Summary: What is speaking in tongues? How does the Holy Spirit want tongues to operate in the church?

(NOTE: I want to acknowledge the use of some material from the sermon

(NOTE: This series is based on the book Living in the Spirit by Dr. George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God).


In January 1901 a group of Bible School students were baptized in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues. These students had been reading the book of Acts and just believed what God did then He could do now.

This was, in effect, the birth of the modern day Pentecostal church. But this outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Topeka came with much controversy. But the controversy did not stop the spread of the Holy Spirit. In 1906 a revival broke out on Asuza Street in Los Angeles, California. And now there is an estimated 500 million people all over the world who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

In fact, the Pentecostal church (in its various denominations and forms) has become the leading religious expression around the world. I have read studies that say 1 in 4 Christians (25%) are Pentecostals who speak with tongues.

(TRANSITION) But what are tongues? When we talk about speaking with tongues what do we mean and how does this gift operate in the church?

What Tongues Is Not

It is probably a good idea to begin this morning by talking about what speaking in tongues is NOT.

1. Speaking in tongues is a not sign of greater spirituality. All you have to do is read the book of 1 Corinthians to realize that some of those who were speaking in tongues were also being very carnal in their actions toward one another. (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:3)

2. Speaking in tongues is not a “free pass” to spiritual maturity.

3. Speaking in tongues is not the result of a trance or the loss of control over our person. Instead, the Holy Spirit works with us and we can push the Holy Spirit back and control when we speak in tongues.

The Holy Spirit desires to invade every part of our human existence. He wants to help us have victory in our flesh. He wants to help us have victory in our emotions and mind. And He wants to help our soul find the ultimate comfort and rest that comes through faith in the person of Jesus Christ.

Speaking in tongues is an avenue through which the Holy Spirit works to help us receive the victory and comfort and rest that God offers us.

(TRANSITION) Though speaking in tongues is right and proper for every believer we still must understand that the Bible does inform our understanding of what speaking in tongues is. That is what I want us to look at now.

The Operation of Tongues

The Scriptures speaks of the tongue as physical human organ for speech. It can be used to bless or to curse. The Scriptures also speaks to the reality that believers will “speak with tongues.” This means that believers supernaturally speak in a language they have never learned.

There is sometimes some confusion about the operation of tongues, however. With that in mind, I want look at 3 operations of “speaking in tongues” as found in the Scriptures and hopefully bring some understanding.

Operation 1: Evidential Tongues

The first operation of speaking in tongues is what we could call “evidentiary.” In other words, the physical act of speaking in tongues is evidence that something else has occurred. We can see this truth as we look at the book of Acts.

Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

• Filled with Holy Spirit – evidence of this filling – speak in tongues

Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

• Gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out – how did they know? What was the evidence of this outpouring – they heard them speaking with tongues

Acts 19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

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