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Pt.3 Spiritual gifts

The Gift of Tongues

Some inclined to exercise spiritual gifts at church services take the position that not every gift is mentioned in the Bible; this is hardly provable. You have approximately 19 gifts specifically listed in the New Testament along with their use in the Scripture. These others gifts not mentioned are not seen in the early church, for good reason; they are not gifts.

Most of the “spiritual meetings” one will attend today supposedly let the Holy Spirit manifest his gifts freely, they believe they do not want to interfere with what the Spirit wants to do. But these meetings often turn into an emotional chaos, it becomes soul driven, instead of Spirit controlled. Unfortunately they cannot tell the difference. Can we identify them as spiritual gifts if they are not used properly?

We are told to seek to edify the church by our gifts, we are not to seek the gift itself (Romans 12:3) and they are to be exercised in Jesus’ nature, with humility and care. The spiritual gifts are not the same as the milk or meat of the word. They are like the desert, they more often are to accompany the word when needed. God tells us to grow in grace and knowledge FIRST. He does not begin to have us exercise spiritual gifts without our first being grounded in the word, knowing doctrine and having humility. As we learn to serve and move into our calling in Jesus Christ our spiritual gift[s] will become known to us. The gifts accompany your call into ministry, they are not the same for everyone; nor are they given fully developed.

Spiritual gifts are not natural skills or talents (James 1:17), they are given with the Holy Spirit at our spiritual birth. They are for all believers; every believer has been given at least one gift, some more, depending on their calling. The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) is not the same as a spiritual gift; they are the character of Christ being developed in each believer.

Tongues has become the assurance of reception of the Spirit by many Pentecostals and Charismatics (not all, some are Biblically literate). So instead of reading through the Bibles lists of gifts and understanding them by their order, I think it would be advantageous to examine this spiritual gift first. The gift of tongues is just one of the nineteen mentioned gifts of the Holy Spirit given by grace to the believer, it is listed last. Whether you believe in the gift of tongues or not, the Bible does address how it is to be conducted.

The fact that almost all Christians today do not speak in tongues when they first believe does not in any way indicate they have NOT been baptized in the Holy Spirit. According to I Corinthians 12:29-30 no one single spiritual gift was held by all the believers. Spirit-baptism cannot be equated with the reception of any particular gift, such as speaking in tongues According to the Bible you do not receive any gift (of tongues) years after you believe, all spiritual gifts are included the moment you are saved. You may not know how to make use of it but it is there because the Holy Spirit is there, and the gifts accompany Him.

Today, tongues is more often used to show ones spirituality in front of people, when it more likely showing their carnality and immaturity.

How the apostles conducted the spiritual gifts in the church should be no different than how it is conducted today. The apostles and prophets and teachers were priority for the establishment of the church. Tongues according to the Bible is the least important of the gifts though it is the most vocal (as with prophecy). The way it is used in church these days it becomes self – empowering, self - inflating. You have people going on and on in a tongue speaking braggadocious with the intention to show they are spiritual.

Paul groups the gifts in 1 Cor. 12:28: “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations (governing), varieties (divers)of tongues.

The letter to the Corinthians is specifically written on the proper use of the gifts and Paul addresses the abuse of tongues.

Paul makes these qualifying statements under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor 12:1: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant

1 Cor. 14:1: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

1 Cor. 14:12: “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.”

The word zealous is from the same root as the word as to desire spiritual gifts. It means to look for the opportunity to have them used, do not quench the Spirit. This is not limited to tongues or prophecy, helps mercy and other ministry gifts to people should be sought as well. In fact they are needed more for body ministry.

I Cor. 14:13: "Therefore let the one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret." In other words, ask God that what he did not understand in his speaking so he and others know it.

Tongues with interpretation equals edification for the church. Paul says it is better to speak only a few words with understanding then to go on and on with words no one understands. How many times have you heard an interpretation from the speaker or another present?

The gift of Tongues (glossa) I Cor. 12:10. The Greek word for tongues means “languages.” The gift of tongues is a God-given ability to speak a language which one does not know or has learned.  

Tongues – when one speaks in a language it is to make sense, it is communication, not making muttering or sputtering sounds, repeating three or four syllables over and over. The Holy Spirit is to be the source of the tongue; we do not speak in fragments, and neither does God.

People are made to become eager to speak in a tongue more than any other gift so they are inclined to copy what they hear from others. Many times it is something learned or imitated from being around those who vocally practice this. One does not give a syllable or a first word to a person to rev up their spiritual engine (which I have seen). A tongue when spoken out loud were praises to God. Babbling sounds is not speaking a real language. They are not ecstatic utterances. We can look at the praises found in the psalms for our example.

Paul goes on to say after explaining the gifts functions 1 Cor. 14:12 edification of the church – not self.

The Gift of Interpretation of Tongues (hermeneeia) explanation - I Cor. 12: 10 The gift of interpretation is the special ability to make known in the vernacular the message of one who speaks in a tongue. It is to accompany the gift of tongues. One who has the ability to interpret these different languages out loud for others in the assembly to hear and understand what was said.

To determine if the tongue is authentic an unbeliever who speaks that same language will understand what was said, or a believer who speaks this language will understand, or an interpreter of the tongue will speak.

Speaking in tongues is seen in the book of Acts, in the three places where new groups of believers were introduced into the Church –

1) the Jews in Acts 2

2) the Gentiles in Acts 10

3) and the disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19:6.

All spoke in different languages, without having to ask or seek it.

Acts 2 shows they are languages as they began speaking with other tongues publicly. Tongues are a sign for unbelievers (1 Cor.14:22) and were used to convince Israel that Jesus was their Messiah at Pentecost. The Jews who did not believe in the Messiah, came to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost, heard the praises in their own language. Tongues was not the tool of conversion, along with this sign was a clear message preached by Peter for everyone to understand that convicted their hearts.

Tongues are actual human known languages spoken in their day with all the facets, and nuances every language requires. They were not extinct ancient languages. They were not speaking mere gibberish even though those who were the mockers accused them of being drunk.

Acts 2 the disciples at Pentecost clearly spoke in tongues, known languages of the day.
v.4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” This is before they interpreted what they heard.
v.5 Jews from every nation were in Jerusalem for the feast.

v.6 they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.”
v.7-8 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?

And the languages are listed
v.9-11 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians--we hear them speak in our own tongues the mighty works of God."

The supernatural gift was not in the hearing but in the speaking of a language they did not learn.
Some teach the disciples spoke an unintelligible language, and the Holy Spirit worked supernaturally to let them hear them what it meant. The Bible says they "Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The Greek points to the Spirit being the author of there language, not themselves.

Acts 2:4, is the same as speaking "with new tongues," as promised in Mark 16:17. What was uttered was unlearned and intelligible to him who uttered them. NOT that they will HEAR different languages (1 Cor. 14:18), it is always the one speaking not the one hearing that has the gift.

Some explain away this event by saying they were bilingual; avoiding the supernatural. One can easily remove the supernatural and say they were praising God in there own tongue, however it points back to the Holy Spirit as the origin for this supernatural act. Again, the Bible teaches the Spirit gave them utterance, tongues is by the Spirit.

The crowd in Acts 2 said, "We hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." Paul confirms this as well when he teaches the church "Unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air" (1 Cor. 14:9)

Acts 2 was an example of the ability to speak unlearned human languages – they were understood without any supernatural interpretation required because those present spoke the language.

Looking through Acts, we see that in every instance of tongues for salvation there was also unbelief present.

Jews -- that were unbelieving in the gospel (Acts. 2), or unbelieving that the gospel should go to the Gentiles (Acts. 10). Each instance (Acts 2, 8, 10), tongues was not to demonstrate a certain individual was saved (as is taught today), but to show God's salvation was opened to a specific group of people that it was not opened to previously. What happened at Pentecost served as a sign to the Jews (the Jews that heard the gospel at Pentecost and responded did not speak in tongues). They (in the upper room Acts 2:4) were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues.” As Jesus promised Acts 1:8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." The power was for witnessing, to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).

Did the 3,000 that were saved from Peters preaching and hearing them receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues? NO they did not. In Acts 4:4 when 5,000 believed it does not mention tongues; why? Because the tongues were already given at Pentecost when the entrance into the body of Christ was opened to the Jews.

Tongues served as a sign to Jews in Jerusalem that God's Spirit was with the Apostles and had begun something new. Peter quotes the prophet Joel stating that that tongues are evidence of God pouring His Spirit upon them (vs. 16, 18). These were a type of languages they were told they would heard when they were in Babylonian captivity (Isa.28:11; 1 Cor. 14:21), but NOW IN Acts 2 is it illustrative of being set free. It was used to prove God was among them to those in unbelief; proving that Jesus is the Messiah, sitting at the right hand of God. The church began baptized in the Spirit (Acts1:5) but not all spoke in tongues.

When tongues were manifested among the first Gentile converts to the church Acts 10:44-46, Peter says the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles who heard him preach. Peter along with the other Jews recognized they “received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10:47) For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. (Did they hear them speak Hebrew?)

Peter recalls what Jesus promised in Acts 1:5 how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit' (Acts 11:16). Peter's later experience with the Gentiles in Acts 10 proved to the other Apostles that the Gentiles could be saved, whereas before they were sure they could not. Those converted by the apostle’s ministry spoke in tongues as a sign.

Baptism of the Spirit is the born again experience. Paul explains 1 Cor. 12:13 “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27)

The issue of tongues arose in the Corinthian church, who were converted pagans and were spiritually gifted. The Apostle Paul took the time to correct their misunderstanding that would lead to a misuse. Correcting them (1 Cor. 12-14 the mention of tongues is used 14 times), that not everyone would be able to speak in a tongue, none of the gifts are promised to every believer: Paul rhetorically asks, "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Since this is his primary example he then translates it to a lesser gift asking the same question “ Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret (vv. 29, 30)?" Each of these questions is answered with a no. Tongues is a gift which means not everyone speaks in a tongue anymore than everyone is a pastor or a apostle, or can do healing and miracles. In chapter 14, Paul wished all the Corinthians spoke in tongues (vs. 5) - so it's obviously they all didn't!

Certain churches teach a doctrine that tongues is the one gift that all are to exhibit; that one is not filled with the Holy Spirit without speaking in a tongue; some go as far as to teach only those who speak in tongues are saved. The Bible does not teach this, it is a tradition of man to say I do not have the Holy Spirit without speaking in tongues, and it has ruined many peoples faith.

Take for example Gloria Copeland “Ken and I were born again for years before we actually received the Holy Spirit” (Kenneth Copeland ministries, Daystar Aug.10, 2010) It is the Holy Spirit that lives inside the believer that makes them born again. If you do not have the Holy Spirit you are NOT born again.

V.11 “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” God decides what gifts are given to each individual - everyone has at least one spiritual gift, possibly several, but not all. Tongues is described by Paul as a "manifestations of the Spirit" (v. 7). In other words it is God’s work. The gifts are not under any man's control to turn on and off but under the control of the Holy Spirit. An individual cannot speak in tongues any time he desires anymore than he could heal the sick or raise the dead or see miracles anytime he wants. God’s power is under His control, he lends it to us in a time when he sees it is needed. It is to minister to others. There is also a difference with supernatural gifts and practical gifts like administrations or helps.

1 Cor. 12:10-11 “… to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

There would be no need for the interpretation of tongues as a gift of the Spirit if the language was known by majority of those present. So a tongue would be an unknown language –to the one speaking. In Acts 2, the interpretative gift was not necessary because Jews from all parts of the world that were gathered in Jerusalem understood the languages being spoken, it was in their own dialect[s]. The gift of tongues requires someone that knows the language or someone who has the gift of interpretation. There is no value of speaking in a tongue out loud without someone present who understands the language or can interpret it. Paul sets the order:

1 Cor. 14:26-27: “Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.”

That is the instructions for using the spiritual gift of tongues: spoken by two or at most three, then the interpretation. If there’s no interpretation then the speaker is to remain silent and keep it to himself.

Paul's teaches that to exercise this gift there is to be order and control. he writes "If the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" (1 Cor. 14:23). Paul is saying if the gift is done in a disorderly manner they (those who have not learned of spiritual gifts, an ungifted man, or those who are unbelievers among them) will think you’re Craaazy!

He goes on to say (v.23-25) When the church gathers together prophecy should be used, not tongues, especially when the unbelievers and the uninformed are present. (v31). The church is to function without craziness and confusion.

Tongues done in an orderly manner in the presence of an unbeliever who may know the language and hear the praise of God in his tongue by someone who did not know it, would understand something supernatural happened; just like in Acts 2.

Praying in a tongue, praying in the spirit.

Manifesting the gift of tongues, one "does not speak to men but to God" (1 Cor. 14:2). Notice the direction of the “gift of tongues” it is speaking to God, not men; he is speaking in “mysteries.”

No one can understand him but God who understands all languages of man unless he gives someone the ability to interpret.

Tongues is speaking to God not to man, though men may hear they do not understand. When you see men speaking to each other as we did years ago with the exhibition of Rodney Browne and Kenneth Copeland who were having an ongoing conversation back and forth and laughing at the jokes they spoke to each other in tongues this can immediately be identified as not real tongues, but contrived. For a tongue is to speak to God in a language that never was learned; not to man.

Paul said 1 Cor. 14:14-20 “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 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. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. 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. Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.”

The gift comes from the Holy Spirit, and the human spirit has some control when speaking; it can be used correctly or incorrectly, as we have often seen. Paul explains this gift can be used in various ways, to speak, to pray, to sing. Paul is correcting the Corinthians who were misusing it. If the human spirit prays, the mind is unfruitful, for the one who is speaking does not understand what he is saying. That is why Paul tells them it is better to speak words that you and others understand.

Some claim praying in tongues can be used to confuse the enemy. No; the enemy is not stopped in interfering by not understanding our prayers. If this is your concern, we can pray silently with understanding where only God can hear. The enemy cannot stop your prayer from being heard or answered but he can try to prevent you from praying.

To pray with the spirit does not mean in a tongue, these are prayers influenced and guided by the Spirit so they are in God’s will.

1 Cor. 14:14 “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding.” Here Paul says it is of better use for one to be understood so it can edify others. He is saying he will do both. Again one is to keep silent if there is no interpretation, so they would pray silently. Let me give a obvious example. It would be like going to a Roman Catholic church and hearing the service, their liturgy in Latin, you have no idea what was said.

1 Cor 14:15: With the understanding also kai (NT:2498) too (NT:3543) noi (NT:3518). Instrumental case of nous (NT:3518). Paul is distinctly in favor of the use of the intellect in prayer. Prayer is an intelligent exercise of the mind” (from Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament).

This is why Paul sums it up stating, “Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.” (1 Cor. 14:16-18).

Praying in the Spirit does not mean only in tongues.

Eph 6:18 “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints

Jude 1:20 “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit

Better said, Holy Spirit prayers, being led by the Spirit in prayer.

Rom. 8:26: “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.” When we are unable to express things, He groans in prayer to the Father; as our helper speaking on our behalf, expressing to God our deepest thoughts and feelings without words, no physical sound.

The abuse of tongues is seen more often than its correct usage, no wonder people are skeptical. Spiritual gifts are to be under the control of the person possessing them (v.32), remember the fruit of the Holy Spirit is self control; so if one has the fruit of the Spirit they should have control of manifestation of this gift, or any other. You should not hear someone going on and on with it as if it has taken over them.

To understand the gifts correctly we must go to Jesus, because Jesus had all the fullness of the Spirit on him (Isa. 11), all the gifts that were necessary functioned in His ministry. But we need to understand that not all the gifts were seen in his ministry - he never spoke in tongues, or interpreted tongues (though he spoke other languages such as Greek and Roman). And more importantly he was never out of control.

Even if Paul or any man could speak fluently and elegantly in all the languages on earth, or could speak in the language of an angel, he says without love, it is all empty noise, and becomes as a useless sound to those who hear. To be done in love means one wants to edify others not just themself.

Paul’s statement, "Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be two or at most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpretation, he must keep silent in the church; let him speak to himself and to God" (verses 26-28). Paul also says that interpretation of tongues is important since speaking in tongues benefits the spirit of man, but it doesn't help us know God or know about Him any better. That's why one who speaks out loud should pray to interpret also, otherwise your mind is not blessed and neither are the others around you (verses 13-17).

“I wish you all had the gift of 'speaking in tongues" (1 Cor.14:5) was so that they too could evangelize. Paul then cautioned the Corinthian church. V.18-19 “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.”

Paul makes the point of how it is to be used and in fact where it is to be used, This insinuates that on the mission field he made use of this gift to communicate to those. The gift was the miraculous ability to share the gospel in whatever language was needed at any given time. When Paul traveled to different countries, he was among many new languages he did not know. Having the gift of tongues gave him the ability to communicate

Paul; also says we are not to say it is wrong to 'speak in tongues if it done correctly.

1 Cor. 14:39-40: “Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.”


*Were tongues and other gifts seen in the early church after the apostles? since we were not there we have to rely on what is written. Here are a few quotes:

Dialogue with Trypho it is mentioned the prophetical gifts of the Jews were now transferred to Christians, he says: "For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that (the gifts) formerly among your nation have been transferred to us."

Irenaeus says "we hear many brethren in the Church…who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages."

Chrysostom said of tongues:

"The obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place." ( "Homilies in First Corinthians," Philip Schaff, ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.12, p. 168)

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