“Glossolalia” is the Greek term used in place of “Speaking in Tongues” in the New Testament. It means Speaking in other languages or tongues. It’s a supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit or a Spirit-inspired utterance whereby believers speak in a language they have never learned, (Acts 2:4). There are 2 basic types of tongues according to the Bible.
(1) Partial Tongues
(2) Heavenly Tongues.
Partial tongues refer to speaking in existing spoken human languages as the disciples did in Acts 2:6. Heavenly Tongues refer to speaking in a language unknown on earth, (1 Corinthians 13:1). In today’s sermon let’s explore the topic in detail.
1. Tongues as a sign
(A) Spirit Baptism
The book of Acts testifies tongues are the initial physical evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit which is the most basic application of tongues.
I. Peter and the other disciples of Jesus spoke in tongues after they were baptized by the Holy Spirit on the day Pentecost, (Acts 2:4)
II. The gentile believers to whom Peter ministered in Caesarea, (Acts 10:44-46)
III. The disciples of John the Baptist to whom Paul ministered in Ephesus, (Acts 19:6)
(B) The unbeliever
I. Conviction: Tongues when exercised by everyone within the congregation become a negative sign to unbelievers because in that they signify that the unbeliever is separated from God and cannot understand what is occurring, (1 Corinthians 14:22a). Such an atmosphere can convict the unbeliever and lead him to repentance, (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
II. Judgment: On the day of Pentecost the skeptical Jews who were native to Jerusalem were judged because God did not speak in their mother language, (Isaiah 28:11; Acts 2:13).
2. Tongues as a gift
The Bible recognizes tongues as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the believer, (1 Corinthians 12:4-10). Tongues as a gift serve two main purposes, (public and personal)
(A) Public: Speaking in tongues followed by interpretation is used in corporate worship to communicate the content of the utterance to the congregation, so that all may enter into Spirit-lead worship, praise and prophecy, (1 Corinthians 14:5-6).
(B) Personal: The act of speaking in tongues is used by the believer to speak to God in his or her personal devotions which in turn build up his own spiritual life, (1 Corinthians 14:4). This kind of utterance involves speaking at the level of the Spirit for the purpose of praying (1 Corinthians 14:2), giving thanks (1 Corinthians 14:16-17) or even singing, (1 Corinthians 14:15).
3. Pitfalls to avoid
(A) False teachings
(I) Tongues have ceased: This is a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8 (…where there are tongues, they will be stilled…). The tongues will cease only after the perfection comes (The Greek word used in the place of “perfection” is “teleios”. It means complete or end.) People who believe in Cessationism argue the word refers to the end of the apostolic era. However this term is mostly used in an eschatological context. The second coming of Christ has not taken place yet and therefore we can agree the gift of tongues is not ceased.
(II) The Holy Spirit possesses the receiver: In some Christian circles it is believed and taught that the Holy Spirit of God possesses the believer at the time of receiving and takes control of his tongue while others teach that the Holy Spirit speaks through the believer. Both of these teachings are wrong. The Holy Spirit gives the ability instead. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.”
(III) Ecstatic speech: Speaking in tongues is not a form of ecstatic speech as taught by certain teachers of the Bible. The Bible never uses the term “ecstatic utterance” to refer to speaking in tongues.
(IV) Required for salvation: Some teachings erringly maintain that everyone must speak in tongues in order to be saved. This is a grave mistake since not all people speak in tongues because not all people are gifted by the Holy Spirit this way.
I. Seeking after the sign: Many Christians have arranged their priorities wrong. That is they seek after tongues instead of asking the Father to baptize them with the Holy Spirit. This is wrong. The baptism of the Holy Spirit should be our aim. Tongues are a result of the Holy Spirit baptism – not vice versa.
II. False speaking in tongues: The act of speaking in “other tongues”, or any other supernatural manifestation, is not always the evidence of the work and presence of the Spirit. Speaking in tongues can be counterfeited by human initiative or demonic activity. The Bible warns us not to believe every spirit but to examine whether our spiritual experiences really do come from God, (1 John 4:1).
III. Tongues without interpretation: Who ever speak in an unknown tongue during a public meeting to avoid confusion should be able to provide the interpretation also. Further, exercise of tongues within a public meeting must be regulated. The speaker must never allowed to be “in ecstasy” or “out of control” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28)
Over the time “Speaking in Tongues” has evolved to be a controversial topic and this is not the final sermon to be preached on the subject. We do know however that the phenomenon is widespread, biblical and true. Hence it’s foolishness to argue about such great divine gifts without exercising them. This is what the Lord has given for the edification of self and His church.