Spiritual gifts: speaking in tongues
The gift of tongues is probably one of the more controversial of the spiritual gifts and there are massively differing opinions as to its use today. Some would say that we should all speak in tongues, other say that it was used in the early church but is no longer used. The first time I heard people speaking in tongues, I remember thinking “these Christians are so weird, what are they doing?!”, it sounded like complete gibberish to me. But now my understanding of it is different and sure I might still find it a bit odd to hear sometimes, but it is an outpouring of worship and prayer between us and our creator.
The best place to look at this is 1 Corinthians 14, which is all about intelligibility in worship, where Paul is pretty blunt about the use of tongues and directly compares it to the gift of prophecy. There isn’t a great deal in the Bible about tongues, but it is mostly mentioned in the context of corporate worship.
“For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit”
1 Corinthians 14:2
Tongues is a communication between us and God, others around us don’t understand it and it is by the Spirit, meaning that it is not us who utters the words of our own accord, but the Spirit enabling us to speak in these tongues. When we speak in tongues, it is not us choosing to say those words, but giving our control over to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to take over.
Reading on in verses 3-5, Paul states that tongues edifies the person speaking them, but prophesy edifies the church (to edify means to instruct or improve). He says that he would like everyone to speak in tongues but would rather have everyone prophesy for this reason.
Paul continues in verse 6:
“Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?”
1 Corinthians 14:6
This is talking about proclaiming something for the whole church in tongues, without an interpretation, which would be fairly unhelpful. It would be like delivering a message to a group of people in a foreign language (and you can’t use google translate) - you’d have no idea what they were trying to say. The group would feel neither encouraged nor informed, probably just a bit confused. Paul goes on to use this analogy of a foreign speaker, have a read. He concludes this with “Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church”. This isn’t of course saying that we should never use the gift of tongues, but directly, without interpretation, it does not edify the church.
Paul goes on to say in verse 13 ”For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say”. This puts personal responsibility on us to pray for interpretation of the tongue being spoken.
So how do you get the gift of tongues? Start by praying and asking God for this gift and then step out in faith and try it!
Have a read of Amy’s blog on interpretation here.