Gifted: Tongues

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Author: Alan Smith Date: Sunday, July 5, 2015 Campus:

Gifted – Tongues & Interpretation

Slide 1

We continue our series of talks– entitled ‘Gifted’.

In this series we look more closely at some of gifts that God gives to his people by the power of his Spirit. These gifts are startling, even strange and it may not be obvious why God would want us to have them.

The passage in the Bible we are studying is in Paul’s first letter to the early Christian church which was in the Greek city of Corinth; 1 Corinthians, and Chapter 12.

We will focus in on verses 8 to 10 but let’s read from verse 1 so we see it in context:

Slide 2

1 Corinthians 12

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

In the original letter there were no chapters or verses – the text would have flowed straight into what we call chapter 13…

Slide 3

1 Corinthians 13

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If God gives good gifts for us to use to help others then we must use them in love, not for selfish or vengeful purposes.

Slide 4

So far we have heard talks about Wisdom, Prophecy and Miracles and next we will look at speaking in different kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues

These abilities are gifts; they are not learnt, they are not rewards for being a 5-star Christian - they are more like a spiritual toolkit to increase the spiritual effectiveness of the church.

Some years ago I went to some Spanish classes. I’ve always found languages interesting and had done well at French in school. But when you learn a language there is so much to remember, and you need to remember it quickly. I found I could read and translate ok because there’s time to think and do it like a puzzle. But to speak another language it needs plenty of practice. Then you find foreign language speakers may have accents or use abbreviations or words stolen from other languages and it becomes almost impossible! Your mind has to work fast!!

But imagine suddenly being able to speak another language fluently without having to learn it a noun or a verb at a time. Well you can be given a new language in this way and it is called the gift of ‘tongues’.

Let’s read from Acts to see what happened to the disciples on the first day that the Holy Spirit of God came in power upon them…

Slide 5

Acts 2

2 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.

Slide 6

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?( Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs)—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

So the ability to speak other languages was given supernaturally to the disciples – but why? Since the good news of Jesus was to be passed on through the ancient world it would certainly be handy to be able to speak the local languages! But the thing that makes it so compelling is that this ability would have taken years of language classes and practice to attain and yet the disciples could suddenly do it and do it really well! And to cap it all they were Galileans!! We don’t realise the importance of that distinction and the prejudice it represents. It is the equivalent of saying these people are not bright enough to learn a language … and yet somehow they have – how bizarre! It’s a bit like the snobbery of city dwellers towards simple country folk; ‘Made in Chelsea’ vs ‘Towie’; ‘rich’ vs ‘poor’.

And the ‘stupid’ disciples from the country were quickly dismissed by the ‘intelligent’ city dwellers by saying that they must be drunk! The gift of tongues or languages makes people uncomfortable because it is weird and unexpected and those who do it may appear to be mad. There are many stories of people who have being given a new language which has turned out to be another earthly language and someone hearing that who recognised their language may be left with no rational explanations except that it has been given by God!

When I first met Christians who spoke in tongues I thought they were mad because in all my years of attending a church I had never heard this gift used before. So I didn’t desire this gift for another twenty years or so - until I realised that we can communicate with God in other ways not just by using correct English.

So was God just showing his power by instantly equipping the disciples with some other languages which they might find useful when spreading the good news about Jesus? Many churches - and I would include the one I grew up in where I didn’t hear anyone speaking in tongues - might have explained these languages as being useful then but that we don’t need them nowadays.

However we are overlooking an important part of the gift is that even if we speak in tongues – in a language we have not learned then we are not translating English into another strange language in our heads – no! In fact the person speaking does it without knowing what the words mean!

When we speak or pray or worship using a learned language (like English) then we are using our minds. If our minds are engaged then these activities are productive and others who hear us will understand in their minds what is going on.

But there are times when are minds are NOT engaged. In situations where we cannot find the words to express our thoughts because our minds are distracted or empty what words should we use? Have you ever faced situations or tried to pray on behalf of someone but you just don’t know where to start? Many people stop praying at the very time they need to because their minds cannot find the right words. Praying in tongues allows us to cry out to God from the Spirit instead of the mind.

Slide 7

Romans 8:26-27

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

1 Corinthians 14:5

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.

Paul wishes all could speak in ‘tongues’ using a gifted language instead of a learned language – because it builds up (‘edifies’) the one speaking and enables them to pray or worship when they cannot find the words to truly express themselves.

BUT … no-one else will understand them (unless God reveals the meaning!)

If I stand next to someone talking away in tongues they may be having a great time with God or perhaps they are mad or drunk – I can’t tell! I may feel left out or inadequate – because I don’t understand their words.

Slide 8

To receive any gift from God, you must ask and also believe you have been given it. When you believe you have it you may not know realise anything has happened. The first time I spoke in tongues it was more than ten years ago when Martin gave me a word from God ‘get out of the boat and just do it’. It’s a reference to the disciple Peter who climbed out of the fishing boat on the Lake Galilee to join Jesus who was walking on the water. Peter could have waited and waited until he felt sure perhaps with a voice from heaven or a beam of light announcing ‘you now have the power to walk on water’ – or he could ‘get out of the boat and just do it’. To use the gift of tongues Martin encouraged me to open my mouth! Simple! You have to open your mouth and make whatever sounds want to come out believing that it is your spirit speaking directly with God’s spirit – while your mind stands there wondering what it is you are saying! The first time I spoke it was just a few sounds repeated – like a baby saying ‘dada’ or ‘mamma’ but with each occasion I tried it the sounds became more like words of a language my mind didn’t know but they started to flowed like sentences. Over the years some of the sounds have remained the same and other sounds have joined them. I still don’t know what any of them really mean and yet when I put aside my logic and my mind and allow my spirit to speak I do feel God’s presence; I feel a tingling sensation around my head, I feel more peace and emotion in what I am saying then when I revert to my learned language of English.

Some of you here may have heard others during prayer or worship making sounds or words that sound quite odd. Do not be alarmed. The person doing it is not showing off or trying to prove they are better or closer to God than you. They are simply communicating by their spirit with God’s Spirit instead of using their mind in English - and it is building them up, making the presence of God real and enabling them to pray and worship God more.

If you want to receive that gift too then ask God, believe that he has given it to build you up and then open your mouth and make some sounds!

Interpretation of Tongues

Slide 9

There are occasions during a meeting of the church that someone may feel the Spirit is prompting them to speak loudly in a ‘tongue’ or ‘unlearned language’ for a moment so that the whole church can hear it. When this happens we are to expect God to also provide an interpretation of the message so that it can be understood by everyone.

The interpretation of tongues is listed as a separate gift. If a person here feels prompted to speak a few sentences in a tongue then so that good order is kept we should wait to see if anyone feels that God is telling them what the English translation is. This should also be spoken so everyone can understand the message from God and to weigh it up. If no-one has the translation or the translator is not able or willing to give it – then we should not listen to any further messages given that way.

The purpose of hearing from God is an inclusive activity for the whole church – we all need to hear and understand what the Spirit of God is saying to the church!

Slide 10

1 Corinthians 14:27-28

27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

Remember that all gifts of the Spirit are gifts and it is God who distributes them. It is a fact that not everyone has every gift – and not everyone uses the gifts they have been given. The gift of tongues is not given to divide us into those who speak and those who do not – but to provide a deeper communication with God and for those words to edify or build us up as individuals or collectively as a church.

These gifts are good and our signs of God’s love for us; there is nothing to fear.

Let us ask God’s Spirit to draw close to us and let us ask God for every good gift which he gives through the Spirit.

Let us speak in the language we first learned as a child or in tongues quietly to God now. Speak them out rather than just think them because our words are powerful. God did not just think the universe into existence nor did Jesus just imagine people healed – they spoke things into existence!

If anyone believes they have been given a message to build up the church then let me know and it will be given out – and we will wait to see if anyone has been given the interpretation so that we can understand it and weigh it up. If no interpretations are forthcoming we will stop after three people at most have given their messages.


How did you feel the first time you heard someone speaking in tongues?

How relevant do you feel ‘speaking in tongues’ is today – when done privately or in a church meeting?

If you don’t speak in tongues consider whether you are content with that or whether there is a desire in you to receive that gift. Ask someone to pray for you to receive the gift – and if you believe it has been given then open your mouth and start to speak whatever sounds come out.

If you do speak in tongues then how can you use that gift in love; towards individuals or to the church?