Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What is the benefit of speaking in tongues?

Samantha wrote,

Amen, amen, amen. I have some friends who are obsessed with speaking in tongues. I guess I don't understand why, since they claim they don't even know what they are saying? So who does it benefit? Is the gospel being preached? Are souls being saved? Not on account of them speaking in tongues. It's not that it's not a beautiful gift. In the early church it had great benefit!! But today, does it edify the church, or bring people to Christ? Not that I've seen...

While I would agree that there have been excesses and abuses when it comes to spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues, I would disagree that they have little value or benefit today. I think that the gift of tongues is just as important, and as beneficial to the church, today as it was in the early church. To understand its importance and benefit, however, it is important to first understand its purpose. Consider what Paul had to say to the Corinthian church regarding the gift of tongues.

“Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.” (1 Corinthians 14:1-5)

The key point to understand is that tongues, unless given and interpreted publicly, is intended for personal edification. When we speak in tongues, our spirit speaks mysteries to God, and in the process, we are built up. When we speak in tongues, we allow our spirit to communicate with God without having to first filter everything through our intellect. There are times when, in prayer or worship, we are unable to find the words to express our hearts and our love to God. In these times, we can express our innermost feelings and prayers through the gift of tongues. I believe this is what Paul meant when he said, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) I can testify that many times, when I did not know what or how to pray, that by praying in the Spirit and I knew that God understood me and I believed that He would answer my prayers.

Another personal benefit of speaking in tongues is that it builds us up in faith. Jude said, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 20) I believe that there is a link between building up ourselves in faith and praying in tongues. I can attest that, when I pray regularly in the Spirit, my faith is increased and I find it easier to trust in God.

There is also one case where public speaking in tongues, without interpretation, is of benefit. Paul wrote, “In the Law it is written, ‘By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to me,’ says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 14:21-22) The word translated here as “unbelievers” is different from the word used in the following verses. This word refers to those who refuse to believe. They are more than unbelievers they are unbelieving. To them, the gift of tongues is meant as a sign of the miraculous working of God which they themselves have rejected. It is meant to demonstrate to them that God is moving and He has passed them by because they have chosen unbelief.

So, how should we approach the subject of speaking in tongues? I think that we should follow the example of the Apostle Paul. “What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.” (1 Corinthians 14:15) I think if we do this, we will do well.

David Robison

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