In parts 1 through 3, I covered what is being said when people speak in tongues, who is to interpret the tongue, and how tongues are to be used in church. Today I will briefly cover various other issues that come up.
How Does a Person Receive the Gift of Tongues?
I suppose the header gives the answer away. A person gets a gift by being given a gift. Gifts are out of the receiver’s control; all one can do is ask. One can’t force the giver’s hand — that is stealing or coercion. One can’t earn the gift — the gift would then be a wage. We are either given a gift or we aren’t.
In the Bible, we see people receiving the gift of tongues three times – Acts 2, 10 and 19. All three occur as believers are filled with the Spirit for the first time. In each of these instances, it does not appear that people were asking for the gift or even aware it existed. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your view, we are not given any magical formulas or phrases to receive the gift. The NT never even tells us to ask for it.
Still, I think we should ask. In the book of Acts the believers spoke in tongues at the birth of the church and at the initial inclusion of the Gentiles in the church. Maybe it’s just me, but this makes it seem like tongues is a normal Christian practice, more the rule than the exception. Luke doesn’t always mention people speaking in tongues when they receive the Spirit, but maybe he felt this would be redundant. At any rate, Paul wishes everyone to speak in tongues (1 Cor. 14:5). As I said above, this leaves the church with one option – to ask.
Now for the controversial part: the people who received the Spirit weren’t told to breathe and move their lips to receive the gift of tongues. It simply came out. Even the most hard core Pentecostal will admit that anyone can make language-sounding noises by breathing out and moving their lips. That is not the same thing as having the gift of tongues. We Charismatics need to be careful that in our quest for Biblical spiritual practice we aren’t faking it – intentionally or otherwise.
Why Bother with Such a Strange Gift
Given the stigma associated with the gift of tongues, why bother with it? Why not focus on the gifts we can all agree on like compassion and hospitality? To answer this question we need to look at the reason the gifts are given in the first place. One of God’s primary goals is for the church to be built into a dwelling place for himself. To do this, he has given the church gifts to exercise in order to build itself up. One of these is tongues. None of us have the right to look down on any of the tools God has given the church to fulfill his purposes – whether that means teaching (sometimes looked down upon by Charismatics) or tongues and prophecy (which is looked down upon by cessationists). We need everything God will give us.
In 1 Cor. 14:4 Paul says, “one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up.” There’s your reason if you needed one. If God’s goal is to build the church, then a gift specifically designed to do this is obviously very important. As we saw in part 3, this is not done in church without interpretation; the goal at those times is to build up those around us. However, most of the time we are not in church. These are the times when the gift is primarily used. We can praise God while we are doing something else with our minds. This is the genius of the gift.
Paul said, “I thank God I speak in tongues more than all of you.” The fact that he could boldly state that he spoke in tongues more than a pack of zealous Charismatics means that he spent quite a lot of time speaking in tongues, probably more than an hour each day. This may seem strange to some, but it makes perfect sense if we remember the goal – building the church.