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*Frequently asked questions*

The Bible, the written word of God, is our sole authority in answering all questions pertaining to our spiritual life. However, in reading the Bible, we must keep in mind that the Bible is not written like a book of science where each statement is exact and complete in itself, nor like a book of law where the goal is to elaborate matters in sections and sub-sections so as to avoid loopholes. The Bible is written for the heart, and can be understood in its proper sense only by those who are spiritually minded (1Co.2:14), and who desire to do the will of God once it is revealed (Jn.7:17). Those who want to argue against the word of God can always find arguments, and those who do not want to obey what God says can appear to find words of God themselves to support their stand. Please read the following with an open heart and a willingness to know God's ways and obey them. - Jacob Ninan

Speaking in tongues

What does it mean to speak in tongues?

The first time the Bible records people speaking in tongues was on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus had risen from the dead (Acts.2:4). At this time, when about 120 disciples of Jesus were praying together in a room, they were filled with the Holy Spirit who came upon them in the shape of tongues of fire, and they started speaking in other languages which they did not know. People from different language groups who listened to them understood them as speaking in their languages and praising God (v.6). From this instance we can understand that 'speaking in tongues' would mean speaking in human languages unknown to the speaker but which can be understood by people of that language.

However, speaking in tongues may not always be in languages that others can understand. Paul mentions about speaking in the tongues of angels (1Co.13:1) which, of course, cannot be understood by human beings, unless there is a supernatural use of interpretation.

Speaking in tongues is one of the gifts given by Jesus when He baptises His disciples in the Holy Spirit. One way John the Baptiser described Jesus when he was baptising Him in water was that Jesus would baptise people in the Holy Spirit (Mt.3:11). The Holy Spirit was sent down to earth after Jesus was raised from the dead and He ascended to heaven (Jn.7:39). But after Jesus ascended to heaven and was glorified He sent the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost on His disciples and gave them several spiritual gifts (Ep.4:8), and speaking in tongues is one of them.

When a person 'speaks in tongues', it is the person who uses his mouth and tongue and speaks out, but it is the Holy Spirit who gives that person the ability to utter those unknown words (Acts.2:4). But the person is not being 'driven' by the Spirit in a way that he himself has no control over his speech (1Co.14:32). In other words the speaker has the ability to start or stop the speech and to decide how and when he speaks. However, since it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is a supernatural act where the person is speaking a language under the power of the Holy Spirit which he does not know or understand.

Does the one who 'speaks in tongues' understand what he is saying?

No, and that is why it is referred to as speaking in an unknown tongue (language). However its meaning can be understood if someone is there who has the gift of interpretation of tongues (1Co.12:10).

What is the use of speaking in an unknown language?

There are two ways of using the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. One is in the meeting of the church where one man speaks in an unknown tongue and another man there with the gift of interpretation speaks out the interpretation in the common language for everyone to understand. This forms a way for God to give a short message to the church (1Co.14:26). Paul exhorts people not to speak openly in tongues in the church unless an interpreter is available, so as to avoid meaningless articulation that can be ridiculed by others (1Co.14:27,28).

The second use of this gift is to speak in tongues in private, speaking out to God from one's heart (v.28). The one who speaks does not understand in his mind what he is saying, but he does this knowing that the Holy Spirit is saying something to God through him (1Co.14:2). The speaker may be praising God from his heart (v.16), or conveying his groans that are too deep for normal language (Ro.8:26,27). Either way he gets built up or strengthened in his own life by the Lord (1Co.14:4).

Should every Christian seek to speak in tongues?

In one sense it is desirable for every Christian to seek to receive the gift of tongues (1Co.14:5), because that is one way we can express the overflow of our praise to God and to give utterance to the deep groans of our heart. In this way we can build ourselves up in our spiritual life. But when it comes to speaking publicly as in a church meeting, it would be better to be able to speak in the common language and build up others (v.5). The gift of speaking in tongues in the church is given by the Lord to those He chooses (1Co.12:11).

Some people teach that unless one speaks in tongues he cannot claim to be baptised in the Holy Spirit.

This is a wrong teaching coming from observing that in many examples in the Book of Acts those who were baptised in the Holy Spirit also spoke in tongues. This is wrong because Paul makes it very clear that everyone does not speak in tongues (1Co.12:30), and only those whom God chooses receives this gift. The sign of being baptised in the Holy Spirit is not tongues but power to be witnesses for Jesus (Acts.1:8), and this power can be seen in the manifestation of different gifts that God gives to each one.

Some people teach that spiritual gifts such as tongues were only signs for unbelievers (1Co.14:22), and they all ceased to operate after the time of the apostles when the Bible became available in full.

This is another wrong teaching which however is prevalent among many Christians. They usually refer to 1Co.13:9,10 where it says that when the perfect comes the imperfect will be done away with, applying it to the coming of God's full revelation as given in the Bible which, according to them, makes imperfect gifts like tongues irrelevant. There is a point in what they say that when someone spoke in an unknown tongue unbelievers who knew that language would be impressed, and in that sense it was a sign for unbelievers. But this phenomenon takes place in rare cases even now, especially in the context of evangelism. However, one cannot say that believers speaking in tongues to God and edifying themselves is not necessary any more. Actually such a gift becomes all the more relevant when believers face greater pressures against them in these end days. It is not correct to apply 1Co.13:9,10 to the coming of the Bible because vv.11,12 make it clear that the perfect will come only when we stand before the Lord and see Him face to face.

Aren't there many counterfeit tongues going on these days?

Yes, very much. Those who are eager to speak in tongues for the sake of identifying themselves with the tongue speakers can psychologically manipulate themselves to make special sounds which they will call tongues. In many cases these will be speaking the same sounds again and again which is not exactly like speaking in a language. Others who are eager to get the thrill of supernatural experiences may even receive false gifts from deceiving spirits. Speaking in tongue also takes place sometimes among Hindus and Muslims, when they are in their fervency, indicating the operation of deceiving spirits. Both such tongues can be usually identified by the absence of the fruit of the Spirit or a greater love for God. In the case of the operation of demons, sometimes there can also be uncontrollable speaking, laughing, etc., which can identify demonic activity, because the Holy Spirit operates fully respecting the free will God has given us (1Co.14:32). Our safety is to ask God for the gifts of the Spirit with pure and sincere motives of wanting to love and glorify God more (Lk.11:11-13). Just because there are false gifts operating, it should not mean that we shy away from the genuine ones. When we go to God with a sincere heart we can be sure that He will give us the genuine gifts.

If I speak in tongues should I also ask for the gift of interpretation?

There is no harm asking. But we must remember that the answer depends on God's plan for our life and ministry.

If I speak in tongues what precautions should I take in exercising it?

We must watch out for spiritual pride that makes us think that we are superior to ordinary Christians. God gives different gifts to different people, and we must not think we are superior or inferior because of our gifts. We must be careful to exercise whatever gifts God has given us because God has given them to us to be used, and it is with use that they will become more efficient. These gifts are not given to us to show off to the others or to boast before others. If our gift is to be used in the church along with interpretation we must take care that our goal is the bless the others and not to impress them. In the Corinthian church there was apparently a lot of abuse of the gift of tongues and Paul had to tell them to seek more for other gifts in order to edify the others.

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