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What is speaking in tongues? The Scripture testifies that it was an essential element of the Christian experience in the first century. The Apostles did it and expected it of those to whom they ministered. Paul said in one of his letters that he spoke in tongues more than all the people he was addressing, encouraging them to do the same. It was also one of the signs that would accompany those who believed. So what happened? Why is this topic, when brought up in our day treated like it is something strange and new.
After His resurrection, Jesus gave some final instructions as to what they were to expect upon receiving the promised holy spirit, which He also described as being baptized with the holy spirit. (Acts 1:2-9). He told the Apostles that when they had this experience (which happened a few days later on Pentecost):
“...you shall receive (lambano) power after the holy spirit is come upon you and you will be witnesses to Me…”
This word "receive" was translated from the Greek word "lambano" which means “to take hold of something in order to use it.” (Thayer’s Greek definitions). It’s not a passive taking as you would of something that was dropped into your hand, which the Greek word “dechomai” would have defined. “Lambano” is “a seizing, a laying claim to what is yours by actively taking hold of it”.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they, upon being filled with the holy spirit, began to speak in other tongues (languages) as the spirit enabled them.
“And they were all filled with the holy spirit, and began to speak in other tongues as the spirit enabled them”.
These other languages that the Apostles spoke in were unknown to them. They spoke not as their mind enabled them but as the Spirit enabled them. After the holy spirit came upon them, the initial evidence that they had received the spirit from GOD was that they spoke in tongues. This marked the beginning of the age of grace which we are still in today (as of 2004).
This is what Jesus spoke of in Mark 16:17. One of the “…signs that would follow those who believed in His name…” would be that they would “…speak with new tongues”.
Now there were many devout people in Jerusalem that day from all over the known world who actually understood the languages the Apostles spoke in. Being amazed at what they saw and heard, they asked one another what this meant. (Acts 2:5-12) Peter said to them all:
“GOD has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact.”
“Exalted to the right hand of GOD, He has received from the FATHER the promised holy spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”
Peter therefore instructs them to:
“Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you will receive (lambano) the gift of holy spirit for the promise is for you, and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the LORD our GOD will call.”
Here Peter was telling the people present what they must do in order to experience what they had just witnessed the Apostles experience (Acts 2:4) which was “to be filled with the holy spirit and speak in other tongues”.
He also let them know that this promise was not only to them alone but also to "…as many as the LORD our GOD will call”. If this was not true, then Peter would not have laid out this open invitation. He would have said: "Some of you will receive (lambano) the spirit as we did and some of you won't." (This is what some teach today…that some Christians can speak in tongues and some can’t.) But Peter did not say that. He said that: “…the promise is for you, and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the LORD our GOD will call.”. Could we possibly be missing out on something wonderful because we have not been told or have been wrongly instructed?
“And they were all filled with the holy spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the spirit enabled them.” .
and Acts 2:11 states that when they spoke in tongues they were “speaking the wonderful works of God”.
Acts 10:46 says that when “they spoke in tongues they magnified GOD.”
“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”
How and why did something so fundamental to Christian growth and witness get lost, concealed and/or queered over the centuries? And how did it get reduced to the idea of it being merely a sectarian doctrine rather than GOD's Will? What happened? We are in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:11-18) and there is an enemy of righteousness who has been eternally defeated by what GOD accomplished through the perfect obedience of Christ. When a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and GOD the FATHER who raised Him from the dead lives a victorious life by walking in the power of the holy spirit, it makes Satan's defeat evident in the world… a world that has long been deceived into thinking that darkness rules. Certainly he does not want this information getting out. No, he cannot change what GOD accomplished through Christ but, he has been doing a pretty "good" job of covering it up for almost 2000 years. To talk believers out of operating the spirit that GOD gave us to help us obtain victory over him has been one of the enemy’s most successful deceptions. I've heard Christians say: “Speaking in tongues was just for the believers in ‘Biblical’ times”. Then, there are those who have been convinced that speaking in tongues is a gift that some Christians have and other Christians don’t and they are one of the ones who don’t. . I've heard others say: "Oh that's not for me. That's for those 'charismatic' Christians". They’ve been deceived into thinking that it’s just too weird and won't even consider it for a moment. What a rip off! Don't let the enemy rip you off of manifesting the holy spirit.
As far as our own personal growth, where true witnessing begins, 1 Corinthians 2:12 says: “We have received…the spirit that is from GOD that we may know the things that are freely given to us of GOD”. This word "receive" is also the Greek word "lambano", (to take hold of something in order to use it.). As we speak in tongues (in other words as we “lambano” or “actively use” the spirit), we will grow spiritually and will then be able to understand spiritual things for..."GOD reveals these things to us by HIS spirit for it is the spirit that searches all things, even the deep things of GOD”. (1 Corinthians 2:10)
1 Corinthians 12:7 says: “The manifestation (or operation) of the spirit is given to each one of us to benefit from.” These benefits are listed in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10. The foundational benefit, the one that builds us up spiritually, is speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:4) which we can operate at all times if we so choose. (Ephesians 6:18)
1 Corinthians chapter 14 basically deals with how speaking in tongues is to be operated in the church, in other words, amongst other believers. In that case, tongues should be accompanied by its companion manifestation of interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5&28) so people will be able to understand what is being said. Otherwise the person is to speak in tongues silently within themselves to God. Clearly, the believers in Corinth needed to be straightened out as to how they were operating this manifestation in the church.
But there are also some very helpful verses noting the benefits to the believer as he or she operates the spirit in their private prayer life.
1 Corinthians 14:2 says that when you speak in tongues you are “not speaking to men but to GOD” and God speaks to us by this spirit also. (1 Corinthians 2:10) How wonderful! A direct and intimate communication with GOD!
1 Corinthians 14:16&17 tells us that when we speak in tongues we are blessing with the spirit and giving thanks well.
1 Corinthians 14:4 says that it edifies you-in other words it builds you up spiritually.
1 Corinthians 14:18 & 19 says:
18- “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all.” (Where? In private obviously.)
19- “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.”
This would be encouragement enough for any seeking believer. It reveals that the Apostle Paul spoke in tongues much in his private prayer life. He must have known it’s importance since he wasn’t a man given to vain things. He also was a man who received much spiritual understanding. Could there be a tie in??? (see Ephesians 3:20 and 1 Corinthians 2:6-13)
1 Corinthians 14:14&15 says that when we speak in tongues, our spirit is praying. Romans 8:26&27 says that with our minds we don't know what to pray for as we ought, but the spirit helps us to overcome this weakness by praying in perfect harmony with GOD'S will. GOD is allowing us to work together with HIM to bring good to pass with the spirit that HE gave us. It is ours to operate by the freedom of our will. It really is up to us to exercise the faith that is motivated by our love for HIM. This blessing should not be treated like it’s an option. It cost God His only begotten Son to make this available.
Ephesians 6:18 tells us to pray in the spirit at all times. And this instruction is placed in the chapter that discusses the spiritual battle we face daily. How important is that? The believers in the first century knew. When we ask ourselves: "What did they have that made them walk in such power and boldness?" They had Apostles ministering the spirit to them and it's proper operation.
In Acts 19:1-7, it tells of the Apostle Paul meeting some disciples and asking them if they received (lambano) the holy spirit when they believed. Did you manifest? Did you bring it into evidence? This is what he was asking them. As soon as they heard the word they believed and then he laid hands on them and they spoke in tongues.
Acts 10:44-46, is the account of the Apostle Peter ministering at the household of Cornelius. In this case no hands were laid on them. They simply heard the word, believed and then they spoke in tongues.
This was Apostle's teaching then…THIS IS APOSTLES TEACHING NOW!
(see Acts 2:42. and Ephesians 4:11-16)
By far, the most wonderful thing speaking in tongues is, is worship! Philippians 3:3 says that we "worship GOD by the spirit.." and in John 4: 23, Jesus said that; "...the true worshipers will worship the FATHER in (or: by) spirit and in (or: by) truth." He also said: “the FATHER seeks this kind of worshipper”. "GOD is Spirit and those who worship HIM must worship HIM in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)
Ephesians 3:20 says that "GOD is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that is at work (actively operated) within us”.
Jude 20 states that we “build ourselves up on our most holy faith when we pray in the holy spirit.”
Let's show our appreciation for the "helper" (John 14:26, and John 16:7 &13) that has been given to us by operating it daily. We are only going to get the benefit of the indwelling spirit to the degree that we operate it. GOD forbid we do what the man in the biblical account did who was given a talent (ability) and buried it out of fear. (Matthew 25:24 &25)
A recap. How was it known that they received the spirit? They spoke in tongues. You can't see spirit so when they spoke in tongues they knew that they had received the promised holy spirit. Romans 8:16 says that “the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of GOD." I would think that this should be a number one priority to any child of GOD to be absolutely sure that they are born of GOD'S spirit-in other words saved, born again, sealed with the holy spirit of promise. (Ephesians 1:13)
When you speak in tongues you will be doing the speaking. The spirit will provide the words...a divinely inspired language that is unknown to the speaker. It is our responsibility to speak in tongues but what we speak is GOD'S responsibility.
Although this language is unknown to the speaker, what we do know from Scripture is that the words will always glorify and magnify GOD. You speak this beautiful language by faith. It will be unknown to you but every word a prayer and praise to the ALMIGHTY! As you speak, the words will be there. (Acts 2:4) You do this with childlike faith...kind of like putting out your foot and believing that GOD will provide the ground for you to step upon. (Luke 18:17,10:21) You are in complete control of this manifestation of the holy spirit.
If we want to manifest GOD'S power, then we must not fear. We have GOD'S absolute protection and help whenever we step out to do HIS will. (Luke 11:9-13) How could we think otherwise?