish what you wanted to accomplish.
(24) Now if you are prophesying (speaking in a language people can understand) and an unbeliever or new convert comes in, he or she will see their need of salvation or grow in the Lord if they are saved.
(25) The unsaved are going to come under conviction of sin and be saved, since it is in a language he or she can understand!
(26) When you get together for a service, do things that are in a language people can understand. You should sing some worship songs, have some teaching, have a tongue with interpretation (if you are going to use this, nothing says you have to have it). Do whatever you do for the edification or building up of others.
(27) If you are together with other Christians and you speak in tongues, let it be no more than two or at the most three, but it always needs to be interpreted right away.
(28) If no one can interpret what you are going to say in tongues, do not do it. You should pray in tongues at home in this case. I believe I have seen this rule violated. Someone who was at church was using their prayer language. Then several people would try to interpret what was said in tongues, but the Spirit of the Lord was not in it. It would have been better for this person to speak in tongues at home between them and the Lord. When they come to church and do this, it hinders people who would otherwise like to come to church to hear from the Lord. The spirit of the individual can control when and where they speak in tongues.
(29) When people speak, we need to judge what they say by the Word, or measure it by the Word as those in Berea did when Paul preached. “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) I trust that you are doing the same as I teach.
(30) You can control your actions, and the Holy Spirit is a Gentleman. You can wait your turn to speak, you do not want to interrupt one another. I liked this so much about the Friends’ Church when I was with them; they were so polite to one another.
(31) Take turns when speaking. It is nice when the service is opened up for people to testify or share what the Lord has laid on their hearts.
(32) This is so important, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” Not so when a person is demon possessed, the demon takes over. If a person is truly speaking under the power of the Holy Spirit they will be very careful not to offend others. They will be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel says, “We do believe in the validity of the gifts of the Spirit, and that these gifts can be expressed today. But we don’t believe in excesses that so often accompany a freedom in the use of the gifts of the Spirit. So we avoid the controversy. If people want to speak in tongues, we encourage them to do so in a private devotional setting to assist in communicating their love, their praises, and their prayers to God. We look to 1 Corinthians 14 as our biblical example.
“We don’t insist that a person speak in tongues as the primary evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We believe that there are other evidences that are more credible than speaking in tongues. As Paul said, ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.’ (1 Corinthians 13:1)
“We don’t emphasize tongues as the primary manifestation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but we look for love as the fruit of the Spirit. I believe that we can stand on a solid Scriptural basis doing that and, at the same time, encourage people to receive the gifts of tongues.” (These quotes are taken from the book, Calvary Chapel Distinctives, by Chuck Smith. Some quotes were taken from Chapter 3, Empowered By The Spirit, and others from Chapter 11, Striking The Balance.)
The question is raised then does everyone speak in tongues when they are baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit? If a person is honest they will have to admit that not every Scripture that talks about the filling, mentions speaking in tongues, just as the passage in Ephesians 5:18 does not.
No doubt, there have been many filled with the Holy Spirit throughout history that never spoke in tongues even though it was available to them. Does this mean that they were any less filled with the Holy Spirit? I think not. I believe as we hear the testimonies of great men and women of faith, we see the results of the filling in the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit demonstrated in their lives, even if they never spoke in tongues.
Billy Graham does not claim to speak in tongues, but he does claim the filling of the Holy Spirit is for us today. How could he be so used of the Lord unless he was filled with the Holy Spirit?
On the other hand, so many are taught against speaking in tongues, that many people will not even entertain the thought that God would do such a thing for them. My mother-in-law was just such a person; she was filled with the Holy Spirit, and used mightily of the Lord. She even spoke in tongues to begin with, but stopped doing this because she was taught that it was wrong. So some Christians may not speak in tongues because they think it is wrong.
So their may be many other reasons why a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit may not speak in tongues. However, Christians need to realize that this gift is available to all believers today, and they should not be afraid of it. I am not speaking of that gift that is used in the church that must be interpreted. Only some have the gift of speaking in tongues that needs to be interpreted. I have never had this gift as of today, but I do pray in tongues at times to the Lord.
The reason we know that this gift of tongues and interpretation is not for everyone is because Scripture says so: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (I Corinthians 12:29-30) The obvious answer is, “No.” Look at 1 Corinthians 12-14 study for more on this subject.
In this lesson when I speak of “tongues” I am speaking of the “tongues as a prayer language” to be used in private. “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (I Corinthians 14:15)
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 20) “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
Paul also told the Corinthians that he spoke in tongues more than all of them, but this was in private (his prayer language). “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Corinthians 14:18-19)
He concludes that chapter with a fitting ending for this section here as well: “Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:39-40)
For further study, you can look at the study on Acts.
I hope this helps,
Gary T. Panell
For more information email me.