Only once in my life have I been told what I could or could not preach. And as you can imagine, things were very tense in that Ontario church when the pastor forbade me to preach about the Holy Spirit, though I let him know I really wanted to do so.
More recently the brother who opposed me then has not only come into a new experience with the Holy Spirit, but he also speaks in tongues as well.
Just prior to writing this book I asked him why it is that people get so excited about speaking in tongues. His eyes brimmed with tears and he answered simply, "Because it is so very wonderful!"
I cannot help but accept the testimony from one who once collided with me theologically and spiritually. The change has been remarkable. But why is a biblical experience of tongues so wonderful? Obviously tongues is the only gift which is nearly completely subjective in nature. A gift of healing or helps, for example, is objective; it ministers to others. Tongues alone among the gifts has a major benefit for the possessor's private life and experience with Christ.
Also a definition is in order: Speaking in tongues is an ability given by the Holy Spirit which enables a Christian to speak in a language unknown to him, which at the same time immensely benefits him and may benefit others.
Biblically, tongues is anticipated in 1 Corinthians 12 before it is mentioned. It is included in what Paul has in mind in verse three: "Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."
Paul mentions here the phenomenon which we may call spirit-speaking. He suggests that a man may speak by various spirits (e.g., human, demonic, divine). Then he says that no one speaking that way by the Spirit of God will ever call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Spirit.
I think that this text has been consistently overlooked. It is a key verse on the subject of spiritual gifts, especially in view of the context that follows it. And because of its emphasis on speaking, it is a key verse on speaking in tongues.
A very great deal of sorrow, confusion and delusion could be avoided if Christians generally insisted that tongues-speaking spirits manifesting themselves in people be tested. (I will describe in detail in chapter 15 exactly how I believe this test should be applied.)
The rankest unbeliever could call Jesus Lord with his lips. But speaking by any spirit but the Holy Spirit he absolutely could not continue to do so.
I am thus suggesting that scripturally God never intended us to accept spiritual utterance without question, without spiritual testing.
Apart from spirit-testing as outlined in 1 John 4: 1-3, there is the possibility that a spirit utterance may be tested through the function of spiritual gifts, especially the word of knowledge, revelation, and the discerning of spirits.
Recently in my office I was called upon to test a tongue. Prior to the application of the test commanded in 1 John 4:1-3, the young man and I prayed. And I sensed within me that the tongue we were about to test was genuine. The verbal test confirmed to my heart what I already knew.
The incident was extemely interesting because about 18 months previously two tongues-speaking demons had been exorcised from the same young man.
Next, in verse ten, it is clear that tongues is one of the Holy Spirit's gifts. And certainly the Holy Spirit gives only the very best. Tongues cannot be measured by any other standard. When it is genuine it is a beautiful gift from the Holy Spirit.
The next mention of tongues occurs in verse 28. The order in verse 28 suggests that apostleship is first and diversities of tongues is last. If there is an ascending stairway, tongues is the bottom step. To quarrel with that is to attach undue importance to the gift.
"Diversities" suggests a variety of tongues, perhaps as in 1 Corinthians 13:1, the tongues of men and angels. But even those tongues without love are valueless.
I have earlier pointed out (chapter 6) that not all will speak in tongues. And to avoid that truth is to move off the safety of biblical ground. Some speak in tongues and some do not.
I recall a lady tugging at my arm after a message on the gifts of the Spirit. "My husband," she said, "wants to know if tongues is necessary. Yes or no?" I didn't answer her to her satisfaction because she wanted an unbiblical answer. "Yes" and "no" are both wrong when God says "maybe," when He divides severally as He wills.
In 13:8 there can be no mistaking it - tongues shall cease. The most ardent opponents believe they have ceased already. I think it is safer to be in the middle and say that they haven't passed away yet but they will.
In chapter 14: 1, without excluding tongues, Paul says "desire spiritual gifts." A sincere Christian could desire tongues, then, as one of the gifts but should especially desire prophecy.
Paul next proceeds to explain the function of speaking in tongues. The tongues-speaker speaks to God; in the spirit he speaks mysteries, he edifies himself.
Paul says, "I would that ye all spake with tongues." But making that a doctrine is not only dishonest but dangerous. He immediately adds, "but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."
Tongues without interpretation do not profit the church, but tongues-speakers are to pray that they will interpret (v. 13).
Praying in tongues is a prayer of the human spirit which leaves the understanding unfruitful (v. 14). It is not to be done to the exclusion of prayer with the intellect (v. 15).
Singing can be done in tongues or with the understanding. And Paul adds that praying and singing are not the only things that can be done with the spirit (v. 15). Blessings can also be given (v. 16). A friend of mine, and a frequent visitor to our summer conventions, told this story. He was ministering to a group and the flow of the conversation was anti-tongues. Somewhat grieved he explained a little bit to them and then he said to them, "Listen, I am going to bless you in tongues." He proceeded to do it. And the whole group was moved to tears by the sweetness of God's presence.
First Corinthians 14:18 is another passage often lifted out of its context. "I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all." Paul was a great tongues-speaker. But he continues, "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that my voice might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
In verse 20 he suggests that those who promote tongues are being childish and he appeals for maturity.
Verse 22 is many times ignored by writers or speakers who insist that tongues are the only evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Tongues, Paul says, are not for a sign to those that believe. They are a sign for the unbeliever. "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not." Departure from this biblical ground has been disastrous as we shall see in a later chapter.
And in case you missed it, tongues are for a sign to unbelievers. If we are to oppose tongues completely, what about the unbelievers? What about them?
In verse 23 the apostle tells the tongues-speakers that everyone will think they are mad if they all come together and speak at the same time.
He doesn't rule it out completely (v. 26). Two or three may speak in tongues, and then only with interpretation. And if there is no interpreter, then let him keep silence in the church (vv. 27-28).
I must pause to observe that tongues is the only gift that the Holy Spirit puts restrictive controls on: two or at the most three and then only with an interpreter. Prophecy appears to be slightly controlled. Contemporary church history confirms the wisdom of the Holy Spirit since undisciplined speaking in tongues probably causes more church problems than all other manifestations of spiritual gifts put together.
First Corinthians 14:32 speaks directly of prophecy but includes teaching about tongues. Just because a person feels a surge within to speak, there is no reason to believe the Holy Spirit is grieved if the tongues message is not given. The spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control. In self-control the charismatic Christian calls the plays. He is the quarterback.
Verse 33 certainly provokes thought. God is not the author of confusion. Agreed. But if He isn't, who is?
Now in verse 34 we come to a passage which does not clearly refer to tongues but may well refer to them. "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law." If women are not allowed to speak in tongues in the church, the possibilities of abuse are considerably reduced.
Paul says women are to be under obedience (1 Cor. 14:34). Earlier he had said, "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels" (1 Cor. 11:10).
A woman without the protective umbrella of a man's authority is vulnerable. She is open to the satanic attack of fallen angels and may easily give ground to the enemy. She is also more easily deceived.
Those involved in deliverance ministry will attest that victims of demonic invasion are much more frequently women than men. Vulnerability is the reason. All the more reason for our dear wives and sisters to be under the authority of understanding, compassionate Christian men.
While this passage about women keeping silence in the church may not be specifically referring to speaking in tongues in church, because of the general tenor of Paul's remarks, I think it would be good advice for any local congregation to follow.
Paul sums it up with these beautifully balanced phrases:
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.-l Cor. 14:39,40.
"Cool it, calm down, take it easy. Don't seek tongues unless the Lord reveals that the gift is for you. But it should not be forbidden either." This is the feeling I get from Paul.
When Paul says, "Covet earnestly the best gifts," he appends that advice to a list that terminates with tongues and interpretation of tongues. The implication is clear. Seek the best gifts; seek to be special messengers, to preach, to teach, to work miracles. Paul, in my view, is emphasizing the top of the list, the best gifts.
But it does not follow that tongues is the worst gift. How could any beautiful gift of the Holy Spirit be so labelled? But the comparative importance of tongues is clearly minimized.
"Seek not, forbid not," as some are saying, is good biblical advice. And in essence, this is the "third view" of tongues.
And if this advice be followed, will not tongues disappear? Certainly not. If the pattern of Acts holds true, some, but not all, who are filled with the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues. And so long as Christians do not seek tongues per se, but only the encounter with the living Christ which is the fullness of the Spirit, then a biblical order has developed and is being followed.
I should also pause to make clear that there is a time and a place for seeking the gift of speaking in tongues.
If a sincere Christian believer recognizes that "not all speak with tongues," then prayerfully submits himself to the will of God, and still feels that the Lord wills that gift for his life, he then may certainly pray with assurance and have every expectation of receiving a true charisma of the Holy Spirit. "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will" (Heb. 2:4). "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will" (1 Cor. 12:11).
If He "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32).
Now let us suppose: If a believer who has never been exposed to 1 Corinthians 12, 13, ind 14 for the first time and then asked to summarize Paul's feeling about tongues, what would he say? I believe he would say something like this, "Paul was trying to restrain tongues, to put the brakes on them, without stamping them out or denying their validity."
And this I believe. Paul was definitely not tramping on the gas. He was hitting the brakes, carefully but firmly.
I have wondered, too, if Paul were with us today, what would be his emphasis? Where would he fellowship? I doubt that he would be jetting from city to city - as one of my friends says, "laying the tongues trip on people." But he wouldn't be happy either among those who insist that the sign gifts are not for today. His ministry of healing and his speaking in tongues would be an embarrassment there.
I rather think Paul would be out in the middle somewhere.
And we should be too!