Speaking in Tongues

Category: Doctrine | Title: Holy Spirit|  Written by: Pastor Balan Swaminathan | Location: House of Intercessory Prayer Ministries, Halifax, NS Canada | Date: Saturday, April 30, 2011

Speaking in tongues is the most talked about phenomena in Christianity.  Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement has brought speaking in tongues to the forefront, and these branches of Christianity are without doubt the fastest growing segments of Christianity.  These movements are impacting the world even more than the reformation did. Yet with all the talk about speaking in tongues, only very few understand what it’s all about.  It is the least understood and the most controversial subject among believers.  People will be surprise to find that the Bible mentions speaking in tongues thirty-five times. That is a lot, so this subject should not be taken lightly and kept aside as unimportant to the Church.  God does not fill His book with things of minor importance.

God knew the controversies that would surround this gift in the 20th century. Yet He felt the church needed this gift to fulfill its ministry.  Even major truths such as the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Humanity of Christ and the Person of the Holy Spirit have been opposed and have faced controversy in the history of Christendom.  So it should not surprise us if the gift of “tongues” has been controversial too.  It is always best to stick exactly to what Scripture says on all doctrinal matters.

Greek terms

There are two different Greek terms used to represent the speaking in tongues.

Glossolalia  = glossa  means “tongue, language” + lalia means talk or to speak, speaking in non existing language there may not be any meaning to what is spoken.

Xenoglossia, which is the biblical “gift of tongues.”

Glossolalia is babbling in a nonexistent language, where as  xenoglossia is the ability to speak fluently a language the speaker has never learned.

Some of the misconceptions about tongues today among churches

  • Some Christian churches teach that all the charismatic gifts (speaking in tongues, word of knowledge, prophecy, etc.) have ceased with the completion of the New Testament.  It is no more applicable for today. 1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
  • Some churches teach that you must speak in tongues in order to be saved.
  • If tongues is spoken it must be interpreted.
  • Tongues have passed away because we now have the Scriptures in print and don’t need them anymore.
  • Tongues should be ignored because the Corinthian church spoke in tongues and Paul accused them of being carnal. 1 Corinthians 13
  • Tongues are gibberish (meaningless or unintelligible talk) and should be rejected
  • some Christians believe tongues are a sign of demonic possession like many thought during the original Pentecostal revival in the early 1900s
  • Speaking in tongues guarantees heaven to us
  • You are superior than your neighbor as you speaking in tongues where as he or she doesn’t
  • Speaking in tongues is a gift given only to special people according to the will of God

Three levels of the working of the Holy Spirit

Spirit of God dwells with us

John 14:17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.

  • Even before our salvation
  • Even when we were sinners
  • With every human being living in sin, he prompts and convicts people to receive Christ

Spirit of God lives in us

John 14:17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.

  • He starts living in us once we receive Him
  • At the time of salvation
  • His abiding presence, that never take away
  • He comes silent

Spirit of God comes upon us

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.”

  • He comes upon us to baptize us with Spirit
  • He comes upon us for service
  • He comes like a rushing wind Acts 2:2
  • He comes like a divided tongues Acts 2:3
  • He comes like a fire  Acts 2:3
  • He comes with an initial evidence of speaking in tongues Acts 2:4
  • To make us bold to preach the Gospel Acts 4:8, 31 Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

Presence & Power

These two terms are interchangeably used among believers today.

Presence is God’s glory.  God’s glory His abiding presence comes inside our heart and remains.  It comes inside silently, it invades our heart and stills our soul.   The presence of the Lord comes inside us at the time of salvation.  This presence is to change our own life.  It transforms us.  This presence of the Holy Spirit witnesses and gives us assurance that we are children of God.

Power is the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  It comes upon us according to Acts 1:8.  It comes as a mighty rushing wind, divided tongues and flames of fire according to Acts 2, The power of God comes upon us for service, to stand as witness.

  • His presence or glory can not be felt, only the power can be felt.
  • God’s presence or Glory is not manifested to physical body , it  cannot be felt, but His power can be felt.
  • The presence of God will cause us to be His children, the power of God will cause us to do.
  • God’s presence does not heal the sick body, His power heals the sick
  • God’s presence or Glory changes our lives, but His power affects others.
  • God’s presence convicts us of sins, God’s power destroys Satan and his authority.
  • God presence can be obtained with no price at the time of salvation, but His power can be received by paying a price in terms of prayer, absolute surrender, complete faith and dependency, sometime even fasting and waiting.

Is speaking in tongues Biblical?

  • Spoken by the prophet –Isaiah 28:11 For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people,
  • 1st instance reported in Bible – 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.
  • While Peter was preaching – Acts 10:44-46 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
  • Speaking to God –1 Corinthians 14:2 For 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.
  • Self edification –1 Corinthians 14:4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
  • Importance of interpretation-1 Corinthians 14:5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
  • Something we all need to long for –1 Corinthians 14:13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
  • Paul’s personal experience – 1 Corinthians 14:18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;
  • Sign for unbelievers –1 Corinthians 14:22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. (a believer among unbelievers can be identified as a believer as he or she speaks in tongues, a prophet among believers can be identified by other believers as he prophesies)
  • Importance of interpretation –1 Corinthians 14:27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.
  • Do not stop people who are speaking in tongues – 1 Corinthians 14:39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

Five different types of tongues

  1. Tongues of Men – 1 Corinthians 13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
  2. Tongues of Angels – 1 Corinthians 13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
  3. Language of Paradise – 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 And I know such a man whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
  4. Language of the Spirit – Romans 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.
  5. God’s language – Isaiah 28:11-12 (NIV) Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people,

Exercising speaking in tongues:

In a private setup (edify himself)

When a person speaks in tongues, his spirit (heart) speaks forth syllables (directly from his heart to his mouth, bypassing his mind) and thus he pours out whatever is in his heart to God – whether that be an overflow of joy or a burden caused by sorrow or discouragement. Thus the pressure on his heart is relieved. That is how he is ‘edified’

1 Corinthians 14:4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

This can happen during personal prayer or during a time of worship & prayer in the church.  This is done with a low voice by all believers, not appears to be giving a message and interpretation, it is done for the personal edification and infilling of the Holy Spirit,

Usually in churches a specific time is given so that all believers can refresh & align themselves with the mind of the Holy Spirit.

In a public setup (edifies the church)

In a church-meeting, if someone speaks in a tongue, one of those having the gift of prophecy, if the person is walking in the light of God, will find a thought being impressed on his or her mind, if the “tongue” is genuinely from God. That person speaks forth that thought in his or her own words – remember it is not a translation, but an interpretation.

If another person (who also has the gift of interpretation) had interpreted the “tongue”, the interpretation would have been the same (although in his own words). This would be the case if both interpreters were in perfect touch with the Lord.

Since no revelation from God can contradict what is written in the Bible, the interpretation will be in accordance with Scripture – just like all true prophecy will also be in line with the Scriptures.

So if tongues is spoken out loud in a church setup, it should follow with an interpretation otherwise it will not benefit the audience.  In this situation, both the gifts speaking in different kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues are in operation.

Benefits of speaking in tongues

We believe that the initial physical evidence of having been baptized in the Holy Spirit is to speak in an unknown tongue as the Holy Spirit gives the utterance. So, tongues proves you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit but a person can be saved without being baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.  Speaking in tongues is not the evidence of our salvation, it is the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, there is much more to the Holy Spirit than speaking in tongues, but speaking in tongues is one of the important manifestations.

Speaking in tongues is important for many reasons, certainly more than to prove you’ve received the Holy Spirit. It should be a part of everyday life. It is a way to communicate directly from your heart to the Father, bypassing your brain with its doubts and fears. It builds you up in your most holy faith and releases the hidden wisdom of God.

  1. Praying in other tongues will edify you (1 Corinthians 14:4.) To edify means to build up, strengthen, recharge.
  2. Praying in other tongues is initial evidence of the Holy Spirit coming upon you. (Acts 10:45-46)
  3. Praying in tongues builds up your faith, and helps you trust God more fully. (Jude 20, 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,)
  4. Praying in tongues is a great way to give thanks to God. (1 Corinthians 14:15-17)
  5. Praying in tongues helps us to yield our tongues, as well as the rest of our bodies, to the control of the Holy Spirit. (James 3:8, 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.)
  6. Praying in tongues helps us to pray God’s perfect will, even when we don’t know what or how to pray. (Romans 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.)
  7. Praying in tongues brings us into God’s rest and refreshing. (Isaiah 28:11-12 For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, 12 To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,”  And, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear.)

You may ask, Can I do ministry without speaking in tongues?

The answer is yes.  You can do the ministry with your salvation experience.  The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit is in you.  He will lead you and guide you.  Souls will be saved, if you pray sick will be healed, miracles will happen, even demonic activities can be handled up to some extent.  Many evangelists and missionaries never took time to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit, but they continued ministering with their salvation experience and added thousands of souls to God’s kingdom.  Even some of the evangelical and missionary organizations don’t teach the importance of speaking in tongues.

But remember, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit is given for you to commune with God.  You need the power from above in order to minister or to serve the Lord.  There are 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Three of them are related to speaking in tongues.  They are the vocal gifts 7) gift of tongues, 8) interpretations of tongues, and 9) some extend prophecy.   If one doesn’t speak in tongues, these 3 gifts won’t operate, may be the remaining 6 gifts will operate.

Most of the ministries involve dealing with bondage and the oppression of the enemy.  These bondage need to be broken in order to experience the deliverance.  As a minister of God, if we dare to pray for such bondage without the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we may be in trouble as the demonic power may overcome us.  That’s the reason Jesus told His disciples in 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.”

God has the power package of the anointing of the Holy Spirit already prepared for us.  He is willing to give it free of cost as He has already paid the price for it.  Due to our lack of understanding and other various reason, if we say we don’t trust or we don’t believe this anointing, we are the losers.

Where do we start if we never spoke in tongues?

  • The pre requisite to start speaking in tongues is Salvation.  A strong assurance that my sins are washed by the blood of Jesus, I am forgiven & I am a child of God.
  • Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 10: 47-48 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.)
  • Believe and take a step of faith.  Don’t be too critical about this.  Salvation is a step of faith, you do not feel anything different and do not see anything different in your body once you are saved.  In the same manner, take a step of faith to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Do not let your human mind interfere with the greater plan of God.
  • Do not wait to feel anything in your body, take a step of faith.  You didn’t feel anything in your body when you were saved.  In the same way don’t expect to feel anything.  You may or may not feel something as the power comes on you.
  • Develop an un quenching desire within you to receive this heavenly blessing. Because God says, Isaiah 44:3 For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring;
  • Start praying about it.  Ask the Lord to fill you, you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit even while praying in your prayer closet and start speaking in tongues.
  • Join with a group of believer who are anointed and speak in tongues.  It is like even if a live tree is cut and put it inside the flaming fire, you can find even the live tree catching fire in it.  It need not be dry.  Same way when you join together with a bunch of believers who pray in the Holy Ghost, the anointing on them catch on you and you start speaking in tongues.  Remember, even ordinary men who were not prophets started prophesying when they joined a group of prophets?  Also remember when a dead body fell on the bones of Elisha became alive (2 Kings 13:20-21).  It is a powerful experience God has in place for you.
  • Make sure you attend a spirit filled church where you find corporate anointing.  Congregation is allowed to be filled with the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues and to prophesy.

What do we do next if we are already blessed with this supernatural gift?

  • We need to exercise this gift daily, any gift that is not used often is going to deteriorate in its effectiveness.
  • If you  say that once you were anointed, speaking in tongues, but now if you are not able to do that, ask the Lord to fill you again.  The anointing you received is in you, it needs to be revived.  Join with believers who can pray with you, so that you may be revived.
  • If you speak in tongues, ask the Lord to give you new tongues every time you pray, every day, as the Lord enables, start speaking in different languages that are not known to you, but someone else can understand.
  • If you speak in tongues, ask for the gift interpretation of tongues.  1 Corinthians 14:13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
  • If you feel that God is giving you interpretation, remember that gift is not given to have it within you.  It is given to you so that you may serve the Lord.  Find a way to involve in ministry where you are encouraged to use your gift to bring souls into God’s kingdom.

Having said all these, what is our response to the Word today?  Shall we take a moment and thank the Lord for such a wonderful gift that He has bestowed in our lives.  Shall we call upon His name today and ask Him to fill us right now?

Luke 11:13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”  Ask Him right now.

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