The Holy Spirit was poured out and one of the evidences was speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues was one of the evidences of the outpouring and presence of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as well as at other times in the NT. Acts 10 (Caesarea), 19 (Ephesus)…
Clearly though, there are different sorts of tongues. In Acts 2, the disciples were speaking in other human languages. In 1 Cor 13, 14 Paul talks about ‘angelic tongues’ – non-human languages.
Speaking in tongues seems to have been fairly commonplace in the early church. Yet the gift of tongues, more than any other gift, has today become politically divisive in the church. (Perhaps less so now than twenty or thirty years ago but still divisive nonetheless.) Speak in tongues? – you’re a pentecostal. Don’t speak in tongues? – you’re a ‘regular’ protestant Christian. Some go to one extreme and almost seem to worship the gift of tongues. Some go to the other extreme and mock those who speak in tongues, as people did on the day of Pentecost. It shouldn’t be either of these ways.
My gift of tongues. I began to speak in tongues about 25 years ago. I was seeking this gift. I wanted it. (Unlike the healing experience I shared with you last week.) Yet I wanted it for the wrong reasons. There were people I was regularly confronting who believed that speaking in tongues was the only evidence of rebirth in the Spirit and therefore, if you spoke in tongues, you were saved, and if you didn’t, you clearly were not saved. I wanted to speak in tongues merely to prove them wrong – that you could speak in tongues and not have this view. (I feel sorry for God. His children so often pray with the wrong motives – asking for the right things for the wrong reason or the right things at the wrong time, or the wrong things at the wrong time…)
At that time we had a minister who was very active in the gifts of the Spirit (which was a little unusual for an Anglican church). I went to him by myself one afternoon and shared with him my desire to speak in tongues. (I didn’t tell him the reason.) He listened to me and then he prayed over me in English and in tongues. It was a great prayer. Sounded powerful. But nothing happened. So the weeks and months went by.
Then we went on a church retreat. We were praying for the movement of the Holy Spirit in us and later that night after we had been praying for this, I lay in bed and began to whisper a song. It was a nonsense song (not unlike singing ‘doo-wop-she-doo-wop’). Only I noticed I could sing it a lot and it seemed to come very easily. I remember thinking at the time how nice it would be if speaking in tongues were that easy. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I wondered if this rather odd song/noise I was making could be tongues. I went to one of our leaders and prayed with him, very self-consciously, in this odd way and he confirmed that this was tongues (I believe with the admonishment of ‘idiot!’.)
I’ve seen tongues portrayed in Hollywood movies in the manner of the possessed and I’ve heard it described in both Christian and secular circles as an ‘ecstatic utterance’. My experience with tongues is nothing at all like those. There’s no loss of control and there is nothing ecstatic about it. For me, speaking in tongues is no different from singing a song. You can sing a song with passion or you can sing it mechanically. You don’t lose control when you sing a song. You choose when to sing and how to sing the song. It’s the same with tongues.
For me, tongues is a very clear, physical manifestation of the Spirit which can be very comforting and encouraging in times of dryness or despair. It is also good to use when I simply don’t know what words to use in prayer. Tongues is not a very emotional experience for me. It’s more functional, which might surprise those who don’t speak in tongues. Yet these functions are a source of comfort and edification.
For me personally, tongues is a private prayer language. It’s not a public thing. (I’m not sure how consistent this is with Biblical precedent but I just want to honestly share my thoughts and feelings on this. Certainly in the NT tongues is described as an evidence of the Holy Spirit to others so a degree of public praying seems to have been common.) I feel uncomfortable praying in tongues in public although in a very small group it would be okay. Perhaps my thoughts here are largely shaped by what Paul wrote to the Conrinthians:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. 1 Co 14
Jim Cymbala refers to “insane asylums and cemeteries”, referring to the practices of some churches. Some churches are ‘tongues-mad’, babbling away en masse and chirping like birds and barking like dogs ‘in the Spirit’. What would people outside the church think of such nonsense? What would Christians in the church think of such nonsense? It’s unbiblical and really looks nuts. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about this and set down rules. If someone prays in tongues then just 2 or 3 people, in turn – and with interpretation. If there’s no interpretation, don’t speak in tongues!
If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
1 Cor 14
Unfortunately the response to this spiritual abuse can be just as extreme and damaging. Responding in fear, some churches reject – in practice if not in theory as well – the use of any gifts of the Spirit and in the process become “cemeteries”- buildings and services with cold liturgy and lifeless, mechanical practices which can more be like superstition and empty tradition than true religion. There is little danger from the lunatic fringe this way but at the same time there is also little life, [and] little joy.
Questions: Would you like to speak in tongues? If yes, why?
If not, why not?
Would you like to have the gift of healing? If yes, why?
If not, why not?
How about the gift of prophecy? The gift of teaching? Administration? Faith?
It’s good to ask ourselves why we might feel differently about the different gifts which are given by the same Holy Spirit and for the same purpose of building up the church.
Are we worried, or thinking about what other people might think – either in terms of being embarrassed or in terms of being proud?
We ought to be careful here: there’s no room for pride – no ministry has any room for ‘personal status’. (We have a church structure but no ‘status’. Jesus made that clear: leaders serve. Paul made that clear: we are all members of the one body.) There can only ever be one concern in ministry and that is the Kingdom of God. Not us. We can and should enjoy being involved in ministry work. That’s a natural and wonderful part of ministry. Something’s wrong if we’re not enjoying ministry. But ministry work is never for our glory and is always for the glory of God’s Kingdom.
Likewise, there’s no room for shame or even timidity in the use of spiritual gifts. Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
Paul said,“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Timidity is not of God. Gentleness is. But not timidity. They are different things. (Gentleness has to do with conviction and certainty expressed tenderly: timidity has to do with reservation, doubt, fear and shame.)
So where does all this leave us at Minoh International Church?
It leaves us in the position of seeking gifts we don’t have and exercising the gifts we do have (along with fruits, knowledge, faith and other spiritual equippings). Specifically, we should seek and move in the higher gifts, like prophecy.
1 Cor 12
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
Just be available.
The Holy Spirit is still greater today than all our shortcomings and failures. He has come to free us from the restraints and complexes of of insufficient talent, intelligence or upbringing. He intends to do through us what only He can do. The issue is not our ability but rather our availability to the person of the Holy Spirit.
I believe, and am growing more into this belief, that divine, miraculous, creative power resides in the Holy Spirit. If we look to the Spirit of God and expect it to come from Him and Him alone then we shall honour the Spirit, and the Spirit will do His work.
I cannot help but believe that there are many Christians who want to be more efficient in the Lord’s service. It is from the Holy Spirit that we may expect this power.
I feel the same way.
2 Peter 1:3-4
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.
Let’s be active participants in the new spiritual nature that God has given us through rebirth in Christ. I would like to see us moving more in the gifts of the Spirit, enjoying them and celebrating the generosity of the Holy Spirit who gives them.
Pray for equipping.