The Gift of Tongues
By Pastor Bill Snider
Just like the baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues is one of the most misunderstood doctrines in the Body of Christ, today. Some Christians fear it, others think it’s weird, and even others think it’s simply unnecessary. Nevertheless, tongues are a vital part of receiving and walking the baptism of the Holy Spirit; and you won’t be able to take full advantage of what the Holy Spirit can do in your life until you do speak in tongues.
Some Christians don’t even know that speaking in tongues is in the New Testament. As a matter of fact, Jesus was the first person to teach on it, “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues (Mark 16:15-17).”
Even other Christians think that it was something that happened only once to confirm that the Holy Spirit had been poured out into the earth as Jesus had promised. To them it’s a sign of something that no longer carries any real supernatural weight for the Christian of today. It’s simply evidence to confirm the word that Jesus spoke, and has since passed away with the Apostles.
However, tongues played a critical role in launching, not just the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but also the ministry of the early Church. As a matter of fact, Peter used the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and their speaking in tongues as the basis of his first evangelistic message (Acts 2:5-32). Moreover, at the end of that message, he promised those men that if they’d repent and believe on Jesus, what they saw that day would be theirs as well. Three thousand men were saved as a result of that message.
Moreover, those disciples didn’t just pray a sinner’s pray with those people and turn them loose. They went to the next level and got those men filled with the Holy Spirit. Whatever Peter preached, he believed. Once those men were baptized in the name of Jesus, those disciples went to work ministering the baptism of the Holy Spirit to them. They expected God to fill every one of the new converts with the Holy Spirit just as He had done for them only moments before.
How did they know when those men received the Holy Spirit? They knew the moment those men began to speak in tongues. Many don’t realize this, but tongues can be an outward sign of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. To verify this, lets look at Acts 2:1-4, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
When you look further in Acts chapter two, you’ll find that as soon as everyone in the upper room were filled with the Holy Spirit they began to speak with other tongues. It wasn’t just the eleven that were in that upper room. The scriptures say that there were a hundred and twenty disciples there that morning. So, even though the passage focuses on the twelve disciples, as they ministered to the multitude of men gathered outside the house; there’s a need to realize that everyone in the upper room spoke in tongues after the Holy Spirit filled them.
It may not seem like such a big deal for tongues to be an outward sign for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but it is. When you read the book of Acts’ account of how the early Church developed, you find that it was hard for the Jewish Christian leaders to accept that the Gentiles could even be granted eternal life. It wasn’t until the Gentiles got filled with the Holy Spirit that their thinking was corrected.
Acts 10:44-47 confirms this, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" The Jewish Christians had to admit that the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, because “they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God (vs. 46).”
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not the only reason tongues are important as a sign. Tongues are also mentioned over and over again in the book of Acts not only as a verification of God having poured the promise of the Holy Spirit on new converts, but as a verification of the Holy Spirit working through the different Apostles. When believers spoke in tongues after being prayed for by the apostles, the apostles were confirmed to those believers as being God’s men and mouthpiece to them. Their words were confirmed as being from God, because God’s hand was on them to do such works.
I’m pretty much convinced that it was a pattern of ministry to get the new believers filled with the Holy Spirit as soon as possible in order to confirm God’s work of grace in the lives of these new converts. This was evidently done in Paul’s ministry also. “And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples, he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ So they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ So they said, ‘Into John's baptism.’ Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:1-6).”
There can be no denying that if you accept the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a true and necessary experience for the believer, then you must also accept that tongues are going to be a true and necessary part of that experience. Which means that if you’re going to be filled with the Holy Spirit, then you must also be ready to speak in tongues.back to the top
Even though tongues start off being a sign that you were baptized in the Holy Spirit, that’s not all they are. As a matter of fact, tongues are one of the main reasons you were filled with the Holy Spirit. Without tongues, the Holy Spirit is extremely limited in what He can do through you. Tongues will actually open up to you the supernatural world around you, and they will open up to you the supernatural abilities the Holy Spirit has placed in you.
Paul, the Apostle, talks extensively in 1 Corinthians 14 about what tongues mean for the believer. (Even though I’ll be pulling a few things out of that chapter to share with you, I recommend you read the whole chapter for yourself.)
One of the first things tongues are for is found in 1 Corinthians 14:2, “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” As you can see, tongues are for speaking to God. Tongues give us a direct line to God. They bring us into His presence, right to His very ear. When we pray in tongues, we’re guaranteed that God’s listening to us. There are many times when we come to God with all the best intentions to pray and seek Him, but instead, we find ourselves speechless before Him. We don’t know what to pray for, or how to start. Usually, we just air out our problems, needs or desires. Yet, we don’t feel like we’re really doing as much as we should be because we’re limited to only praying based on our understanding.
That’s why we’ve been given tongues. Tongues take us out of our heads, out of our limited understanding and experience, and they unite us with what the Holy Spirit wants us to pray. We’re speaking spiritual mysteries designed to help us bring our lives into focus with the plan of God for us. We’re not speaking about our needs, desires, or problems. We’re beyond that. We’re praying the perfect will of God for our lives. We’re unleashing God’s destiny for us. How do I know this? Romans 8:26,27 says so. “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
That phrase “groanings which cannot be uttered” can literally be translated as “inarticulate murmurings.” If that isn’t a direct reference to tongues, I don’t know what is. Nevertheless, most charismatic teachers agree that it can refer to speaking in tongues. As the above scripture also points out, we’re weak because we don’t know how to pray, as we ought. However, the Holy Spirit can help us overcome that weakness through praying in tongues – those inarticulate murmurings. When we pray in tongues, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us the perfect will of God. We no longer have to worry about whether or not we’re being effective in our prayer time. Tongues bring us into perfect contact with the will of God for us.
In the above passage, the word “mind,” can mean “(mental) inclination or purpose.” As a result, the more we pray in tongues, the more we pray God’s purpose for our lives. Where we were once weak, because we didn’t know how to pray, we’re now strong. All of a sudden, even though we don’t understand a word we’re saying, we’re praying more accurately. We’re tying right into God’s purpose for us as we pray in tongues. (Some people think that God’s will and purpose are the same. However, they are not completely the same. They actually represent the different facets of design and usage. God’s purpose deals with what you were designed for, and His will deals with how your design will be used.)
The next thing tongues are for in your life is to edify you. When you speak in tongues, you edify yourself. I Corinthians 14:4 says, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” The word “to edify” comes from a Greek word, which means, “to be a house-builder, i.e. construct or (fig.) confirm.” In other words, praying in tongues builds you up. Tongues are a house builder. And for one, they turn you into a house that God can inhabit. This has been especially true in my own life. Tongues have done more to put me in the place where God can inhabit me than just about anything else in my walk.
Another insight is that when you speak in tongues you construct yourself – you build your life into something that you couldn’t build it into before you spoke in tongues. What you’re building will not only house you, but will also shelter you from the storms of life. Furthermore, tongues confirm you. What does that mean? It means three things. One, it means that tongues will confirm what God has meant for you to do. If something is of God for you to do, tongues will confirm that. If it’s not, they will confirm that also.
Secondly, tongues will confirm to you who you’re really supposed to be. Most people don’t know who they are. And that’s because they don’t pray in tongues long enough to find out. And, three, they confirm what’s really of God. There are many “prophets” in the land – declaring what they believe is the word of the Lord. However, not all “prophets” are of God; and not all words are from God. How can we really know what is and isn’t of God? We pray in tongues until we know that we know. The New Testament says that we have an anointing and we know all things (1 John 2:20). It’s through speaking tongues that we stir up that anointing to know.
Another way that tongues edify comes from a more modernistic approach. As you well know, during the time Paul wrote this, electricity did not exist. Batteries didn’t exist. So, Paul couldn’t have conceived, even though I’m sure he experienced it, the concept of being charged up with the power of God. When you speak in tongues, you edify yourself – that means that you charge yourself like a battery with the power of God.
It’s not a far stretch to compare “to charge” with “to build up.” When you charge a battery, all you’re really doing is building up its energy reserve. So it is with praying in tongues. You’re building up your power reserves. Acts 1:8 says that you’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. The Holy Spirit came upon those one hundred and twenty disciples as tongues of fire. Once they were filled with the Spirit, they spoke with those tongues that filled them. Tongues in – tongues out. Power in – power out. It’s that simple.
There’s one more thing that tongues are for in the life of the believer. They’re for building you up in your faith. Jude 20 says, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit…” If you go back to 1 Corinthians 14:2, you’ll notice that it says, “However in the spirit, he speaks mysteries…” When we speak or pray in tongues, we’re speaking or praying in the Holy Spirit. As a result, when you pray in the Holy Spirit, you’re praying in tongues, and you’re building yourself up in your faith.back to the top
First of all, you must realize that tongues are a spiritual activity. 1 Corinthians 14:14 says, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.” When you pray in tongues it’s your spirit that does the praying – not your head. You cannot speak in tongues out of your natural understanding. As it bears repeating – tongues are a spiritual activity, not a natural activity. That’s why you must be born again in order to be filled with Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. It’s the spirit of a man, with the help of the Holy Spirit, that speaks in tongues; and until you’re made alive spiritually, you’re incapable of speaking in the tongues that come from the Holy Spirit. On the other end of that verse, in 1 Corinthians 14:14, it says that your understanding is unfruitful. Get this fixed in your consciousness, once and for all, you will never grasp with your understanding what you’re saying or doing when you pray in other tongues. The natural mind can neither comprehend nor accept it. This kind of spiritual activity is foolishness to the natural mind. I’ve seen no small amount of frustration from those who’ve tried to obtain it through mental determination. In order to receive tongues and speak in them, you must leave off trying to do it out of your will or emotions. As the above verse says, “for if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays…” The only way you can receive tongues is by allowing your spirit to do what it already wants to do – express itself in its supernatural, Holy Spirit-given, language.
Of course, there are some things that you need to do in order to receive the gift of tongues. First of all, you must be born again. Asking Jesus to come into your heart and become your Lord and Savior does that. Secondly, you must be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is really simple. All you have to do is ask for it. You were already sealed with the Holy Spirit the moment you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. Now, you’re simply unleashing the Holy Spirit in you, and all you have to do is ask the Father for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
These first two things are done by faith – which means that feelings or experiences have nothing to do with whether you received them or not when you asked for them. You simply believe that they were granted to you because you asked.
Once you’ve asked, the next step to speaking in tongues deals with acting in faith. You must ask the Holy Spirit to give you the ability to speak in tongues – again believing that you received your tongues whether you felt anything at the time or not. Then you must act in faith. You must open you mouth and, while you provide the sound, begin to move your mouth in whatever way it seems to want to move. If you yield yourself to this without embarrassment, or shame, I can pretty much guarantee that you’re mouth will begin to form sounds and words that you can’t understand. Your jaw, lips and tongue will seem to want to move on their own to say things. Don’t freak out at this, this is your spirit, by the Holy Spirit, beginning to take control of your mouth to express itself. You are at that point speaking in tongues. After that, it’s pretty much just practicing speaking in tongues until you become fluid at it.
Until now, you’ve pretty much been living your life based on your understanding. It will be weird to think that there’s more, but there is. Actually, you were never meant to live your life only out of your understanding, you were meant to live your life with your spirit, the real you, in complete control. Your understanding is, in most cases, nothing more than a reflection of your world around you. Your attitudes, morals, character, and choices have been much more influenced by external forces (family, friends, and culture/society) than you’ll ever imagine. However, as a spiritual being, you were designed to bring your physical world into compliance with the purpose and destiny that only your spirit knows. And tongues are the key to that.
Tongues release your spirit into direct activity with your body. It shoves your mind out of the way long enough for you, the real you, to gain the strength necessary to exert itself over your mind and body. Sometimes, you’ll feel things, and sometimes, you won’t. The value of speaking in tongues will never be in the actual moments that you’re speaking in tongues. The value of tongues comes from what they will produce in your life after that.back to the top
I would always recommend seeking out a church, or at least another believer, that believes in and practices speaking in tongues. Many times, they can help you receive it more effectively. However, that’s not a guarantee. If you’ve been to a church, where they speak in tongues, and tried to receive it, but failed, then my recommendation is for you to do it the way I shared with you – by faith. I’ve never seen that fail when people really give themselves to doing it.
Another hint to this is to not do this in front of people if you’re overly conscious of their presence. If you’re too busy wondering how stupid you look babbling on in front of someone then you won’t receive. The Holy Spirit can’t move in you if you’re in pride. However, that doesn’t mean that He won’t release the gift in you, it just means you need to get away from people so you can be free to be a “fool.”
That’s actually what I had to do. I couldn’t receive in front of people, so I had to go out deep into a field, where I could babble like a baby. I felt so stupid out there in the middle of nowhere with the frogs, crickets, and coyotes making myself talk like a six-month-old baby. That is until my spirit broke free and the Holy Spirit dumped the power of speaking in tongues on me. I must have spent a good twenty to thirty minutes out there going on in this incredible language. It was amazing. Suddenly, I no longer felt stupid. On the contrary, I understood it. Tongues were no longer weird. I still didn’t understand a single word I was saying, but I knew they were completely right and necessary. And that’s how it will be for you when you begin to speak in other tongues. You will know that they are right and necessary.
One final hint; don’t get discouraged if you don’t speak in tongues right away. I had a friend who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit by faith when I was living in Spain. He was a student there. He was a very intelligent young man. He wanted to speak in tongues more than anyone I knew, myself included; but he really struggled with receiving it. I finally told him to practice babbling when he was alone at his apartment. For weeks, he would spend time sitting alone and vibrating his lips like he was playing cars. Until one day, out of nowhere, his spirit broke free and he soared into a spiritual language that was one of the most beautiful I’d ever heard. His new spiritual freedom caused him to become one of the freest people I’d have ever known.
Tongues will do some amazing things to your life, as well as for it. I’ve only touched on a few here. The things I’ve seen God do in my life because I’ve prayed in tongues are unimaginable to the natural mind. I firmly believe that it will be that way for you as you entrust yourself to the Holy Spirit and receive the gift of speaking in tongues.back to the top