The VALUE of TONGUES
as a SPIRITUAL GIFT
MY HEART was not always open to the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. Being a Southern Baptist, we were encouraged to believe tongues had ceased as a valid operation of the Holy Spirit after the first century. We thought only the less educated and more emotionally inclined were open to such a useless and annoying practice.
One day, while pastoring the first church under my charge, I visited an elderly couple to invite them to some meetings. They told me they were already attending a Pentecostal church where the "Holy Ghost" was moving, and their grandson had recently been "baptized in the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues." This was meaningful to them. But, being the finely educated young preacher I was, I proceeded to explain how that kind of experience is not for today. It was only useful in the primitive and undeveloped church of the first century.
I'll never forget the old woman, as she turned to her husband and said, "He just don't know, does he, Pa?"
Five years later, in a time when my heart was deeply stirred to seek the Lord, I received the same baptism. In the back of a little Baptist church, lying on my face and weeping bitterly over the hardness of my heart and unbelief toward the Lord, I began speaking in tongues. Communication with Him began coming from deep in my spirit. I began knowing Him in a way I'd never dreamed possible. That was thirty-eight years ago.
Today the gift of tongues is as valuable in my spiritual life as my heart is to my human body. They both pump life.
As I said, I received this gift in the back of a little Baptist Church where I'd been the visiting preacher for a week of what we called a "revival." The Pastor of this church had become more open to the things of the Spirit than I had. He was to the point of believing healings and miracles should take place today. Together we sought the Lord, with the anticipation He might pour out His Spirit in the meetings we were conducting. I thought this would mean many people coming forward in response to my sermons. The coldness on the ministry and the lack of response was discouraging. But on the last day, we took a bold step in prayer. Matthew 18:19 became real to us. If any two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. What faith was upon us as we clasped hands in agreement and asked the Lord to pour out His Spirit that night! It was settled.
Again the ministry was fruitless, as far as we could tell. Disappointed, I decided there was little use in continuing to preach and began thinking I should return to school and obtain more education for another field of work.
After that last meeting, I went into a little Sunday School room to pray. But more truthfully, I went there to pout. It was here the Pastor joined me. I told him of my discouragement with trying to serve the Lord with so little power and that l had decided to leave the ministry. But this hasty coldness toward the Lord soon turned into grief and repentance.
Earlier that same day I'd had an unusual visitation from the Lord -- a very brief one. He simply walked into the room where I was waiting before Him and said, "Ed, I love you."
It impressed me that He would call me by my name. He left quickly.
As the Pastor and I sat that night and talked, the presence of the Lord came upon us again. How merciful! But I was no longer aware of Him; I was taken up with my disappointment. Then the Pastor said, "Ed, someone is standing by you. It's the Lord!"
Not able to withstand His love or His power, I fell on the floor and began shaking and sobbing, ashamed of my hardness of heart toward Him. I wanted to speak to Him and tell Him I loved Him too, but felt my natural tongue was too defiled to speak in so holy a presence.
Then it began. I started speaking in another language -- never learned, never coached, never practiced. I trembled, wept, and spoke in tongues, experiencing a movement of God's Spirit in my inner being that I knew was changing me. That was the opening of a door into a relationship with Him that would grow and alter my life drastically.
For days after this I continued with the gift of tongues, always trembling and shaking when I made use of it. I remember being in the woods praying with some others. As I lay on the ground trembling and speaking quietly in tongues, I heard one deacon pray, "Lord, please give me the same gift you have given Brother Ed." I suppose he was impressed with my trembling, for he had not heard me speaking in tongues.
Soon I learned I could speak in tongues without trembling. In fact, I found I could speak in tongues any time I wanted to. It was a marvelous gift, and it was under my control. It could flow out of my own desire to use it.
Speaking in tongues has continued as an important part of my devotional life bringing an in creasing strength to my inner man. It is ever with me -- a gift always available for use. But in recent days, we have come -- more than ever -- into a deeper appreciation of the gift. We are seeing new dimensions in its spiritual value.
TONGUES WAS the first gift of the Holy Spirit given to the church. This becomes clear in the second chapter of Acts. Throughout the account of the church's development in the first century, speaking with tongues continued. It moved from belonging only to the Jewish community of believers (Acts 2:4) and became manifest among the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46). When the ministry of the Apostle Paul began, its use spread through him (Acts 19:6). He testified that he personally spoke with tongues (I Corinthians 14:18) and became one who discovered its practical value for all believers. He wrote clearly of it, as we shall see.
When Paul came for the first time to the town of Ephesus and found disciples already there, his question to them -- straightforward and plain -- was, Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed? (Acts 19:2). When they said they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit, he questioned them as to how far they had come in their relationship with the Lord. Finding they had become disciples of John the Baptist only, he spoke to them of the Lord Jesus. Straightway, after they received Him as Savior and were baptized, he laid hands on them and the Holy Spirit came upon them -- "and they spoke with tongues..."(Acts 19:6). For the writer of Acts, in narrating this incident, their speaking in tongues was proof the Ephesian believers had received the Spirit.
Something very similar had happened earlier under the ministry of Peter. Through an unusual leading of the Holy Spirit, and at the invitation of a man named Cornelius, he went in among some Italian people who had become open to the things of the Lord. As he spoke to them, the Holy Spirit fell on them which heard the word (Acts 10:44). The Jewish believers with Paul were astonished that the Spirit would move that way on the Gentiles. He came upon them just as He had come earlier in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. They knew He had come upon the Italians for they heard them speak with tongues (10:46).
When Peter reported the incident to the Jewish elders back in Jerusalem, he said, And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as on us at the beginning. Then I remembered the Word of the Lord, how that He said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I that I could withstand God? (11:15-17) On looking at this in the original, we can find the last statement means, "Who was I to have the power to restrain what God was doing?"
How many, oh how many today, attempt to withstand God at this very point! Every argument conceivable comes forth to convince present day believers this gift from the Holy Spirit is no longer valid. This, instead of looking carefully into the Scriptures to see exactly what the Word says about the matter and in spite of the fact that the Spirit is being poured out everywhere.
Some teach tongues is an inferior and useless gift. But let me ask you a question: can you imagine God ever giving an inferior and useless gift?
BEFORE WE GO on to look at what Paul had to say about the value of tongues, let's look in ACTS 2 at how the practice began. It started on the day of Pentecost, one of the annual feasts of the Jews, ten days after the Lord Jesus had ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit came in so much power all Jerusalem became aware of His presence. Peter, who preached that day -- the first man under the new anointing -- said what was happening was in fulfillment of a prophesy in Joel 2:28~32.
The anointing increased upon him while he was preaching and he said, furthermore, that the outpouring of the Spirit they had witnessed had come from Jesus Who had been exalted by the right hand of God. He said Jesus poured out the Spirit from the Throne of David (Acts 2:29-33). What a powerful connection the outpouring had with the Throne! The Holy Spirit came upon the church from out of the eternal Kingdom of God.
This means the Holy Spirit gives us a powerful connection with the Kingdom.
Let's look at the first four verses of Acts 2 as they describe an event that was in a class with the creation recorded in Genesis 1:2, and with Moses' visitation from the Lord recorded in Exodus 3:2, and with Elijah's visitation on Mt. Carmel recorded in I Kings 18:38. In each of these events, the flame of creation came into the earth and released a power unlike any earthly power ever present before. Thus was the occurrence on the day of Pentecost.
1 And when the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all together in one place.
2 And suddenly there came out of heaven a noise like a mighty breath taking voice, and it filled the whole house where they were seated.
3 And there appeared unto them something that was like tongues of fire as it spreads out, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with different kinds of tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Several things in verse 4 need closer attention. To speak is from the Present Infinitive form of the Greek Verb laléo. In Greek, Verb forms, such as the Infinitive, when they occur in the Present Tense, designate an action going on and on. This being so, this part of the verse might be translated, "they began to speak, and speak, and speak, and speak..." In other words, they began the practice of speaking in other tongues. What happened on the day of Pentecost was not a one time phenomenon; it continued.
The word tongues is from the Greek glóssa. It could mean "the tongue as an instrument of speech." Or it can mean a "tongue of fire" as in verse 3. But it also means "a language" as it is distinct and different from other languages or dialects. This is its meaning in verse 4. The disciples began speaking other languages as they gave expression to words they had never learned. The ability to do this was released in them by the Holy Spirit.
The King James Version of this passage says,.. they began to speak with other tongues. The word there translated other we have translated different kinds. It is from the Greek héteros. To understand it properly, we need to look at another Greek word with similar meaning. The two are héteros and állos. Although both are often translated alike as "other" or "another," there is a distinct difference between them. This is important for our understanding of this passage, and also later when we consider the nine gifts of the Spirit given to the church. Állos means "another of the same kind;" héteros means "another of a different kind." The use of héteros when speaking of other tongues, shows the disciples on Pentecost began speaking in tongues different from any kind spoken before by persons anywhere. Something that had never taken place was happening.
Just as the energy released by the Spirit of God on creation's morning was different from the energy of the chaos on earth, just as the fire that burned on the bush before Moses was different from any other fire on earth, and just as the fire that burned on Carmel before Elijah was different from any fire that had burned on any altar, so the tongues given to the church on Pentecost, accompanied by fire, were different from any tongues ever spoken on earth before. They had a different purpose. Natural tongues are for communication between human beings. Tongues given by the spirit are for communication with God only.
The tongues came as the Spirit gave utterance. This is important. The Holy Spirit gave them; they did not originate in the persons speaking. They were gifts. Gave utterance is from the Greek apophthéngomai. (Don't try to pronounce it.) It's a word meaning "to speak, or declare" -- but not in an ordinary fashion. This word is so distinct it is used only three times in the New Testament (Acts 2:4; 2:14; and 26:25). It means "to speak out very high and exalted statements full of meaning and power." Clearly the passage means, "The Spirit gave the disciples in the upper room the ability to speak very high and exalted statements full of meaning and power." They uttered expressions from the heart of God, brought by the Holy Spirit into human spirits, and given expression through human tongues. It was, and is, a very sacred, and holy gift -- an awesome phenomenon.
There was a double work of the Spirit that day. People present from many nations understood the tongues each in his own language - Acts 2:7-11. While they were released by the Holy Spirit in the mouths of the believers, their heavenly meaning was released in the ears of the foreigners who heard them. This was a miracle in itself.
THE APOSTLE PAUL IS the one who wrote the most about speaking with other tongues and its usefulness in the lives of believers. In I Corinthians 12:8-10 he listed tongues as one of the Nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
Something very distinct and peculiar in the wording of this passage dealing with the Gifts does not come through in most translations of the Scripture. Taking note from the King James Version, we find Paul placed to another before the name of each gift. In this, he made use of the two Greek words, állos & héteros, we just considered. By their use he divided the gifts into three groups. Here, to show how he arranged the gifts, we summarize his words:
I Corinthians 12:8-10
• To one is given by the Spirit the word of WISDOM;
• to another (állos) of the same kind, the word of knowledge;
• to another (héteros) of a different kind, FAITH;
• to another (állos) of this same kind, the gifts of healing;
• to another (állos) of this same kind, the working of miracles;
• to another (állos) of this same kind, prophesy;
• to another (állos) of this same kind, discerning of spirits;
• to another (héteros) of a different kind, TONGUES;
• to another (állos) of this same kind, the interpretation of tongues.
The above list is a summary of what the Holy Spirit will do in the lives of God's people, particularly as we function together in the church. For years in studying the passage, I've noted the distinct way the gifts are divided and have believed there was a significant reason for their placement in the exact order.
As I've grown in relationship with the Lord, I've come to expect each of the Gifts is available to work in my own life. I can expect the Spirit to move within me while out in the avenues of life -- not just in a church meeting. The gifts become earmarks of the continuing Spirit filled life. What I haven't understood for a long time is why Paul placed them in the order he did, with the three apparent groupings.
Recently it has begun coming to our understanding that the first mentioned in each group is a foundational work out of which the other operations of the Spirit proceed. These three most basic gifts -- wisdom, faith and tongues -- if they work in a life, provide a foundation for the operation of the others. And, in cases where needed, these three activate the other gifts.
Of the three basic gifts, the primary one is tongues. It was the first spiritual gift released to the church in Jerusalem - Acts 2:4. When the Holy Spirit began moving among Gentile believers, it was the first operation of the Holy Spirit evident among them - Acts 10:45,46. It is the one gift we as believers can use at any time, at our own will. It is useful in building us up in the most holy faith - Jude 20. Through it we receive edification - I Corinthians 14:4. It is a means of direct communication with our Heavenly Father, bypassing the interference of our own limited understanding.
The gift of tongues was not evident in Jesus, however. All the other gifts were. A perfection dwelt in Him that did not require the building up of tongues.
The initial movement of the Spirit into the church bringing with it the gift of tongues opened the way for the release of all the operations of life and power that had worked in the Lord Jesus. What worked in Him can very well be summarized by the gifts that flow under the headings of wisdom and faith.
The release of the gift of tongues into the lives of believers was the opening of the door for the other operations of the Holy Spirit. Its manifestation continued through the first century while the record of the New Covenant, which we call the New Testament, was being written. I understand there are historical records that speaking with tongues continued through all the centuries that followed, never ceasing in its operation. It remains essential as the most foundational of all the Gifts of the Spirit, significantly finding release now in believers all over the world.
We are grateful that, by the mercy of the Lord, we have been visited by the Spirit to receive this gift. We have come to consider it one of the most powerful, valuable and enduring gifts we could ever have. Even in the face of little faith and failing wisdom, we can speak in tongues and a well opens within us from which the faith of the Son of God can find release and from which the wisdom that comes from above flows.
Recently as my wife Glenda and I have ministered much, we've often felt depleted, with nothing more to give -- only to face more souls needing healing.
Some times we have no knowledge as to what to do or say - but when we pray in tongues, our own spirits are edified. Then, out of our lack, the Lord Himself gives and people are set free.
SANDWICHED BETWEEN two marvelous expositions from Paul on the use and ministry of spiritual gifts - I Corinthians 12 and I Corinthians 14 --is an even more marvelous exposition on love - I Corinthians 13. Some quote Paul from this chapter to say that tongues shall cease - I Corinthians 13:5. But in a clear reading of the whole passage, we see how Paul is telling about the exceeding value of love over ALL operations of the Spirit. As he spoke of tongues ceasing, he also spoke of prophecy failing and knowledge vanishing away. But, he never said they have no use in our lives now. They are all valuable commodities for those committed to God's Kingdom, especially in these last days when the attacks of the enemy are becoming more fierce than ever.
In I Corinthians 14, following on his statement that tongues shall cease, Paul proceeds to lay out the usefulness of tongues. If the gift were of no value, he might well have stated this and gone on to other more important matters. Instead, he sought to correct its use and point out how it can benefit believers.
I've looked at I Corinthians 14 for years. Before I received the in-filling of the Spirit, the statement taking my attention was verse 19 where Paul said, In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding than ten thousand words in a tongue. Since I didn't speak with tongues, this verse, I thought, laid out the relative insignificance of the gift. In my ignorance and hasty interpretation, I said, "Five words in English are of more value than ten thousand words in tongues." But I did not understand properly what Paul was saying.
When my spirit became open to the Holy Spirit, and I could move away from the denominational slant of interpreting the Scriptures, I began understanding more completely the insight Paul had. In this chapter he tells the overall purpose of speaking in tongues. He brings some correction to its use, but never puts down its value. Sure he says five words that can be understood are more important than thousands of words making no sense. These were words to be spoken in an open congregation of believers. For him, behind a few words of understanding were thousands of words spoken in tongues - privately. Tongues released power on the words he later spoke with understanding.
In this Chapter, instead of finding one reason for not speaking in tongues, we find many reasons for using the gift. Most of them tend toward private use and have to do with one's own personal building up in the faith. But, oh what a benefit this is to those whose lives are set for use in Christ's Kingdom!
While the gift of tongues does not have great value in open church meetings, unless there be interpretation, it does have an in direct value. When persons come together in whom the gift works privately, unusual things take place. The unveiling of truth and the operation of other spiritual gifts flow, touching many lives, setting many free and glorifying the Lord.
IN THE REMAINDER of the article, we will look at six points of usefulness in the gift of tongues as the Apostle Paul laid them out.
I Corinthians 14
1 Pursue love, and have an ardent zeal toward the things of the Spirit, but rather for this purpose: in order that you might prophesy.
2 (ONE) For whoever speaks in tongues is not speaking to men but to God, for no one hears, but (TWO) in the spirit he is speaking mysteries.
3 But whoever prophesies is speaking to men for edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
4 (THREE) Whoever speaks in a tongue edifies himself but whoever prophesies edifies the church.
5 (FOUR) Now I desire for all of you to speak in tongues, but rather for this purpose: in order that you might prophesy; for the one who prophesies is of more importance than the one who speaks in tongues, except he interpret in order that the church might receive edification.
6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what profit will it be to you except I speak to you either in revelation, or in knowledge, or in prophecy, or in teaching?
13 Wherefore let him who speaks in tongues pray that he may interpret.
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
15 What then is to be done? (FIVE) I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding. (SIX) I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding.
19 But in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding that I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
• From this passage we learn:
ONE - Speaking in tongues gives us a direct communication between our human spirit and the Spirit of God.
TWO - Speaking in tongues brings the secrets of God's Spirit into our spirit.
THREE - When we speak in tongues, we work toward the building up of our own spiritual strength.
FOUR - Speaking with tongues leads to the speaking forth of much that is profitable for others to hear.
FIVE - Tongues is beneficial in our praying.
SIX - Tongues releases us to a high form of worship.
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