Summary: Spiritual Gifts Series - 5 of 13.
THE GIFT OF TONGUES AND INTERPRETATIONS
INTRO: A little, old American lady was touring London as part of a group. They were in Westminster Abbey, and the very proper English guide was pointing out the magnificent tombs, architecture, and other features of that great church. The woman was not impressed. When she had heard all she wanted about the aesthetic value of that church, she interrupted the guide and said, “Young man, stop your babbling for a moment and tell me, has anyone been saved here lately?”
I believe that the test of tongues and interpretations is also evangelism! That may surprise many people but I believe it has a good biblical foundation.
I. A GOOD DEFINITION.
It is always important to note the language and the context of the gifts, but especially here! Tongues or glossolalia is literally “kinds of tongues.” The word tongue can refer to the organ of speech in your mouth, a language, or ecstatic speech. Each use of the word must be studied in context. The word interpretation literally means to explain words.
We should study the context of every occurrence of tongues in the New Testament for a balanced view of the subject. The experience of the day of Pentecost was obviously one of foreign languages. The travelers in Jerusalem each heard the mighty deed of God in their own tongues (see Acts 2:11). With language not a barrier to the gospel, three thousand people were saved. It was an evangelistic experience.
The Corinthian experience of tongues was obviously something different, for interpreters were needed. There it was a highly emotional, ecstatic experience; but the message was not shared with all present.
The context was not evangelistic, and Paul urged them to pursue prophecy instead of this kind of tongues. There appear to be two cases of this kind of tongue speaking in the Book of Acts. In chapter 10 the problem of whether or not Gentiles could be saved had surfaced. When these new converts began to speak in tongues, the Jewish Christians recognized this as a sign from heaven that, indeed, Gentiles could be saved.
In 19:6 some former disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus were being confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a sign to them of the authenticity of the gospel, they began to speak in tongues and to prophecy. In both of these instances in Acts, tongues served as a sign of evangelism!
In light of the great attention many people give to tongues today, it should be noted that in all his letters Paul mentioned tongues in only one; and that was because it was a problem which led to spiritual pride at Corinth. For three chapters, Paul played down tongues and encouraged love and prophecy.
II. GOOD EXAMPLES.
There is no record that Jesus ever spoke in tongues, not even at His baptism when the Holy Spirit was so evident. The only time any mention of tongues is ever attributed to Jesus is in the controversial ending of Mark 16:9-20. Most modern translations only included that passage as a footnote. With these things in mind, we must recognize that one who does not have the gift of tongues should not be thought of as a “second-class Christian.” Tongues were certainly not central to Jesus.
Types of tongues occur three times in the book of Acts. Each time they serve to authenticate the gospel and to overcome barriers to evangelism! I would even suggest that by reason of 1 Cor. 14:21 (compare Isa. 28:11-12; Deut. 28:49), Paul thought that Corinthian tongues should serve as a sign to the Jews that God was not using the church.
In summary, tongues at its best seems to be a sign gift to reinforce the Great Commission and to urge Christians to cross all barriers with the gospel. In Acts tongues was always on the frontier of the gospel! And don’t forget, Paul, who claimed he could speak in tongues better than any of the Corinthians, was a pioneer missionary!
III. GOOD USE OF THIS GIFT.
One question which haunts our modern churches is: “Are there authentic tongues manifest today?” We must be careful in discrediting someone else’s experience as long as it should continue to build up the church as Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:7 and Eph. 4:12. This is the purpose of all gifts.
If you have this gift, you must practice it by the instructions of 1 Cor. 14. You should also recognize it as a sign for evangelism. If you don not have this gift, don’t worry! According to 1 Cor. 12:30 not everyone speaks in tongues.