Speaking in Tongues

(Acts 2:5-13)

In this section of scripture where the disciples received the Holy Spirit we see the first outpouring of the gift of speaking in tongues. Here we note the people in Jerusalem rush together at the sound of the disciples who were all speaking in tongues together.

The mystery of speaking in tongues
The mystery of speaking in tongues

Now there were many visitors in Jerusalem who came to the city for the Passover and the Day of Pentecost celebrations. These visitors came from all over the known world and they were astounded to hear these men from Galilee speaking in all of the different foreign languages from the many lands that the visitors had come from. There were at least sixteen different regions and languages mentioned in this section of scripture and it amazed the visitors that these Galileans were speaking in their home tongues.

This section of scripture is still amazing today, but for a different reason. Today there are many who believe that because the disciples spoke in all these different tongues that the visitors to Jerusalem could understand, that the purpose of tongues was to spread the gospel. As we shall see, nothing could be further from the truth.

Who Can Understand Speaking in Tongues?

Because these visitors to Jerusalem understood the words of the disciples when they spoke in tongues that first time, it has been presumed by many that this was the purpose of tongues; to spread the gospel. This is a false assumption.

The simple answer to the question as to who can understand tongues is that they can be understood by anyone who speaks that language, but they cannot be understood by the person speaking. And in some cases tongues cannot be understood by any man for Paul said that it is possible a person speaking in tongues may be speaking in the tongues of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).

In the end the purpose of speaking in tongues is not to spread the gospel and it is not to speak to men. Paul tells us clearly who it is that tongues are meant for and who it is we speak to when we speak in tongues. In 1 Corinthians 14:2 he wrote:

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

A person who speaks in tongues is not speaking to men but is speaking to God. It is the Holy Spirit speaking to God and praying to God on our behalf and for our benefit. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:26:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

These “groanings” or sighs as it is translated in some other versions, is the Holy Spirit speaking to God on our behalf and praying for us when we do not know what to pray. The spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God so that the right message is communicated to God for our upbuilding and edification.

Consider also what Paul said regarding speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:6-11.

6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?

7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?

8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?

9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.

10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning,

11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.

It is quite clear that if a person were to come to others speaking in tongues it would be pointless, for no one would understand what was being said. It would be the same as if you were to go to a foreign land where you did not speak the local language. There would be no basis for communication because you could not understand them, and they would not understand you.

It has also been suggested by some that the speaker will or should be able to understand the words too. Again this is a false assumption which Paul dispels in 1 Corinthians 14:14-17.

14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.

15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.

16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?

17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.

When Paul says that if he prays with the spirit his mind is unfruitful, what he is talking about is speaking in tongues. It is the Holy Spirit using the speakers tongue to utter a prayer to God but the speaker does not know what is being said. That is why his mind is unfruitful for the speaker is not putting his own thoughts to God, the Spirit is interceding to God on the behalf of the speaker.

But when we pray with our mind we are putting our own thoughts and requests and petitions to God. We are praying about what is on our mind and what we are seeking from God, or giving Him praise for what He has done in our lives.

It is important that we do both. Speak with our mind to come before God for whatever is on our mind, AND speak in tongues so that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us according to God’s will.

What Is Speaking in Tongues For?

So the purpose of speaking in tongues is not for the spreading of the gospel, but for the individual to be led by the Holy Spirit in a spiritual prayer to God so that we may grow. As we can see above it is not meant for spreading the gospel or teaching others in foreign lands for the speaker does not know what they are saying and would not even know if he or she were speaking in the language of that foreign land. We don’t get to pick the language of tongues. It is given by the Holy Spirit.

Speaking in tongues also forms a key part of the walking in the spirit ministry. Consider the times when you NEED to walk in the spirit. The times when you are under attack, depressed, feeling low, down, under pressure and so on. These are the times when your mind is set on the things of the flesh rather than the things of the Spirit. These are the times when you need to be lifted up from the depths and be restored by the power of the spirit.

As Paul said in one of the scriptures above, when we are weak we often do not know how to pray as we ought. That is when we need to speak in tongues so that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us directly with God to help us overcome whatever it is that stands against us.

There are times when we need this upbuilding and edification so that we can be pulled out of the depths. And Jesus has given us the power to do this through the walking in the spirit process, the zenith of which is speaking in tongues. When we do not know how to pray or what to pray for in a desperate situation, we can speak in tongues and know with faith and full confidence that The Lord will hear what the Holy Spirit says and lift us up.

Paul mentioned this edification process when talking about speaking in tongues in the church. He says that speaking in tongues in the church setting is pointless unless there is someone with the gift of interpretation, BUT he also says that when we speak in tongues we are uplifted and edified as an individual. Note the following scripture in 1 Corinthians 14:4.

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.

This scripture is sometimes used to reject tongues, but that is not what it is saying. What it says is that in church the congregation will be upbuilt by prophecy, but as an individual a person will be upbuilt through speaking in tongues.

And that is exactly what tongues are for as an individual. To upbuild and restore us when we are not walking in the spirit. When we are walking in the flesh and are in opposition to God, speaking in tongues can restore us with The Lord for by doing this we are calling on Him through the Spirit to help us. We are subjecting ourself to God by worshipping Him in the spirit by speaking in tongues.

Do We Need Tongues Today?

So do we need tongues today? Contrary to those who believe that tongues ceased to be of value after the first century development of the church, the answer is a resounding YES! Do we get depressed? Do we fall down? Do we suffer attacks from the devil? Do we suffer stress today?

Recall that the bible tells us the last days shall be days of stress (see 2 Timothy 3:1-5). If anything it may even be more stressful today than it was in the first century and it is only going to get worse as the end days approach.

So if at any time we need the power of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of walking in the spirit that includes speaking in tongues, it is today.

Do not let anyone suggest that tongues was only for an age gone by or for spreading the word. If it were for spreading the gospel, why were all of the letters to the many churches recorded in the New Testament written originally in Greek? When Paul went to all the foreign lands and cities and spoke the gospel of Jesus Christ, why did he speak in Greek?

Greek was the language common throughout the Roman Empire. It was the language used by scholars, traders and the common people to communicate with foreigners. They did not need, nor did the early disciples and Apostles use speaking in tongues to communicate with the rest of the world. They already had a common tongue in Greek that they could and did communicate with.

Tongues is for a work of the Holy Spirit within us as individuals. It is the gift of God to us as individuals to assist us to be able to walk in the spirit and by it to put to death the deeds and thoughts of the flesh. Walking in the spirit allows us to overcome the passions and desires of our flesh that war against us and speaking in tongues is a big part of the process.

Yes tongues are for today. If you do not have this gift, it is available. If you do not know whether you have received the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues is a sure fire proof and sign that you have. If you want to know more about this, please send me an email or leave a comment and we can discuss it further.

(Image sourced from stock.xchng created by Chris Baker)

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