Gift of Tongues (It’s Significance)

Yesterday, in the 84 degree Florida heat, I preached, drenched in sweat, on Acts 2:1-13 where the Holy Spirit came like a rushing wind into the house where the first Christians met and rested upon their lives as of fire. This was a powerful and comforting event all at the same time. The comforter and helper that Jesus had promised, had finally come. He came in great power. And He would never leave.

The first expression of His presence and power was through the proclamation of the “mighty works of God” (AKA the gospel) by a bunch of Galileans who spoke these things in 14 or so different dialects. The results: bewilderment, perplexity, amazement, and astonishment. Some who witnessed it were interested in knowing more. Others there just flat out chalked the experience up to a drunken coincidence.

What we must understand about what happened at Pentecost that day is that this account is a move of God to usher in the church age, making it known that His gospel of peace would be for every nation under heaven. This was all about the Holy Spirit breathing life into the church, launching it out on mission, and making the emphatic statement that this movement would be full of the presence, power, and the proclamation (of the mighty works) of God. That being said, a few matters of importance regarding the topic of the spiritual gift of tongues need to be addressed. This is by no means a comprehensive explanation. But it’s a start.

1. In Scripture, there seems to be a distinction between the human dialect(s) and a heavenly dialect (“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels…” 1 Cor 13:1). Heaven seems to have one dialect and this is what is being accomplished at Pentecost. There was no need for a translator there. With Christ, comes unity. He brings the nations, races, and cultures together. One day that will happen fully. We are given a glimpse of that here.

2. The spiritual gift of tongues is private (“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.” 1 Cor 14:2). Paul seems to hint at a secret prayer language here. But it is to be used in private. The languages that the spirit-filled Christians at Pentecost were speaking were known languages. This leads us to our next point.

3. The spiritual gift of tongues can/should be used for evangelistic purposes (“…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of.” Acts 2:11) but can also be used at times for the building up of the body (1 Cor 14:26-27) . The first time the spiritual gift of tongues are demonstrated, 3000 people are saved by the grace of Jesus (Acts 2:41).

4. The spiritual gift of tongues can be public (within a corporate gathering) but when done must follow the biblical guidelines (Acts 14:27).

5. The spiritual gift of tongues must be done properly or else it will create confusion with non believers (“If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” 1 Cor 14:23). This is pretty clear. Why would we want to exploit a spiritual gift that serves to lead people to Jesus, but in our misuse of it, will do the exact opposite?

6. Cessationism vs Continuationism: Who is right? Cessationists say that the gift of tongues ceased at the end of the apostolic age. Continuationists say that the gift of tongues continues today (by the way, this is where I – and Aletheia –  fall in my theological convictions). They are both right to a certain extent. Tongues will cease one day (“…as for tongues, they will cease…” 1 Cor 13:8). But not yet so they still continue today (“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Cor 13:12). We are not face to face with Jesus. When that day comes, tongues will cease. Why? Because everybody will speak the same language.

The point of all this: There is a place for tongues today. Should our church be marked by it? Sure, if that’s what God desires. But, more significant than whether or not this gift is expressed during our gatherings is that we must remember the larger significance of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit brought the gift of tongues so that the proclamation of the gospel would happen and so that people would be saved. That’s what it comes down to. It’s all about Jesus. And His ability to use whatever means to bring people to Him. Let’s make that our focus in all that we do and leave the spiritual gift distribution and usage up to the Holy Spirit.

One Comment

  • Phil Kassel says:

    Great post! #5 is what we experienced at the church right before we were led to Aletheia when we moved to Harrisonburg and trying to find a church home. Glad He led us to Aletheia. It was a vital season of growth for us!

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