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What is the gift of tongues?

Quick Answer: What is the gift of tongues? Some believe the gift of tongues involves a heavenly prayer language for the purpose of talking to God and/or edifying one’s own self. But Scripture teaches us that tongues involves sharing the Gospel in foreign (human) languages for the purpose of evangelism (Acts 2:8). 1 Corinthians 14 is actually encouraging believers not to abuse their missionary gift of tongues by bringing it into the church service and speaking in a mysterious way that only God understands.

Diving Deeper: Some teach that the gift of tongues involves speaking in an angelic or heavenly language for the purpose of communicating with God and building up oneself. However, Acts 2:8 makes it clear that the true Biblical gift of tongues is the sharing of the Gospel message with unbelievers in their own language to which they were born. In short, it is a “missionary gift” for the purpose of evangelism.

In Acts 2, we see the apostles speaking in tongues to a multitude of people who hear the Gospel message in their own native language. Many of these people consequently believe the message and are saved. This is the only instance in Scripture where we are shown the “content” of tongue speaking. To conclude that speaking in tongues involves babbling in a heavenly or angelic language is to introduce a concept that is simply not found anywhere in Acts or in the epistles.

Paul’s 1 Corinthians 13 reference to speaking with the “tongues of angels” is hyperbole for the purpose of showcasing the importance of love, and it has nothing to do with the gift of tongues. This is why Paul also mentioned moving mountains and giving his body to be burned. He was simply saying that love is more important than any of these. He was in no way claiming that he actually spoke an angelic language!

Lastly, Paul’s reference in Jude 1:20 to “praying in the Spirit” relates to praying with the confidence that we have bold access (in the Spirit) to God Himself. This was a newsflash for New Testament believers, as this vine-branches relationship with God’s Spirit had never been experienced before. It’s important to note that Paul says we should always pray in this way. Therefore, praying in the Spirit is not a second way to pray. It’s the only way to pray! And the context of the Jude 1 passage has nothing to do with the gift of tongues at all.

In conclusion, the gift of tongues is a missionary gift for the purpose of evangelism in foreign languages, just as we see in Acts 2. And there is no second type of tongues as some propose. Those who claim a second type of tongues exists as a private prayer language say this is to edify themselves, when we are explicitly told that spiritual gifts are for the edification of others, not ourselves (Ephesians 4:12).

Additionally, many who support the idea of a private prayer language are eager to teach you this language through repeating after them or even in a classroom setting. However, spiritual gifts are never the result of imitation or instruction. Spiritual gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit to the church at His discretion (1 Corinthians 12:7; Romans 12:3-8), and there is a beautiful variety and diversity of gifts in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:28-30).

Let’s Make It a Conversation!
1. What have you been taught about the gift of tongues?
2. How does Acts 2:8 helps us to better understand the nature of tongues?
3. React to this statement: In 1 Corinthians 14:2, Paul is telling them not to speak mysteriously so that only God understands.
4. Why do you think the gift of tongues has been both showcased and twisted more than other gifts?
5. React to this statement: It’s more important to speak in love than it is to speak in tongues.


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