Since the days of the early church, some Spiritual Gifts have caused confusion and controversy. Primarily this is true with what many call the Sign Gifts (Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues, Healings and Miracles). The reason for much of this controversy lies in the fact that some have tried to use these gifts as a means of exalting self. Obviously there would be very little trouble over someone who claimed to have the Gift of Mercy or Serving, but when it comes to the gifts that appear to make us more spiritual, there is the problem of pride.
Paul had to deal with this in his first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthian church was filled with pride and in particular – pride over the Gift of Tongues. What is this gift and why has it caused such a problem? We will consider it in two parts: the Purpose of Tongues and the Practice of Tongues.
The Purpose of the Gift of Tongues
We first see the Gift of Tongues on the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
Two important facts are revealed here:
1. The Gift of Tongues was the ability to speak in a language other than the one that had been naturally acquired. Galileans were speaking in various languages from throughout the known world.
2. Secondly, this caused those listening to question why and how. Paul answers these questions 1 Corinthians 14 –
1 Corinthians 14:21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. 22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not…
Note – ‘tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.’ The Spirit used the Gift of Tongues as a sign to confirm the authenticity of the apostles and the message they were about to preach.
When the non-believers at Pentecost began to question what was happening, Peter responded by saying –
Acts 2:32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
The Gift of Tongues on the Day of Pentecost was simply for the purpose of gaining the non-believers’ attention and to cause them to question, so that the Apostles might preach to them the gospel.
As we continue to read through the book of Acts, we see the Spirit using this gift as a means of confirmation on other occasions. In Acts 10 the Spirit led Peter to the home of a Gentile named Cornelius. Like all Jews of his day, Peter was apprehensive about entering the home of a Gentile. Yet he obeyed and as a result many came to know Christ. Then as a confirmation to Peter and the Jewish brethren with him that Gentiles could be saved as well as Jews, the Spirit caused the new Gentile converts to speak in tongues.
Acts 10:44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
Later in Acts 19 we find the Gift of Tongues used once again for confirmation. Paul came upon a group of men who were disciples of John. They had been baptized with John’s baptism of repentance, but not yet in the name of Christ. Paul preached unto them Jesus and afterwards baptized them in Christ’s name. As a result, they spoke in tongues. Again the Gift of Tongues was used as a means of confirming the authenticity of the gospel message.