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Tongues: The Controversial Gift

The first thing that the individual experiences is the presence of the Lord. While it is true that God is everywhere present, this is a manifest presence. God is not only with the individual but moving through them by his Spirit.

Another thing that the individual experiences in exercising the gift of tongues is being chosen. They have been prompted to speak by the Spirit. Of all of the assembled worshipers the Lord has called upon them to minister to the church as a whole through this public gift. This should be both a holy and a humbling experience since it is the Holy Spirit who distributes the gifts (1 Cor. 12:11).

What does a person experience when tongues are expressed in a church meeting?

A third thing that they experience is the grace aspect of the gifts. This is particularly evident in the gift of tongues. The speaker is not speaking a known language by natural ability but is speaking an unknown language by supernatural ability. They are doing something that they could not do on their own. So there is a blessing for the individual Christian whom God uses to exercise the public gift of tongues.

The gift, once manifested through the individual brings about a corporate experience of the gift. The other worshipers are now aware that something is happening in the assembly and this has an effect on them.

The first effect tongues produces is the same that it produces for the individual, namely an awareness of the presence of the Lord. God is in their midst and is making that clear through the manifestation of the gift. This generally results in a hush falling upon the congregation as the speaker, inspired by the Holy Spirit, utters words in an unknown tongue. This is a holy moment and is usually one that is characterized by a great awe and reverence for God.

The public gift of tongues also produces a sense of anticipation. For the gift is not complete without the companion gift of the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 14:5,13,27,28). The worshipers now wait to hear, in their own language, what has been previously said in a language that they did not know. Those who have been in services where these gifts have been in operation know the effect that they can have upon the congregation. It can be a very rich experience.

But experience without purpose means nothing. God gives the gifts of the Spirit, including tongues, for a purpose. The divine intention is declared to be edification (1 Cor. 14:4,5). The edification provided by the gift is both individual and corporate. The apostle Paul states very clearly that the person who speaks in tongues edifies himself (1 Cor. 14:4), he is somehow built up in his faith by speaking in tongues. Some may question how this can be since the individual does not know what he is saying. While speaking in tongues does not seem to appeal to the logical or analytical mind it is of benefit. There are at least two reasons why it is of benefit.

God is the giver of the gift and God gives good gifts.

The first has to do with the source of the gift. God is the giver of the gift and God gives good gifts (James 1:17). Since God knows all things, including what will benefit us, we should believe that these unintelligible tongues serve a purpose. They contribute to the edification of the individual believer. In other words, they fulfill the divine intention for which they were given.

The second reason why they edify the believer is because of what they are. Paul describes tongues as prayer, praise and thanksgiving (1 Cor. 14:14-16). These are all parts of communication with God. Anything that increases or strengthens our communication with God will build us up in our faith.

The gift of tongues can provide edification to the congregation if the tongues are interpreted (1 Cor. 14:5). The tongues, once interpreted, are understood by the congregation and can serve to edify them in one of two ways.

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2019

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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