T H E G I F T O F
TONGUES
An Examination about what the Bible Teaches About
the Spiritual Gift of Tongues
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distritubion
Copyright © 2018 F. Wayne Mac Leod
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CONTENTS
Title Page
Copyright
Preface
1 - The Confusion of Language
2 - The Languages of Pentecost
3 - The Commission of Jesus
4 - The Gift is Given to the Gentiles
5 - General Guidelines
About Spiritual Gifts
6 - They Will Cease
7 - Paul’s Teaching about Tongues
8 - The Public Use of Tongues
9 - An Attempt to Answer Questions
About The Author
PREFACE
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to
speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts
2:4)
This is one of a variety of passages in the Bible about what has become
known as the gift of tongues. It is a controversial practice in the church of
our day and one that has become a source of deep theological divisions.
Believers have taken different sides in this debate, and the result has often
been an imbalanced understanding of what the Bible teaches.
On the one extreme, we have churches demanding that all who believe in
Jesus and are filled with His Spirit speak in tongues. This requirement has
produced a whole crop of pretenders who claim to speak in tongues, but the
language they speak is not from the Spirit.
On the other hand, we have churches insisting that this gift is no longer
relevant. In the churches that I have frequented, I have yet to hear a
message or teaching on this gift of God to the early church! This has led to
ignorance of the gift and its purpose in the unfolding of God’s plan.
Listen to Paul’s counsel to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:
[16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in
righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete,
equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3)
To those who ignore the teaching of Scripture on the gift of tongues, I bring
this challenge. The fact that Acts 2:4 and others like it are found in the
Bible, implies that the gift is significant in God’s purpose for the church and
should not be ignored.
To those who promote this gift, I bring this challenge. It is crucial that every
gift of God be used as He intends. All gifts of the Spirit are subject to the
principles of Scripture. In other words, a gift of God can be misused. If we
want to use the gifts God gives as He intends, we must carefully examine
the teaching of Scripture and submit to God’s purpose for the use of these
gifts. God’s gifts must be used in God’s way.
In this study, it is my purpose to examine the teaching of Scripture about the
gift of tongues and the purpose of God for its use. I trust it will be a
blessing and promote a greater understanding and unity among the people
of God.
God bless,
F. Wayne Mac Leod
I
1 - THE CONFUSION OF
LANGUAGE
want to begin this study with an examination of Genesis 9 and 11. Let
me put this in context. God created Adam and Eve and placed them on
the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t long before they fell into sin and
rebellion against God. Sin increased in the world through their descendants
to a point where Genesis 6 tells us:
[5] The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the
earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was
only evil continually. [6] And the LORD regretted that he had
made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. [7] So
the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from
the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and
birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
(Genesis 6)
The human race came under the wrath of its Creator. God determined in His
heart that He would destroy the world as it was known. He sent a great
flood to destroy all living beings apart from Noah, his family and the
animals they took on the ark. We read about this in Genesis 6-8.
After the destruction of all life, God released Noah and his family from the
ark. In Genesis 9, God spoke to Noah and his descendants:
[9:1] And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. [2] The fear of you
and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and
upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on
the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are
delivered. [3] Every moving thing that lives shall be food for
you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.
[4] But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. [5]
And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every
beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will
require a reckoning for the life of man.
[6] “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.
[7] And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the
earth and multiply in it.” [8] Then God said to Noah and to his
sons with him, [9] “Behold, I establish my covenant with you
and your offspring after you, [10] and with every living
creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every
beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is
for every beast of the earth. [11] I establish my covenant with
you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of
the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the
earth.” (Genesis 9)
Notice what God told Noah and his family in this passage.
God Reveals His Purpose
First, God revealed His purpose for Noah and his descendants. He states
this purpose twice here.
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (verse 1).
“And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth
and multiply in it” (verse 7)
God intended that the survivors of the flood “fill the earth” and “increase
greatly.” In other words, they were to spread out over the surface of the
land, have children and form nations.
God Entrusted Them With His Authority
Notice second that God gave these men and women authority and dominion
over the earth.
[2] The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every
beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon
everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea.
Into your hand they are delivered. [3] Every moving thing that
lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I
give you everything. (Genesis 9)
As the survivors of the flood spread out over the earth, they would go with
the authority of God. They were to rule over the earth and to use its
resources for food and shelter. They would lack nothing to accomplish their
God-given mandate of filling the earth.
God Entered A Covenant With Them
Notice also from these verses that God entered a covenant with the
survivors of the flood.
[9] “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your
offspring after you, [10] and with every living creature that is
with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth
with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of
the earth. [11] I establish my covenant with you, that never
again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and
never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
(Genesis 9)
The covenant that God made was a covenant of mercy. He promised that
His favour would be on them as they fulfilled His purpose for the earth. He
would protect them and grant them His special mercy. He told them that He
would never again destroy all flesh as He had done. They had the promise
of God’s mercy and blessing as they repopulated and spread out over the
surface of the land.
God Placed Them Under And Obligation Of
Obedience
Finally, God placed humanity under an obligation of obedience. Notice
what He told them in verse 4:
[4] But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
(Genesis 9)
Blood belonged to God. By extension, their lives belonged to God.
Whoever shed the blood of another human being would be punished by
death. All human beings belonged to God. They were to respect His
Lordship and walk in obedience to Him.
Genesis 9 tells us that God called the survivors of the flood to fill the earth
and have dominion over it. They were to do so as those who had entered a
covenant relationship with God. The seriousness of this obligation was
obvious to those who had just recently experienced the devastation of the
flood because of rebellion against God.
It is in the context of God’s command to His people that we must now
examine Genesis 11. We discover from verse 1 that the whole earth had one
language:
[1] Now the whole earth had one language and the same
words. (Genesis 11)
As these survivors of the flood moved eastward, they came to the region of
Shinar and settled there. They seemed to enjoy this region and decided that
they would remain there and build a permanent city. Notice the reason for
building a permanent city:
[4] Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a
tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for
ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole
earth.”
According to Genesis 11:4, they did not want to be “dispersed over the face
of the whole earth.” They grew comfortable with each other and felt that
their greatness would be found in remaining together. What is vital for us to
understand is that this was contrary to the command of God. God told them
to fill the earth. Obedience to this command required that they disperse over
the face of the whole earth. This was precisely what they did not want to do.
By settling in Shinar, they were purposefully disobeying God and His
purpose for them. This act of disobedience brought the wrath of God upon
them:
[5] And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower,
which the children of man had built. [6] And the LORD said,
“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language,
and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing
that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. [7]
Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that
they may not understand one anothers speech.” [8] So the
LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth,
and they left off building the city. [9] Therefor, its name was
called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of
all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the
face of all the earth. (Genesis 11)
Notice what happened in these verses. The people chose to remain together
rather than fulfil the mandate of God. They could remain together because
they spoke the same language and understood each other. God chose to
confuse their language, so they would not understand each others speech.
While we do not know the specific details of what took place that day, what
is clear is that one moment the people were speaking together and
understanding each other and the next they were speaking in words their
neighbour did not understand. The result was that they were “dispersed over
the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9). This was God’s purpose from the
beginning. He wanted to populate the entire earth, and when the survivors
of the flood refused to do so, he confused their language and forced them
into obedience.
God chose ordinary people who had learned a specific language from their
youth and gave them another speech. Understand here that this new
language was not a learned language. The context indicates that it was
miraculously given to them by God. Nor was it a language that already
existed on the earth. Genesis 11:1 makes this abundantly clear:
[1] Now the whole earth had one language and the same
words. (Genesis 11)
These people began to speak with words they had never spoken before.
They formed sentences and communicated in this new language. It appears
from the context that different languages were given to them by God and
those who were given a similar tongue grouped together and left the region
to settle elsewhere.
This was a work of God. It was an amazing work. God gave groups of
people a whole new set of words and the ability to communicate in those
words. The imparting of these new tongues seemed to be instantaneous. We
can only imagine the confusion there would have been in those days as
people unsuccessfully tried to communicate with their friends.
We will read nothing more in Scripture about this miraculous gift until we
come to the book of Acts. There on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God
fell on the believers who had gathered together in one place. Listen to the
record of what transpired that day:
[2:1] When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together
in one place. [2] And suddenly there came from heaven a sound
like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where
they were sitting. [3] And divided tongues as of fire appeared to
them and rested on each one of them. [4] And they were all
filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues
as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2)
The Spirit of God fell on this group of believers and gave them the ability to
speak in other tongues. We will talk about this more fully in the next
chapter but what is clear is that foreigners in Jerusalem that day identified
the languages the believers spoke as common languages of the day (Acts
2:7-11).
In Genesis 11, we see the formation of different language groups and
nations. We also see how God set His heart on the descendants of Noah
through Shem and Abraham. These would be His people. God, however,
also had a purpose for the rest of the nations and language groups. In Acts
2, we see how He began the process of restoring these foreign nations to
Himself. Through the work of the Lord Jesus, Gentile nations would be
brought to God. In Genesis 11, God separated these nations by the
confusion of tongues. Now in Acts 2, He gave a similar gift and brought
them back to Himself. People from many nations, gathered in Jerusalem on
the day of Pentecost heard the gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time
through the miraculous gift of tongues given to the believers that day. God
was revealing to those present that He also had a purpose for the nations He
had scattered from Shinar after the flood.
M
2 - THE LANGUAGES OF
PENTECOST
any years passed since different languages were given at the
Tower of Babel. Jesus came to the earth and, by His death,
opened the way for foreigners to become children of God. It
was now the day of Pentecost, and Christians had gathered together in one
place (Acts 2:1). Something wonderful happened in that assembly of
believers. Without warning, they heard a sound from heaven. It was like a
rushing wind filling the place where they were sitting (Acts 2:2). Those
present listened to this sound and wondered what it was.
What was peculiar about this wind was that it visibly divided into what
those believers described as “tongues of fire.” These tongues separated and
rested on each one present. When they rested on them, they began to speak
another language as the Spirit enabled them.
[3] And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested
on each one of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy
Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave
them utterance. (Acts 2)
We need to notice several details in these verses.
Notice first that the believers saw something that day. They described what
they saw as “tongues.” The use of this word is quite peculiar. The Greek
word used is “glossa,” which refers to the organ of the body. What they saw
was identified as the human organ used to produce sound and speech. The
tongues they saw appeared to be of fire. It would have been more natural
for these believers to speak of a flame of fire, but they all describe what
they saw as tongues.
Notice second that the word “tongues” is plural. There was not one single
tongue but many tongues of fire that came to rest on the individuals present.
When that tongue rested on an individual, he or she would begin to speak in
what is described in verse 4 as “other tongues” or other languages. There
was not one single language spoken, but many.
The final detail I would like to mention from verses 3-4 is the fact that these
believers began to speak other languages, “as the Spirit gave them
utterance.” In other words, the language they spoke was given to them by
the Holy Spirit. Like is was in the days of Noah’s descendants, these
believers began to communicate in a language they did not previously
know. The ability to speak this foreign language was a miraculous and
instantaneous gift from the Spirit. Without prior study or knowledge of this
language, the believers spoke clearly in that tongue.
We find evidence of this in verses 5-6. The inhabitants of Jerusalem heard
the commotion that took place when these believers began to speak. They
came rushing to the place where they were and listened to what they were
saying. To their surprise, they heard these early Christians speak in known
languages of the day.
[5] Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men
from every nation under heaven. [6] And at this sound the
multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because
each one was hearing them speak in his own language. [7] And
they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these
who are speaking Galileans? [8] And how is it that we hear,
each of us in his own native language? [9] Parthians and
Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and
Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, [10] Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors
from Rome, [11] both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and
Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty
works of God.” (Acts 2)
The inhabitants of Jerusalem identified the languages spoken that day.
People of many nations heard about the “mighty works of God” (verse 11),
in their language. The good news about Jesus Christ was now declared to
those who were separated from God’s people in the days of Noah. Through
the gift of tongues, God had separated the nations from His people after the
flood. Now, through the gift of tongues, those same nations were being
called back. God had not forsaken them forever. He had a purpose for these
Gentile nations as well.
The context indicates that the believers made quite a noise. Verse 6 tells us
that “at this sound, the multitude came together.” The response of the crowd
to what they heard is described in verses 5-13. They were “bewildered” in
verse 5. Verse 7 tells us that they were “amazed and astonished.” Verse 12
tells us that the crowd was “amazed and perplexed.” Not all those who
heard the believers that day responded positively—some mocked them and
accused them of being drunk (verse 13).
To address the confusion, Peter stood up in front of the crowd and
addressed them saying:
[14] “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this
be known to you, and give ear to my words. [15] For these
people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third
hour of the day. [16] But this is what was uttered through the
prophet Joel:
[17] “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will
pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your
daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see
visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; [18] even on my
male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out
my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2)
Speaking on behalf of the believers, and in their defence, Peter told the
crowd that what was taking place that day was a fulfilment of prophecy.
Joel foretold of a day when the Spirit of God would be poured out on all
flesh. The term “all flesh” is important. Peter identifies sons, daughters,
young and old men, male servants and female servants as an example of
what he is speaking about (see verses 17-18). There would be no more
social distinctions. The Lord God would fill people of all social standings.
He would fill the priests, prophets and kings but also their sons, daughters
and even their servants. God was breaking down social barriers.
We can also understand from what Peter was saying that the term “flesh”
referred not just to social standing but also to racial background as well.
The fact that God chose to impart gifts of foreign tongues to these believers
showed that he was willing to pour out His Spirit on Gentiles who came to
Him as well. The message of the gospel was for all social and racial groups.
Peters use of Joel is also significant in what it tells us about the words the
believers spoke that day in those foreign tongues. He told the crowd that
Joel foretold of a time when the Spirit of God would fill all flesh, and they
would prophesy. This, according to Peter, is what was happening. Believers
were prophesying in foreign tongues, declaring the wonders of God.
Nations gathered in Jerusalem, were hearing in their own language the
might works of the God of Israel.
What do we learn about the gift of tongues in Acts 2? Let me summarize
what this passage shows us.
First, the tongues the believers who gathered at Pentecost spoke were
known languages of the day. This is confirmed by those who heard them
speak and listed the languages in which they spoke. They were
distinguishable one from another, and those who spoke those languages
heard about the mighty works of God in their native tongue.
Second, the tongues in which these early believers spoke were miraculously
given, just as they were at Shinar at the Tower of Babel. The believers who
spoke had not previously spoken these languages. The Spirit of God, who
fell on them, gave them this ability. Speaking these tongues had nothing to
do with their ability to learn languages but rather with the presence of the
Spirit upon them.
The believers who spoke in tongues that day spoke prophetically. They did
this by publicly declaring the wonders of God as the Spirit inspired them.
They also did this by revealing the purpose of God to proclaim the gospel to
the Gentile world in their language. By speaking out the gospel in these
various languages, they were showing God’s intention for not only the Jew
but also for the Gentile. It was a declaration that the Spirt of God had come
to bring the message of salvation to the whole world.
I
3 - THE COMMISSION OF
JESUS
n the last chapter, we saw how the believers who gathered together at
Pentecost began to speak in other languages miraculously. Peter
defended what was happening that day by referring to the prophecy of
Joel concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:17-21, Joel 2:28-
32). The prophecy of Joel, though important when it comes the matter of
God pouring out His Spirit on the believers of the day, does not speak
directly to this matter of speaking in various tongues. Joel talks about
prophesying, visions and dreams but not about the what was of concern for
the crowd that day –the speaking in tongues.
From what Peter said that day, we can assume that he understood that this
miraculous gift of communicating in a language unknown to the speaker,
was evidence of the pouring out of the Spirit. The question, however,
remains: Does Scripture prophecy about this gift of tongues before the
events of Acts 2? Is there more specific evidence in Scripture that points to
this gift as being part of what God’s Spirit would do when he fell on His
people.
To answer this, we need to go to the Gospel of Mark. Listen to Mark’s
account of the Great Commission of Jesus as recorded in Mark 16:
[15] And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim
the gospel to the whole creation. [16] Whoever believes and is
baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be
condemned. [17] And these signs will accompany those who
believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak
in new tongues; [18] they will pick up serpents with their
hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt
them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will
recover.” (Mark 16)
The New International Version of the Bible adds a note prior to this section
of the book of Mark:
“The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient
witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-2.”
(The Holy Bible, New International Version: “Note on Mark
16:9-20”, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984)
Even though not all ancient manuscripts contain this section, the NIV
includes it in the text. The King James Version, New King James Version,
English Standard Version and New Living Translation all include this
passage of Scripture without any translation note, stating that they believe it
to be part of the inspired Word of God. The text that concerns us here is
Mark 16:15-18. Everything spoken of in these verses is either recorded in
the other gospels or backed up by other Scripture, so we have no cause to
doubt what it teaches. It is as authoritative as any other passage of Scripture
and speaks the truth to us.
Let’s consider now what the Lord said to His disciples in this passage. Here
Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into all the world to preach the
gospel and baptize those who believed what they taught. The Lord Jesus
would not leave them alone to accomplish this task. He would pour out His
Spirit on them and protect them as they went. Listen to what the Lord Jesus
told His disciples in Mark 16:17-18:
[17] And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my
name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
[18] they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they
drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay
their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16)
There would be clear evidence of the presence and protection of the Lord
on the disciples as they went out to the world to preach the gospel. The
disciples would be given the power to cast out demons and heal the sick
(see Acts 5:16). They would pick up serpents with their hands and not be
harmed. We have a clear example of this in Acts 28:3-5 when Paul was in
Malta, and a venomous snake bit him. He simply shook it off and suffered
no ill effects. Jesus went on to say in Mark 16:18 that believers would drink
deadly poison, and it would not hurt them. In Luke 10, Jesus sent out
seventy-two disciples to preach the gospel. When they came back to him,
they marvelled at the power that had been given to them to overcome the
enemy. Listen to the words of Jesus to these returned evangelists:
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and
scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing
shall hurt you. (Luke 10:19)
Jesus repeats in Mark 16 what he had already told them in Luke 10.
There is one more sign that I have purposefully left out until now. Notice in
Mark 16:17 that Jesus told his disciples that they would also “speak in new
tongues.” Let’s examine this phrase in the context of what Jesus was saying.
There are those who would say that the new tongues referred to here are the
languages that the disciples of Jesus would learn to preach the gospel to
foreign nations—not unlike what any missionary of our day must do in a
language school. As a missionary, myself, I had to go through that process
of learning a new language, but is this what the context of the verse is
speaking about?
To understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to see two things in the
context of these verses. Notice first that Jesus speaks here about “signs.”
The Greek word used here is “semeion,” which refers to a mark, token or
miracle. It is a proof of validity or a seal of authority. When Jesus said that
speaking in new tongues was a sign, He was telling His people that there
was a spiritual aspect to this ability. It was a miraculous occurrence that
proved that they spoke in the name of the Lord. It appears to be much more
than spending two years of hard human effort to learn a language. This was
a spiritual gift given in a miraculous way to the servant of God. This is
confirmed in Acts 2 when the disciples simply began to speak in foreign
languages without prior study of these languages.
Notice secondly how speaking new tongues is in the context of other
miraculous signs. Jesus told His disciples that they would speak new
languages, pick up serpents in their hands, drink deadly poison, and it
would not harm them, and lay hands on the sick and they would be healed.
These signs were miraculous and pointed to the fact that those who
demonstrated them were being protected and empowered by God.
Jesus confirmed the gift of tongues in Mark 16. He made it clear that the
day was coming when those who believed in His name would speak new
tongues as a sign from God that they were empowered for the work of the
gospel.
It is important to mention, that in Mark 16:15-18, Jesus is speaking in a
very general way about those who believed in His name. He is not saying
that everyone who believes in His name will pick up serpents. Nor is He
saying that everyone who believes in His name will drink poison and not be
harmed. Similarly, He is not saying that every believer will speak new
tongues or cast out demons.
What Jesus is saying, however, is that in the days that were to follow,
various signs would be evident among those who believed in His name.
They would hear stories of those who picked up poisonous snakes and
brushed them off unharmed. They would witness those who spoke in new
tongues. They would experience healing from physical illness or release
from demon affliction as believers laid hands on the oppressed. While not
everyone who believed would experience all these signs, the church would
be empowered by this means to preach the gospel and expand the kingdom
of God on the earth.
T
4 - THE GIFT IS GIVEN TO
THE GENTILES
o this point, we have seen how the gift of speaking other tongues
was given to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem at Pentecost. It is
not until Acts 10 that we read about the gift again. This time,
however, the gift is not given to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem but Gentile
Christians in the region of Caesarea.
The context of Acts 10 is significant. We encounter a Roman military
commander by the name of Cornelius. Cornelius was a generous man who
gave to the poor in his community. He was also a religious man who prayed
regularly to God. One day Cornelius had a vision from God. In this vision,
an angel appeared to him and told him that God had seen his generosity and
heard his prayers. The angel told Cornelius that he was to send men to the
home of Simon the tanner in Joppa. There was a man in that home by the
name of Peter. He was to invite Peter to his house.
While the angel was preparing Cornelius, God was also preparing Peter for
this meeting. Peter had grown up in a tradition of Judaism. This tradition
believed that salvation was for the Jew as the chosen people of God. If God
was going to send Peter to the home of a Gentile, He would need to teach
him that salvation was also for the Gentile.
Peter was on the roof of Simon the tanners house. He had gone up there to
pray. While on the rooftop, Peter had a vision. In this vision, he saw a sheet
descending from heaven. In the sheet were all kinds of unclean animals and
reptiles. A voice called out to him in his vision: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat”
(Acts 10:13). Peter, a Jew who followed the law of Moses, refused to do so
saying: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything common or
unclean” (Acts 10:14). In response to this answer from Peter, the voice in
his vision said: “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts
10:15). This happened three times.
Peter was perplexed about what he had seen and wondered what the vison
meant. As he considered what God might be saying to him through this
vision, three men came to the home, asking for Peter. The Lord spoke to
him at that moment and said: “Rise and go down and accompany them
without hesitation, for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20). Peter obeyed, and the
men led him to the home of Cornelius.
Cornelius explained his vision to Peter and asked him to share the message
God had given him. The apostle understood that God was asking him to tell
these Gentiles about the Lord Jesus and the forgiveness of sin that was
available to them through His death on the cross. The message touched
Cornelius and those who were with him. The Spirit of God moved and fell
on the Gentiles present that day (Acts 10:45). Notice what happened that
day:
[45] And the believers from among the circumcised who had
come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy
Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. [46] For they were
hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then
Peter declared, [47] “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing
these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we
have?” [48] And he commanded them to be baptized in the
name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some
days. (Acts 10)
The Jewish Christians present were amazed that the Holy Spirit had fallen
on the Gentiles. Notice that verse 46 begins with the word “for.” This little
word connects us with the proceeding statement. The believers were
amazed that God had given His Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. How did they
know that the Holy Spirit was given to Gentiles? The answer is in verse 46:
[46] For they were hearing them speak in tongues and extolling
God… (Acts10)
Evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles was in the
gift of tongues given them that day. When the believers saw that the same
Holy Spirit rested on the Gentile believers as on the Jewish believers, they
understood that God accepted the Gentiles as His children as well. The
result was that they baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus and
received them as brothers and sisters.
Another such occurrence took place in the city of Ephesus under the
ministry of the apostle Paul. There Paul found a group of twelve men. From
the context, we understand that these men were disciples or followers of
John the Baptist. Verse three tells us that they were baptized “into John’s
baptism.” What we need to understand here is that being a disciple of John
did not make these twelve men Christians. Cornelius was a generous man
who prayed, but he had not yet come to know the Lord Jesus. As followers
of John, these disciples had heard about the Lord Jesus and looked to Him
as the Messiah, but they may not have yet come to know the Lord Jesus
personally nor understood the message of salvation.
When Paul met these disciples, he saw that they had an understanding about
the Messiah, but something was missing. He asked them if they had
received the Holy Spirit when they believed (Acts 19:2). The disciples told
Paul that they had never heard that there was a Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2). This
tells us something important about the disciples. Listen to what Paul said in
Romans 8:9:
[9] You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact
the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the
Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Romans 8)
Paul made it very clear that the evidence of salvation in the life of a believer
is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who does not have the Holy
Spirit does not belong to Christ. It is the Spirit of Christ in us that is our
new life.
We meet here, a group of twelve men who believed that Jesus was the
Messiah, but their belief about Jesus did not save them. They had the right
idea, but there was no life in them. This gave the apostle Paul the
opportunity to explain more fully to them the purpose of God for salvation
in the Lord Jesus. We do not have the full discussion between Paul and
these disciples of John, but the result was that they understood the work of
Christ more fully. That day they became true believers and were baptized in
the name of the Lord Jesus. The Spirit of God fell on them, and they began
to speak in tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:6).
In the book of Acts, we see have three passages that mention the gift of
tongues. The first reference in Acts 2 speaks to the time when the Spirit of
God fell on the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. In Acts 10, the Spirit fell on
Gentile believers in Caesarea. Acts 19 speaks about a group of twelve
Jewish disciples of John who saw Jesus as the Messiah but had of yet to
experience the reality of salvation. On each of these occasions, the Spirit of
God revealed His presence through the gift of tongues.
While the gift of tongues was given on these three occasions, there is no
other mention of the gift in the book of Acts. There are many records of
people coming to faith in the Lord Jesus and receiving the gift of the Holy
Spirit. Most of these references, however, make no mention of these
believers speaking in tongues.
The other detail that is significant in the book of Acts is that on each
occasion when the gift of tongues was given, it was to a different group
(Jews, Gentiles and disciples of John). The gifts of tongues seemed to be a
sign to the church that the Spirit of God had accepted members of these
groups as His children. God was revealing His purpose to the church
through the gift of tongues. He was showing them that He was restoring to
Himself what He had separated at the Tower of Babel.
Notice the words of those who spoke in tongues in the book of Acts. In
Acts 2, the Jews declared the mighty works of God (Acts 2:11). In Acts 10,
the Gentiles extolled or praised God. In Acts 19, the disciples of John the
Baptist spoke in tongues and prophesied. These early believers declared
God’s praise and spoke His heart through the gift of tongues, as given by
the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 2, we have a reference to the various languages the believers spoke.
On that occasion, we also have foreigners in the city of Jerusalem who
heard the message of the gospel in their own tongue. In Acts 10 and 19,
however, we have no indication that the gift of tongues was used in this
way. In Acts 10, the gift of tongues was spoken in the context of a private
meeting between the apostle Peter and the friends and family of Cornelius.
Paul was with twelve disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19. There is no
reference to any foreigner present in Acts 10 or 19 to hear the gospel or the
praise of God in their language.
As the apostle Paul and his co-workers went from town to town, we have no
mention of the use of the gift of tongues as a miraculous gift being used to
communicate the gospel in the different languages of the people they met.
While we cannot necessarily rule this out, apart from Acts 2, there is simply
no evidence of the gift of tongues being used regularly by the early church
to evangelize foreigners in their own language.
There are those who believe that the gift of speaking tongues is the ability
to learn a foreign language to reach the nations for the Lord. The problem
with this is that there is no Biblical evidence for this. The book of Acts does
not teach that the gift of tongues was an ability to learn a language but the
supernatural ability to speak a language that was unknown to the speaker
instantaneously. It was not a learned language, but one given by the Spirit in
a moment.
What is clear from the book of Acts is that the gift of tongues was a gift
given to various people in society to prove that God had accepted them as
His children. The apostles, seeing this gift, identified it as a sign that God
had accepted not just those who physically spoke in tongues as His
children, but also the cultural group to which they belonged (Jews or
Gentiles) as being a people God accepted.
W
5 - GENERAL GUIDELINES
ABOUT SPIRITUAL GIFTS
e come now to the teaching of the apostle Paul about spiritual
gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. While what Paul has to say here is
not exclusively about the gift of tongues, the principles he
teaches are essential if we are to understand the use of the gift in general.
Let’s take a moment to consider the instructions Paul gives the Corinthians
about their spiritual gifts and see what this teaches us about the use of the
gift of tongues.
“I Do Not What You To Be Uninformed” (1
Corinthians 12:1)
Notice as the apostle begins his teaching on spiritual gifts, he makes the
following statement:
[1] Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers I do not want you
to be uninformed” (1 Corinthians 12)
This verse sets the tone for what Paul is going to say. For the apostle, it was
important that every Christian know and understand God’s purpose for
spiritual gifts. God gave these gifts for the good of the body of Christ and
the expansion of His kingdom on the earth. They are the tools of our trade,
and every Christian is to know about these tools if they are to be effective in
the service of the Lord.
There Are Varieties Of Gifts, Services And
Activities (1 Corinthians 12:4)
The apostle goes on in verse 4 to tell the Corinthians that there is a variety
of gifts:
[4] Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; [5] and
there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; [6] and there
are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers
them all in everyone. (1 Corinthians 12)
Paul speaks here in these verses about gifts, services and activities. The
Greek word used for gift is the word “charisma,” which, in this case, refers
to spiritual gifts. The word service comes from the Greek word “diakonia”
from which we get the word deacon. The idea here may be that there are
various roles given to believers for the work of the kingdom (i.e. elders,
deacons, evangelists, etc.). Finally, the word “activities” comes from the
Greek word “energema” from which we get the word energy. “Energema”
refers to the power of God’s work and the result it produces.
What is crucial for us to understand here is that God is not limited to
working in any one way. He has given a variety of spiritual gifts. He has
established and anointed people to fulfil various offices in the church. He
also demonstrates His power in miraculous and unexpected ways with or
without the use of our gifts and offices.
No two gifts will be the same. You may have a gift of teaching, but that gift
will differ from the same gift in a brother or sister. How we exercise our
gift, what or who we teach, or even how we teach will vary from person to
person. For this reason, it is vital that we seek the Lord in how and where
we are to use our spiritual gifts. While it is helpful to learn from others who
have the same spiritual gift, it is also vital that we learn what God intends
for us.
While our gifts may vary, and no two gifts will look the same, Paul tells the
Corinthians that it is the same Spirit who empowers all these gifts. This is
an important principle for us to understand. It would be easy to judge
another person because his or her gift is not the same as ours. Remember,
however, that while no spiritual gift is the same, God is still the giver. We
must expect diversity, but we must also understand that God is behind this
diversity in the body.
To Each Is Given The Manifestation Of The Spirit
(1 Corinthians 12:7)
In 1 Corinthians 12:7, Paul tells the Corinthians that each person is given a
manifestation of the Spirit.
[7] To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the
common good. [8] For to one is given through the Spirit the
utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge
according to the same Spirit, [9] to another faith by the same
Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, [10] to
another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to
another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another
various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of
tongues. [11] All these are empowered by one and the same
Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1
Corinthians 12)
Notice in these verses the variety of gifts God gives.
1) The utterance of wisdom
2) The utterance of knowledge
3) Faith
4) Healing
5) Miracles
6) Prophecy
7) Distinguishing between Spirits
8) Various kinds of tongues
9) Interpretation of tongues
The list Paul gives here is not an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts and
services. It is merely an example of what he has been teaching about the
multiple ways in which God equips and uses His servants. Notice the
reference to “various kinds of tongues.” It is vital that we note this because
it shows that the gift was still being given by God to the church at the time
Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Paul lists it here as one of the ways in which
God was equipping the church to minister to the “common good” (verse 7)
of the body.
Another important detail we need to see in verses seven to eleven it that
Paul begins by saying: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit”
(verse 7). From this phrase, we understand that each believer is given a
manifestation of the Spirit. If you are a believer today, the Spirit of God
lives in you. He has empowered you in a particular way for the work of the
kingdom. No one is excluded from this. When the Spirit of God comes to
dwell in you, He comes to empower and enable you to serve the Lord Jesus.
He imparts to every believer a unique “manifestation.” A manifestation is a
clear evidence of the presence and power of God in us. This manifestation
is for the common good of the body of Christ. Paul’s partial list of spiritual
gifts is an example of some of the manifestations of the Spirit in the life of a
believer. The challenge for us is to discover that manifestation and learn to
make use of it.
There is one more detail I would like to mention from verses 7-10. Notice
in verse 10 that the apostle adds the interpretation of tongues to the list of
spiritual gifts. This is the first time this gift is mentioned in Scripture. Paul
says nothing about it in 1 Corinthians 12, but it appears to be the ability to
interpret the various tongues spoken, so the body of Christ is edified. We
will touch on this further in another chapter.
A Variety Of Gifts Is Necessary For The
Functioning Of The Body (1 Corinthians 12:14-
19)
In 1 Corinthians 12:14-19, Paul told the Corinthians that a variety of gifts
and services were necessary for the body to function as God intended. To
illustrate this, he used the example of the human body.
[15] If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not
belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of
the body. [16] And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an
eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any
less a part of the body. [17] If the whole body were an eye,
where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an
ear, where would be the sense of smell? [18] But as it is, God
arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he
chose. [19] If all were a single member, where would the body
be? [20] As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1
Corinthians 12)
Consider what the apostle is saying here. Imagine that the foot looked at
that hand and saw how useful it was. Imagine that the foot said, “I don’t
have the flexibility of the hand. I can’t pick up things. I can’t write. I can’t
paint or hold a hammer. What use am I? Imagine the ear looking over to the
eye and saying: “I can’t see the light or colour. I can’t see the beauty of
creation around me. I am inferior to the eye. I don’t belong on this body.”
Paul went on to say: “if an ear, where an eye, where would be the sense of
hearing” (verse 17). You see, the ear does not function as an eye for a
reason. It is designed to hear sounds. Those sounds are important and
enable communication and warn us of danger. The ear does not look like
the eye, nor does it function like the eye. If it could think it would not think
like the eye. It does one thing, and the eye does another. What is important,
according to Paul, is that the eye and the ear work together for the good of
the whole body. They don’t look the same, act the same, or think the same,
but they are partners serving the common good of the body.
We often see things through the eyeglasses of our spiritual gifts. I remember
being in a church where that pastors were keen evangelists. This was their
passion and gifting. Every message we heard had to do with winning the
lost. Every challenge had to do with going out and witnessing to our
neighbours. There were times when the congregation felt guilty because
they were not doing what the pastors were doing. While it is crucial that we
share the gospel, if all we did was share the gospel, what would happen to
those who came to the Lord? You see, we need people to share the gospel,
but we also need people to disciple and teach those who come to Christ. We
need people to encourage them in their pain and suffering. We need people
to reveal Christ in worship. We need those who will stand with them in their
need through practical support. No church will be healthy if only one gift is
used. Every gift is required if the body is to function as the Lord intended.
Every Gift Is Valuable (1 Corinthians 12:21)
Knowing that there are a variety of gifts can often lead to comparison.
Admittedly, some parts of our body are not as necessary as others. You can
lose a finger and still be in good health. To lose a leg or the use of your eyes
would be more problematic. If the lungs, brain or heart were to stop
working, we would die. Parts of our body provide more essential services.
This is also the case for the church. For the body to function at full capacity,
every part needs to be healthy. If we chose to get rid of every part of our
body that was non-essential to life, what would life be like? Without the
ability to see, hear, smell, walk, or touch, would we reach our potential?
What Paul is saying here is that if we discourage the use of spiritual gifts
we don’t understand or appreciate, we will never be all that God intends us
to be. Listen to how the apostle explains this to the Corinthians:
[21] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,”
nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” [22]
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are indispensable, [23] and on those parts of the body that we
think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our
unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, [24]
which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has
so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that
lacked it, [25] that there may be no division in the body, but
that the members may have the same care for one another. [26]
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is
honoured, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12)
All gifts God gives to the church are valuable and serve a unique role in the
expansion of His kingdom.
No One Has All The Gifts (1 Corinthians 12:27)
There is a final point I want to emphasize in 1 Corinthians 12. Listen to
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28:
[27] Now you are the body of Christ and individually members
of it. [28] And God has appointed in the church first apostles,
second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of
healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.
(1 Corinthians 12)
Paul continues to remind the Corinthians of the variety of gifts and services
in the body. He lists eight gifts and services in these verses:
1) Apostles
2) Prophets
3) Teachers
4) Miracles
5) Healing
6) Helping
7) Administrating
8) Various kinds of tongues
Having listed these eight gifts and services, the apostle went on to say:
[29] Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do
all work miracles? [30] Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all
speak with tongues? Do all interpret? [31] But earnestly desire
the higher gifts. (1 Corinthians 12)
Paul asked the Corinthians two set of questions here? The first related to
service positions in the church: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all
teachers?” The answer to these questions was so obvious to Paul that he
doesn’t feel the need to answer. No, not everyone is an apostle. Not
everyone is a prophet. God gives these roles to certain people for the good
of the church.
Paul then asks a similar set of question about spiritual gifts. “Do all work
miracles? Do all possess the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues?
Do all interpret?” The answer to this question is the same as the first set of
questions. No, God does not give everyone the ability to perform miracles.
Not everyone has gifts of healing. Not everyone speaks with tongues. Not
everyone can interpret tongues. God disperses these spiritual gifts as He
sees fit. Each person has a different gift and ministry.
What does 1 Corinthians 12 teach us about the gift of tongues? First, God
wants us to be informed about this gift in the church (1 Corinthians 12:1).
That is why I am preparing this study. Speaking in tongues is listed among
the spiritual gifts God gives to the church, and so we need to understand
more fully what this gift is and how the Lord wants to use it.
Second, just because we do not understand the gift and can survive without
it does not mean that we can banish it from our churches. Paul tells us that
all gifts are given for the common good, and if God gives this gift, it serves
a purpose. It is essential that we accept what God gives and learn to use it
for His glory and the expansion of the Kingdom.
Third, the fact that Paul puts the gift of tongues in his list of gifts is
important. It tells us that years after Pentecost, the Lord was still
empowering people with this ability. Paul recognized it as a legitimate gift
and one that served an essential function in the body of Christ.
Paul not only lists the gift of tongues in his list of gifts but expands it by
adding the gift of interpretation of tongues. The gift of tongues and the
interpretation of those tongues would work together to be an
encouragement and blessing to the body of Christ. We will examine this in
more detail in this study.
Finally, Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that the gift of tongues is
not given to everyone. This is important because some believers insist that
the only manifestation that shows whether a person has the Spirit of God is
this gift of speaking in tongues. Paul makes it clear that each person is
given a demonstration of the Spirit, but that demonstration varies from
person to person. Not every Spirit-filled Christian will be able to speak in
tongues, but all will be empowered to serve the King.
I
6 - THEY WILL CEASE
n 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to
teach them about spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 13 needs to be seen in
this context. 1 Corinthians 13 is the famous chapter on love. We often
take it out of context, however. Paul continues in this chapter to teach the
Corinthians about spiritual gifts and the use of spiritual gifts in the church.
He reminds them that if they are going to use their spiritual gifts, they are to
do so in love.
In the book of 1 Corinthians, there is clear evidence that the church of
Corinth was struggling with division. Paul begins his letter with the
following statement:
[10] I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions
among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the
same judgment. [11] For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s
people that there is quarrelling among you, my brothers. [12]
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or
“I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
[13] Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were
you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1)
This division in the church of Corinth was creating a serious problem. We
see evidence of this division in 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul used the
illustration of the human body to remind the Corinthians that every spiritual
gift was important and that they were not to look down on those whose gift
did not appear to be as important as theirs.
It is for this reason that Paul takes the time to speak about the importance of
love in the use of spiritual gifts. Paul begins chapter 13 by talking to the
Corinthians about the use of spiritual gifts without love:
[13:1] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have
not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I
have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all
knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have,
and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I
gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13)
Notice that Paul speaks about four spiritual gifts here:
1) Speaking in Tongues
2) Prophecy
3) Knowledge
4) Faith
To listen to someone speak in tongues without love, said Paul, is like
listening to a noisy gong or a clanging symbol—it is irritating and serves no
purpose. The same is said for prophecy, knowledge and faith. Love
empowers these spiritual gifts. Love ought to be the motivation for the use
of every manifestation of the Spirit.
Love is not always the motivation behind the exercising of spiritual gifts. I
have met people who speak in tongues (whether from God or not) simply
because they want to show others they can do so. The motivation behind
this is not love for God or fellow believer but a selfish desire to be noticed.
This is not the way to exercise spiritual gifts. The test of whether we are
using our spiritual gifts correctly is this –are they used out of love for God
and our brothers and sisters in Christ? To help people understand whether
they are using their spiritual gifts in love, Paul defines love in 1 Corinthians
13:4-7:
[4] Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is
not arrogant [5] or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is
not irritable or resentful; [6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing,
but rejoices with the truth. [7] Love bears all things, believes
all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians
13)
From these verses, we can develop a series of questions to determine
whether I am exercising my spiritual gifts in love. In the context of our
study on the gift of tongues, Paul is offering us these questions to determine
the motivation behind the use of our gift:
1) Am patient and kind in the use of my gift? (verse 4)
2) Am I speaking with a boastful or arrogant heart? (verse 4)
3) Am I being rude and insisting on people listening to me regardless
of the context? (verse 5)
4) Do I have an irritable or resentful attitude when I speak? (verse 5)
5) Do I have a heart for truth and righteousness? (verse 6)
6) What happens when people do not listen to me? Do I bear with
them, believe and hope in God, and endure their rejection with a
godly attitude? (verse 7)
Asking ourselves these questions can help us to determine whether we are
trusting God and acting in love when we use our spiritual gift. According to
Paul, this applied to the use of all gifts and not just tongues, prophecy,
knowledge and faith, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:1.
In 1 Corinthians 13:8, Paul reminded the Corinthians that while spiritual
gifts will one day come to an end, love will go on into eternity.
[8] Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as
for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass
away. [9] For we know in part and we prophesy in part, [10]
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. [11]
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I
reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish
ways. [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to
face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have
been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13)
Notice that the apostle tells us in these verses that prophecies, tongues and
knowledge will cease and pass away. This has led some to conclude that the
gift of tongues is no longer for today. Let’s take a moment, however, to
examine what Paul is saying in these verses.
We cannot separate the gift of tongues from the other gifts mentioned in
these verses. Paul tells us that prophecy, tongues and knowledge will all
pass away. He explains this more fully in the context.
Speaking about prophecy, Paul says:
[9] For we know in part and we prophesy in part, [10] but
when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (1
Corinthians 13)
Right now, we can only prophecy in part. We don’t have all the details
about what is to come and the purpose and will of the Father. “When the
perfect come,” said Paul, “the partial will pass away.” In other words, when
the Lord Jesus returns, and sin is banished, we will understand what we
cannot know now. We will see the heart of God. No prophet will need to tell
for we will walk perfectly in His will and know Him. When we are with
Christ, we will speak with Him directly. There will no longer be any need
for prophets or prophecy.
Paul went on in verse 11 to say:
[11] When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a
child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up
childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13)
Notice how Paul compares prophecy and tongues to a child speaking. If you
have ever listened to a young child speaking, it is often difficult to
understand. Their understanding of reality is limited. The day is coming,
however, when the child is fully mature. At that point, childish conversation
with limited understanding comes to an end. The conversation of a mature
adult comes from experience and reality.
When do we reach this maturity? While I walk on this earth, I am still a
child growing in spiritual maturity. I will not be fully mature until I am in
the presence of God and free from sin and its effects on my life. When I
have reached this point, I can put aside my childish speech and speak as one
who truly understands.
Our understanding of God and His ways is limited here on this earth. Like
children, we try to grasp concepts that are too big for us to understand. God
gives spiritual gifts to His servants to help us in our weakness. His prophets
and teachers instruct us as He gives them understanding and revelation. He
blesses others with the gift of tongues so they can pray and communicate
His heart through interpreters.
Paul is telling us that as long as we are unable to express our hearts to God
as we should, we will need the work of the Spirit. Until we can grasp the
nature and purpose of God fully, we will need the gifts He imparts to the
church.
In verse twelve, Paul went on to say:
[12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been
fully known. (1 Corinthians 13)
Paul compares our knowledge to a person looking into a poor-quality
mirror. The image reflected is blurry and unclear. This is what our
knowledge of God and His purpose is like. We don’t see Him clearly. We
don’t understand him fully. Our teachers explain the truth of God to us, but
their understanding is also incomplete. They explain the best they can, but
the details are never completely satisfying. There are still questions. The
day is coming, said Paul when we will know even as we are known. We
will know God, for we will see Him. We will be in His presence. There will
no longer be a need for instructors to give us knowledge about God, for we
will know much more than our greatest teacher on earth. We will no longer
need prophets to tell us what He says for we will hear that directly from
Him.
The day is coming when spiritual gifts will no longer be necessary. Those
gifted with gifts of evangelism will no longer need to exercise their gift for
all who live in the presence of Jesus will know Him. Those who have gifts
of healing will no longer exercise their spiritual ministry for there will be no
more sickness. The encouragers will no longer have reason to encourage.
Counsellors will no longer need to counsel. The gifts God gives are for our
use on this earth. As long as the perfect has not come, we will need these
gifts. As long as we do not know God as He knows us, all these gifts will be
necessary. When the perfect comes, and we are fully mature in Him, then
the usefulness of these gifts will cease. Prophecy, tongues and knowledge,
along with the other spiritual gifts God gives have an essential purpose on
this earth, but their usefulness will cease when we are in the presence of
God in heaven.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul continues to speak about the gift of tongues. It is
not without reason that he uses this gift an example in this chapter about
love. The gift of tongues has been a divisive gift for many believers. Paul
challenged the Corinthians to be loving and compassionate toward each
other and not allow this gift to divide us as children of God. In part, the
purpose of this study is to reveal what the Bible says about the gift to help
believers to be more understanding and loving toward each other.
A second point we need to make here is that love is to be the motivation
behind speaking in tongues. While we cannot judge the motives and
intentions of someone else, I believe that it is possible for us to desire this
gift for other reasons than the love of God and fellow believers. It is
irresponsible to desire to speak in tongues just so that people will think
more highly of us. The only legitimate motivation that pleases God is love
and devotion to Him. Those who have the gift of tongues must examine
their practice and use of this gift to be sure they are using it out of love for
God.
Thirdly, Paul seems to compare the gift of tongues to that of an immature
child speaking to a father or mother. It appears from this that the reason we
have this gift is because of our inability to pray or express ourselves to God
as we ought. It is easy for those who speak in tongues to lift themselves
above others because they have the gift. Paul is reminding us, however, that
it is because of our weakness that God gives this ability.
Finally, 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that the day will come when the gift of
tongues will cease. When we have fully mature, and our ability to
communicate with God is perfected, our childish speech will no longer be
necessary. We will communicate with God with fluency and eloquence. We
will express our heart and our devotion to Him without hindrance. What a
day it will be when we can put aside this gift and communicate face to face!
It seems to me that we cannot use 1 Corinthians 13 to justify the idea that
tongues in no longer a gift given to the church. Yes, it will one day cease, as
will prophecy, instruction in knowledge, evangelism, healing and other
gifts. Until the Lord returns, however, this and all other gifts of God’s Spirit
continue to be important and necessary.
1
7 - PAUL’S TEACHING
ABOUT TONGUES
Corinthians 14 is the most significant passage in the Bible on the
gift of tongues. In this chapter, Paul compares the gift of tongues to
the gift of prophecy. In his comparison, the apostle reminds the
Corinthians that the gift of tongues had its place, but prophecy was more
useful for the body of Christ as a whole. This is primarily because tongues
are not understood unless interpreted, while prophecy is spoken clearly so
that everyone can benefit (see 1 Corinthians 14:1-3; 6, 10-11, 13, 23).
This teaching has led some to conclude that tongues are unnecessary. This
is not the case. Paul is not in any way diminishing the significance of the
gift of tongues in this passage. He is merely saying that each gift has its
place. In public worship, the gift of tongues, without interpretation, has
little benefit to the body.
It is clear from 1 Corinthians 12 that Paul recognized the significance of
every spiritual gift:
[21] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,”
nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” [22]
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are indispensable … (1 Corinthians 12)
No gift of God is insignificant. Every gift has its place and must be
honoured. With this in mind, let’s take a moment to consider what the
apostle Paul teaches the Corinthians about the gift of tongues in 1
Corinthians 14.