Speaking in Tongues – Spiritual Gifts

Question:
Hey, so I have a question I need help with. I have a friend that is Pentecostal and he was describing to me what went on in their church and how they speak in tongues and scream and dance and yell and all that stuff and I told him I didn’t believe that you should be doing that in a church. I found 2 scriptures in James (1:26 and 3:2) where it says “…if you cant control your tongue you are fooling yourself…” I took that as basically saying you shouldn’t be babbling on about something in a language you don’t even know (in his case, tongues.) So he came back at me with 1 Corinthians 14:22-25 where it says ” Languages that others don’t know may mean something to unbelievers, but not to the Lord’s followers….. Suppose everyone in your worship service started speaking unknown languages and some outsiders come in. Wont you think they are mad?…..” I don’t know how to take this. Could you maybe help me out? And back me up a little bit more? Thanks, it’d be greatly appreciated.

Answer:
Actually 1 Corinthians 12-14 is a great place to discuss spiritual gifts and how they should/should not be used. I would suggest reading through that passage with your friend and try to honestly discuss with each other what is taught there. Even better would be to read through the entire letter to get the full context of the discussion in chapters 12-14. Sometimes we want to quickly point to verses when those verses are best understood when read within the context in which they were written. While there are times when this slower, more methodical approach is not feasible, I think it is the best way to study so that both sides are anchoring themselves in considering the text which is where we find the truth on any question.

Here are some verses/thoughts I would highlight concerning the use of spiritual gifts as described in 1 Corinthians 14. This does not even address the issue of the cessation of miraculous giftings as described in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, which I would see as a critical part of the discussion you might have with your friend. But just on the level of “How does the Bible say that miraculous spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecies, etc.) are supposed to be used in the church?” I would point to these ideas…

  • Tongues are not useful unless there is an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:1-11)
  • Purpose of tongues (and all gifts) is for the edification (building up, helping) of others, not so that a person can display a gift given to them by God (1 Corinthians 14:12-19)
  • Use of tongues could actually discourage and unbeliever from accepting the Gospel (14:22-25), which means misuse could become a stumbling block (Matthew 18:6-7)
  • Those with the gift of speaking in tongues still have control over whether they exercise it or not. And if there is no interpreter or if there are others speaking, then they should not use the gift (1 Corinthians 14:26-28)

I would also add that when we see “tongues” referred to in the Bible, it is speaking about various, actual, human languages (see Acts 2:1-11). As a matter of fact, some translations even render the Greek as “languages” instead of “tongues” (Spanish has a similar dynamic–the same word [lengua] can be rightly translated as either tongue or language). The point being, Biblical “tongues” are not some sort of unintelligible word-noises. The gift of tongues described in the Bible is a language that other people could actually understand or one that could be translated by an interpreter. Is that the sort of thing that people are doing today in churches?

I hope this is helpful. We do not ever want to be purposely combative or argumentative, so as we teach we want to be patient, kind and gentle as good servants of Jesus (2 Timothy 2:24-26). At the same time we have to be humble and courageous enough to search the Scriptures and listen to what the Lord has to say about how we should live our lives, and while doing so we have to encourage others to do the same.

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