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1) What Power for Good!
I love the New Testament gift of tongues. How about you? Are you suspicious of it? You really shouldn’t be. Or, do you speak in tongues or have friends who do? Keep reading, because there’s a lot to know about New Testament tongues. No matter who you are or where you’re at, the more you know about New Testament tongues, the better off you’ll be.
The Bible describes tongues powerfully and richly. The gift is mentioned many times in its pages and always is honored with respect and esteem. Nobody in Scripture
ever dissed it as dangerous, or ever accused those practicing tongues of doing
In fact, those Christians with the gift of tongues were exceptionally blessed because they possessed a great and superlative gift from Jesus Christ. If I had it I would use it all over the place – in evangelizing the lost, preaching to the saved, starting churches, and even in my own personal devotions. You name it, I would use it. If I had it.
Why? Because the gift of tongues described in Scripture is an amazing gift. Everyday people—just like you and me—spoke biblical truth in languages unknown to them.
It was a miracle every time it happened, and it happened a lot.
This miraculous gift from God introduced a whole new era of salvation when it gave birth to the Church in Acts 2. Later in Acts 8 it showed to who was really
saved and who was not. After that in Acts 10 and 11 it opened the doors for the
gospel to go to the Gentiles and be accepted by the Jews. In Acts 19, tongues
launched the church of Ephesus, breaking through the soil of previously impenetrable ground. Does any other spiritual gift even compare?
When I look at the gift tongues in the letter to the Corinthians, I am again astounded. It is so prominently discussed by Paul that he mentions it more than any other spiritual gift in the book. There were a lot of Christians speaking tongues in that church, and so far as we know not one felt guilty about it!
So forgive me—but the tongues written about in the New Testament is a great gift! If anyone wants to say it was something Paul or any other biblical writer was leery of, they need to look again at what is written.
The greatest power in the gift of tongues was “revelation.” Revelation is a word often used by biblical writers to describe a miracle—a miracle of communication.
Whenever God speaks to man it’s called revelation, and as the word implies, it is a disclosing of truth that could not be understood apart from God taking the initiative to bring it to the person.
Paul says, “…brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation?” (1 Cor. 14:6). In this verse, Paul anticipates a future day when he will be with the Corinthians and participate in their worship of Christ. He longs to be with them and to speak God’s very own words to them – words he calls “revelation.” When he comes to them and speaks in tongues among them, his tongues-speaking will be the miracle of revelation.
When Paul writes “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” in 1 Corinthians 2:10, he describes God revealing Scripture. God revealed infallible and inerrant Scripture to the apostles who wrote down what God revealed for the Church. The same infallibility and inerrancy was true of tongues, since tongues, like Scripture, was infallible revelation.
Here’s another point like the last one. Tongues-messages contained “mysteries.” Paul says “… one who speaks in a tongue…speaks mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:2). At first that might sound esoteric and mystical, but it isn’t. It just means that when a person spoke tongues, they spoke truth that hadn’t been revealed previously in the Old Testament. A “mystery” was unknown truth in the Old Testament that God was revealing to the First Century Church. Many mysteries are recorded in the New Testament—here’s some of them: the church (Eph. 3:3-9); Israel’s future salvation (Romans 11:25); the indwelling of Christ in the believer (Col. 1:27); and the instantaneous catching up of believers at Christ’s return (1 Cor. 15:51).
In order for someone to speak a mystery they had to receive the miracle of revelation directly from God. Nobody could make up a mystery without being a phony! But we
never see a single tongues-phony in the New Testament, so we don’t need to start here. Once a tongues-message was received, a mystery was received. Because it came from God, it was immediately useful for the believers and instructed them on essential Christian doctrines that promoted godly living. This is, in fact what tongues-speakers always spoke, since 1 Cor. 14:2 says the “one who speaks in a tongue… speaks mysteries.” As a result their messages were quite important to their church and in the right situation, a church service would stop in order to hear the message being spoken by the tongues-speaker. He had the floor, because his message spoke revelatory mysteries that God was now revealing for the Church.
Did you know that tongues had to obeyed? The reason why is built on what we just saw. Because each tongues-messages was a spoken “revelation,” and because the
tongues-speaker spoke “mysteries,” the tongues were authoritative. In fact, not only did each individual believer have to obey a tongues-message meant for them, but even an entire church had to obey a tongues-message meant for it. Paul explains this authority in 1 Corinthians 14:8: “if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” In this verse, Paul is comparing a tongues-message that has yet to be translated into the language the church holds its worship services in to a bugle sound nobody can understand.
The bugle comparison tells us something important about tongues. Imagine an army of Paul’s day hearing a bugle sound nobody could understand. They wouldn’t know what to do. Should they move forward and engage the enemy, or should they retreat? If the bugle sound that led the army was impossible to understand, then the General’s
commands to his army, issued through the bugle, were impossible to follow.
Paul’s comparison explains the authority behind tongues. When a tongues-message was understandable—meaning it was translated for all to understand—it called the entire church to obedience, just as an army was called to obedience through a
clear bugle call. A translated tongues-message called the church to do the will of her General, Jesus Christ. Tongues had the authority of Scripture. That’s one of the reasons it was such a great gift. It provided specific instruction to Christians from the General, Jesus Christ. He is the Giver of all spiritual gifts.
Prophesy’s Twin Sister
Tongues was equal in power to the spiritual gift of prophesy. In this way they were similar, but different, too. Prophecy was a great spiritual gift that spoke revelation from God straight to the listener—in his or her own language. For example, if you speak English, a person today speaking prophecy will be speaking direct revelation from God to you in English.
But the tongues message would have been in a foreign language you don’t understand. Still, a tongues-message, when interpreted into your native English, had the exact same power as a prophesy. Paul explains this in 1 Cor. 14:5: “He who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets” (italics added for emphasis). Yes, prophecy was greater than tongues because there was no need for an interpreter. But once a translator was available in the church service, the gift of tongues
was equal in power and authority to prophecy. Because tongues were revelation from God, the apostle Paul equated it to prophecy and commanded the church “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39). Paul wanted the Christians speaking and hearing tongues-messages.
Tongues-message were to be listened to reverently, and with all earnestness and diligence. Church leaders wanted tongues-messages so they could get God’s revelatory word on the important matters of the day. Believers knew that tongues-messages
brought words of insight, and like prophesy, contained counsel for the future. Tongues weren’t an embarrassment! They were so powerful and so well respected that the Corinthian Christians went overboard and sometimes spoke them too often in church service. That’s why Paul took almost thirty verses in 1 Corinthians 14 to help them use tongues in a manner that most edified the church. He didn’t disdain tongues or their speakers. He loved the gift and showed his enthusiasm for it by writing in all earnestness, “I want you all to speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5), even though he knew that not every Christian would be given the gift by the Lord (1 Cor. 12:30). He loved those who spoke tongues, and could wish that all Christians had their gift.
One thing you will never see in the Bible is any such thing as tongues that were wrong, incomplete, mistaken, or of questionable origin. They were clear indicators that God was miraculously speaking with clarity, precision, and authority. When tongues were spoken, people listened!
Tongues-messages never got messed up by the speaker because the speaker wasn’t in control of the tongues-message. Paul offers an interesting insight into the gift when he
writes that the mind of a tongues speaker is “unfruitful” (1 Corinthians 14:14). The believer speaking in tongues simply didn’t know what he or she was speaking, and couldn’t unless there was a Christian nearby to translate the tongue into the spoken language. That ability is called the gift of “interpretation of tongues” in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and is mentioned six times in 1 Corinthians 12-14. So, because the tongues-speaker didn’t know what the revelation he or she was speaking until the interpreter gave it, he or she couldn’t mess it up. The tongues-speaker and the tongues-interpreter had the privilege of bearing revelation. If anybody could mess up the revelation, it seems, it would have been the interpreter, not the tongues-speaker. But there is no hint that ever happened in the New Testament. The miracle of tongues then also included the interpreter, because the translator didn’t know the original message either, and yet spoke that exact tongues-message given by God to the tongues-speaker.
Often in the New Testament God gave revelation to prepare believers for the future. He once revealed to a church the details of a future famine. The church responded as believers always should to revelation. They obediently and immediately sent money to the Christians of that region so they could buy food (Acts 11:28-30). He revealed His mighty works through the tongues-message in Acts 2:11 to prepare the 3,000 men of many nations to repent of their sin and escape future judgment by believing in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:17-21, 38). God spoke through tongues, and great things happened. Through tongues, they heard God!
That’s why there is no such thing as fallible revelation, even through a humanly exercised spiritual gift![i] That’s like having a square circle, or a holy sin. You can’t have a fallible revelation through tongues or prophecy because revelation comes from God, and He is true. In Titus 1:2, Paul ascribes only truth to God since “God never lies.” God also knows all there is to know. Job 36:4 says God is “perfect in knowledge.” Such complete knowledge is called omniscience, and God possesses it all. David writes, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it” (Psalm 139:6). “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22).
Because the New Testament gift of tongues was revelation from God, it was always infallible. God never gave a believer a tongue that spoke anything less than complete truth that revealed knowledge hidden in God. Tongues asserted God’s errorless, holy, and authoritative truth to other believers.
Therefore, Paul would have been dismayed with all those who looked down on their fellow believers who possessed such a superlative gift. He would have, no doubt, rebuked their condescension and sarcasm as petty jealousy and ignorance. At the same time, he would have been grieved with any who misrepresented tongues with some shallow counterfeit. He would have had strong words for any Christian who demeaned the gift by claiming they had it, but didn’t. Because the gift of tongues was so powerful, anyone claiming to have it was granted a place of honor in the church. For someone to say they had it, but didn’t, would evidence a person who wanted power and honor before the church. But since tongues were always authoritative and brought infallible revelation, a false claim was dangerous to both the church and the person making the claim.
Questions based on this post:
Do the tongues-messages you are aware of have all the qualities of “revelation?” That is to say, are the tongues-messages you hear today absolute truth without any mixture of error, infallible, and worthy of obedience by all Christians and churches?
Do the tongues-messages you hear today reveal truth hidden for ages past in the Triune God? Are they messages that could not be derived by Christian’s exercising their own wisdom?
Do the tongues-messages you hear have the same authority as Scripture, prepare believers infallibly for the future, and reveal mysteries?
[i] Some people today claim that tongues and prophecy might be less that infallible, i.e., non-revelatory and therefore non-authoritative. This happens when the phrase “apostles and prophets” in Eph. 2:20 and Eph. 3:5 is mistranslated to mean “the apostles who are also prophets.” Supposedly, this opens the door for other kinds of prophets who can give prophecies that are fallible. However, there is a simple rule in Greek that first year students learn called “the Granville Sharp” rule. This rule requires that Eph. 2:20 and Eph. 3:5 be translated “apostles and prophets,” since the words “apostles” and “prophets” are plurals, and not singulars.