What is speaking in tongues?
Speaking in tongues is not strictly speaking a doctrine, but it must be the object of clear teachings and supported by the Word because its questions are numerous. Speaking in tongues is one of the 9 gifts of the Spirit given to believers (1 Corinthians 12). Many wonders, however, about the reception of this gift, and while some Christian currents consider it as a hallmark of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, others affirm on the contrary that it is not an obligatory gift. Or even that it is no longer relevant. What does the Holy Bible tell us about this famous speaking in tongues?
The very first time …
As with most donations, it isn’t easy to give a precise definition of what speaking in a tongue is. The Bible mentions it several times in the Gospels, Acts, or in 1 Corinthians. Jesus himself mentions this in Mark 16:17:
“These are the miracles that will accompany those who believe: in my name, they will cast out demons; they will speak new languages; […].”
The fulfillment of this promise was not long in manifesting itself! When the Holy Spirit descended on the 120 disciples in the upper room, they began to speak in other languages. These were languages that were unknown to them:
And they were all infused with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with different tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now devout Jews were living in Jerusalem from all the nations that are under heaven. At the noise that took place, the multitude came running, and they were confused because each one heard them speaking in their language.… [Acts 2: 5]
The first manifest gift of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples was therefore speaking in tongues. These languages were human languages, terrestrial, and understood by the various Jews of foreign nationalities in Jerusalem. After Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit willingly poured out the gift of tongues for evangelism so that those present would hear “the wonders of God” (Acts 2:10) in their native tongues, through words. People who were completely foreign to them. This is why the gift of speaking in tongues is a sign, not for believers but for non-believers, so that they may believe in the Good News (1 Corinthians 14:22)!
Language of men or language of angels?
Alongside this speaking in terrestrial tongues (xenoglossia), we note the existence of speaking in celestial tongues (1 Corinthians 13), also called “language of the angels” (glossolalia). This time it is a language that is not understandable by humans. In this case, praying in tongues would consist of letting the Spirit pray in our place, hence the pronunciation of syllables unintelligible to human understanding. Some then refer to the passage in Romans 8:26 where it is said that the Holy Spirit “intercedes himself with inexpressible sighs.” Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul presents speaking in tongues as an unintelligible prayer made by the Spirit, without recourse to intelligence.
It is thus possible for us to affirm that as believers, we can be endowed with speaking in the language of men, of that said of angels, but also both. Missionaries, for example, reported having received the gift of speaking in tongues from men when they spoke with peoples and tribes they evangelized. God can similarly use us and make us speak a foreign but human language to deliver a message.
Speaking in tongues: for what purpose?
Besides the need for the Spirit to operate a sign for the unbeliever by delivering a heavenly message, speaking in tongues is intended to illuminate the believer. Although his mind remains sterile during prayer in tongues, his Spirit is enlightened because he speaks “mysteries” to God (1 Corinthians 13: 2). Therefore, speaking in heavenly tongues is a more powerful and effective prayer than intelligible prayer because it is done in and by the Spirit.
Speaking in tongues should therefore not be done on our initiative, even if we end up recognizing the syllables after several years. When the Christian speaks in tongues, he must let the Holy Spirit fill him because He directs this special prayer. Nevertheless, the seasoned disciple can recognize when his prayer in tongues is worship,
Why do some churches restrict speaking in tongues?
If some ministries restrict speaking in tongues, it is for fear that enemy agents will infiltrate the church and come and do what looks like incantations. Unfortunately, we cannot rule out this risk, because yes, there is false speaking in tongues, the devil imitating each of the gifts created by God. However, we also cannot deprive ourselves of the gifts of God because of him.
In a church built and governed by Christ, God will always reveal to His genuine servants the presence of agents of the devil. So we don’t have to fear them to the point of depriving ourselves of the resources of the Holy Spirit.
Can we learn to speak in tongues?
Some Christians may thus come to doubt that they speak to them in tongues when the latter has been received in a somewhat forced way (a ministry calling a church to pray in tongues when it is a prayer that the Holy Spirit must initiate, a pastor asking to repeat after him…). If this is how you received your speaking in tongues, you may be right to doubt its authenticity! Only God can reveal to you if you have received the speaking in true tongues.
However, we must remember that no one can teach us to speak in tongues, for it is the Spirit himself who must come upon us. When the Spirit descends, we may be surprised emotionally or physically, but this little shock is normal. It is explained by the intrusion of the supernatural into the natural, something we are not necessarily prepared for. You can feel intense heat; you start to tremble, to cry, not to control yourself… Each one reacts differently to the visitation of the Spirit. The main thing is not to shy away from what “looks like nothing.” The Spirit that prays in you knows what he’s saying.
Where should you practice speaking in tongues?
The Bible does not prohibit speaking in tongues in the assembly because that would prohibit the Holy Spirit from manifesting itself. It can be done at a particular time when the anointing of God is visiting the saints. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul tends to restrict this language in the assembly because it generally only provides personal edification.
Now, the church is the proper place for the edification of all (1 Corinthians 14: 6). There is something spectacular about speaking in tongues that can frighten those who have never heard of such a thing before. If all the Christians in the congregation start shouting, it can frighten potential visitors.
In church, we need to show balance and wisdom. This is why some pastors make sure that speaking in tongues is always translated. Indeed, the gift of translation of speaking in tongues exists. When a person begins to speak an unintelligible language, the ministries present may request that a person endowed with this gift translate or that the Holy Spirit allows a member to reveal what is being said.
Prayers, songs, and prophecies in tongues
Speaking in tongues is not everything. The Spirit can also inspire us with sung prayers and inspired chanting in tongues. These are prophetic moments when the Spirit of God works things in the invisible without our knowing it. Prophecy in tongues is easily recognizable because its intonation differs from usual speaking in tongues.
It is given with more emphasis and authority. We know then that it is a divine message and not a prayer in tongues. Usually, the Holy Spirit gives the interpretation of the tongue. Otherwise, the person who delivered the message can ask God to inspire them. If she doubts or hesitates, Spirit will use someone else to confirm her primary thought.
I do not speak in tongues: am I saved?
The born-again believer receives the “down payment of the Spirit” as a sign of his belonging to Christ. Some are baptized with the Holy Spirit before their water baptism; others are after. But beware: speaking in tongues is only the VISIBLE manifestation of the Spirit and does not mean for those who have not received it that they are not saved.
Some timid, intellectual, or “cerebral” people may apprehend manifestations of the Holy Spirit and therefore take longer to speak in tongues, for they are afraid of not being in control of what might happen to them. Assurance of salvation should not depend on the manifestation of speaking in tongues but simply on recognizing one’s sinful state and acceptance by faith of the work of Christ the Savior.
How do you receive the baptism in the Holy Ghost and the gift of speaking in tongues?
In Mark 16:17, Jesus thus affirms that speaking in tongues is a “miracle” that will accompany all the disciples, unlike other gifts! Speaking in tongues is not obligatory, but all Christians are called to receive it. Why deprive yourself of it? If you have been born again, you have certainly received the Holy Spirit, for it is He who has brought you to repentance and has convicted you of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16: 8).
However, you must distinguish between having the Holy Spirit (which you received at your conversion) from receiving His baptism, one of the visible signs of which is speaking in tongues (which can happen on the same day or later). Some people receive the gift of speaking in tongues quickly, while others do not because it is primarily the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is very sensitive and also appeals to our sensitivity. The Spirit of rejection or blocked emotions can point us to subconsciously. We must free ourselves internally and surrender ourselves totally in the presence of God. Worship is the food of the Spirit, and love is its language. Praying without life and passion for Jesus is also a brake on the descent of the Spirit.
In the Word, we see that the laying could transmit the Holy Spirit on the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:17). There is, therefore, no reason to believe that this is no longer possible today. Nevertheless, our disposition and the state of our hearts are primordial conditions. Remember that the Spirit is often associated with the dove that frightens nothing: it never forces and will not impose itself.
I am afraid of anything that is spiritual. What to do?
If the prospect of having this experience frightens you, remember that the Spirit is not coming to crush or harm you. On the contrary, he is the depository of great blessings. It must be greeted with gentleness and wonder. In addition, the experience of others will not necessarily be yours. Some charismatic churches have accustomed believers to brutal and violent demonstrations, where the chairs are shattered, and the people seized return to an indefinable trance state.
The Spirit does as it wills, and we do not wish to question the lived experience of those involved. However, it is important to understand that not all His manifestations are spectacular and loud. If this is what scares you, we want to reassure you.
It is the perfect will of God that his children receive his Spirit and taste the heavenly wonders that he has prepared for them. The promise of the gift of speaking in tongues is, therefore, for every Christian. We should not be afraid of it or question this divine gift. Instead, let us thank the Lord for allowing us to touch the spiritual world, thanks to it!
Repent, and each of you is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God calls them. (Acts 2:38)