The gift of speaking in tongues refers to the spiritual gift of either speaking another language such as the disciples at Pentecost did (Acts 2) or speaking a language otherwise unknown, which must be interpreted. Both speaking in tongues and the gift of healing were prevalent in the apostolic era. Since that time, both gifts seem to be less prevalent.
The necessity of these gifts
One possible reason for this is that those gifts have served their purpose and are unnecessary now. In a way, these gifts were the baby teeth of the church. Are you glad you had baby teeth? Absolutely! Those teeth enabled you to function and saved space for your future permanent teeth. They were necessary for a time and purpose but are no longer needed. Now you have something that serves you better in your adulthood: adult teeth.
These particular spiritual gifts served a wonderful purpose: to confirm the message of the apostles. Once God enabled their words to be recorded and those writings were gathered and recognized as Scripture, those gifts were not as necessary. The writer to the Hebrews says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1,2).
Read 1 Corinthians 14:1-25.
The church at Corinth placed an unhealthy emphasis on the importance of speaking in tongues.
What truths about tongues would you use to answer someone that says, “In order to receive the full gospel, you have to speak in tongues”?
A number of answers could be drawn from this reading.
1. Understand that the word prophecy is a broad term that means preaching, teaching, and proclaiming, not just telling the future. It is specifically the proclamation of the gospel and the truths of God in intelligent language. Paul says that is for strengthening, encouraging, and comfort.
2. Speaking in tongues—unless it is a recognizable language like Spanish or Korean—needs an interpreter for the hearer in the language to understand. Unless there is interpretation, then “you will just be speaking into the air” (v. 9).
3. Understanding God’s truth is more important than speaking in tongues. Rather speak 5 intelligible words than 10,000 words in an unintelligible tongue.
4. Speaking in tongues is not for outreach or evangelism. To the outsider, speaking in tongues gives the impression that those who require it are “out of [their] mind” (v. 23).
The insistence on miracles
The gifts of tongues and healing are flashy spiritual gifts. Some people insist on the necessity of finding miracles in their lives to give them assurance while others insist that God no longer performs miracles.
Read Genesis 18:14; 1 Kings 19:5-8; Mark 1:40; Acts 14:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:9.
List the misunderstandings of both of these opinions about miracles.
- To those who insist on the necessity of miracles.
Certainly, God can do miracles and has done so, but the miracles confirmed the promises of God in Jesus. The message of the gospel is paramount. It is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Miracles can come from God, but they can also come from Satan. We depend on the Word for truth.
- To those who insist that God no longer performs miracles.
God can perform miracles. Believers have prayed for them and in some cases have received them. Medical professionals cannot explain why they have occurred. But God does not promise such miracles. He dispenses them by his grace according to his will.
How do we know?
How do we know what are truly the gifts of speaking in tongues or healing today? Even if those gifts are genuine, it does not automatically assure the validity of the message. God tells us that the devil is capable of performing lying miracles (2 Thessalonians 2:9). In addition, Scripture does not ask us to judge the truth of miracles, but the message. God says, “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:20). Someone has said of some who claim tongues, “I am not concerned about what people say in tongues. It is what they say in English that concerns me.”
Read John 8:31,32 and 1 John 4:1-3.
What questions could you ask someone who claims to have miraculous gifts like speaking in tongues or healing?
I would want to know what that person believes about the truths of the Bible. It is the truth of God’s Word that determines what to believe and not to believe. Miracles can be counterfeit and can come from Satan. Not all miracles prove God’s truth but may be used to promote false teaching that draws us away from the one thing needed—faith in Jesus.
Author: David Scharf
Volume 109, Number 07
Issue: July 2022
- Q&A: Is anger sinful? - 2023/05/31
- Q&A: How can parents encourage adult children who wander from the faith? - 2023/04/30
- Q&A: Does the doxology belong in the Lord’s Prayer? - 2023/03/31