My first experience speaking in tongues came on April 27, 1988. I was 20 years old, and still a member of a denominational church, but out of curiosity, I had also been visiting a Pentecostal church on occasion. One day, I responded to an invitation to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I had been a Christian for about five years, and loved God very much, but at the same time, I knew that I needed a deeper presence of God in his life. As I was prayed for, I suddenly “felt” strange, unknown words well up inside me. As I began to speak them out, a gigantic tidal wave of God’s love and power flooded into me, changing my life forever.
Next to my salvation, this has been THE key event of my walk with Jesus. In the years since then, it has became a richer and deeper part of my life than I could ever have imagined. It is as natural to me as breathing. Since this experience changed my life so dramatically, I have a deep desire to share it with others. In this second part in our series of messages on tongues, I wanted to devote the entire article to dealing with questions about the availability of this wonderful experience to all believers.
I. ARE TONGUES AVAILABLE TO ALL CHRISTIANS?
In 1 Corinthians 12:30, Paul asks the hypothetical question “Do all speak in tongues?” This has led some to the conclusion that tongues as a whole are only for a select few Christians.
However, as we discussed in our last message, there are three different manifestations of tongues. The context of Paul’s above mentioned statement is a discussion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, tongues being one of them. He is giving instruction for the proper use of the gifts in a church service. When Paul speaks of tongues in this setting, he is referring to the ministry gift of tongues, which, as previously stated, is only one of the three, and is only given by the Holy Spirit in certain situations. This type of tongues is a sign to unbelievers. However, we read other instances in Scripture where people spoke in tongues, and no unbelievers were present (see Acts 10:46; 19:6, as well as note 1 below), giving further proof that this is not the exclusive purpose for tongues.
As for the other two manifestations of tongues, however, there are a number of Scriptures that clearly teach that they are for all Christians:
- Jesus said “These signs shall follow THEM THAT BELIEVE….” one of them being “they shall speak with new tongues.” (Mark 16:17).
- At the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, ALL spoke with tongues. (Acts 2:4).
- Throughout the Book of Acts, there is a consistent pattern of tongues being the initial evidence when someone is baptized in the Holy Spirit. See Acts 2:1-4;Acts 10:44-46;Acts 19:2-7. (more on this next question).
- Paul desired all Christians to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5).
- The exhortations to “Pray in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18 ) and “in the Holy Ghost” (Jude 20), terms synonymous with praying in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:14-16) are directed to all Christians.
I compare it to this :All Christians are to have faith (Mark 11:22; Ephesians 2:8,) but some have a special GIFT of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9). All Christians are to be merciful (Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:36) ,but some have a special ministry gift of mercy (Romans 12:8). Likewise,t he wonderful experience of praying in tongues is available to all Christians, but some have a special public ministry gift of tongues.
For futher comparison, here is a chart summarizing and contrasting the different aspects of tongues:
| Public Gift of Tongues
|Personal Prayer Language
| Spoken with interpretation to the church (Equal to prophecy-1 Corinthians 14:5)
| Spoken privately to God (1 Corinthians 14:2)
| To be interpreted (1 Corinthians 14:5)
| No interpretation necessary (1 Corinthians 14:28)
| Edifies the church (when interpreted-1 Corinthians 14:4-5)
|Edifies the individual believer (1 Corinthians 14:4)|
| A sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22)
| Can be manifested when no unbelievers are present (Acts 10:46; 19:6)
| Not given to all believers (1 Cor. 12:30)
| Should be desired and practiced by all Christians (Mark 16:17; 1 Corinthians 14:5; Ephesians 6:18; Jude 20 ).
II.WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN TONGUES AND THE BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT?
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a supernatural empowerment from God into the Christian’s life. It can happen at the moment a person is first saved, but as the following verses point out, it is normatively an event subsequent to salvation.
Since the baptism is a supernatural experience, it would stand to reason that it would by accompanied by a supernatural sign or evidence. Looking at the Biblical pattern, we see that this sign is speaking in tongues.
There are five recorded instances in the Book of Acts of people receiving the baptism. Each time, it either says the people spoke in tongues, or at least strongly implies that they did. Let’s look at each case on an individual basis:
- PENTECOST-Acts 2:1-4-As we stated earlier, the Holy Spirit was first poured out on the day of Pentecost. Of the 120 people who received the Spirit, every one of them, without exception, spoke in tongues (including, interestingly, Mary, the Mother of Jesus-Acts 1:14.) Note particularly the impact this experience had on Peter.In chapter 2, verses 14-41, we see the same disciple who had three times denied he even knew Jesus now stood in the face of a hostile crowd and boldly proclaimed the Gospel, resulting in 3000 people coming to Christ!
- THE BELIEVERS AT SAMARIA- Acts 8:14-24-Here the apostles receive the wonderful news of the Gospel spreading into Samaria. Upon hearing this, they immediately sent Peter and John to pray for them, so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. While they are ministering to these believers, a sorcerer named Simon sees this miraculous event, and offers Peter and John money for the ability to impart the Holy Spirit to others. Of course, Peter sharply rebukes him, telling him he has no part or lot in this matter (verse 20.) Although this account does not specifically mention tongues, it is important to notice two things: 1. Simon SAW that the Holy Spirit was being given (verse 18,) therefore, there must have been some sort of tangible evidence of the Holy Spirit’s impartation. 2. In verse 20, when Peter tells Simon that he has no part or lot in this matter, it is interesting to note that the word “matter” in the Greek can also be translated “utterance!” Simon had no part or lot in the UTTERANCE that he saw. Keeping these two things in mind, as well as comparing this event with others like it in Scripture, I believe it is perfectly safe to say that the evidence that Simon saw was the utterance in tongues of those who whose lives were being transformed by this marvelous work of the Holy Spirit.
- PAUL AND ANANIAS-Acts 9:17-18-After his dramatic encounter with God on the road to Damascus, Paul receives a visit from a man named Ananias, who was sent by God so that Paul, who had been blinded during the Damascus encounter, might “receive his sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost .” Although this particular passage does not state that Paul spoke in tongues, we know he did because he later wrote to the Corinthian church “I thank my God I speak in tongues more than you all .” ( 1 Corinthians 14:18).
- PETER AND THE FAMILY OF CORNELIUS-Acts 10:44-46-Cornelius and his family were the first Gentiles (non Jews) to ever become Christians. In the dramatic account of their conversion, we see Cornelius seeking God, who sends an angel to tell him to seek out the Apostle Peter, who, at the same time, was told by the Holy Spirit that Cornelius’ men were looking for him. Peter obediently goes to visit Cornelius, and shares the Gospel with him and his family. While Peter was preaching to them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues . The Jewish believers were astonished at this, because this Gentile family had received the Holy Spirit just like they had. Notice that when they witnessed this wonderful event, THE evidence that they recognized was that “they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.” ( verse 46) .
- PAUL AND THE EPHESIAN BELIEVERS- Acts 19:2-7- While passing through the city of Ephesus, Paul encounters a group of disciples and quickly asks them “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” They responded that they had never even heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul then gives them some further instruction, baptizes them in water, and lays hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit. When they do, they speak in tongues, as well as prophesy.
One of the basic rules of Bible interpretation is that it takes a minimum of two or three Scriptures to establish a doctrine ( Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1). So with these five examples, we can see that the doctrine of tongues as initial evidence is solidly Scriptural. Receiving the baptism has been humorously compared to buying a pair of shoes- Tongues come with it!
III. I KNOW MANY WONDERFUL CHRISTIANS WHO DON’T SPEAK IN TONGUES.IF TONGUES ARE AVAILABLE TO ALL CHRISTIANS,WHAT ABOUT THEM?
I also know many great Christian people who have never uttered a word in tongues. I have also known a few Christians who did speak in tongues who were downright mean! The issue here is the FRUIT of the Holy Spirit vs. the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit.
When a person is Born Again, the Holy Spirit comes to INDWELL him. All Christians have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. As the Christian yields to the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Spirit produces His fruits- love, joy, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23) in the believer’s life. However, when he is baptized in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit comes to EMPOWER him. This produces the Spirit’s supernatural power and gifts in the believer.(Acts 1:8).
This being said, it is possible to operate in the fruit of the Spirit, but not the gifts of the Spirit. At the same time, it is possible to operate in the gifts of the Spirit, but not the fruit of the Spirit. This was a problem in the Corinthian church, who in spite of lots of spiritual manifestations such as tongues, were still chastised by the Apostle Paul for being carnal (1 Corinthians 3:3), Paul also said that without love, tongues are less than worthless (1 Corinthians 13:1).
It is not my intention to in any way imply that Christians who don’t speak in tongues are any less saved, or are any less in love with Jesus than Christians who do. Possibly, because of there background, denomination, or some other factor, they simply haven’t been taught about tongues. Like the Ephesian believers Paul encountered in Acts 19:2-7, they simply are not aware that such an experience is available to them.
God wants us to operate in both the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. We must keep a balanced, focused view on this. I don’t claim that speaking in tongues has made me a better Christian than anyone else, but I do know this-It has made me a better Christian than I was before!
IV. IF IT IS GOD’S WILL FOR ALL CHRISTIANS TO SPEAK IN TONGUES, THEN WHY DO SOME HAVE TROUBLE RECEIVING THEIR PRAYER LANGUAGES?
When properly instructed, most Christians receive their prayer language quickly and easily. However, there are very sincere believers who, for whatever reason, struggle in this area. For some, it becomes a source of frustration and discouragement. Why does this happen? While I can’t address every possible scenario, here are a few of the most common:
- Religious tradition-If you come from a church background that is hostile to speaking in tongues, I realize that old prejudices can be hard to overcome. Nevertheless, we cannot allow religious traditions to make God’s Word ineffective to us (Mark 7:13). Thank God for the Bible truths you may have learned from your denominational church, but keep in mind that speaking in tongues will not nullify any of them! The Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17), and the prayer language He gives you will both reinforce the truth you already know, as well as prepare your heart to better receive truth you may not yet know.
- Codemnation-Some Christians feel that they are not “worthy” to speak in tongues. However, if we were perfect, we wouldn’t need it anyway! The only prerequisite to being baptized in the Holy Spirit is that you be born again. You do not receive it through your performance. You receive it through faith in God’s grace (see Galatians 3:2). If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, then you are ready to receive! You are no longer unworthy in His sight. You are forgiven and accepted by Him. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). Claim this wonderful promise as yours, and determine to never again allow condemnation to rob you of God’s blessing.
- Fear-Although we discussed this in the previous message, it bares stating again: Jesus promises in In Luke 11:9-13 that if we ask Him for bread, He will not give us a stone. Verse 13 assures us beyond any question that if we ask God for the Holy Spirit, that is exactly what we will get.
- Not understanding what to expect-A common misconception is that when we speak in tongues, the Holy Spirit “grabs” our mouths and forces words out of us. This is not true at all. In Acts 2:4, notice that the people “…began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It was the Spirit who gave the utterance, but they were the ones who had to the speaking. In addition, Paul’s instruction on when it is and is not appropriate to speak in tongues (see 1 Corinthians 14:6-13; 16-17; 23-25, 27-28) further shows us that the response is an act of our will.
Getting your prayer language is not difficult. It is a simple matter of asking and receiving. Just ask God in faith to baptize you in the Holy Spirit, then open your mouth and speak whatever He gives you. At first it may just be a syllable or two. You didn’t learn to speak English all at once, so you needn’t expect a complete, fluent language to come all at once. Use what you get, and more will come. Yes, it is that simple!
V. DO I HAVE TO SPEAK IN TONGUES?
No,you don’t HAVE to, you GET to! As we discussed in the previous message, Scripture exhorts us to covet, or as the literal Greek puts it, to “pursue with passion” the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:31). Being filled with the Spirit, and operating in this realm is an awesome privilege!
You can be genuinely saved, love Jesus with all your heart, and go to Heaven when you die, and never speak in tongues. At the same time, however, you will miss out on many of the wonderful blessings and benefits that God has for you that are directly linked to speaking in tongues.
God is a Spirit, and He wants to relate to us on the spirit level (John 4:24). The natural person can’t receive the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). We must go into the Spirit realm to draw them out. Without tongues, we will never fully enter into that spirit realm in our prayer lives. We can, and should pray to God in our natural language (1 Corinthians 14:15.) He understands English perfectly well! However, we are still very finite, limited creatures, with only three and a half pounds of brain with which to communicate with the vastness of the creator of the universe! When we pray in tongues, our spirit prays (1 Corinthians 14:14) and we communicate with God Spirit to spirit, speaking mysteries (1 Corinthians 14:2) to Him. The word “mysteries” in the Greek means “divine secrets, knowledge unrevealed to the uninitiated.” We will further explore this, as well as the many other benefits of praying in tongues, in the next message. One of the reasons Jesus died was so that we could experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives (John 16:7). Don’t miss it!