About the Gift of Tongues at Pentecost--Homily add-on
I had too much to say for Pentecost Sunday, so here are the notes I refer to in my sermon about the gift of tongues...
· There is no controversy that God, at least at one time, gave the church the gift of tongues.
· But much of the controversy centers on the question, “what is God’s purpose for the gift of tongues?”
· Some think that the gift of tongues was given primarily as a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:21-22) and as a means to miraculously communicate the gospel in diverse languages.
· They believe there is no longer the need for this sign, so they regard tongues as a gift no longer present in the church today.
· Others argue that the gift of tongues, while a sign to unbelievers as stated by 1 Corinthians 14:21-22, is primarily a gift of communication between the believer and God (1 Corinthians 14:2, 13-15), and is a gift still given by God today.
· Many mistakenly interpret this incident in Acts 2, assuming that the disciples used tongues to preach to the gathered crowd. But a careful look shows this idea is wrong
· Notice what the people heard the disciples say: Speaking . . . the wonderful works of God.
· The disciples declared the praises of God, thanking Him with all their might in unknown tongues. The gathered crowd merely overheard what the disciples exuberantly declared to God.
· The idea that these disciples communicated to the diverse crowd in tongues is plainly wrong. The crowd had a common language (Greek), and Peter preached a sermon to them in that language! (Acts 2:14-40)
· The gift of tongues is a personal language of prayer given by God, whereby the believer communicates with God beyond the limits of knowledge and understanding (1 Corinthians 14:14-15).
· Tongues has an important place in the devotional life of the believer, but a small place in the corporate life of the church (1 Corinthians 14:18-19), especially in “public” meetings (1 Corinthians 14:23).
· When tongues are practiced in the corporate life of the church, it must be carefully controlled, and never without an interpretation given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).
· The ability to pray in an unknown tongue is not a gift given to every believer (1 Corinthians 12:20).
· The ability to pray in an unknown tongue is not the evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit.
· This emphasis leads many to seek the gift of tongues (and to counterfeit it) merely to prove to themselves and others that they really are filled with the Holy Spirit.
· Is the speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance in Acts 2 the same gift of tongues described in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14?
· Some say we are dealing with two separate gifts. They argue that the 1 Corinthians gift must be regulated and restricted, while the Acts 2 gift can be used any time without regulation. Those who believe they are two separate gifts emphasize that the speech of Acts 2 was immediately recognized by foreign visitors to Jerusalem, while the speech of 1 Corinthians was unintelligible to those present except with a divinely granted gift of interpretation.
· However, this doesn’t take into account that the differences have more to do with the circumstances in which the gifts were exercised than with the gifts themselves.
· In Jerusalem, the group spoken to was uniquely multi-national and multi-lingual; at feast time (Pentecost), Jews of the dispersion from all over the world were in the city.
· Therefore, the likelihood that foreign ears would hear a tongue spoken in their language was much greater. On the other hand, in Corinth (though a rather cosmopolitan city itself), the gift was exercised in a local church, with members all sharing a common language (Greek).
· If one had the same diversity of foreigners visiting the Corinthian church when all were speaking in tongues, it is likely that many would hear members of the Corinthian church speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.
· As well, it should never be assumed that each person among the 120 who spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost spoke in a language immediately intelligible to human ears present that day.
· We read they all . . . began to speak with other tongues; therefore there were more than 120 individuals speaking in tongues. Since the nations spoken of in Acts 2:9-11 number only fifteen (with perhaps others present but not mentioned), it is likely that many (if not most) of the 120 spoke praises to God in a language that was not understood by someone immediately present.
· The text simply does not indicate that someone present could understand each person speaking in tongues.
· However, we should not assume those who were not immediately understood by human ears spoke “gibberish,” as the modern gift of tongues is called with derision.
· They may have praised God in a language completely unknown, yet completely human.
· After all, what would the language of the Aztecs sound like to Roman ears?
· Or some may have spoke in a completely unique language given by God and understood by Him and Him alone. After all, communication with God, not man, is the purpose of the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:2).
· The repetition of simple phrases, unintelligible and perhaps nonsensical to human bystanders, does not mean someone speaks “gibberish.”
· Praise to God may be simple and repetitive, and part of the whole dynamic of tongues is that it bypasses the understanding of the speaker (1 Corinthians 14:14), being understood by God and God alone.
· All in all, we should regard the gift of Acts 2 and the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians as the same, simply because the same term is used for both in the original language (heterais glossais).
· Also, the verb translated gave them utterance in Acts 2:4 is frequently used in Greek literature in connection with spiritually prompted (ecstatic) speech, not mere translation into other languages.