On the Day of Pentecost each of the 120 or so believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and with His ability began to speak in a language they did not know yet was readily recognised and understood by the hearers who do speak that language. Later, at Corinth, the additional gift of interpretation (translation) was necessary to make the tongues intelligent or understandable to others in attendance. This articulate, significant utterance inspired by the Holy Spirit is given primarily for private worship, prayer and building up an individual’s faith. In a group setting it should only be used when the message can be interpreted for the edification of believers (which is the equivalent of prophecy), and it becomes sign to unbelievers that God is at work (Act 2:4-11, 10:46; 1 Cor 14:4, 14-17,22,28).

Throughout the book of Acts speaking in tongues was an evidence (but not the only one) of having received the Spirit – being ‘born again’ and having the Spirit resident in one’s life (Jn 7:37-39, 14:16,17,23; Act 2:4, 19:6; 2 Tim 1:14). Paul urged the Ephesians to continually yield to the Holy Spirit’s ministry in their lives thus replacing their sinful nature (Eph 5:18). Paul said he “would like all to speak in tongues...I speak in tongues more than anyone” yet, because the Corinthians so overrated and abused this gift, he limited its exercise in public and emphasised the superior value of prophecy for the whole church (1 Cor 14:1-28).

Jesus said speaking in new tongues would be one of the signs accompanying those who believe, while Paul added that if a person spoke in tongues but did not have love that was

If God gives you this gift use it

futile (Mk 16:17; 1 Cor 13:1). Speaking in tongues is only one of the gifts of the Spirit, or divine enablement’s, listed in the Bible and given for the benefit of the Kingdom of God and His praise (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:8-11; 1 Pet 4:10,11). It is commonly recognised there is a ‘personal tongue’ or heavenly language for an individual’s private use, besides the gift of tongues (which needs to be interpreted) for the benefit of the corporate church (1 Cor 12:10,28,30, 14:5,13,19,26-28). When the whole church body is united in vocal worship it is acceptable to speak in tongues, which is also termed praying and praising ‘in the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 14:14,16; Jud 1:20). Speaking in tongues can be viewed as the human spirit speaking to God without the mind getting in the way, especially advantageous when in our own devotions we are unsure of God's will when praying about a particular matter (1 Cor 14:2). We can express the cry of our heart without our mind formulating our ideas which may be contrary to what God's will is. "We don't know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us" (Rom 8:26,27).  

The issue of speaking in tongues is controversial so Christians should respectfully and lovingly agree to disagree with our brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to a different persuasion as it is not a requirement of salvation or a sign of spiritual maturity or power (Eph 2:8,9). Coupled with this is the very real necessity for the natural, unruly tongue to be employed in a higher use – to speak life and righteousness rather than death and carnality.  

See also: controversial issues, Holy Spirit, interpretation, languages, Pentecost, spiritual gifts, tongue.

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