I have sought the past few decades of following Jesus to utilize His fullest resources. The apostle Peter said in his second epistle (1:3-4) that, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” One promise of God to His people is the promise of spiritual language.
The use of this gift has conjured up all sorts of pictures in people’s minds: Images of ecstatic babbling, uncontrolled or incoherent speech, a trance-like utterance of undecipherable mumbo-jumbo, and weird sounds from the body and mouth of a person in a hypnotic state. Speaking in tongues has often been viewed by some as an escape into unreality. Some Christian leaders describe tongues as an experience and practice only for the gullible. Yet Scripture reveals that the gift of tongues is a biblical expression of God’s goodness to us.
A former university graduate, scholar, one of history’s most respected thinkers, and a seasoned missionary, believed in and practiced speaking with other tongues a lot as a worthy exercise. Read about the apostle Paul’s view of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12-14 to understand how he valued the practice and forbid anyone’s disuse (and misuse) of speaking in tongues.
My experience of starting to follow Christ as a college student was aided by students from the Chi Alpha chapter at Ohio University, as well as New Life Assembly of God in Athens, Ohio. The leadership and people in both ministries modeled and taught that the spiritual life Jesus called us to involved the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. Both were necessary to the empowered life the Holy Spirit provided and would enable all of us to participate in. I was taught and rooted in the spiritual disciplines that would help me grow to maturity in Christ. Speaking in tongues and being available for the Spirit to use me in the kinds of spiritual gifts listed in Ephesians, Romans, and 1 Corinthians was also framed in a healthy manner. I learned four things in particular about tongues that set a biblically healthy foundation for my life and service.
First, speaking “in” or “with” tongues is biblical and not outdated. Nothing in Scripture restricts the use of tongues to the 1st century; Second, speaking in tongues is not a substitute for spiritual growth. As beautiful as praying in tongues is, it is meant to be part of our growth arc, along with feeding on God’s Word, prayer, building healthy relationships with other Christ-followers, and being a witness of Jesus to those who have not yet found their way to God; Third, speaking in tongues is not a weird and out-of-mind-and-body experience. To speak in tongues does not mean a person resigns the control of their mind or mouth, and indulge their emotions uncontrollably. The exercise of the spiritual language the Holy Spirit provides does involve a conscious choice to allow God’s assistance to transcend our linguistic limits; Fourth, speaking in tongues is not a status symbol or qualifier of spiritual acceptance or maturity. If devoted followers of Jesus have not, or ever do not, speak in tongues, they are not second class citizens in the Body of Christ.
My experience in the use of tongues has deepened my intimacy with God. My involvement with this biblical practice has continued because of the journey I set out on decades ago to grow in the life of Christ and to know the Father’s ways. I discovered that God provided this beautiful gift as a resource of his tender and loving assistance in walking with Him. Think theologically. God has provided tongues to help us know and serve Him better. Let us use what He has promised.
Love is a verb,