by Tom Brown
Speaking in tongues is the most talked about phenomena in Christianity. Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement has brought speaking in tongues to the forefront, and these branches of Christianity are without doubt the fastest growing segments of Christianity. These movements are impacting the world even more than the reformation did.
Yet with all the talk about speaking in tongues, few understand what it’s all about. It is the least understood subject among believers. People will be surprise to find that the Bible mentions speaking in tongues thirty-five times. That is a lot, so this subject should not be cast lightly aside as unimportant to the Church. God does not fill His book with things of minor importance.
Many people who have never spoken in tongues speak as though they’re experts in this field, when in reality they teach only from theory.
Who should know more about tongues: those who speak in tongues or those who don’t? Well, shouldn’t we learn from those who do speak in tongues!? Since I do speak in tongues, I feel that I can bring scriptural wisdom with experience in this article. This column will clarify common misunderstandings and show the importance and benefits of speaking in tongues.
WHAT GOOD IS IT?
The Apostle Paul writes, “He who speaks in tongues edifies himself…I would like every one of you to speak in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:4,5). With these positive statement about tongues, why do so few Christians speak in tongues? I believe the answer is because there is very little sound, logical and scriptural teaching as to the scope and value of speaking in tongues.
Recently I spoke to a group of Mormons at the University Ward on North Oregon Street. I shared my testimony on how God saved and filled me with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. After the talk, the number one question the students asked was on speaking in tongues. One inquisitive student asked, “What does speaking in tongues do for you?”
I answered, “It does exactly what the Bible says it does: He who speaks in tongues edifies himself.” The word “edify” means to “build up” or “charge up”–much like charging up a battery. We all need a spiritual charge. All of us at times feel spiritually drained. One of God’s ways to charge your spirit is through speaking in tongues.
A HEAVENLY LANGUAGE
Many people inaccurately define speaking in tongues as “speaking gibberish” or “talking nonsense.” The truth is, speaking in tongues is the most intelligent, perfect language in the universe. It is God’s language.
What language do you suppose people speak in heaven? Languages are given their name based on the countries they come from. For example, English comes from England. Spanish comes from Spain. Italian comes from Italy.
Well, where does tongues come from? It comes from Heaven! Tongues is the heavenly language. It is what is spoken in heaven; the only difference is that the people in heaven understand what they are saying. Here on earth Paul says, “For anyone who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understand him; he utters mysteries with his spirit” (v. 2).
Jesus says that those who believe in Him will “speak in new tongues” (Mark 16:17). The word “new” means appearing for the first time. No one had spoken these languages before. Contrary to bad theology tongues is not an ability given to preach the gospel in the language of foreigners. This would make tongues “old” languages. It is only appropriate that “new tongues” should be spoken by those of the “new birth.” It is natural and normal to speak in the language of your birth. We are born again from above, therefore we should speak the language from above–that language is called “new tongues.”
SHOULDN’T TONGUES BE UNDERSTOOD?
The first to speak in tongues were the disciples. This occurred on the day of Pentecost. People often think that on this day the disciples were speaking human languages, because the people could understand what they were saying.
I don’t believe this is true because there was a two-fold miracle taking place on this day: the miracle of speaking and hearing: The first miracle was the speaking in tongues. The second miracle was the enabling of some to understand the tongues. Not everyone understood the tongues, because some onlookers made fun of the disciples and accused them of being drunk (Acts 2:13); this clearly shows that they did not understand the tongues.
And the ones who did understand the tongues were perplex because each one heard only their own native language not the languages of the other people (v. 6). The Bible tells us that there were over fourteen foreigners representing many nations, speaking different languages. Yet each person heard the disciples praising God in their own language. They exclaimed, “How is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?” (v. 8) They could not figure out how this was possible.
It is clear that the disciples were not “preaching” the gospel in tongues, they were instead “declaring the wonders of God” (v. 11). They were not speaking “to men but to God” (1 Cor 14:2). The people were simply listening in on their praises to God. It wasn’t until Peter stood up to speak to the crowd in one common language that the gospel was preached. So tongues are not supernatural human languages given to the apostles so they could preach in languages they did not naturally learn.
The disciples were not speaking human languages; they were speaking in unknown tongues. But God enabled those whose hearts were opened to understand what the disciples were saying. Sometimes this happens today. You see, the miracle was in the hearing of the people.
THE BAPTISM IN THE SPIRIT
Let us look carefully at the first scriptural account of speaking in tongues:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4).
This experience is what John the baptist and Jesus called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This was the fulfillment of Jesus promise, “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Every Christian believes in baptizing in water. But few accept the better baptism–the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Since you were willing to be baptized in water, shouldn’t you also be willing to be baptized in the Holy Spirit?
Theologians often confuse the baptism in the Holy Spirit with salvation. They often regard these two experiences as being the same. This confuses believers. They incorrectly assume that salvation is the same as the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Bible does not teach this. The Bible clearly teaches that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate experience from salvation and comes after a person is saved, although it can occur at the time of salvation.
The story of the Samaritan converts plainly proves this (see Acts 8:5-25). Philip preached to them about Christ. The people joyfully accepted the gospel and was born again. They confirmed their faith by being baptized as well. Yet, despite the fact that these folks were truly saved, Philip called for the apostles to come and pray for them that they would receive the Holy Spirit. It is clear from this story that being saved is not the same as receiving the Holy Spirit. (Although the Holy Spirit is definitely involved in salvation.)
Another biblical story illustrates this fact (see Acts 19:1-7). Paul met some disciples of John the Baptist. He thought they were believers in the Lord Jesus, because they talked so much about repentance. Paul, unaware that they were only disciples of John, yet knowing something was missing in these men, asked them an obvious question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
The question itself proves that Paul, including the early church, believed that it was possible to be a believer in Jesus without having received the Holy Spirit. If receiving the Holy Spirit was automatic at conversion, then why did Paul asked the question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
THE PHYSICAL EVIDENCE
I was baptized in the Holy Spirit at the First Assembly of God church on Montana. The preacher asked for those wishing to dedicate themselves to the ministry to come forward for prayer. The first to come forward was a tall, slender fellow name Timmy. I thought, “If Timmy can go forward, I can too.” So I followed him down to the front of the podium.
Without notice, something invisible hit Timmy, and down he went on the floor. Almost immediately, something hit me too. Down I went, prostrate on the ground. I began to weep uncontrollably. God’s presence was all over me. This went on for several minutes.
The thought occurred to me, “This must be what my church has been talking about all these years. What is happening to me must be the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” No sooner did I think that when I heard this scripture in my mind, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.”
If I’m filled with the Holy Spirit, then I’ll speak in other tongues, I reasoned in my mind. Right then, I began speaking in other tongues–and I haven’t stopped yet! Glory to God!
You see, the physical proof of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is the same evidence that the disciples had: speaking in tongues. You may have other evidences as well, but the one evidence you should have is speaking in tongues.
There are five examples in the Bible of people receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:4; 8:17; 9:17; 10:44; 19:6). In three out of the five examples we are told that specific signs took place. In the other two examples, the manifestation of physical signs taking place are implied, but not mentioned. Based on these two cases we cannot build any solid evidence as to what should happen when someone is baptized in the Holy Spirit. However, based on the other three examples we can build a good, solid case as to what should happen when someone is baptized in the Spirit.
We are told in these three examples that certain physical manifestations took place. In each case, more than one physical sign took place, which teaches us that there are usually more than one sign taking place when people are baptized in the Holy Spirit. Yet, there is one sign–and only one sign–that is common to all three examples. The identical sign was speaking in tongues. Based on this observation we can conclude that the standard sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.
Speaking in tongues is the physical, biblical evidence that one is baptized in the Holy Spirit. We should not settle for anything less than the scriptural evidence.
If you haven’t been baptized in the Holy Spirit, seek God about it and pray for it in faith. God never lets a thirsty soul go dry.
DO ALL SPEAK IN TONGUES?
Someone may say, “How can you say that all Christians should speak in tongues considering the apostle Paul’s words, ‘Do all speak in tongues?’? (1 Corinthians 12:30).
In this passage, Paul is talking about public ministry gifts that are manifested in the church. He is not talking about tongues as the initial sign of the baptism in the Spirit, nor is he talking about tongues as a private, devotional, prayer language.
You can recognize this by simply looking at the language Paul uses concerning speaking in tongues. In this chapter he calls speaking in tongues “different kinds of tongues” (see 12:10,28). “Different kinds” means “not the usual.” The usual kind of speaking in tongues is a language no man understands or interprets. However, speaking in “different kinds” of tongues enables the speaker or someone else to recognize the meaning of the tongue and thereby interpreting it.
So when Paul ask the question, “Do all speak in tongues?”, he is referring to the public manifestation of tongues which enables a person gifted in interpretation to speak out the meaning of the tongue. Not all have been given this gift of “different kinds” of tongues.
In the fourteenth chapter of this epistle, Paul corrects the misuse of tongues in the church. He told them to stop the practice gathering “the whole church [so] everyone [can] speak in tongues” (v. 23). Notice carefully that the “whole church” was gathered and that “everyone” was speaking in tongues. This clearly shows us that everyone in the Corinthian church was speaking in tongues. Most of them should have allowed those gifted in the “different kinds” of tongues to exercise their gift, and the rest should simply “keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God” (v. 28).
Friend, I encourage you to seek the scriptural evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and to settle for nothing but the best.