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Would you please explain the gift of tongues as it relates to us today?

It is my opinion that the cessation of tongues cannot ultimately be defended biblically. There are others who disagree. Thus, there is much division in the body over this issue. In reality, however, much of the division comes more from the practice of the “gift” rather than from debates over its existence. Certain Christians invest huge amounts of energy trying to prove from Scripture that it doesn’t exist today (a futile process in my opinion) while others have made the gift the most essential thing of spiritual life as a Christian. Thus both groups have eclipsed the Bible in the process. Most of what I have seen involving tongues, I sincerely question and am concerned about the abuse of the gift in the following—and often reoccurring—ways:

(1) In order to be saved one must speak in tongues. Nowhere is this asserted in Scripture. The examples in Acts where people spoke in tongues on the reception of the Spirit were simply to indicate first that the Spirit had come (Acts 2) and later to the apostles that these new people (i.e., Gentiles in Acts 10:46-48 ) had received the same Spirit and that there was, therefore, to be no division in the church between Jew and Samaritan and Gentile.

(2) Tongues is a special prayer language. Many charismatics claim that tongues is a special prayer language. They say that it is a language between God and you, the speaker. After all, isn’t that what Paul meant when he said in 1 Cor 14:2: “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men, but to God.” This interpretation is quite wrong. First, Paul is comparing tongues to prophecy (read the entire chapter beginning in v. 1) so that when he says that such a person speaks to God what he means is that in contrast to prophecy which all can understand (14:3, 12), nobody can understand tongues except God; he might as well be speaking to God. The rest of 14:2 bears out this interpretation: “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.” Second, tongues was never designed as a personal prayer language, but was meant for the edification of the body (this is precisely the point Paul is making in chapter 12 about this whole issue). That is why Paul requires that there be an interpreter (14:12-13). If an interpreter is not present, tongues are not to be exercised. This leads to the next point.

(3) Tongues is uncontrolled ecstatic utterance. Since Paul requires that tongues be interpreted lest it be useless to the church, then he expects those who exercise the gift to be able to refrain if no interpretation is present. This implies that it is not uncontrolled ecstatic utterance. Also, 14:27 clearly affirms that a person has command of his faculties in the exercise of the gift. Paul says only two or at most three (not everyone) should exercise the gift (i.e., in order). This is basic biblical teaching and in concert with Paul’s teaching on the nature and use of the other gifts (Rom 12; Eph 4; cf. 1 Pet 4:10).

(4) Tongues can be acquired through practice and learning, therefore, someone should continue trying to do it until they can. While it is not uncommon to see our gifts develop as we exercise them, it is unscriptural to argue that we can “acquire” a gift by trying to get it. Nothing is more contrary to Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 12-14 than this idea. In 1 Cor 12:11 he clearly teaches that it is the Holy Spirit that distributes the gifts according to His will, not ours.

(5) Tongues is the clear indication of genuine spirituality. This is one of the most troublesome errors because it automatically brings division to the body of Christ over the use of a gift which was designed in the first place to bring encouragement and unite, not to discourage and divide. Paul refutes this idea in 12:1-3. See the article on the web site entitled “The Argument of 1 Cor 12-14.” There is much more that could be said here, but suffice it to say that if a person believes he/she speaks in tongues, then fine. But if they will not exercise their gift in keeping with the clear revelation about it in 1 Cor 12-14, including the need for an interpreter, then according to Paul he/she is to be rejected and ignored (perhaps by God). Cf. 1 Cor 14:38.

Related Topics: Tongues, Cultural Issues