In one of my Freshman Speech courses, the professor said we had to remember the most important rule in any form of public speaking. “Speak the language of the audience or don’t speak at all”. We actually had to memorize the Latin phrase for this statement… which of course I can no longer remember. But I do remember the point. If you use jargon or words or phrases that your audience can not fully understand, you might as well be speaking a foreign language.
So it comes as no surprise to me that the very first thing that happened when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit, is that He empowered them to speak in the native languages of the people who were present. “And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Acts 2:7-8) The audience responded “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:11b)
That last verse alone fully explains the critical importance of speaking in tongues. There were two vital points in that one verse. First, it was in the language of the audience. Second, it was to declare the might works of God. The ability for the apostles to speak in tongues had absolutely ZERO to do with their own salvation or their favor with God. It was solely to advance the Gospel message. In fact, throughout the rest of Acts, there are dozens of times where we hear about more people being saved, receiving the Spirit and being added to their numbers. But there are only two times where there is any emphasis on this visual sign of speaking in tongues.
The first is of course the first time anyone received the Spirit, Acts 2. The second is the first time the Gentiles received the Spirit. “And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.” (Acts 10:45) This again served to prove that the Spirit was not only for the ‘circumcised’.
No where else in Scripture is there any suggestion that the sign of tongues is some sort of visible proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit. In fact it clearly states the opposite. “ For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:13) All believer receive the same Spirit, yet not all believers have the same gifts. Paul clarifies that God gives various gifts to all believers for the purpose of advancing the Gospel. He is clear that each of us receive different gifts for this purpose. In listing several of the gifts, he concludes with “to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.”
(1 Cor 12:10b)
Clearly the gift of tongues had its place in proving the power of the Spirit, both in Jews and in Gentiles. But both then and now, people have mistaken this to mean that somehow the gift of tongues was proof of the existence of the Spirit in any believer. This is emphatically unscriptual.
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