Monday, September 04, 2017

Speaking in Tongues

I've been asked about speaking in tongues a couple of times recently, and I thought I'd go ahead and post my thoughts publicly.

I think tongues is a wonderful gift, and from what I can tell in the scriptures it's been used differently for different purposes. In the early church, in Acts, speaking in tongues was primarily a supernatural gift used to proclaim God to people who spoke other languages. In Acts 2, the apostles (not all believers) began speaking in tongues, which was a matter of them "speaking the wonderful works of God" in the languages of the other people from other countries who were either living in Jerusalem or visiting there. In Acts 10, the gift was also given to the Gentiles, who were magnifying God in other languages. This wasn’t a "prayer language." It was a practical matter of evangelism, done supernaturally.

Then in 1 Cor 12, 13 and 14, it talks about different uses of tongues in the church. In 1 Cor 14, Paul says, "he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries." Then it says, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church." So in this case, it doesn't appear to be used for the sake of others, but rather for self-edification. The word "mysteries" means "secrets" or "hidden things."

Self-edification is a good thing. Speaking mysteries, hidden things or secrets to God in the spirit is a good thing. But it's even better, according to Paul, when one prophesies (1 Cor 14:5). But yet they're both wonderful things. The main caution that Paul gives is that since others can't understand what you're saying when you're speaking in tongues, if I may paraphrase Paul, "speak in your own language when around others (the language that they understand), unless there is someone there to interpret your tongues."

Again, speaking of the public use of tongues, Paul says, "If I come to you speaking with tongues," it doesn't profit you. In a gathering, this use of tongues doesn't profit others. However, "if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful." It's great for my spirit to pray. It's a matter of self-edification and speaking hidden things in the spirit, which is good, so I pray in tongues privately. But I pray both in tongues and with my understanding. (1 Cor 14:13-17)

Do I think that everyone must speak in tongues? Do I think that tongues is a necessary evidence of salvation or that someone has the Spirit? Not at all. Not all have the gift, and that’s absolutely the way it’s meant to be. In Acts 2:4 and 19:6, it does indeed say that people were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began speaking with other tongues. But this does not in any way mean or suggest that this is what must happen with all people. In fact, there are other passages that talk about people receiving the Spirit, with no mention at all of tongues. And nowhere in the NT epistles, where the message of salvation is clearly given, is tongues attached to it in any way.

Back to 1 Corinthians. In Chapter 12, Paul is talking about various gifts that God has given to members of the body of Christ for the benefit of all. Tongues is one of these gifts, among many other gifts. Paul asks rhetorically, "Do all speak with tongues?" The implied answer is "No." His point in the chapter as a whole is that the body of Christ is made up of many different parts. Not all members of the body of Christ are the same, and they don't all function in the same way. The gifts are diversely spread throughout the body. Not everyone has the same gifts... and it’s set up that way by God Himself, all for the good of the body as a whole.

God has blessed the body of Christ with the gift of tongues - one gift among many gifts, just as with all the other gifts. The body works well when all the parts aren't doing the same thing, but are doing what they were individually called to do! On top of all this, Paul says there is something even greater than walking in any of the gifts, even the "best" gifts. He is, of course, speaking about love. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." (1 Cor 13:1) No matter what our individual view of "tongues" is, or if we use it in the same way or not... it all means nothing apart from walking in love.


I also posted this as a Facebook note, and there is a good conversation going on about all of this here.

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