I grew up in the Presbyterian Church and had never even heard of speaking in tongues until my freshman year of college. My girlfriend was a Christian and took me to a campus meeting. The music was much different than the organ music I was used to and for some reason, people were raising their hands. Then it got really freaky, as people began speaking in tongues. Clearly I did not have the gift of interpretation and so I bolted from the room.
Twenty two years later, I stepped into an Assembly of God church and experienced the same type of music, only this time I enjoyed it. People were raising their hands and I was okay with that. The speaking in tongues still kind of freaked me out.
Tongues is often scary to people, because they don’t understand it and with confusion comes fear. That was my situation for the first few years of my walk. Even when my wife began speaking in tongues, I was still uncertain.
Fortunately, for me, my spiritual mentor, Tim Johnson, gave a masterful teaching on tongues at a spiritual retreat and I received my tongues language. I’d like to recap that teaching and add a few things I have discovered in my years of meditating over scripture.
Are Tongues Biblical?
Tongues is listed as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 12:10, “to another different kinds of tongues”. In verse 1 of that chapter, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church that he does not want them to be ignorant of spiritual gifts. In verse 4, Paul teaches that there are different gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit. In verse 7, he tells them that the spiritual gifts are for the benefit or edification of the church (not the building, the people). Finally, in verse 31, Paul tells the Corinthians to eagerly desire the greater gifts, which includes tongues.
Jesus said that speaking in new tongues would be a sign that would accompany those who believed in Him (Mark 16:17). He also told the disciples that after His ascension, they should wait for the Holy Spirit to be sent. We see this happening on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4:
“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.”
These believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit enabled them. This wasn’t something they made up and it didn’t come from the devil (as some people think). It was given to them by the Holy Spirit.
Now, many people think that they only spoke in the languages of those present in order to attract their attention and then they never spoke in tongues again. Let’s look first at what happened on the day of Pentecost. Was it that God gave them the actual languages of all the different people groups who were there for Pentecost or did God enable those people to hear their own language. In order to determine this, we have to look closely at the language in Acts 2:6-8:
“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?”
There is no way to be 100% sure, but when you study the language, the people didn’t say “how is it that these Galileans are all speaking in our languages?” Rather, they said, “How is it that each of us hears them in our native language? I interpret this to mean that those filled with the Holy Spirit were speaking in a heavenly language, given by the Holy Spirit and then God enabled those listening, to actually hear the message in their earthly language.
Also, this was not a one-time event, it likely happened many times after. Only a few are documented:
Acts 10:44-46, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”
Acts 19:6, “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.”
Much of 1 Corinthians 14 is about tongues. In fact, there were so many speaking in tongues and interrupting the meetings, that Paul had to caution them and limit the number of people who were allowed to speak in tongues during a meeting. Clearly, tongues is biblical.
Is Tongues a Sign of the Holy Spirit?
Each time we see believers speaking in tongues, it is after they received the Holy Spirit, so the answer would be yes. That said, there are denominations and religious groups who profess that speaking in tongues is THE evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (some even say that you aren’t saved, unless you’re speaking in tongues, which is absolutely false!). I don’t agree with this, as I’ve seen people get baptized by the Holy Spirit and not speak in tongues.
There is also a biblical example of people receiving the Holy Spirit, with no mention of tongues in Acts 8:17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Paul also references this in 1 Corinthians 12:30, “Do all speak with tongues?” referencing the fact that not every believer speaks in tongues, yet we know that every believer receives the Holy Spirit, upon confession of their faith in Jesus (Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 1:13-14).
Since tongues is listed as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 13, my belief is that when a person confesses Jesus as Savior and Lord and receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the gifts come along. Then, as that person builds their faith through hearing the Word of God, the Spirit can release the gifts. This would be a reason why some receive tongues immediately upon salvation and others don’t (as was my case).
Why Would You Want to Speak in Tongues?
To answer this one, let’s hear from the Apostle Paul:
1 Corinthians 14:2, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.”
Here we see a couple of great reasons to speak in tongues. First, you are not speaking a human language, but a heavenly language directly to God. I believe that only God can understand that language. When we pray in English, satan and all of the fallen angels (demons) can understand and react, but when we speak in tongues, they have no idea what we are saying. Second, since it’s the Holy Spirit inside us, speaking to the Father and Son, He is speaking mysteries that we cannot understand, but they can. Another way you could look at this, is that the Holy Spirit is praying the perfect prayer through you!
1 Corinthians 14:4 says, “Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves…”
Edify means to build up, so when you are speaking in tongues, you are building yourself up spiritually. My connection with the Lord and understanding of scripture skyrocketed, when I began speaking in tongues.
1 Corinthians 14:18, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”
The Apostle Paul was thankful that he spoke in tongues, so clearly there was great benefit to him.
Speaking in tongues will build your relationship with the Lord, so seek the greater gift.
When is Speaking in Tongues acceptable?
Paul gives many cautions about speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. You should only speak in tongues during a church service, if there is someone there who has the gift of interpretation or you can pray that God will give you the interpretation. God believes in order and when someone, who is speaking in tongues, is taking attention away from worshiping God or people hearing the Word of God, then it’s out of order. Tongues is not meant to bring attention to the speaker.
Praying in tongues in your private time or with a group of believers who speak in tongues is acceptable and encouraged. If your Pastor offers an opportunity, in a service, for someone to deliver a message from the Lord and you feel directed by the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues, do so and expect that either someone else will interpret or God will give you the interpretation.
Does Speaking in Tongues Make You Superior to Those Who Don’t?
Absolutely not. In fact Paul refers to tongues as one of the lower of the greater gifts. He would prefer that people prophesy, as it edifies the entire body of Christ, rather than speak publicly in tongues. As I said earlier, every believer receives the Holy Spirit and along with Him comes the gifts. When you are ready and open, He will enable you to speak.
When I’m Speaking in Tongues am I Still in Control?
Yes. Contrary to some teachings, the Holy Spirit never takes over your body. God gave us all free will and He (in any form) will not go against that. You have complete control over when you speak in tongues and when you don’t. You won’t be in a work meeting and suddenly start blurting out sentences in tongues. You are in control with tongues, just as you are with your earthly language.
Why Does It Sound Like Gibberish?
Have you ever been in a room where people are speaking a foreign language? Doesn’t is sound like gibberish. All languages, we don’t understand, sound strange to us. Just know that although it sounds odd to you, it’s a beautiful language to God.
When I Received My Language, Why Did I Start Thinking I Had Made it Up?
Believers who speak in their spiritual tongue are powerful and very dangerous to satan’s demonic kingdom, so when he or his demonic hoard hear that someone is trying to receive their spiritual tongue, they are going to be right there casting doubt before and after. Quite often Christians don’t receive their language, because they buy into the lies of the enemy.
I’ve Been Asking for My Tongue and Haven’t Received It, What’s Up?
This can happen for several reasons. First, perhaps you still have some deep rooted concerns or fears that you need to uncover and deal with. Second, as mentioned in the last section, you could be listening to the lies of the enemy. Third, you could be trying too hard to make it happen. You can’t manufacture the language; you have to release yourself to the Holy Spirit and receive it. Fourth, you might already have it, but just haven’t opened your mouth or are doubting what seems to be forming.
I’m Ready to Receive My Tongue, What Now?
If you are ready to receive your spiritual tongue, just get into a quiet place, pray for a while to calm your spirit and then ask the Holy Spirit to release your language. Then open your mouth and speak whatever comes out. Don’t question or doubt, just speaking and keep speaking until it is flowing. Don’t be concerned that if you stop, you won’t be able to start again. Once you have your language, it will always be there. But, as with any language, the more you use it, the more it will develop and build you up.
Receiving my spiritual language was one of the best things that ever happened in my walk with the Lord. I use it every day – during my prayer time, in the shower, while driving, while exercising, and any other time it comes to mind. I particularly use it when trying to make a difficult decision, as the answers seem to come more readily – after all I am praying the perfect prayer directly to God, what could be better than that?
So, as Paul did, I encourage you to seek the greater gifts, including tongues.
Thoughts on Speaking in Tongues
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled the disciples and they began speaking in tongues. Learn about the gift of tongues for the church today.