The Controversial “Speaking in Tongues” Gift


imgresOne of Paul’s spiritual gifts was preaching the Gospel.  It was his calling.  Paul was driven by the desire to do what God wanted, using his gifts for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 9:15-18)  What spiritual gifts has God given you?  Are you motivated, like Paul, to honor God with your gifts? We reviewed the many gifts listed in the Bible in the last blog. Check them out again.


What are two stipulations regarding the spiritual gifts? Again, we turn to 1 Corinthians for the answer.

1) Paul said, “If I possess the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, helps, but don’t have LOVE, I have nothing!” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Unbelievers can know you c312936a2fe0c646d0956be11534afc4are Christian by your love for them.

 2) The gift of speaking in tongues was a concern of the Corinthian church because the use of the gift had caused disorder in worship.  Speaking in tongues is a legitimate gift of the Holy Spirit, but the Corinthian believers were using it as a sign of spiritual superiority rather than as a means for spiritual unity.    We should not exercise them only to make ourselves feel good.  They should help everyone in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

I have a vivid memory of a conversation I had with a pentecostal Christian believer back wagner-students-talking-plaza-smwhen I was a student in medical school. Pentecostals place a special emphasis on a personal experience with God through the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”.  This gentleman was a clinical professor of medicine in the ICU and we had developed a friendship. One day, he took me in private and said, “Have you spoken in tongues yet?” I hadn’t.   “Up to this point, I don’t think that I possess that spiritual gift”, I said.   His next comment throttled me. “Well, then you aren’t a spirit-filled Christian, and you really haven’t arrived yet!” He went on to say, “That’s the pinnacle of the Christian experience”.  For the first time, the smack of spiritual pride hit me between the eyes. He thought that I was not a true Christian since I had not spoken in tongues.

Here is a conversation I heard (not eavesdropping) several years ago by a small group of pentecostal women talking about receiving “prayer language”, a form of speaking in tongues. One of the woman said to the other, “My (young teenage) son hasn’t received his prayer language yet, but we can’t wait until he does”. The other woman’s reply was, “Oh really, that’s too bad. My kids received theirs a couple of years ago. Wonder what’s wrong with your son?” These women had the perception that the teaching of the Bible was that all Christians should be speak in tongues. Speaking in tongues and receiving prayer language was a sign of being “born again” in the Holy Spirt.

I can’t find that principle taught in the Bible. I am sure pentecostal Christians disagree with me.

Paul makes  clear points about speaking in tongues: 1) it is a unique (not universal) spiritual gift from God  2) it is a desirable gift even though it isn’t a requirement of faith- (1 Corinthians 12:28-31)  3) it is less important than prophecy and teaching. (1 Corinthians 14:4) 4) Although Paul himself spoke in tongues (more than anybody else imagesin the Corinth church (vs. 18), he stresses prophecy (preaching) because it benefit’s the whole church, while speaking in tongues primarily benefit’s the speaker.  5) Public worship must be understandable and edifying to the whole church.  Paul says that he would rather speak five words that his hearers can understand than 10,000 that they cannot (1 Corinthians 14:19) 6) If a person has the gift of speaking in tongues, he should also pray for the gift of knowing what he has said (interpretation) so he can tell people afterwards.  This way, the entire church will be edified by this gift. (1 Corinthians 14:2-19)  7) Speaking in tongues should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Cor 14:39)

 The way that the Corinthians were speaking in tongues was helping no one because believers did not understand what was being said, and unbelievers thought that the people speaking in tongues were crazy.  Speaking in tongues was supposed to be a sign to unbelievers (as it was in Acts 2).  After speaking in tongues, believers were supposed to explain what was said and give the credit to God.  The unsaved people would then be convinced of a spiritual reality and motivated to look further into the Christian faith.  While this is one way to reach unbelievers, Paul says that clear preaching is better (1 Corinthians  14:5, 14:22-25)

 In conclusion, one,  find your spiritual gift(s) and use it(them):

 For example, Paul encouraged Timothy to use the spiritual gifts that he possessed. 2 Timothy 1:6 

 Two, build up the church! Don’t tear it down.

Three, be careful with the gift of “tongues” if you have it,  and use it appropriately.

Four, pray to not have spiritual pride regarding your gift(s)!

Our next blog will get into the area of evangelism.



About Dr. Robert

I am married to Janet and we have four children. I am active in Grace church in Racine, Wisconsin and serve there in leadership and teaching . I have been an internist for 30 years and keep busy by taking care of a full load of patients. On the side, I like to write, coach, mentor, spend time with my family just hangin' out, and help take care of our three dogs; two Golden retrievers named Reagen and Finley and a Bernese named Sadie'.
This entry was posted in Spiritual Gifts and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Controversial “Speaking in Tongues” Gift

  1. Joanne Buckett says:

    Liked your blog. If you could send me your notes on chapter 6 I would appreciate it

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s