Perspective on Speaking in Tongues
by Pastor Ken Parrish

One of the most controversial and divisive doctrines in the church today is that of speaking in tongues.

I believe that all of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 should still function in the lives of those who believe in Jesus today, including the gift of speaking in tongues, which is also called praying in the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:15 & 16).

From the scriptures (Mark 16:17) we learn that Jesus Himself said speaking in tongues would be a sign that a person is a believer. And there are several examples of people speaking in tongues in the book of Acts, as the gospel began to spread beyond Jerusalem into Samaria and into other parts of the world (see Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6). Today many millions of believers around the world are experiencing the phenomena. More and more, groups who have denied the validity of modern tongues are becoming open to and even experiencing the gift, and groups that used to declare today's tongues were "of the devil" are at least tolerating believers who profess to exercise the gift.

Some of those who do not believe that this gift is valid for today's church believe the gift "passed away" when the original Apostles passed away, believing only they operated in the spiritual gifts. But clearly from the examples cited above from the book of Acts more than just the Apostles spoke in tongues. Others believe that tongues ceased when the canon of scripture was complete. But this opinion is based on an interpretation of certain scriptures, and not on the teaching of the Bible itself. While the Bible clearly says the gift will pass, the timing of its passing is the key point of the debate. (See 1 Cor. 13:8-10), hinging on how you define the phrase, "that which is perfect". Some say that the phrase refers to the Bible, translating the Greek word for "perfect" as "complete" (the Greek word can be translated in 3 ways - perfect, complete, or mature). Thus, when the canon of scripture was completed (near the end of the 4th century), tongues were no longer needed, so the gift passed away. But the word "perfect" in that phrase can also be literally translated as "mature" as it is in 1 Cor. 2:6, 14:20, Ephesians 4:13, and Hebrews 5:14, speaking of believers being mature (in a relative sense) or of the church growing up. My understanding, then, of the phrase "that which is perfect" would be "that which is mature", or to say it another way, "when the church comes of age, or reaches full maturity". That seems to fit the context of the following verses (1 Cor. 13:11 & 12, growing up) which then would be telling us when the church age ends and Jesus comes again, we will see Him face to face, and tongues will cease. Thus Paul states emphatically, “do not forbid to speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39b).

In the Bible, speaking in tongues was an evidence (though not THE evidence) that a person was filled with the Holy Spirit (See Acts 2:4, 10:44-46, 19:6). It was (and is) a personal, devotional "prayer language" that believers can use to praise and worship God in their private times of prayer (1 Cor. 14:18). I believe that this is the primary purpose of and proper place for the exercise of the gift of speaking in tongues. Paul says that when a believer speaks in tongues he is “giving thanks well” (1 Cor. 14:17). In other words, speaking in tongues is a means by which we give thanks and praise to God. In addition, Paul says that when a believer speaks in tongues (or prays in the Spirit, these phrases are synonymous in 1 Cor. 14), he is edifying himself, or building himself up spiritually. Similarly, Jude tells us we are to build ourselves up “...on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 24). As believers, God has given us this precious gift through the Holy Spirit by which we can draw near and commune with Him, praise and glorify Him, and be strengthened in our inner man all at the same time.

Some interpret Romans 8:26 & 27 to say that when we aren’t sure how to pray about a certain person or situation, we can pray in tongues and the Holy Spirit will guide our prayer so that we pray perfectly according to His will. Thus the Holy Spirit helps us to intercede for others.

In addition to this personal, private, devotional use of the gift of tongues in prayer, there may be times when the gift is expressed publicly in a corporate worship setting, but the scriptures imply that those times should be rare. In fact, the Apostle Paul speaks extensively on speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14, and he is clearly discouraging the public use of the gift, except when there is someone present who operates in the gift of the interpretation of other tongues. Otherwise, speaking in tongues in a public meeting is discouraged. Paul’s reason for this guideline is that without an interpretation, no one else understands what's been said and therefore cannot give an “Amen” to the prayer and are not blessed by it (v.16). Neither does he advocate everyone speaking in tongues at once, for that only causes confusion, and the unlearned or unbelievers will think believers are mad! (v.23)

Paul also says explicitly that when a person is speaking in tongues, he is speaking to God and NOT to men (1 Cor. 14:2). In every example of speaking in tongues in the Bible, the people speaking are speaking to God, not to men, glorifying Him and giving him praise. There's not a single example of other tongues being used in preaching, nor is there a single example of tongues being a message to men from God. If the expression in tongues is spoken to God - and Paul says it always is - then of necessity the interpretation must always be to God as well. The purpose then, for the gift of speaking in tongues, is to enable us to pray and speak blessing and praise to God by the Holy Spirit.

Paul rejoiced in the fact that he could speak in tongues, and did so often (1 Cor 14:18).
He also encouraged the Corinthian believers to do so, but only to focus on the private use of the gift, not the public use that could be misunderstood (v. 5, 19). Likewise, believers today should draw near to God, taking full advantage of every gift and means available for communion and fellowship with God, including faithfully exercising the devotional prayer language of speaking in other tongues.

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