Posts Tagged 'tongues'

1 Corinthians, Part 6


As we all know by now, the church at Corinth was a troubled church; it had all manner of problems, spiritual and otherwise. It was a big church. It was a diverse church. It was an ambitious church. It was a church that desperately needed help. To their credit, the leaders of the Corinthian congregation knew they were in “over their heads” and they reached out to the apostle Paul. They wrote him a couple of letters describing their problems, sure that he could offer solutions. One of their issues Paul picks up in chapter 12.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1. TNIV)

The Corinthians had questions about spiritual gifts, and Paul approached that topic in a general way in chapter 12. We’ll later find out that not only did the Corinthians have questions, but that they also had problems with one gift in particular, the gift of tongues. But in chapter 12, he made sure that they understood all the spiritual gifts had value; they all contributed to the health of the Body of Christ – the Church.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7 TNIV)

That verse actually says a lot more than meets they eye. That “common good” refers to what is good for the Church – what is good for the congregation at Corinth in particular. Spiritual gifts are of no value to the world outside the Church because the world without Christ has no spiritual understanding and they can’t appreciate the Holy Spirit and what He does.

But that verse also tells us something very important: “each one” or each member of the church is given “the manifestation of the Spirit.” In other words, all Christians have been given the ability to exercise whatever Spiritual gift or gifts they have been given. I say this is important because, as we will see, the Corinthians were crazy about Spiritual gifts and it seemed like just about everybody was exercising them. Paul wanted to make sure they understood that it wasn’t just pastors who were endowed with the gifts of the Spirit, but that these Corinthians were right in wanting to use their gifts. They just needed to be taught how to do it properly. The church today probably has the opposite problem. Most churches know in a vague sort of way that there are gifts of the Spirit but make no effort to encourage their members to discover what gift they have been given. That’s why so many churches are, well, sort of dead. They have the knowledge of Spiritual gifts, but little or no experience.

Here are the gifts –

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:8 – 10. TNIV)

We assume that this big church had all these gifts being manifested to varying degrees by its members, but the gift of tongues was being abused. And that’s the reason for chapter 13. This isn’t the so-called “love chapter” at all. Paul is still dealing with Spiritual gifts in chapter 13, but from the perspective of how to use them: use them in love.

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2. TNIV)

In those two verses, Paul uses three gifts as examples – tongues, prophecy, and faith – to say that if he exercised those gifts without love, then he’s wasting his time. He then goes on to describe love, but with the aim of teaching the Corinthians that that’s how they should be exercising the gifts of the Spirit: with patience, kindness, humility, to honor others, with joy and in truth, and so on. We do a great disservice to 1 Corinthians 13 by always reading it at weddings. It has nothing to do with marriage but everything to do with how Christians are to treat each other with regard to the Spiritual gifts they may or may not have.

Finally we get to chapter 14 and Paul chooses one particular gift, prophecy, which in modern language we might refer to as the gift of speaking or preaching the Word. It’s not necessarily foretelling future events. Paul chooses this gift of prophecy or speaking to show that another gift, the spiritual gift of tongues (regardless of what you may think it means) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It seems like members of this church were obsessing over and clamoring for this gift of tongues; there was an undue stress on it getting it and using it. So Paul contrasts it with what he considered a more useful gift, the gift of prophecy.

Paul’s preferred gifts?

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:1, 2. TNIV)

In chapter 13, Paul pushed the way of love, and here he writes that as we pursue love, we ought to pursue spiritual gifts with just as much vigor. In the pursuit of Spiritual gifts, Paul advised the Corinthians to give first place to the gift of prophecy, which is associated with preaching. This was his advice to the Corinthians, confronting a problem in that church: Too many were pursuing the gift of tongues or exalting those who were manifesting that gift. The weakness with the gift of tongues as it was being used in the Corinthian church, was that, as Paul wrote, “no one understands them.” Elsewhere in his writing, Paul wrote this –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26, 27. TNIV)

These “wordless groans” are what Paul probably had in mind; a form of the gift of tongues meant to be used in private, in prayer, between the one praying and his God. These “groans,” what we refer to as “praying in the Spirit,” don’t do anybody any good except for the one praying. When one is praying in the Spirit, he’s praying to God, not talking to anybody else, and in fact, nobody else can understand him. That’s why Paul makes it clear that when it comes to edifying the Body of Christ, preaching in the common language is better than praying in tongues. Paul isn’t dissing praying in tongues, he is putting these two gifts in perspective. They are both indispensable in the life of the Christian, but within the life of the Church, prophecy or preaching is better because everybody can benefit from the use of that gift.

But those who prophesy speak to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3. TNIV)

So this gift of prophecy, then, is an “inspired utterance” which the whole congregation can understand; the message (sermon or Bible study, perhaps) will build up Christian character in people, or encourage them and strengthen them.

But, don’t dismiss the gift of tongues out of hand, though –

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. Those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues, unless they interpret, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:5. TNIV)

Paul isn’t forbidding tongues but he wanted his Corinthian friends to use common sense in the pursuit of Spiritual gifts. And the common sense approach to pursuing spiritual gifts is that they must – MUST – benefit the church. It may well be that in another church, more praying in the Spirit was needed and less prophesying. Remember, he’s simply addressing a problem in this particular church.

But then notice what he wrote about speaking in tongues. If somebody bursts forth in an ecstatic spiritual utterance, and a bunch of people overhear him, then he is obligated to interpret what he said in tongues. Why? Again, it makes common sense. People who overhear his speaking in tongues may be confused; they may not know what he said or what’s going on. Therefore, the onus is on the one who gets carried away speaking in tongues too loudly to explain what he said or why he did what he did. And when he does that, he will be edifying the whole church.

For this reason those who speak 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 14:13, 14 TNIV)

Paul is nothing if not Mr Practical! In all things in the church, the mind should always be engaged. Emotions are good but people often get carried away by their emotions. When that happens, we’re no longer following the way of love, we’re doing what makes US feel good. Speaking in tongues may make US feel good, but not anybody else. Love is not all emotion-based, the mind is involved. We must always be careful in all our interactions within the church, and especially in our use of any Spiritual gift, to make sure that we are benefitting others, not just ourselves.

…when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can the others, who are now put in the same situation as an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but the others are not edified. (1 Corinthians 14:16, 17. TNIV)

Those are actually very telling verses. Even in services where there is a lot of “praise and worship” going on, the people in the pews should be built up and edified. Even as we worship and extol the Lord we need to be mindful of the people around us. That’s part of pursuing love.

Verse 20 is about as blunt as Paul ever gets in his letters –

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20. TNIV)

Godet, in his opinion, writes this about what Paul meant:

It is indeed the characteristic of the child to prefer the amusing to the useful, the brilliant to the solid. And this is what the Corinthians did by their marked taste for glossolalia (tongues).

He’s right. The Corinthians were behaving like children in regards to their foolish pursuit of a Spiritual gift like tongues.

Paul’s point: Orderly worship always

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Corinthians 14:26, 33, 40. TNIV)

The overarching principle of Paul’s approach to Spiritual gifts and the Corinthians’ childish obsession with tongues is that church services must always be orderly. Spiritual gifts are to be desired, they come from God, they benefit the whole church, but they need to be manifested in an orderly fashion.

Chapter 14 if a fascinating if fuzzy glimpse into what things were like in the big Corinthian church. Without regard to precisely what Paul meant by “tongues” and his thoughts about women keeping quiet in church (that’s a topic for another day), we understand that in this chapter Paul is advocating orderly church services and his advice was designed to correct abuses the Corinthians were allowing. In all, his “theology of worship” boils down to three points:

• Everything that happens in a church service must be done for the purpose of strengthening the church;
• The God we worship is a God of order, not of disorder, and He desires peace not confusion;
• Everything, even the working of His spiritual gifts, must be done in a loving, orderly way, with the goal of encouraging and strengthening others.


The Gifts of Speaking: Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues, and Prophecy

Much of what we know about these “gifts of speaking” is found in 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. It seems that these particular gifts were at the center of the controversy Paul was addressing in his first letter to the church at Corinth. Scholars cite two main issues that are at the heart of Paul’s theology concerning the spiritual gifts:

  • The main purpose of all the spiritual gifts is to build up both the local church and the Body of Christ in general.

  • The gift of tongues is a gift that is easily abused by immature Christians.

Paul’s response to both of those issues is to stress the importance of love (chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians) in the exercise of all the spiritual gifts, but especially in the exercise of tongues. When all the gifts are used in a spirit of love, everyone in the community of faith is built up and encouraged and God is glorified.

The differences between the gifts of tongues and prophecy are stark. Tongues represents two kinds of speech: either languages that are understandable to people and utterances that are understood only by God. In the first instance, one may be given the supernatural ability to speak in a known language that is unknown to them. We see this happening in the book of Acts. It seems this gift is best used on the mission field. The other kind of tongues relates to what Paul referred to as “praying in the Spirit.” In 1 Corinthians 14:15, Paul writes about “praying with my mind” and “with my spirit.” Praying in the Spirit closely relates to what he wrote about in Romans 8:26 –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

The “praying in tongues” edifies only the one uttering those unintelligible words.

The gift of prophecy is speech that is understood by everybody. It is a message given by an individual in the language understood by those hearing it. It is not necessarily a message about future events, and is usually given to encourage a body of believers to persist in their faith or forsake sin or a message of similar admonitions. The apostle believed that prophecy is a “greater gift” than tongues because it edifies everybody in the congregation, not just the one speaking (praying) in tongues.

When it comes to these gifts Paul was very concerned that they be exercised in an orderly fashion. The evidence of God’s presence in a meeting is not necessarily the manifestation of gifts, but rather the tangible manifestation of peace, not confusion. In all our worship services, it would be wonderful if the gifts of the Spirit were manifested, but more important than that, is that God’s peace should be felt by those in attendance.

1. The gift of prophecy

A lot of Christians are under the delusion that the spiritual gift of prophecy is nothing more than the preaching of a sermon. Still others think that the gift of prophecy involves an individual making predictions about the future. Both of these viewpoints are wrong, but also correct at the same time. The gift of prophecy involves a divinely inspired message given by a believer that may or may not have a predictive element to it but it will be preaching of the highest order.

This gift is closely related to the idea of “inspiration,” but certainly not on the scale of the inspiration of Scripture. The “prophet,” or the preacher, or the person in church speaking under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, will speak forth a message from an “impulse” of sudden inspiration. The message given won’t be the result of study or research or liturgy or curriculum. It will an extemporaneous message given under the unction of the Holy Spirit.

It should be noted that the spiritual gift of prophecy is distinct from ordinary preaching. It should also be noted that there is nothing wrong with an “ordinary sermon!” In some circles a preacher is admired if he never uses notes when he preaches because that means he’s being inspired by the Holy Spirit. In response to such silly thinking we should say that the same Holy Spirit that inspires the speaker behind the pulpit on Sunday is also inspiring him as he works throughout the week in his study behind his desk and on his knees in diligent preparation.

The gift of prophecy and the office of the prophet

As we read the book of Acts and study early church history, it seems like the gift of prophecy was fairly common but “official prophets” were rare. In fact, we can name New Testament prophets on one hand: Judas, Silas, Agabus, and a couple of others. According to what Paul taught the Corinthians, every member of the church could potentially exercise the gift of prophecy but this did not mean they were a prophet in the sense of Acts 13:1 and Ephesians 4:11.

In the Old Testament, the office of the prophet was essential. The prophets back then were men whose ministry and often their entire lives were dedicated to proclaiming God’s Word to the people. Often they predicted the future (immediate future and far future), but most of the time their messages were either rebukes in the form of “turn or burn,” “the end is near,” or words of encouragement to “hold on” and “keep the faith” because there are “better days ahead.”

However, we are not living in the Old Testament. We are in a whole new dispensation which began at Pentecost. In this present dispensation, it is the privilege of all believers to be personally led and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Scope of the gift of prophecy

This gift is definitely a divinely inspired utterance. But it is not “inspired” in the same sense that Scripture is inspired. The Bible is infallible. The Bible is the absolute final word. Any word spoken by any preacher or Bible teacher is not infallible and is not the final word. Some scholars have noted that when an utterance is given by through the gift of prophecy it is considered to be inspiration of a lower class. Whenever we hear any message given by one who claims to be speaking with the anointing of the Spirit, it behooves us to measure their words against God’s Word.

2. The gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues

Of all the spiritual gifts, the gift of tongues is the most talked about and the least understood. There are some denominations that teach unless one speaks in tongues they don’t have any of the gifts, and still others teach that tongues is a gift that has ceased to exist. So what is the truth?

Laying aside denominational biases, and taking our cue from the Bible only, it seems to be an inescapable reality that in the very early years of the Church’s rapid growth, the “gift of tongues” was needed specifically to preach the Gospel in new, previously unreached areas.

Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:7, 8)

Just after the Holy Spirit fell on the followers of Christ, they began to speak in other tongues, and the crowds of people in Jerusalem for Passover heard them, not babbling in unknown tongues, but in known languages.

From the standpoint of missionary work, the ability to speak in the languages of the people you are trying to minister to is invaluable.

However, by the time we get to 1 Corinthians and Paul’s teaching on the gifts, the church was well past its infancy. Pastors and evangelists were local men and women. So, was the gift of tongues or languages still necessary? We know that the gifts of God are irrevocable, so the answer must be yes. God has all the wisdom, we don’t, so it’s foolish for us to think that the gift of tongues is no longer necessary. And yet, in 1 Corinthians 14, we are explicitly told this:

For 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)

So it seems clear that there are not one, but two uses for the gift of tongues. When necessary, a believer may be given the supernatural ability to preach the Gospel in a known language on the mission field, for example, while the other use for the gift of tongues is to pray to God in a language that is unknown to man (even to the one speaking it) but understood by God. This brings us back to Romans 8:26, which suggests that there may be times when we don’t know what or who to pray for, but since God does, He desires His Holy Spirit to pray through us, using our vocal cords.

As with all the gifts, they are to be used in an orderly fashion. Apparently in the very large Corinthian church of Paul’s day, the congregation was open to the gifts and exercising them often, but often misusing them. This was especially true of the gift of tongues, where it seemed like at any given time during their worship service, people would just break out in ecstatic tongues-speaking. Naturally, such outbursts were disconcerting to some and confusing to others. Paul’s teaching is simple:

Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:4, 5)

Paul’s point here is that in a public worship service where all kinds of people are gathered, it’s preferable to prophesy—to speak—in the common language so you can be understood by all. The value of tongues lies in what it does for the one speaking in tongues, for it does absolutely nothing for those who hear it.

But, what happens if, for example, an immature or untaught believer breaks out in tongues? What do you with that person? Or, what does the pastor do if, during the course of the service, one or two people are overheard praying in tongues? Like his teaching, Paul’s advice is simple:

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. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified. (1 Corinthians 14:13—17)

In other words, speaking or praying in tongues is not meant to be done out in the open for all to hear, but in private because it is between the one praying and God. However, if, by chance, it should happen that a member of the church does exercise his gift out in the open, then they bear the responsibility to “interpret” what they said in tongues so that those who heard would know what was going on. Paul’s assumption is that the one speaking in tongues in public was genuine, and was using their gift for the right reason—to praise God—at the wrong time. In such a case, their heart would be right and they would abide by the advice. However, imagine the effect such an injunction would have on somebody who spoke in tongues just to get attention, or to “show off” their gift. This was probably what was going on in Corinth, where the gifts were misused and abused. Paul, not wanting to take any chances and quench the Spirit, put the “burden of proof” on the one speaking in tongues: if you are going to do it in public, then you had better know what you saying in tongues so you can tell everybody else who heard you.

The secondary idea is that everybody deserves to be edified, just like the one who spoke in tongues. The main idea is that there needs to be order in the church service.

3. The value 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)

These verses make it sound like Paul had mixed feelings about this gift of tongues. In the following verse, we get the impression that some in the Corinthian church—those abusing the gifts—were acting like babies.

However, all the gifts of the Spirit are important and valuable, including tongues. That’s he adds this:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. (verse 22)

The exercise of all the gifts, even tongues, even if they are misused, show to the unsaved that something supernatural is going on; that God really is present among the members of this congregation. The unbeliever may not understand what they are seeing or hearing, but they will know “God is among you.”

And that really is the value of all the spiritual gifts, and why all Christians ought to be exercising the gifts. The gifts build up the church and they bear witness to those outside the church that God is present. Be warned, however, that when a congregation has learned to exercise the gifts, they must do so in complete order. And understand that God will never force His gifts on anybody:

The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace —as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. (1 Corinthians 14:32, 33)

(c)  2012 WitzEnd


Understanding Tongues

When the Holy Spirit came to the infant Church in Acts 2, there were two signs that accompanied His arrival: the sound of a mighty, rushing wind and something that looked like tongues of fire. These were unique signs that have never been repeated in the history of the Church. You would be hard-pressed to find any Christian who would claim that these signs have been repeated.

Not so the third sign, speaking in other tongues. There are charismatic/pentecostal denominations that teach “speaking in other tongues” is a normative sign that an individual has received Spirit baptism. These denominations rightfully teach “speaking in other tongues” is the only supernatural sign from Acts 2 that is seen occurring multiple times in Acts. But they go one step further.  To them, this sign continues today.  When a believer experiences Spirit baptism, the proof or evidence that such a thing has taken place is that the newly-baptized person will start speaking in tongues immediately.

Other denominations claim that all signs associated with the very early Church ceased with the death of the last Apostle, probably John. They say correctly all miraculous signs that accompanied the spread of the Gospel in New Testament times were necessary to give authority to the preaching of the Gospel since the New Testament hadn’t been written yet. Today, our authority comes from the completed Word of God, hence “signs and wonders” are no longer needed. To these Churches, there is no “second blessing,” no Spirit baptism, for it is no longer needed, and a person is filled with the Spirit when they are born again and that’s it.

While no Christian denomination denies the Holy Spirit or His work in the Church and in individual believers, there seems to be two extremes in the Church today. On one side, there are denominations that pay little more than lip service to the Spirit. It’s like these “mainline” denominations really don’t know what to do with Him. On the other side, there are denominations that have created “pentecostal doctrines” in an effort to separate themselves from “those other churches” that they perceive as dead and powerless. Often, unfortunately these kinds of Churches go way overboard and their services are filled with all kinds of  strange “manifestations” of the Spirit’s presence.

Forgetting what “denominations” say, what does the Bible say?

1. Distinguishing between tongues in Acts and the Gifts of the Spirit

Speaking in tongues as the Spirit enables” is wholly a New Testament doctrine. The very first instance is found in Acts 2.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (verse 4)

We know from verse 6 that these “tongues” were known languages—that is, known by people other than those speaking. This was truly a miracle! Just imagine if you opened your mouth and suddenly started speaking in a language you had never learned. This is what happened to the 120 when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t so much a “gift of tongues,” as it was a “gift of languages.” This ability to speak different languages was given to the 120, not to pray or praise God, but for the very practical purpose of evangelism. Remember, there may have been dozens and dozens of different languages represented in Jerusalem; they had come to town from far and wide for the Feast of Pentecost. So, the Lord providentially made it possible for the greatest number of people to hear the Gospel in one day by enabling the first church congregation to speak in different languages.

This “gift of languages” is seen other times in Acts, but it is never mentioned in any of the Epistles, although “speaking in tongues” is mentioned. In Acts, we read of two more incidents where “speaking in tongues” is mentioned:

Acts 10:45—47. Here, Jewish believers who were with Peter at Cornelius’ home were amazed when these new Gentile believers were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other tongues. Again, the word translated “tongues” here means “known languages.”

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. (Acts 10:44—46)

All who heard” the sermon Peter preached were filled with the Spirit. What is significant here is that these who heard the sermon were already believers, just as the 120 were. These Gentiles, also like the 120 Jews, were given the ability to speak in different languages. This was the first incursion of the Gospel into Gentile land, so, just like back in Jerusalem, God enabled the first Gentile evangelists to speak in languages necessary for spreading the Gospel in this new area.

Acts 19:6. This is the third and last instance of believers receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts and speaking in different languages as a result. This time, it was a group of brand new Christians in Ephesus Paul happened upon. What is interesting here is that this group of isolated Christians had never even heard of the Holy Spirit!

These Ephesians had previously repented and believed, but their knowledge was limited. They are still called “disciples,” and were God-fearing people who, when they learned more about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, gladly received the Spirit’s baptism. And, just like the 120 and the folks in Cornelius’ home, they were given the ability to speak different languages.

When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:6)

Throughout Acts, it seems as though Spirit baptism is definitely an experience subsequent to salvation. In other words, based on the examples of Cornelius’ household and the Ephesian disciples, one may be a believer and not be “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” There are other examples that support the idea that Spirit baptism is a “second work of grace,” but only these three indicate that “speaking in tongues or “languages” followed the infilling of the Spirit.

Leaving Acts, the next reference to “speaking in tongues” is actually found in Romans, although that phrase is not used. Here is what Romans 8:26 says:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

This verse, coupled with what Paul would later write to the Corinthian church regarding “praying in the Spirit” is highly suggestive. These “wordless groans” occur when a believer is praying on his own, but at some point the Spirit comes on him, takes over, and prays through him. In this instance, the “groans” cannot be understood by any human being—they don’t constitute a known language, and it is not the Spirit praying for the person who is praying, it is the Spirit using the vocal abilities of the person praying. The idea of this verse is that as we pray, we may “run out of things to pray for,” and at that point the Spirit takes over, praying through us.  Another way to look at it is that when we come to the end of our resources, those of the Holy Spirit, who is within us, take over.

In Romans 12, Paul lists a series of spiritual gifts, including:

  • The ability to prophecy;
  • The ability to serve others;
  • The ability to teach;
  • The ability to encourage others;
  • The gift of giving generously;
  • The gift of leadership;
  • The gift of mercy.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul lists a few more spiritual gifts:

  • A message of wisdom;
  • A message of knowledge;
  • (Gift of) faith;
  • Gifts of healing;
  • The ability to work use miraculous powers;
  • The ability to prophecy;
  • The ability to discern between different kinds of spirits;
  • The ability to speak in tongues;
  • The ability to interpret tongues.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, there other Gifts of the Spirit mentioned, including these in Ephesians 4:

  • The gift of being an evangelist;
  • The gift of being a prophet;
  • The gift of apostleship;
  • The gift of the teacher/pastor.

With regards to Ephesians 4, it is clear that some of these gifts (offices in the church, really) have ceased to exist:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:19, 20)

So we might say that the apostle and the prophet as offices in the Church were foundational ministries that we have built upon, and are no longer needed. This does not mean that the spiritual gift of prophecy does not exist, merely that there are no prophets or apostles in the church today (Christian cable channels notwithstanding).

So you see, then, that the spiritual gift of tongues is just one of many spiritual gifts. The Corinthian church of Paul’s day was obsessed with this one single gift to the exclusion of all the others, which is why he spent considerable time teaching them about the Gifts of the Spirit. It’s no different with the modern Church, where entire denominations have been founded on “the gift of tongues.” Why not found a denomination on the gift of encouragement? Or the gift of generosity? Why tongues? Paul teaches that all the Gifts of the Spirit are equal; none is better than another. Yet, the “gift of tongues” is the one that we hear most about, the one that is the most obvious to notice, and, as in the case of the Corinthian church, the one that is abused the most.

Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, the so-called “love chapter,” is really about how to use the Gifts of the Spirit in the best way: in love. Paul begins:

If I speak in the tongues (known languages) of men or of angels (gift of tongues–unknown languages), but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith (gift of faith) that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess (gift of generous giving) to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (verses 1—3)

When Christians engage in any abuse of any spiritual gift, they are not using that gift in love. The Gifts of the Spirit are given to Christians for the express purpose of building up the Church; they are to be used to bless the Body of Christ. Spiritual one-up-manship has no place in the Church because that takes the focus off Christ puts it on the one exercising his particular gift or gifts. This is probably why “the gift of tongues” is so abused and stressed so much; it’s hard to miss somebody in the congregation going off and babbling unintelligibly.

There is, then a clear distinction between the “tongues” of Acts and the “gift of tongues” elsewhere in the New Testament. In Acts, it was a the ability to speak foreign languages that fell on believers, so that they could engage in effective evangelism. This most remarkable ability accompanied an additional infilling of the Holy Spirit, because we know that a person is already filled with the Spirit when they initially believe.

In Paul’s teaching, we discover that there are numerous Gifts of the Spirit given to believers that enable them to engage in ministry to the Body of Christ beyond their normal talents. The “gift of tongues” is just one the many spiritual gifts believers may receive when they experience an additional infilling of the Spirit, subsequent to their initial infilling at conversion.

Also, since we haven’t heard of mass groups of English-speaking Christians breaking out in Mandarin Chinese after a prayer meeting, we can conclude that the “tongues,” the ability to speak foreign languages, of Acts 2 has gone the way of the Old Testament prophet and the New Testament apostle. It was a foundational ability that was needed only in the beginning but not now.

2. The gift of tongues

So is “speaking in tongues” a “normative sign” that a believer has been baptized in the Holy Spirit? Not according to the “tongues” of Acts. Those “tongues” were foreign languages, not “the language of the Spirit.” Since all the Gifts of the Spirit are equal, then we must conclude that the “normative sign” that one has had a deeper experience with the Holy Spirit—if indeed a sign accompanies that—must be the manifestation of any of the Gifts of the Spirit, including but not limited to tongues. What, then, is this “gift of tongues,” outside of Acts, all about?

The answer to that question is found is not in denominational literature, but the Word of God, specifically 1 Corinthians 14. This chapter was written to a large but troubled church. It was full of members who were full of the Holy Spirit, but desperately in need of learning how to use those gifts properly. After listing “the gift of tongues” along with all the other Gifts of the Spirit in chapter 12, Paul, in chapter 13, first teaches the Corinthians that they must exercise all the gifts (he uses only the gifts of tongues, prophecy, faith, and giving as examples) in love. You may think it odd that Christians would have to be told that, but the admonition to love one another was given numerous time by Jesus and John. The implication is that Christians may find it difficult to love one another. Given the destructive behavior many pastors see in their congregations, it becomes obvious that even genuine believers, from time to time, will engage in behavior that brings harm to a brother or sister, and what better way to do that than using their spiritual gift to make them feel inferior? For that reason, Paul warns his Corinthian friends that no one gift is superior to another, that all are needed in the Church, and Spiritual gifts should be used in love.

That brings us to 1 Corinthians 14. Here is what Paul teaches about the spiritual gift of “tongues” in that chapter:

  • For 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. (verse 2) This reminds us of what Paul wrote to the Romans; of how the Holy Spirit prays through us with groanings that cannot be understood by human beings. In the context of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul basically admonishes the people with that gift to pray in tongues away from other people because when they speak in tongues it does nothing for anybody else—that is, praying in tongues for all to hear is not a loving way to exercise that gift. Why? Because it is useless to the one who hears and it draws his attention to the one speaking in tongues.
  • Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? (verse 6) Paul in verse 18, Paul will tell his friends that he speaks in tongues often; but here he says that if he comes simply speaking to them in tongues, like during a sermon or during a worship service for example, then he’s wasting his time. They can’t understand him, so he then says it’s better to use another gift or speak the Word of God in a language all can understand. The words “some revelation” could refer to a teaching one gives during a sermon or Bible lesson. “Knowledge” and “prophecy” more than likely refer to those particular spiritual gifts.
  • So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church. For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. (verses 12, 13) Notice what Paul says here and what he does not say. The Corinthians were excited about using their spiritual gifts, but Paul wanted them to become expert at using the ones that built up the greatest number of people in the Church. He obviously can’t be referring to tongues, because he just taught them that tongues are of no benefit to anybody in the church save the one speaking in them. Verse 13 is like a caveat, it does not provide a new use for tongues. Should a person get carried away and break out in tongues during a service, the genie is out of the bottle. What is to be done? Scores of people have heard something they shouldn’t have heard and they have no idea what was said. In that case, Paul suggested the best course of action would be for that person to correct his mistake by asking God to give him the interpretation of what he had just prayed to God so that everybody who heard him could be blessed just as he himself had been blessed. Paul is not encouraging the public display of tongues, he is simply giving advice in case it happened.

Here is way the gift of tongues should never be used during a worship service:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (verses 22—25)

Breaking that down, we notice:

  • The gift of tongues exercised in public does nothing for other Christians, but will most certainly confuse an unbeliever who hears it and will make the one speaking in tongues look like they are out of their mind. So, there is no way to use the gift of tongues in public in a way that is helpful to anybody, saint or sinner. Why? Because the spiritual gift of tongues is only good for the one exercising it.
  • But if another gift of the Spirit is being exercised, like the gift of prophecy, which is exercised in a known language, then that same sinner, instead of being confused, will actually be convicted of sin in their life and realize that God is among the congregation.

The key for Paul is that when Christians get together, they need to have an orderly service. Remember, the Corinthians were excited about using their spiritual gifts, so they needed verses 26—40 in the worst way. Most churches today have the opposite problem; they are devoid of any manifestations of the Spirit, good or bad. Given that, these verses sound like Paul is giving guidelines for how to have a pentecostal church service: two or three people should speak in tongues, somebody should interpret, anybody with the gift of prophecy should stand up and give their message, but again only two or three of them, and so on. But, instead of looking at these verses as patterns for pentecostal services, what if we look at them as “what to do if things get out of hand”? If Spirit-filled believers get carried away and start exercising their gifts improperly, the leader of the service shouldn’t shut it down, compounding an already uncomfortable situation, he should calmly take control of the service and reign in those who are carried away in their Spiritual gifts.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (verses 39, 40)

We never want to “quench the Spirit,” but people need to be taught how to use their particular gift or gifts in the right way so as to minister to the most number of believers in the most effective, God-glorifying way.


Based on the preponderance of Biblical evidence, there is an encounter with the Holy Spirit Christians may look forward to that is subsequent to their initial encounter with Him at their conversion. This second encounter, often referred to as “the Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” is a second infilling of the Spirit, at which time a believer is given the ability to exercise certain gifts given him by the Spirit. All but one of these gifts are for the encouragement of the Body of Christ. The gift of tongues is a spiritual gift given to a believer for his benefit only, so that he may pray in the Spirit, or so that the Spirit may pray through him.

The “gift of tongues” as one of the Gifts of the Spirit is not to be confused with “speaking in tongues” that we see in the book of Acts. There, the “tongues” represented known languages and were for the benefit of those who heard the Gospel in their own language.

To conclude this study, let me quote the great Apostle:

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:31a)

Our churches today are just as desperate as the Corinthian church was, except our desperation is for more of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps when we get to the end of our resources and realize we need something (Someone) more, then we will be visited by Him in a dynamic way.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd



Pentecost and the Coming of the Holy Spirit, Luke 2

The Book of Acts is definitely a book of history, but it is a book of history with a difference: there are no dates in it. It is left up to scholars to fill in the chronological blanks. The consensus among Bible scholars and historians is that the events recorded in Acts 2 occurred during the Jewish feast of Pentecost celebrated during the last week of May, in the year 30 AD.

The word “pentecost” comes from a Greek word meaning “fiftieth.” As part of their Feast of Weeks, the Jews celebrated Pentecost on the fiftieth day after Passover. It is also known as the Feast of Harvest, at which the celebrants presented the firstfruits of the wheat harvest.

While Christians have appropriated the word “pentecost” and associate it with the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, that is not the correct use of the word. Pentecost was a Jewish feast, it was part of the the Jewish calendar and has no real meaning outside of that context. The Holy Spirit was given on the Day of Pentecost, not because Spirit baptism is a “Pentecostal Blessing,” but because that particular day was the one day when Jerusalem was literally overflowing with visitors attending the day’s festivities. It was the perfect day for the Spirit to descend, fill the followers of Christ, empowering them to witness to the greatest number of people at one time. All these visitors who heard the Gospel would take the Gospel back home with them when the Feast of Weeks was over.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit was eluded to in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, where it was carefully distinguished from John’s baptism:

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)

Luke is the only Gospel writer who connects what John the Baptist said with the miracle at Pentecost.

The coming of the Holy Spirit was the final phase of Christ’s mission. First came the Incarnation; when God became man to secure our redemption; to unite man with His Creator. Then came then the Crucifixion, the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, during which He gave His life as a ransom for sinful man; separating those sins from those He came to save. Next, the Resurrection—the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Finally, Pentecost and the coming (or giving) of the Holy Spirit to the Church.

1. All together in one room, Acts 2:1

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

When the Church began, you could squeeze it all into one room. There were some 120 souls waiting patiently for something to happen. Luke gives us a hint as to when the event happened: “when the day of Pentecost came,” which simply means that the Holy Spirit came some time during this particular Day of Pentecost. While Luke gives us some practical information, he is also giving us a statement of great theological import. By mentioning “the Day of Pentecost,” Luke is reaching back in time to embrace the many Old Testament prophecies surrounding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, like Joel 2:28. Not only prophecies, there were many “foreshadowings” of this great day. In Leviticus 23, we are given all the details of the Jewish feasts and festivals, including Passover. Passover was celebrated in the spring of the year, and this foreshadowed the death of Jesus Christ. He and the disciples celebrated Passover on the evening before His death—the death of the perfect Lamb of God.

Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7—8)

After Passover, they were to bring their firstfruits—a sheaf of grain as an offering. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul reckoned that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a kind of firstfruit of the resurrection of all believers to come.

As part of the Feast of Pentecost, we read this in Leviticus 23:17—

From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD.

The two loaves of bread could not represent Jesus Christ because of the presence of yeast, which represents sin. So what then does the bread represent? This wave offering in Leviticus represents all those who, through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, are presented to God, though not perfect, but still redeemed by Christ.

These imperfect believers were “all together in one place.” This phrase suggests that the 120 were not only in the same place at the same time for the same purpose, but they were in unity. However, this unity was not why the Spirit came, as some like to suggest. In fact, the Holy Spirit’s coming to the Church was an event preordained by God. It was an event determined by God in eternity past; God did not give His Spirit because the 120 were manifesting any kind of unity.

The interesting thing about this “unity” is that the 120 were all expecting something to happen; they were gathered together as they had been instructed by the risen Lord, all with a spirit of expectation.

2. The Age of the Spirit, verses 2—4

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Because the Holy spirit is just that, a Spirit, there is nothing sensory about Him. However, for the sake of the 120, along with the coming of the Holy Spirit, God manifested certain visible and audible signs so there could be no mistake that what happened to the faithful that day was what they were expecting.

Wind. The first thing we notice about the coming of the Holy spirit is the suddenness of His appearance. The believers expected something to happen, but when it happened, it was quick, and it was sudden and surprising. Why wind? The Lord in His providence and wisdom manifested the Spirit’s presence using a very familiar thing. Jesus taught this in John 3:8—

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Fire. This sign was in fulfilment of what John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:11—

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Of course, what looked like fire really wasn’t fire; it was the visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The “tongues of fire” were not so different from what appeared to be dove, descending upon Jesus when He was baptized in the Jordan River.

What was the significance of this display of sound and light? of wind and fire? There is a distinct parallel between the giving of the Holy Spirit and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Consider the similarities:

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. (Exodus 19:16—19)

The giving of the Law ushered in a brand new epoch and the Israelites needed to see and hear and experience it in all its fullness. The manifestation of God’s presence on Mount Sinai was unnecessary, but God knew the people needed to be fully alert and conscious of the significance of what was happening. So it was at Pentecost with the Holy Spirit. The era of the Holy Spirit had arrived; the disciples needed to experience God’s presence and His authority in a manner they would never forget.

Tongues. Immediately, the whole group was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Greek text indicates that the entire group, all 120, were filled once, all at the same time. In other words, the Spirit came and stayed with each of the 120; He did not come and go, come and go, as He did in the Old Testament. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the 120 happened one time; they were not baptized in the Spirit over and over. Henceforth, He abides in the Body of Christ, the Church, both corporately and individually. When a sinner confesses Christ as His Savior, he is filled with the Holy Spirit; Jesus Christ comes in and abides in that new believer in the Person of the Holy Spirit. That new believer at the moment of his conversion is not only filled with the Holy Spirit, but he becomes part of the Body of Christ—the Church (that is, the invisible Church). At some point, he will become part of the visible Church, a local body of believers.

When the Spirit filled all those believers, they literally became the “mouthpieces of the Spirit.” At Pentecost, the curse of Babel was lifted. the effect of the Spirit literally reversed what happened in Genesis 11—

Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:7—9)

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and miraculously enabled the Christians to speak in languages all visitors to Jerusalem could understand. In fact, the word “tongue” here means “spoken language.” These “tongues” were not an “unknown language,” but known languages, as Dr. Luke makes clear in verse 6:

When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.

No matter how much some people want to equate the “tongues” here in Acts 2 with the “tongues” Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 14, there is no correlation; they are not the same “tongues.” The purpose of “tongues” here was for a more effective witness in and around Jerusalem. Only God knew how many different languages were represented by the many visitors to Jerusalem during this particular Pentecost. By empowering the believers with the ability to speak in different languages, God was enabling all these visitors to Jerusalem to hear the Gospel in a language they could understand.

There are those who wonder if the miracle was in the speaking or in the hearing. The miracle of “tongues” had to be in the speaking of different language because the Spirit filled the 120, no the crowd who heard them.

3. Final thoughts

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the most significant event in the history of the Church. It is significant theologically and practically. We might say the Spirit came for these two purposes. First, theologically, the Holy Spirit took all those believers and baptized them into ONE Body of believers. The Church existed before the Spirit fell, but it was at best a very loose group with little or no organization. The Church before Pentecost was just a bunch of people who loved Jesus. But when the Spirit came, that bunch of loose knit people were knit together as one; baptized into the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit took that disparate group of men and women and them one.

Second, practically, the Holy Spirit empowered those believers to spread the Gospel. The Spirit came to take the teachings of Jesus and of the Word of God and make them real to the believers, giving them the supernatural unction to proclaim those things to others with confidence in a way they could understand.

After the Spirit fell at Jerusalem, the empowered Church of Jesus Christ began to grow and multiply. When it reached the Samaritans, they received the Holy spirit. When it reached the Gentiles, they received the Holy Spirit. Wherever the Gospel was preached and received by those who heard it, the Spirit filled those new believers immediately.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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