“While our Lord Jesus was on earth, He did not accomplish His great deeds of power in the strength of His deity. I believe He did them all in the strength and authority of His Spirit-anointed humanity” A.W.Tozer.
”I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:10-11). ‘The Preacher’ was the wisest man yet could not fathom the deep mysteries of God placed in our heart whether eternity in the heart refers to immortality or the sense of the Infinite out of which it comes and grows. Man cannot be satisfied with earthly pleasures and pursuits though Satan did distract and lead man towards this. A man has within him a spiritual thirst; an eternal value and nothing but an eternal God can satisfy that urging. We are made in the perfect image and likeness of a perfect God and hunger for a perfect world which is available only with God in His presence. Our Lord assured us of the Holy Spirit to satisfy this craving in us through revealing the mysteries of His Word and this is our gift from our Savior.
The Gift from God – A gift is something that is given voluntarily, without expectation of a return and at no cost to the receiver. And Lord Jesus did promise such a ‘Precious Gift’ for the believers “But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit is our guide, teacher and comforter who dwells in us to enable us to seek Divine guidance to make the Living Word become alive to us in our limited understanding to empower us till we join the Lord in heaven. How does the Holy Spirit perform this blessed responsibility in us? John the Baptist saw “the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove” and Lord Jesus commenced His ministry thereafter. A dove is supposed to have nine feathers on either wing on each side and each represents the nine gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit on the blessed. Like all the nine fruits are not clearly evident in all, the gifts are also not visibly displayed in the life of each believer. Apostle Paul also clarifies this about some receiving one and another receiving some other gift.
Why are Holy Spirit gifts given? – God created man from the elements (dust) of the earth and breathed life into him. Man thus has two lives in him- a life of this world and a life of God. During the meetings in the Garden of Eden God desired to reconcile the two lives to each other and make the two compatible to each other. This process was disturbed through the disobedience of Adam and Eve and resulted in separation of man from God since God can have no truck with sin. The Ten Commandments were an act of God to bring man to a state of as much possible sinless living till the ‘right time’ of the Messiah’s coming to redeem mankind. The believers earn the right of being transformed into a sinless state through the power of the sacrificial blood of the Lord offered on the cross. In this changed state man could be blessed by God with the indwelling Spirit of God. However, the worldly life of man has not been transformed into a holy state yet and the sinful nature remains. Holy Spirit “convicts us of sin” by pointing out our sinful activities thus encouraging and empowering us to achieve the desired holy nature for reconciliation of the two lives in man. The nine gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to man to understand the mysteries of the Word of God, establish a relationship of regular fellowship with Him and to reveal the power of His Word to others. The gifts are given to man to glorify God and to encourage each other to grow in the Lord and each gift fulfills a specific need in the receiver’s life “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all…..But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians: 7 & 11).
Gift of Tongues – The gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues are the two gifts which are perceived by most people to mean different blessings creating controversies. In many circles the gift of speaking in tongues is taken to mean a sign of confirmation of the Holy Spirit descending on the individual. It is also believed that the gift pertains to speaking in some earthly language not known to the speaker as was seen on the day of Pentecost. Other view is that God grants a special privilege to speak and pray in some ecstatic or heavenly language used by the angels in heaven. God has provided the gifts and He allows the use of these for His purpose only.
Why is the gift of tongues given? – This as well as all other gifts are given by God to build up the body of Christ- His Church and since each believer has a unique place in the sight of God these gifts are also given accordingly. The purposes for which the gift of tongues is given are:
- To preach the Gospel message – In the concluding verses of chapter 20 Apostle John refers to the miracles performed by Lord Jesus differently “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples” (verse 30). The Greek word “semeion” used there is translated to mean ‘a sign (typically miraculous), given especially to confirm, corroborate or authenticate something Divine. The miracles were performed by the Lord to authenticate and further the message delivered by Him. Apostle Paul also substantiates this further “Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22). The Epistle to the Corinthian Church repeatedly asserts this fact that the gift should not be used for personal edification but to glorify God. The gift is given to a person chosen to be a vessel though which God wants to pour out His message to others. On the first day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the language barrier that existed between the disciples and Jews from other regions speaking various languages was broken and each heard the message of God in his own language. God had declared about this much earlier that “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people” (Isaiah 28:11) and this was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:8). All those who heard the message were ‘amazed’ and asked “Whatever could this mean?” and Peter preached the message and 3,000 were added. In the same manner when Cornelius and all his relatives and friends who had gathered at his house received the gift of speaking in tongues after hearing the message of the Gospel from Peter as a confirmation of this being from God since all present “heard them speak with tongues and magnify God”(acts 10:46). The third instance of speaking in tongues is “when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6); these are the twelve men who were baptized by John the Baptist and were not aware of the message of redemption and salvation available through our Lord.
In all three recorded instances of men speaking in tongues, the purpose is evidently communication of the message of God to glorify Him and to lead the hearers to the Lord.
- To confirm the Message being from God – The Church today is blessed with the written Word available to us in the Holy Bible but this was not available to the disciples and the Old Testament was also in the form of Scrolls and not in the form of a book. Our Lord was repeatedly asked by the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders to show them a sign from heaven and His reply was “A wicked and a adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 16:1-4). The sign was provided through the burial and resurrection of the Lord to the entire world but the unbelief that was already declared blinded their eyes. The story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man ended with the rich man asking Abraham to send a message to his brothers on the earth about his own state to warn then but the reply given was “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets (in the Old Testament), neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31). To tackle the menace of unbelief God blessed the Apostle with the gift of tongues to communicate and confirm the authenticity of the message being from God.
- Praise and worship – The woman on the well in Samaria was given the correct way of worshipping God by the Son of God Himself “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). The gift of tongues is given by God to enable Spirit inspired worship and prayer where the worshipper may also not be aware of the message. This is definitely not attainable by human effort and heart for neither are we equipped by our ‘life of this world’ nor by the mind and heart. Our Lord did say that the believers in His name “will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17) and the word new implies a language not known to the speaker. The Holy Spirit provides the words to the speaker to glorify God and/or reveal the ‘deep mysteries of the Word’ and allows us to relate to God through the spirit and not our minds “For he who speaks in tongue does not speak to men but to God” (1 Corinthians 14:2).
- Uniformity in message and worship –On the day of Pentecost those who after hearing the “sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind” gathered to the place where the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit heard one message in different tongues. They were from seventeen nationalities speaking different languages but all said “we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11). The language of each speaker was different but the message and content was similar “wonderful works of God’. Apostle Paul while warning the Corinthian Church about speaking in tongues clarified that the gift should be used for God’s glory and not self edification. When the gift is used to glorify God and used under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit there is neither any chance of confusion nor misuse “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Where there is uniformity in the content and intent there cannot be confusion or turmoil but peace and joy.
Is speaking in tongues synonymous with Holy Spirit baptism? – Apostle Paul commands the believers in Ephesus and through the Epistle all believers of today to “be filled with the Spirit”. The command is clear and then he clarifies the position regarding getting filled with the Spirit which is equivalent to Spirit Baptism and gifts of the Spirit. “Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 13:29-31). By inference it is apparent that though the Corinthians were all filled with the Holy Spirit, each person did not have all the gifts including the gift of tongues. It is pertinent that the gifts are distributed as per specific decision of the Holy Spirit for each individual and this is based on the task assigned to each one. We are neither to boast about our gifts nor take credit for these are not dependant on us but on God and the gift of tongues is neither an indication of the Holy Spirit baptism nor of being filled with the Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is an act of God to grant admittance to a sinner into the “Body of Christ” and all saved persons do not speak in tongues.
Apostle Paul while exhorting the Ephesians Church commands them not to get drunk with wine “But instead be filled with the (Holy) Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:18-21). The commands that are given to be followed after getting filled with the Holy Spirit cover a wide range of a Christian’s life to be transformed into the image of the Lord. The four blessings that accrue after being filled with the Holy Spirit concern the change of heart to become joyful making music for Divine glory; thankful for everything; submission to each other and a heart that is fearful of God for only such a heart can be part of a Church fit enough “That He (Christ) might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (verse 27). Paul does not mention the gift of tongues to be an essential requisite for being part of this ‘glorious church’. It is wrong to presume that the gift of tongues is either a signal of Spirit baptism or an essential quality of being filled with the Spirit. The Gifts are discretionary and given for God’s glory and Divine tasks to each individual and one gift is neither better nor smaller than the other for all come from the same Spirit.
Can the gift of tongues be misused? – Right from the Garden of Eden Satan has left no stone unturned to exploit the desire of man towards self sufficiency and the gift of tongues provides him another ideal opportunity to encourage this. Satanic activity is and will keep on increasing till the return of our Lord when He will put an end to this for a millennium. Since others present may not be able to understand the speaker’s utterances it provides a chance to Satan to pronounce curses on the church rather than blessings since this gift can be self or group or Satan induced. That is the reason that Apostle Paul urges restraint in use of this gift in the church except when there is someone gifted with the power of interpretation.
Gift of tongues is given to break the barrier of communication between man and God and between men with each other to further the assigned task of the Great Commission. Gifts are firstly at the discretion of the giver and secondly for His glory. Do not be envious of the gifts some others may be bestowed with but humbly submit yourself to God the Father for His use.