The Truth About Speaking in Tongues
“We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
See Acts 2:11
Right from the get-go, I want to be very clear about something: speaking in tongues has not gone away. None of the spiritual gifts have gone away. Who are we to put God in a box? The problem is, just like in the early church, the spiritual gifts have been misconstrued, misinterpreted, and even lied about.
God can do anything He wants, any time He wants–including using the gift of tongues in 2017. However, misinformation and misguidance, along with massive amounts of incorrect church tradition, pride, ego, and hierarchies, have turned this amazing evangelistic gift into a repellent for unbelievers and believers alike.
In regard to the gift of tongues, there are only two places in the Bible where it’s explained in detail: Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12-14. Acts 2 is the account of the first human beings actually being indwelt by the Holy Spirit–this had never happened before! Before this first-time event, the Spirit of God would be with people and on people, but never in people! (See Joshua 1:9, John 20:22).
Prior to Acts 2, God was never inside of any man or any woman because all of humanity had sinful spirits. Unbelievers still do to this day. God cannot be connected to sin in any way, this is why He could never be in our spirits with our spirits, or in our physical bodies.
But because of what Jesus did at the Cross–which is removed our body of sin, our spirits, by killing them off and giving us new, sinless spirits–the apostles’ spirits were also crucified, buried, and resurrected with Jesus as new, perfect spirits! Therefore, God’s Spirit could finally make His home in them, as well as in all who would believe! (See Romans 6:6-7, Galatians 2:20, Ezekiel 36:26, John 1:12, 3:16, 14:23, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Corinthians 6:19).
When this happened–God literally possessing the apostles–they began to speak in tongues. They didn’t speak in tongues to get His Spirit, they spoke in tongues after the Holy Spirit conjoined with them. If you read all of Acts 2 in context, you’ll see. They didn’t speak in tongues to achieve the Spirit, or even because they had received the Spirit. Instead, they began to speak in tongues because of the audience around them…foreign language speakers.
There were people from many alien nations and areas in their midst–this is the proper context of the apostles speaking in tongues! They began to speak in peoples’ native languages! The different tongues of different dialects were allowing the unbelievers around them to be able to hear the good news of Jesus! They had miraculously started to talk in the language of all of these different people groups:
“Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:9-11)
The apostles were not speaking in angel talk–I’ll get to that misnomer shortly–they were speaking in the local language of each person! Don’t believe me? Just look!
“When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.” (Acts 2:6)
Let’s repeat: they heard their own language being spoken! Why is this important? Because it is a sign to that person whom you are speaking to in their own tongue that what you are saying is legit! THE GOSPEL! THIS IS WHY THE CROWD WAS AMAZED AND PERPLEXED! (See Acts 2:12).
Just think of it, if I’m Tai, Russian, or Vietnamese, and I know for a fact that you cannot speak my language–yet you do, fluently–don’t you think that what you are saying about Jesus, I’ll probably believe as true?…Um, yeah!
This is what was happening on the day of Pentecost! This is what was happening during all expressions of the gift of tongues! This is how the gospel spread so quickly! CHRISTIANS WERE GIFTED TO SPEAK DIFFERENT LANGUAGES!
I’m sure tongues still happens today, but not as often because most nations know about Jesus. However, God will do whatever it takes to get our attention. Why do you think Jesus performed so many miracles? IT WAS FOR THOSE AROUND HIM TO BELIEVE.
Friend, we don’t speak in tongues to receive God’s Spirit. Some people don’t even have a tongue. Will God not make His home in them? Will they not receive God in full? The enemy came up with this idea of twisting the truth about this amazing gift. He placed this incorrect notion of having to speak in tongues to receive God’s Spirit in the mind of man as a distraction, and it worked. Satan wants us to feel like second-class Christians if we don’t speak in tongues and that’s just wrong. He’s caused us to take a beautiful evangelistic tool and turn it into a modern-day church law.
“Yeah, you might be saved, but you still need to receive God’s Spirit! You gotta be slain with a second baptism of the Holy Ghost or else you’re missing out!”
This is ludicrous. Being saved is receiving God’s Spirit. We don’t need a second dose. Being saved doesn’t mean we lose our self-control and wiggle around on the floor as proof of our salvation–or “better” salvation. Matter of fact, just the opposite should happen. We should be exuding self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23). The enemy has handed off the baton of acting insane in church, we’ve taken it, and then sprinted away with all fury!
Please understand, we receive God’s Spirit by hearing with faith and nothing else (Romans 10:17, Galatians 3:2). We don’t need a “second blessing” or a second portion of the Holy Spirit. We get Him in full from the moment we first believe Jesus has forgiven us. Paul said that we can’t even say, “Jesus is the Lord” without His Spirit being in us (see 1 Corinthians 12:3). He said that if we don’t have the Spirit of God in us then we don’t even belong to God (see Romans 8:9). So being knocked over or hootin’ and hollerin’ to get God’s Spirit is way off base. The Spirit doesn’t bring on craziness, but instead, order, peace, and relaxation (see 2 Timothy 1:7).
We must refocus. We must refocus on the freedom found in Christ. We must stop convoluting spiritual gifts into spiritual requirements. It’s demonic and we are being blinded by this dog-and-pony show. It’s bad advertising for the real gospel.
I’m not saying stand around stiff as a board, no way! Enjoy yourself! Clap, sing, have a good time! I’ll be the first to bump the guy next to me with my worship! But at the same time know that every Christian has all they need for life and godliness–tongue speaking is not required (see 2 Peter 1:3).
In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul explains the spiritual gifts and how to handle them properly. Speaking in tongues is one of them and he makes clear that he speaks in tongues more than anyone else. Why? Because he was traveling the most. Paul was not an apostle to the Jews, he was an apostle to the non-Jews, the Gentiles. Therefore, if he is traveling to many different foreign locations, he would have to speak in many different foreign languages.
He taught the church very important matters about tongues. Keep in mind when you read this, Paul is speaking to a group of believers, not foreign people who needed to hear the gospel in their native language:
“I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.” (1 Corinthians 14:5)
Now, for the person who finds their identity in speaking in tongues, they will immediately bark at me, “See Matt! Paul wants everyone to speak in tongues!”
But to this rebuttal I’d have to say, “Hold on to your hanky for a minute.” First of all, he just said prophesying is greater, so why aren’t you telling people they need to prophesy as evidence of the Spirit rather than speak in tongues?
Second, if we are keeping the gift of tongues in context, why would Paul say this to people who all spoke the same language? I’ll tell you: Because the evangelistic gift of tongues is amazing! If each one of them were traveling to different areas, spreading the gospel by way of tongues, “That’s awesome!” Paul is saying. “Tongues is great!”
But Paul is not making a law out of tongues, he’s simply saying it is a very good thing. I mean, after all, just look at what happened in Acts 2! Lots of different nations heard the gospel! But for this letter to the Corinthians, because it’s a corporate setting of Christians who all spoke the same language, Paul said the gift of prophesying is greater. Why would he say such a thing? Well, if we have the gift of prophesying twisted like we do tongues, this can confuse us in even greater ways.
New Covenant prophesying is not future-telling. It’s not someone standing up on stage, scanning the crowd, pointing to someone then saying, “In six years, you’ll have four kids, live in Vermont, and have a homeless shelter ministry.” No way.
On this side of the Cross, because God’s Spirit lives in us He speaks to us directly. We don’t need a self-proclaimed, or a momma-proclaimed prophet “reading” our future. How off course can we possibly get?! No wonder people think we are weirdos! New Covenant prophesying is about edification, which is building people up. That’s why Paul said prophesying is greater “so that the church may be edified” (see 1 Corinthians 14:5).
Edify means encourage, counsel, guide, instruct, and exhort! It means to spur one another on toward love and good deeds! (See Hebrews 10:24). Like some of today’s churches, even back then, the gift of tongues was being abused to make the speaker look better than others–more “holy.”
“Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:4)
Do you see it? Friends, this is so simple. Sure, a person’s ego will be furious about this truth, but we don’t need our egos anyway. Paul is saying that a person who speaks in tongues without foreign people in their midst, nor an interpreter to interpret that foreign language, they are just trying to look good. They are just trying to edify themselves.
Paul’s answer to put a rein on the latest episode of Tongues Gone Wild was to prophesy. “Recenter the focus on edifying the body of believers around you so they can grow in the knowledge of God’s grace.”
If you really think about it, what happens when we speak in tongues and nobody who speaks that language is there to interpret it? Or even worse, what happens when we all do this at once? People think we’re crazy!
What do even other Christians say about churches who speak in tongues together as a group? “Those people need to be committed! I’m outta here!” It’s those around us who witness this incomprehensible nonsense as a repellent to the truth of God’s unconditional love–that is, when it’s not done properly.
The judging of tongue-speakers as nuts is not a new thing, it started from the beginning. When the apostles spoke in tongues in the book of Acts, many of the hearers thought they were drunk! Peter quickly corrected them and said, “It ain’t 5 o’clock yet! This is legit!” (See Acts 2:12-15). Paul even warns us about visitors thinking we’re mad:
“So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (1 Corinthians 14:23)
Believers, we must refocus. We must stop acting as if a spiritual gift is something that everyone must do. Believe it or not, there are even some people out there who think tongues can be taught! No gift can be taught! That’s why it’s a gift! There are actual schools that “teach” how to speak in tongues. Image that?
The enemy has us so hung up on a particular gift that schools have been created for the gift! I bet that moron just laughs his butt off each time someone attempts to teach it! I mean, seriously, what happens when you can’t pull off speaking in tongues organically? When you absolutely can’t speak a foreign language from God’s Spirit within you, you only have two choices:
- Fake it.
- Give up and consider yourself a second-class Christian, or not a Christian at all.
Speaking in tongues is a gift! IT’S SOMETHING YOU RECEIVE FROM GOD! You can’t study to get a gift! You can’t work to get a gift! If you could then it would no longer be a gift! It would be something you deserve! It would be something you’ve earned! Gifts and grace are not earnable!
Some people are even attempting to “kick start” others into tongues. They’ll start the person out, holding their hands, “Okay, now repeat after me, ‘Shamalamalama…now you keep it going…'” You believe this crap?! C’mon people! REFOCUS!
An angry person might say to me, “But we gotta have signs! Without receiving confirmation through signs and wonders how will we know if our salvation is real?! Or if anything is real?!”
…Believe. Friend, you don’t need signs. You don’t need confirmations. Just look at what Jesus said:
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (John 4:47)
Can’t you feel His attitude toward this mindset? I can just picture Jesus shaking His head as He spoke that sentence. And then look at what He tells Thomas, a man who doubted everything unless he got confirmation:
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29)
Yes, Jesus was talking about Himself, but the same point remains, believe without seeing.
A grace-confused person might yell at me, “Matt, you’ve gone too far! I’ve always liked what you’ve had to say, but in regard to tongues, you have no idea what you’re talking about! Tongues is an angel language! This is how we pray and how He prays for us!”
Friend, I’m so sorry, but that’s wrong. First of all, there is not a single Bible verse that says tongues is used in private prayer. The reason for this is because tongues is a sign to the unbeliever, not the believer (see 1 Corinthians 14:22). We already know what we mean, so we don’t need to speak in tongues to ourselves. Further, God knows what you mean too, so He doesn’t need it either.
As for the Holy Spirit praying for us? Yes, He absolutely does, but that’s not happening in foreign languages. It’s happening in godly groans we cannot even fathom as finite human beings. Romans 8:26 says the Spirit prays for us, because we don’t know what to pray for. It says nothing about speaking in tongues. Have you ever had times in your life when you didn’t know what to pray?…I sure have. The good news is during those difficult seasons the Holy Spirit knows we don’t know what to pray for, so He steps in and prays on our behalf. This has nothing to do with tongues and everything to do with His great love for us.
And when you say “angel languages,” that too falls flat for a couple reasons. First of all, a lot of times tongues is not even coming from the mouths of people by way of the Spirit. It’s being forced. So it’s not even tongues at all. Instead, it’s someone forcing strange noises out of their mouth because of feelings they are having, as well as what they are being incorrectly taught or coerced to do. It’s phony tongues.
There was a linguistic study which analyzed many different churches who claimed to speak in tongues. What that study revealed was the syllables and sounds coming from a lot of the tongue-speakers was never a syllable or sound that did not already exist in their native language. Now don’t you think that if a person was speaking in an angel language–a dialect from heaven–that person would have a much larger variety of sounds coming from them? Of course they would.
When Paul talked about angel languages, he was saying “even if” we speak in the tongues of angels, but don’t have love, we are only a clanging cymbal (see 1 Corinthians 13:1). In context, you can see he is speaking in hyperbole. Paul isn’t referencing the gift of tongues here, he’s talking about actual angel language. But even if he was, just look at what our tongues would be without love…annoying sounds.
I say he is speaking in hyperbole because Paul also says “even if” I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I am nothing (see 1 Corinthians 13:2). I haven’t seen anyone causing mountains to float around, so again, this is exaggeration for Paul to prove what is most important! Love!
THE POINT IS LOVE! THE POINT OF THE GOSPEL IS LOVE! Not speaking in tongues, not moving mountains–not any gift or angel language–but love!
There will be many people who meet Jesus on the day of their death, as well as when He returns, and they’ll point to their gifts and achievements to try to get into heaven:
“Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? In your name, did we not drive out demons? In your name, did we not perform many miracles? Did we not speak in tongues?! LOOK AT EVERYTHING I’VE DONE FOR YOU!”
Sadly, Jesus will reply:
“I never knew you.” (See Matthew 7:23)
So today, my friends, know this: God would rather you speak five words in love, that you can understand, than He would 10,000 words without love, that you cannot (see 1 Corinthians 14:19). Refocus. Refocus on love, and refocus on what Jesus has done for you. This is what He wants from you, much more than any gift He’s given to you.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you so much for spiritual gifts! Although there are many listed in the Bible, I know that the gifts you’ve given us are countless! We Christians are all gifted with your Spirit–evenly! And it is in that Spirit, combined with OUR spirit, our gifts soar! THANK YOU! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of them don’t know what their gifts are, and some do. For those who do, help them to stay focused on the most important aspect of their gift, LOVE! And for those who are wondering what their gift is, let them know it will be revealed to them in a peaceful, easy, non-pressure-filled way. Sure, that gift may skyrocket in the midst of the greatest trials of their life, but even still, expressing that gift will always feel nice and natural. Let these dear readers know that because of their faith in Jesus, they are already gifted with EVERY spiritual blessing! In His name, I pray. Amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 3. Get your copy here!