There is a debate going on among different Christian sects that has been going on since Pentecost. Paul spoke heavily about its divisive powers in the early church and it continues to this day. That issue is speaking in tongues. As most arguments go, this is no different in the fact there are several faces to the argument. Does the gift exist in a post Apostle period? Does it mean other languages or does that include angelic languages? Is this a gift for all believers? Is it a sign gift? Can it be taught or learned?
All these questions only touch the tip of the iceberg of this issue. I’m not about to attempt to thoroughly answer all of these questions in around 500 words, but I do want to at least touch on a few of them.
First, lets examine what Paul said in Romans about gifts. Paul is addressing this very issue being debated in Rome. By this time, all the churches had heard what happened at Pentecost. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4) They had also heard of the gentiles in the same way. “For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” (Acts 10:46) So having these experience reach a legend status by now, many began to believe that you had not received the spirit unless you could speak in tongues (thus considering this a sign gift). But a sign to whom?
Paul says, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom 12:4-6a)
Today, many treat this as a sign to other believers. By speaking in tongues, you are somehow proving you have the Holy Spirit. However Paul heads this thinking off as well. “Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Cor 14:22) This was for an unbeliever to see this and be amazed at the power of the Spirit. This was not for one believer to show other believers how spiritual they are.
This movement has become so misguided that many among this movement believe they can “teach” someone to speak in tongues. Is there a spiritual gift that can be taught? Of course not, that is why it is called a gift.
Paul even says, “I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Cor 14:19) He knows the value of teaching other believers through his gift of teaching. In his view, five words of teaching is more valuable than 10,000 words in a tongue.
The bottom line is this. Paul was empowered by the Spirit to write a third of the New Testament. His entire purpose in life was to bring the Gospel of Christ to the gentiles and ignite a movement that continues to this day. His authority and wisdom are without question. He repeats in multiple letters to multiple churches that tongues should not be elevated or held in esteem. He clarifies this over and over, there really should be no question.
Some may ask, what’s wrong with believe in this gift? I say nothing, believing it the gift is fine, but elevating it to a sign of the Spirit is dangerous. Since it is clear we all have different gifts, those believe this false teaching but not having the gift of tongues will fall into one of two traps. They will either think more lowly of their faith than the ought to, or they will try to fake it. And neither of these outcomes is something Christ would support.
Embrace your gifts and use them not for your own edification but for the Glory of God.
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