Have you ever been curious about the gift of diverse tongues (also called speaking in tongues) mentioned in the Bible? Would you like to also know how you can have this gift and use it to draw closer to God?
Speaking in tongues is an oft-misunderstood subject.
People who are not open to God’s supernatural power tend to dismiss the gift of diverse tongues by saying that it was a miracle that happened on the Day of Pentecost, but that it doesn’t happen anymore. They say that God did it once but He’s no longer using this gift.
But by saying that, they are denying both the truth of Scripture and the unchangeableness (immutability) of God.
Let’s look at what speaking in tongues (or, the gift of diverse tongues) IS and what it is NOT, according to Scripture.
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What it is:
1. Speaking in tongues IS one of the nine “power gifts” of the Spirit.
The power gifts are called power gifts because they are visible manifestations of supernatural power, strength, knowledge, and ability that can only come from God. Humans simply do not have the capability to operate in these gifts unless the Holy Spirit gives them and fuels them. The Holy Spirit is the One working through you when you use any of these power gifts (as the apostle Paul clearly stated in the passage below from 1 Corinthians).
The power gifts are also referred to as such because it’s an easy way to distinguish them from the other listings of additional spiritual gifts elsewhere in the New Testament.
The power gifts are listed in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, as follows:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:
You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit,
to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:1-11) (emphasis mine).
Did you see the nine power gifts listed there? They are:
- Words of wisdom;
- Words of knowledge;
- Working of miracles;
- Discerning of spirits;
- Different kinds of tongues; and
- Interpretation of tongues.
(In this series, we’ll talk about each gift, but not in order. We’ll discuss them more like in order of my favorites.) 😉
So the gift of speaking in tongues IS one of the power gifts of the Spirit. “Of the Spirit” is key there. Notice that the Scripture passage above says that it’s the same God who works all the gifts in His people. HE gives the gifts as He wills, and He drives it, fuels it, and makes it work. Each gift is a gift from Him and depends totally upon Him.
2. Speaking in tongues IS a gift frequently given when Jesus baptizes you in the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:1-4 describes the initial, mass outpouring of this gift on the Day of Pentecost:
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
Acts 2:5-12 explains to us that these new languages in which the believers were speaking were actual languages unknown to them, but known to others. Check it out:
“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?
Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”
So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”
It appears from this passage that, not only were people speaking languages they didn’t originally know, but there may have been an additional miracle happening here too. It appears from the phrase “everyone heard them speak in his own language” (emphasis mine) that God was actually translating the sounds into the ears of each bystander in the bystander’s own language.
So, there was the manifestation of speaking in tongues–where each believer was speaking a language he or she didn’t know–and also a miracle of translation.
Again in Acts 10:44-48, people got baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues immediately.
This time, though, it was Gentiles, not Jews! It was when Cornelius, a conscientious Roman, sent for Peter and asked him to come share the Word of God with Cornelius’ household. Peter began to preach the Gospel and here’s what happened:
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.
And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days” (Acts 10:44-48).
In this story, the Holy Spirit was poured out the instant the people believed in Jesus. Peter wasn’t even done preaching yet, but Cornelius’ household believed in Jesus as he preached, and BOOM! Jesus baptized them all in the Holy Spirit and fire, and the Holy Spirit poured out His gifts. Right in the middle of church service. 😉
The gift of diverse tongues IS a way to commune more closely with God.
First Corinthians 14:1-5 tells us that speaking in tongues is speaking directly to God. It is a language for prayer. (It can also be used in a public setting, per Scriptures we’ll discuss later; but it is primarily a language for prayer.) This passage compares the purposes of two gifts–tongues and prophecy–by explaining how each gift is to be used:
Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.”
Note that Paul explains here that speaking in tongues is speaking directly to God.
This passage also says that, when we speak in tongues, we are speaking mysteries in the spirit. So you are are speaking out the deep things of God through your spirit man–things that you don’t even understand–when you pray to God in the language He has given you. (Note that this is frequently called a “prayer language” simply because its primary purpose is prayer.)
Speaking in tongues IS a way to build yourself up.
In the passage from 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 above, the apostle Paul taught that speaking in tongues builds up the speaker. So when you get alone with God and pray in tongues, you are increasing your own strength and power in your spirit.
I have often benefited from this. Sometimes I feel weak, tired, or discouraged. And when I do, every time that I get alone with God and start praying in my prayer language, not only do I reap the benefits of prayer by casting my burdens upon the Lord, but as I pray in tongues (also referred to as “praying in the Spirit” since the Holy Spirit is giving us the words–remember HE drives the gifts), I can feel my spirit man enlarging.
It’s like I come to God weak and limp. If you could see my spirit man, I think it would be collapsed like a balloon on the floor, empty.
However, as I pray, it feels like the Holy Spirit starts to breathe into the “balloon” of my spirit man. It feels like my spirit starts to unfurl and inflate and stand up, one molecule at a time. And after awhile, all of a sudden, my spirit is standing straight up at attention!
It’s like I can feel the Lion of Judah roaring over me, and His ROAR starts to blow through my spirit and stays … and it becomes my roar! Praying in tongues like that brings, first, tremendous relief of burdens–and then it strengthens you, motivates you, inspires you, encourages you, and enlivens you. The Holy Spirit uses this kind of prayer to stand you up again in the HIS power–the power of the Holy Spirit!
The gift of speaking in tongues IS something we should all desire, and it’s available to all of us.
In the passage above, the apostle Paul said under divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit (since all Scripture is given by inspiration of God per 2 Timothy 3:16) that he wished all of us spoke with tongues. This is logical, since the gift of tongues is clearly a gift from the Holy Spirit and using it is also a way to build ourselves up. It’s always God’s will to give us good gifts!
That doesn’t mean we have all received the gift yet, but we do know that we CAN receive it. How? Because Psalm 84:11 says:
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11 NKJV).
Did you get that? The gift of tongues is a good gift that the Holy Spirit gives; and NO GOOD THING WILL HE WITHHOLD FROM THOSE WHO WALK UPRIGHTLY.
He won’t withhold anything good from you. That means you can have all of His gifts–all of them. Miracles and faith and healings and words of wisdom and words of knowledge AND THE GIFT OF TONGUES. 🙂
Speaking in tongues IS sometimes the gift of a real language that you never spoke before, but that people do speak on the planet today.
I have heard story after story about how God has given someone the gift of tongues, and they were praying in tongues when someone heard them–only for the hearer to tell the speaker that they were praying in perfect Hebrew, Chinese, Russian, or some other language.
I’ve even heard of a non-believing Jewish man giving his life to Jesus after he heard a woman speaking in tongues.
She didn’t know what she was saying, but he told her later that she was speaking in flawless Hebrew, and that she told him his name, personal details about his life, and why he had journeyed to America–all in Hebrew, and all without her knowing what she said. 🙂
So God sometimes gives you a prayer language that you didn’t know was even a real language.
I think many people speak in real languages when they speak in tongues, but they don’t know it.
When I was in college (university for my undergraduate work), I studied foreign languages as my concentration. I majored in Spanish, minored in French, and learned bits and pieces of Japanese, Russian, and German as well. I have also tried to pick up a little bit of modern Hebrew since then (in addition to studying Biblical Greek).
As a language student, I learned to recognize the root source of certain words and how words are similar from language to language. And as a lover of Jesus now, having heard many people speak in tongues, I can tell you that I have heard on many occasions when someone will be praying in tongues, and I will recognize words.
I’ve particularly recognized words in Spanish from non-Spanish speakers (words like “santo,” which means “holy” and also words in Hebrew). It’s pretty neat. I don’t feel like I have the gift of interpretation (although I want it!); I’m just listening with my natural ear. And you can hear people speak real words of real languages.
(Sometimes when I have noticed this, I’ve asked the speaker later: “Did you know that you were saying ___ in Spanish?” And they have said no; they had no idea.)
What speaking in tongues is not:
Speaking in tongues is NOT a way to disturb your church service or interrupt the pastor.
First Corinthians 14:39-40 says:
“Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.”
We have to take the entirety of Scripture together in context when we define our theology, paradigms, and protocol. Even though speaking in tongues is a good thing and is a gift from God, Scripture also teaches us that all things should be done decently and in order. And standing up in the middle of the church service while your pastor is preaching and shouting out a word in tongues is NOT (ahem) considered decently and in order.
Speaking in tongues is NOT to be done when addressing people publicly, unless it is also interpreted.
First Corinthians 13:26-33 tells us:
“How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.
For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
If you or anyone else has a word for the church in tongues, you or someone else needs to interpret that tongue when it’s given.
God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace … and people will think you are off your rocker if you just babble in tongues and expect them to understand. A good, Bible-believing congregation will be open to hearing a word in tongues, but will know that it must be interpreted. And if there is no interpreter, the speaker should be silent and never say anything in tongues at all (per the Scripture passage above).
This doesn’t mean you can’t pray in your private prayer language, quietly and so as not to disturb others, while you are worshipping at church.
I pray in the Spirit all the time when I’m worshipping–but I’m also standing in the altar, with very loud music around me and no one can hear me. I’m careful not to disturb others. If anyone is around me, and if we’re not all praying in tongues at the same time, then I pray under my breath–again, so no one can hear me.
It also doesn’t mean that you can’t pray for someone else using your prayer language–IF they are open and receptive to that and you know that they don’t mind.
However, be careful and only do this if you are strongly led by the Spirit to do so, because it is generally better for people to get something out of your prayer with their mind unless you know for sure that the Holy Spirit wants to speak in a tongue to them (and if so, interpret it in English/their own language when you speak it.)
First Corinthians 14:18-19 says:
“I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
Speaking in tongues is NOT something God poured out once and then stopped doing.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). These gifts were poured out on the apostles and the early church, but they are not the gifts of the apostles or of the early church. THEY ARE THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, and as such they accompany HIM wherever He goes.
God never changes. His ways don’t change. His mannerisms don’t change. His Word doesn’t change, and His gifts don’t change.
Ahhh, isn’t the unchangeableness of God comforting? 🙂
Enough said about that.
So how can you have the gift of tongues?
Just ask the Holy Spirit for it. Pray in faith as follows:
“Dear Holy Spirit, Your Word says that You will not withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly. Your Word also says that I am the righteousness of God in Christ, so in Christ I can have every good thing You have.
Precious Holy Spirit, please pour out this gift of speaking in diverse languages into my spirit right now. Help me to open up my mouth and speak, and let it be Your words that come out in the language You are giving me. Thank You, Abba. In Jesus’ name, amen!”
There! That was easy, wasn’t it? Now open your mouth in faith and speak.
The words will well up from deep inside your abdomen–that deep place where your spirit sits. Just speak out the words the Holy Spirit gives you, even if it’s just one syllable at a time and even if you don’t understand the words. TRUST that He has heard and answered your prayer, and the Holy Spirit will speak through you!
Do you have questions about speaking in tongues? If so, leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer them. Also, have you asked the Holy Spirit for the gift of tongues? If so, please leave a comment below and tell me how He answered!
Read all the posts in this series about the power gifts!
- Diverse Tongues (Speaking in Tongues)
- What Is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (and How To Receive It)
- My Story: How I Received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
- Words of Knowledge
- How I Learned to Use My Prayer Language
- The Gift of Prophecy
- Discernment of Spirits
- How Words of Wisdom Accomplish the Impossible
- How Interpretation of Tongues Helps You Know Father’s Heart
- Miracles that Bear Witness for Jesus
- Easy Faith for the Impossible
- Healings That Change the World