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What is the gift of tongues?

So I want to expand further on something I spoke about in my sermon. So as I’ve been saying lately, the Bible is one complete cohesive history of God’s love for us and his eternal purposes through Jesus Christ. It all fits together. Unfortunately, we have dissected it in a way that makes the words lose their meaning. We often take scripture out of context. In fact, most of our modern devotional reading is based on single sentence texts being taken to fit some moralistic or therapeutic topic. But when we take scripture as a whole and we understand the complete story, the words of the Bible take on a fuller meaning.


This is especially true in the case of the subject of tongues. Now many believe that the tongues in Acts 2 are a unintelligible spirit language that cannot be understood (without a translator). But acts two says that the languages they were speaking were understood by those from several different nations and languages. Each one heard, in their own LANGUAGE! God gave the disciples a gift so that they could share clearly, in an understandable langue, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is after looking at the use of tongues in Scripture that we can see that the gift given in Acts 2 was not an unknown language that is unintelligible to ourselves and others, but rather it is the ability for someone to speak clearly the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a language and to be understood in that language.


To support this and to reveal another way we have misunderstood the gift of tongues, we read in 1 Corinthians 14:22 that the gift of tongues is given as a sign to non-believers not to believers. Often, today we only see the gift of tongues (or the modern interpretation of) used in worship services and prayer services among believers. According to this text, those believing they have the gift of tongues should be using that gift in the midst of non-believers as sign and a witness to them.  If it is understood that the gift of tongues is actually a way for the Gospel to be proclaimed clearly to non-believers who speak different languages, then 1 Corinthians 14:22 makes complete sense.


In Acts 10:46 (one of only three times tongues are used in the book of acts), it is said that the new believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues and extolling God. So they were extolling God in their tongues. How did the disciples know they were extolling God? Because they heard and understood what they were saying. They were clearly not speaking in a language that is unintelligible, but rather they were being understood in the language that the hearers spoke. That is the only way they could know what they were saying.


But there is more…the issue of tongues do not just randomly appear in the book of Acts, it’s part of this larger story of God’s amazing Grace. So let’s go all the way back to Genesis 11. So we read this story about the people of babel, this is shortly after the time of Noah. Now god told the descendants of noah to go and multiply over the whole earth, but they didn’t do that, instead they built a city and in that city they decided, like their ancestors before them, Adam and Eve, that they could be like God. So they tried to build a tower to achieve the heights of God. So God thwarted their prideful plans by making it so they couldn’t understand one another. We punished them with disunity through language.


But what happened on the day of Pentecost, the day the Church was formed? He healed them of that curse, giving them the gift of tongues so that they would all be able to know and understand one another. God wanted unity amongst his people, so he gifted some within the body of Christ to be able to share and make the Gospel known to all nations in languages that they could understand. This is fulfilled in Revelation 7:9 when John saw the multitude in heaven, it is said (in the KJV) from every tribe, nation, and tongue (notice how in this instance we always know that this mean language) before the throne and before the lamb worshipping.  They were worshipping in unity speaking the same praise in one tongue.


So while some people may speak during prayer in an unintelligible langue to edify their own prayer life, the gift of tongues is a sign for non-believers so that the would clearly understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language. If you truly believe that you have that gift, then I would encourage you to go out among non-english speaking populations of your community and share the Gospel with them. If you know that you have a gift for learning and understanding languages go out and use that gift to make disciples of every nation.

About the author

Erik Liljegren

Erik Liljegren

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