Tongues?

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I Know, Tongues is weird

Being a pastor of a church that believes the gifts are not only for today, but a necessity for the church today, I find I get the most questions and odd looks about the gift of tongues.  I will be the first to admit...it is weird.  There is a strangeness to our belief that we can babel and somehow God uses it.

Tongues is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 along with the other gifts that we have labeled the "power" or "manifestation" gifts.  These gifts tend to be the more overt and powerful demonstrations of the Spirit in terms of visibility and impact.  For better or worse, these also tend to be the more controversial gifts.  I am saddened by this.  Ephesians 4:11-13, teaches we need the gifts to have unity of the faith, to be equipped for the works and service that builds the Church, and to attain the fullness of Christ.  Yet, the gifts (these gifts in particular) have been the subject of divisive debates and splits within the Church.  Tongues, at that, I would single out as the most divisive of the lot.

But if we take the time to understand what God has declared and done through the giving of this gift, it becomes a beautiful and rich expression of His goodness and a necessary part of your life.

So, Why is Tongues Given as a Sign and What Does it Teach Us?

First, we should understand the roots of Pentecost.  Feast of Weeks or Pentecost was a harvest party!  It was when the grain harvest would begin to be harvested and the worshiper was to bring a tenth of the first fruits to God.  This taught them to be mindful that God is the God of the harvest and all we have is because He is good and gracious.  It is God who sustains us so we joyfully give back to sustain His work in our midst.  But there is even more significance to this holiday than it being the beginning of the grain harvest. 

It really pointed to a more significant historical event.  Exodus 19:16-19 is the story of the original Pentecost, or fifty days after Passover.  In Exodus, we read that the first Pentecost is where God gave the Law.  God's command to connect the Feast of Weeks to the original Pentecost taught them as the grain sustained and satisfied them physically, the Law would sustain and satisfy them spiritually. 

In Acts 2:1-13, God redefines Pentecost (just as He had redefined Passover with Christ as the Lamb of God) by pouring out the empowerment of His Holy Spirit.  The 120 gathered in the upper room miraculously praise God and declare His wonders in many languages that they did not know!  This teaches, whereas before, the Law was what sustained us spiritually, it would now be His own Spirit that would animate the Church and bring us to His abundant Life!

A Church without exclusion

The gift of tongues is the first sign given of this new empowerment; this new way of relating to the world as God's own representatives.  Dr. Luke is careful to tell us that people were present "from every nation under heaven," (Acts 2:5 NIV).  Symbolically, this miracle of the praises of God being heard in every language, shows us God's intent for a multilingual, multicultural, and multiracial Church. 

This becomes a major paradigm shift for those who grew up Jewish.  This is why Paul would say to the Ephesians and Galatians that the old systems of categorizing people; male or female, free or slave, Jew or Greek, no longer apply.  We are now all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28)!  We no longer devalue others but see all as created in God's image with intrinsic value.

The de-babel-ization of mankind

Tongues teaches us more about God's intent for His Church.  In Genesis 11:1-9 we read the story of the tower of Babel.  This story is about more than language.  It is about a people united under one language wanting the authority and power of heaven.  In verse 6, God says, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them."  He confuses their language and they are scattered all over the earth.

At Pentecost, the whole earth is gathered and one new language is given!  It is a heavenly language!  This is the de-babel-ization of mankind.  It is the reversal of Genesis 11.  The authority and power of heaven is not taken, it is given, and all we have to do is receive it.  Now, in Christ and empowered by His Spirit, we are one people with one language and nothing is impossible!

A Church edified

There are also practical reasons for the gift.  1 Corinthians 14:26-28 instructs the use of tongues and the interpretation as a means by which God will build up or edify His church.  This is to be done decently and in order (14:40), but by no means is prohibited.  Paul says emphatically that it "must be done so that the church may be built up," (14:26). 

Personally edified

Similarly, Paul says it for personal edification.  Why would Paul thank God he spoke in tongues more than anyone (14:18)?  It is because in verse 4, he says anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves.  That is why in verse 5, he then says I wish you all spoke in tongues!

Is Tongues Still Needed?

Does the Church still need reminded that God desires a Church without exclusion?  Do we still have work to accomplish for which we need the empowerment of His own Spirit?  Does the Church still need built up and edified?  Do you still need built up and edified?  Then it is my opinion we need the gift of tongues in operation in our corporate and personal lives.