Sunday, May 3, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 66: Speaking in Tongues

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?" (Luke 11:13 NASB)

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.  1 Corinthians 12:7- 10 NASB 

We are nearing the end of the manifestations of the Spirit. Today, we come to the manifestation described as "various kind of tongues". As we have discussed previously, there is one school of thought that says we are living in an age of "completed Scripture", by which they mean that all the miracles and manifestations have been done, including speaking in tongues. From my own experience, I know that is not true. Enough said. 

Jesus was the first one to mention speaking in tongues, just before He ascended back into Heaven. Mark 16:17 says "And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."

 The first manifestation of speaking in tongues was described in Acts on the day of Pentecost. At that time, a mighty rushing wind blew through the house in Jerusalem where the disciples were meeting for prayer, tongues of fire rested over their heads, and they began to speak in languages they did not know.  Jerusalem was filled with people from abroad and they understood the words that were spoken in their own languages. The manifestation that was so surprising served to deliver the gospel in such a way that everyone present could hear it in their own language.

Scripture relates numerous stories of new believers speaking in tongues after receiving the Holy Spirit, and there are some faith traditions/denominations that expect all new believers to speak in tongues. This is, in some ways, a dramatic manifestation of the Spirit, and may have been used at times as a tangible demonstration of the Spirit in the life of a believer, although I do not see instructions for that in Scripture.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 speaks in detail about speaking in tongues. When someone speaks in tongues, he said, they are speaking to God. If a listener cannot understand what is said, it doesn't benefit them. In fact, it seems as if the tongue-speaker is a barbarian because their words are unintelligible. If you want a manifestation of the Spirit, he said, ask for prophecy, rather than tongues, because it can benefit the entire body of believers. If you choose to speak in tongues with others present, you need to be able to interpret what is said for the benefit of those who hear. (or an interpreter needs to be present). 

With all that said, the question remains. Does speaking in tongues still exist? Yes. I think it does, although, like many other things, not everything presented as speaking in tongues really is. There is a temptation to "fake it" but "fake" tongues is not from God. 

Several years ago, I attended a Bible study with a group of ladies from various churches in town. One day, we were praying for one of the ladies, who was seated in a chair in front of the group. A second lady stood up, rested her hand gently on the first lady's shoulder, and began to pray in tongues. It was beautiful, and sounded to me like Hebrew. (I was familiar with spoken Hebrew so that is not as unusual as it sounds). The surprising thing is not that it sounded like Hebrew, but that I could hear it in English in my head. The depth of praise to God was breathtaking and I wanted to repeat it aloud. It was such a new experience for me that I did not. (Interpretation of tongues is not my gift, however.)  

Speaking in tongues is a genuine manifestation of the Spirit. It is a kind of prayer that is Spirit-driven and is understandable by God Himself. There are people who have been given the manifestation of interpreting the tongues spoken. Tongues should not be used in a church service unless there is an interpreter present. It is one of the more dramatic manifestations of the Spirit, but it is not the most desirable manifestation. 

All manifestations of the Spirit are to bring honor and praise to our Heavenly Father. Tongues, as well as all the other manifestations, can (and does) bring beautiful praise and honor to our Father. There is a role for tongues, but our desire should be to make our communications so clear that the truth of our Lord is understandable to all around us. 

however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:19 NASB)

As we consider this manifestation of the Spirit, let us pray that all our communications would point to our Lord, and that every word we speak would be so clear that all who hear are drawn to Christ by the clarity of our message.