Tongues Are for a Sign

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In the Bible it is written: “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” (1 Cor 14:22)

This text addresses the purpose of the supernatural gift of tongues as given by the Holy Spirit to His elect; it is embedded in an entire context to support this stated purpose. Though many have attempted to clarify the subject, few appear to have understood the fundamental purpose and workings of this gift and how it should be applied today. As a result, tremendous error and confusion abounds in the church related to tongues, ranging from prohibiting it altogether to failing to discern demonic counterfeits which violate its intent and lead believers into foolishness, darkness and spiritual bondage. Ignorance of this particular gift therefore gives much occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme and corrupts the corporate expression and witness of the Church.

Purpose

The text quoted above explicitly states the purpose of God’s supernatural gift of tongues: “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign , not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.” (1 Cor 14:21-22)

God states that the gift of tongues is given in fulfillment of prophecy; it is a miraculous sign provided to those who do not yet believe in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Specifically, tongues are given as a sign to unbelieving Jews, who are the people mentioned in the prophecy Paul quotes here, when it will help them identify and accept a way of God which they might otherwise reject: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.” (Isaiah 28:11)

The gift of tongues enables men and women who do not naturally speak in a particular language to supernaturally express the testimony of God to Jews who are fluent in that language. This is accomplished in such a way that the unbelieving Jew will know that it is God speaking to him or her directly. No other purpose is expressly stated for the gift, so we may safely conclude that tongues are given by the Holy Spirit according to this purpose.

Persistence

Before investigating proper use of the gift of tongues itself, it is wise to consider the general claim made by Cessationists, who teach that miraculous spiritual gifts such as tongues and prophecy have ceased to operate in the church. In support of their view, we know that spiritual gifts are intended for a limited time and that they will eventually cease since Paul says, “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (1Co 13:8-10)

Paul understood that during this present age we know in part, not fully: “If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” (1Cor 8:2) Today our understanding is incomplete, but a glorious time awaits us when that which is perfect has come, when we will know fully; our understanding of spiritual things and of Christ Himself will be mature and complete: “Face to faceThen shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor 13:12) At that point, whenever it is, we will no longer need supernatural gifts.

Cessationists claim that this perfection has already come in the completion of the New Testament cannon of Scripture. But if we accept this then we must also claim that our understanding of Jesus Christ is also now perfect, complete, that we who have the completed cannon now … know Him face to face, even as we are known. This is, of course, arrogance at best … to claim a knowledge of Christ and of His ways that is superior even to that of Paul the apostle himself … who personally wrote much of the New Testament and knew its truths as well as anyone can, and who humbly said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” (Php 3:12)

The New Testament cannot enable us to be any more perfect in our knowledge of Christ than the Old Testament can, for the New did not yet exist when Paul wrote: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works .” (2 Tim 3:16-7) No; the perfection that is to come, which obsoletes all supernatural gifts in God’s people, must be more than Scripture, New or Old. It must be a time when sin and ignorance are vanquished in the plain light of Messiah, when our sinful, ignorant ways and the onslaughts of the enemy are a thing of the past. Perhaps this will be realized during His earthly reign, or in the new Heavens and the new Earth … when Torah itself will be no more (Mat 5:18, Heb 7:18) and even death itself will be destroyed. (1 Cor 15:26) In any case, certainly, this perfection has not yet come.

No; those who believe in the cessation of spiritual gifts are not grounded in Scripture here, not even close. They do not have the charismatic gifts themselves, and evidently fear discovering why they don’t. Perhaps a self-sufficient pride holds them hostage; perhaps the many counterfeits of the enemy have discouraged them. Yet rather than humbly admitting their need for God’s hand in their midst, that they are indeed “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,” (Rev 3:17b) and asking God to help them honestly confront the demonic counterfeits, they opt to cover their emptiness in a theology that excuses and comforts a smug powerlessness. It is a sad loss indeed.

Pattern

In acknowledging then that the gifts of God are for the church today, we do well to note how they were given and expressed in the early days of the Faith. In doing so we find that each of the three accounts in the book of Acts of the use of this gift reflects God’s stated purpose. In Acts 2, during the Feast of Pentecost, the disciples spoke of the miraculous works of God in languages that were overheard and understood by unbelieving Jews, men who had traveled from many lands and cultures to be present together before Him in Jerusalem according to God’s command. (Deu 16:16) This miraculous sign got their attention and convinced many of them that God was working in and through the disciples of Christ. As a result many were moved to accept Christ as their Messiah.

Later in chapter 10, believing Gentiles spoke in tongues as a witness to Jewish believers that God received into His kingdom non-Jewish people who trusted in Christ without first converting to Judaism. This was a tremendous theological difficulty for believing Jews at the time; it was significantly hindering the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Mat 28:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 11:19), and also disrupting the unity of the believers in mixed Jew-Gentile congregations. (Gal 2) Having miraculous confirmation through this spiritual gift in Gentiles helped the Jewish believers immensely in resolving this problem and finding God’s way. (Acts 11:17-18)

And finally in Acts 19 disciples of John the Baptist spoke in tongues as they were brought into the kingdom; these men had never heard of the Holy Spirit and had not yet believed on Christ. While the Jewish people had generally received John the Baptist as a great prophet (Mat 21:26, Luke 7:29), they had not actually received Jesus Christ in the same way; evidently, they were thinking John was legitimate even while they were rejecting Christ, never fully comprehending John’s message. Bestowing the gift of tongues on such disciples signified to all unbelieving Jews that leading souls to trust in Jesus Christ as Messiah was the very goal of John’s ministry.

Permission

These are the three instances of speaking in tongues recorded in the book of Acts, and each one of them reflects and fulfills the original, divine purpose of this gift. However, it is evident from the Corinthian epistles that tongues were used by early believers for purposes other than reaching out to unbelieving Jews. Folk in Corinth with this gift were using it to bring inspired teaching and prophetic words to the assembly of the saints supernaturally, directly from the Holy Spirit.

While such a use of God’s gift is not strictly according to His stated purpose, God affirms that such use is acceptable so long as it is done in a spirit that is consistent with its original purpose: with an interpreter so that the divine message can be understood by all who hear it and the Body of Christ might be edified: “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.” (1 Cor 14:12-13) Evidently, though the Holy Spirit gives the gift of tongues in order to empower evangelism among His chosen people, there is an acceptable way to use this gift to edify and strengthen the Body of Christ directly … and by inference, certainly, it seems the Spirit might also be pleased to use such a gift when evangelizing Gentiles and not just Jews, whenever this would glorify the Father.

From this instruction to have an interpreter or translator present whenever tongues is used to address the congregation, we can see a common thread in any proper use of tongues: understanding in the hearer. In its original intent the tongue speaker did not understand the language but the hearer did. Knowing that the speaker could not naturally converse in the tongue was evidence of the miraculous in his or her witness. In the adaptation of this gift for use in the churches the thread of understanding was maintained: an interpreter must be present to ensure that what is spoken is clearly understood. Understanding is therefore a key principle in any legitimate use of this gift.

To help us get this point, God contextualizes His instruction to us in the proper use of tongues with the following admonition: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” (1 Cor 14:20) God is concerned that we be wise and discerning in our spiritual activities, and He repeatedly calls us to sobriety in spirit and mind in all things. (1 Th 5:6; Tit 2:2,4,6; 1 Pet 1:13, 4:7; etc.) We should therefore never be content to live without an understanding of His ways; we should always be seeking to know more deeply and more fully why we are doing what we are taught to do. Though God calls us to obey Him even when we do not understand why, He will never require us to bypass our intellect in following Him, nor will He discourage us from seeking to understand His heart and His ways as we obey, nor will He ever tell us to operate as a general manner of life apart from wisdom. (Pr 4:7) In this same spirit, in every facet of this discourse on tongues God emphasizes the necessity to connect with the hearer, both ourselves and others, in the mind, with intellectual understanding.

Prayer

In light of this, let us consider the use of tongues as a prayer language: praying in an unknown tongue without any understanding. We know saints in Corinth were praying in tongues in the public meetings of the church, using this spiritual gift outside of its original intent. As we have seen, in such use God requires that one be present who understands the language and can accurately translate what is spoken. “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” (1 Cor 14:28) God clearly forbids the public use of this gift apart from the purpose of imparting truth through the intellect.

God states that His reason for commanding us this way is that when one prays in an unknown tongue the spirit is praying without the understanding: For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” (1 Cor 14:14) This kind of activity is foreign to the concept of prayer expressed throughout the rest of the Bible: God does not need for us to pray in order for Him to know what we need or what He should do, or to obtain permission from us to do it. (Mat 6:7-8) In other words, the mere mechanics of prayer accomplish nothing in themselves: God is not a just a cosmic vending machine, where we put in our money and push the buttons in the correct sequence to get what we want. Such a concept of God is pagan, a lie we must set aside in order to get to know Him more fully.

God does not need for us to ask Him to work in order to get His will done; in fact it is perhaps the most inefficient way one might envision for Him to actually accomplish anything … it is an extremely weak and nonsensical process from a pragmatic, practical perspective if God’s goal is merely to get His will accomplished. It would be much more efficient to leave us out of the picture altogether and just do it all Himself. God must have an entirely different purpose in inviting us to pray, and building this desire into the very fabric of our spirits.

By engaging our will and understanding in prayer, God sanctifies us by conforming us to His image, aligning our minds and hearts and wills with His, and draws us up alongside Himself to become workers together with Him. (2 Cor 6:1) These are the only purposes ever found in effectual prayer, and they are rendered null and void apart from our understanding. When our minds and wills are not engaged in prayer we have reduced it to its pagan counterpart, it is carnal to think we will achieve anything in prayer merely through the mechanics of the spoken word. (Mat 6:7-8)

God is teaching us that the reason one must pray for the gift to interpret the unknown tongue in which they speak is because without this ability, when one prays in the tongue apart from this understanding, only the spirit is of the person is praying and the understanding is left out. This is, again, a broken thing; it is unnatural, foolish, useless, inappropriate, pagan — a veritable waste of time. God is saying there is no benefit in praying like this, either in public or in private. We ought not to squander the life and energy He has given us in making sounds to no purpose.

With this context in mind then, God concludes in Paul as follows, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” (1 Cor 14:13-15) What He means to communicate here is that whenever we pray we are to pray in the Spirit as well as with the understanding. We are to be in the spirit, filled with the Spirit and abiding in Christ continually, as well as intellectually diligent and mentally awake and sober all the time … which is what gird up the loins of your mind means. (1 Pet 1:13) It is not one or the other, but both and. Essentially, when we pray apart from our understanding our prayers are apart from us … praying only affects us and engages us properly in working together with God via our understanding and intellect.

It is completely contrary then to the entire context in which the instruction is given, and also inconsistent with the remaining body of Scripture, to interpret this text, as many do, to mean that sometimes we should pray in tongues in the spirit without the understanding, and at other times with our natural understanding and not in the spirit. We have already noted that God says those with the gift of tongues who wish to use it outside of its original purpose are to seek the ability to interpret their tongue … such that they will understand what they are saying whenever they use the gift. He also entirely forbids any public use of the gift unless someone is present who understands the tongue. Why think now it doesn’t really matter whether we understand or not?

If there were any value at all for an individual to pray in the spirit without understanding, then there would certainly be value in it for the body and it would be encouraged corporately. If one spirit can be edified outside of the understanding, what prevents all of the spirits of believers in the body from being edified in the same manner as others around them speak in unknown tongues?

There is no hint anywhere in this context, or in any other context in Scripture, that there is any value whatsoever in any use of tongues apart from the understanding of at least one of the humans present. God would rather that we speak five words in the church, or in prayer, with our understanding than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue (1 Cor 14:19). Apparently, He is not interested in any activity that does not engage our minds to facilitate and further our understanding of His ways; He is interested in reaching our spirits through our eyes, ears and brains, affecting our hearts and wills through our intellect. Why then do so many claim a contradictory principle, that there is value in praying privately in tongues without understanding?

The answer is expectedly based on a misapplication of texts such as, “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself ,” (1Cor 14:4a) and “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” (1 Cor 14:28) Proponents of tongues as a private prayer language claim from these verses that praying without understanding is good for the believer, that it edifies him or her and gives them special access to God. However, the verse does not say here that the person praying in a tongue does not understand what they are praying, nor does it say they are praying at all — just speaking . The word unknown in the text is in italics, indicating that it was added for clarification, that in this context language is being used miraculously.

If a believer speaking in a supernatural tongue in the church or in private prayer has been following God’s instructions here, then they have also prayed for and either already have or shortly will receive the ability to interpret their tongue: they should not rest until they understand the tongue in which they are supernaturally gifted to speak. One cannot actually “speak to himself” (1 Cor 14:28b), at least in a manner that makes any sense, in a language that one does not understand. And as we have seen, there is no value at all, either for us or for God, in what we perceive to be mere gibberish, even if we suppose the unintelligible babble to be some kind of prayer.

Some would counter here that if a person understands their own tongue then they should not need an interpreter when addressing the church. Yet even when a believer understands a tongue they are speaking they may still need an interpreter in order to get the message across to others accurately: they may not be able to adequately express what they understand to others, even in their own mother tongue, without the enabling of the Spirit. They may need the gifts of others to communicate a divine message to the rest of the church for the instruction and edification of all. Further, it is essential to have a second witness to verify the content of a message when a supernatural utterance is being given like this in the assembly: two or more witnesses are infinitely better than one.

As additional support for a special prayer language many claim that Romans 8 promotes such a use for tongues: “The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Rom 8:26b) Yet this text does not demonstrate the claim either; the verse actually counters the claim since in this context the Spirit’s groanings for us cannot be uttered at all, not even in an unknown tongue. The Holy Spirit is praying for believers all the time, whether they are speaking in tongues or not. If He does happen to use words in praying for us He certainly does not need for us to speak them.

For completeness we must also ask how is it that anyone can truly be edified apart from their understanding? In what sense can believers be edified when they are not being moved to more Christlikeness in their thinking and in their beliefs, moved to more holiness in the affections and attitudes which spring from their beliefs? The notion that one can be edified apart from their mind reduces the very concept of edification to emotional mysticism, to mindless feel-good sensationalism, which is often an open door of access for the enemy. Those who purpose to leave their minds idle during spiritual activity dangerously open their minds, bodies and spirits to demonic access.

Pursuit

Regarding the notion that all of God’s gifts are good … and so it might seem that we should all seek the gift of tongues, or perhaps the idea that not having this gift means we are a kind of second class saint, or that we cannot be filled with the Spirit unless we are operating in this gift, we must consider what God says about who in His Church receives which gifts and why.

Within His exposition on spiritual gifts God shows us that the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different members of His body as He sees fit so that the Body of Christ may operate as an interdependent and yet fully functioning whole. (1 Cor 12:18-25) It is clear that not all of the gifts are given to each person; each person is uniquely gifted in the body as it pleases God, and we all need God’s gifts in each other in order to be completely equipped in our spiritual journey together. One of these gifts is the gift of tongues.

God summarizes this focus by asking rhetorically, “Are all apostles?” (1 Cor 12:29) The answer is evidently: “No.” He follows with, “Are all prophets?” Again, the unstated answer is obvious: “No.” “Are all evangelists?” Very pointedly and explicitly, God works through all of the ministerial gifts asking if they are given to all believers. Each time, the answer is the same. He ends with the gifts of tongues and their interpretation: “Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” What do you suppose is the final answer in these last of the gifts? God seems to think we can figure this one out.

It is clear that all believers are not to speak with tongues, thus it is clear that the filling of the Holy Spirit need not be accompanied by such a sign, though it may often be (especially in those to whom this spiritual gift is given). As far as we know, Christ Himself never spoke in an unknown tongue … and we should be content to be like Him in this if this is His pleasure. We are to desire that all of the spiritual gifts be manifest in our local assembly as God wills (1 Cor 14:1), but this is not to say that every believer should be demanding all of the gifts.

In light of such plainness, it is a mystery how folk sincerely claim that the gift of tongues is the evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit. If all believers can be filled with the Holy Spirit, yea are commanded to be filled with Him (Eph 5:18), and all believers do not speak with tongues, then how can one say that the filling of the Spirit is ALWAYS evidenced by speaking in tongues? That they are one and the same? How can this doctrine persist among the sane?

Error like this persists because of our blindness, our ignorance and our shallowness; all too often we believe what we want to believe simply because it makes us feel good. The power and ecstasy of spiritual experience moves emotions to the extreme and short circuits the careless mind. We are all prone to this kind of folly if we are not careful, and we do need each other to help us get free when we become trapped in lies of this power and magnitude. In this particular area the lure of false prophets and teachers is persistently foisted upon the simple and it seems so few are able to see it for what it is. Yet God’s persistent call is to us all: “Be not children in understanding, howbeit in malice be ye children. But in understanding be men.” Do not even think about using a gift with a mere part of yourself, apart from your whole being, without your mind, apart from God’s design.

Perversion

It is not God who wishes to separate our minds from His working, who would operate within our bodies while pushing our intellects, hearts and wills to the sidelines. It is the enemy who works like this, not God. God calls us to pray and worship and work as an integrated whole, our minds and passions and conscious wills being entirely unified and integrated together within each of us, enabling us to engage with our entire selves, working seamlessly with Himself within us. This is God’s beautiful design, and the power of the Holy Spirit always tends toward this end; any other tendency in spiritual activity is foreign to His working and design: any intention to partition and fracture us is the work of the enemy.

The great danger posed by ignorance in this matter is evident from the supernatural nature of the phenomenon of tongues itself. While it is certain that one can purposely mimic such a gift with the mind and will, speaking gibberish and nonsense on purpose as many will, it is quite evident that much of the common experience surrounding tongues is supernatural in origin and not merely a product of the carnal mind. What seems to be ignored and overlooked by many, what is not generally given careful consideration, is the supernatural source of the experience; all that is supernatural is not holy, and all that is spiritual is not godly. If we are doing something supernatural apart from the instruction and wisdom of God, there is only one other source for the power.

As an example, I heard an old evangelist recount the story of an aged missionary, after many decades of service in a foreign land, who was preaching to a congregation from the Word of God. During his message a gentleman in the audience began to speak with tongues aloud, interrupting the missionary and distracting the saints. The missionary paused and waited until the man finished. When there was at last a great silence, the missionary inquired of the man, “May I ask what are you doing?” The man replied, “Praise God! I was so moved with love and excitement that I couldn’t help but exclaim praises and adoration to Jesus! Praise God! Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!”

At this exclamation, the missionary soberly and reverently responded, “Sir, you were speaking in the language that I have been laboring in for many, many years … and I know it better than my own mother tongue. You were not praising the Lord Jesus Christ, you were blaspheming Him in every possible way that one can imagine. You called Him every filthy, degrading name that one drunken man could possibly call another in a bar.”

All that glitters is not gold. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

Was the event above peculiar or unusual? I think not, other than that in this case the demon made the mistake of being quite easily discovered. To help us see this, we actually have an admonition from God in His introduction to the subject of spiritual gifts indicating that such things were not infrequent in the early church either, “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed.” (1 Cor 12: 3a)

This truth, that no one will blaspheme Jesus Christ under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is an extremely basic concept which should be more than obvious to any healthy child of God, yet it evidently needs to be spoon-fed to weak believers as they recover themselves from the spiritual darkness of their past. This is like introducing an Earth Science course by making sure everyone understands from the start that the sun comes out during the day and the moon comes out at night. What need has the saint to have his attention focused on such an obvious truth as this?

Evidently, the audience in Corinth is so extremely weak and immature in their understanding of spiritual warfare that God must state the absurdly obvious, in a way that might tend to offend the intelligence of anyone who is even remotely awake and alert. Yet God makes this point with His hearers in a not-so-subtle way: they are evidently prone to profound carelessness and ignorance concerning the very foundation and function of spiritual gifts. It is perilous for them to continue in such simplicity, and God will jolt them out of it as needed with blunt plainness of speech. This should be kept in mind as we consider these contexts, especially as we consider the gift of tongues.

One reason for such open and clear admonishment is evidently that in much of our spiritual activity our adversary will attempt to imitate and counterfeit the visible, external gifts and power of God through demonic influence. Those who are carried away by their emotions in the exhilarating experience of supernatural power need to be checked at the gate by their more stable brothers, even in the most basic things. One must never be afraid to state the obvious in such a setting; we must admit that even our own blindness can truly be profound at times; we must bear patiently with one another in sorting out our blind spots by humbly and faithfully shining light on them for each other as best we can.

Yet one may claim, “Well, I am a Christian! I am safe from the invasion of the wicked one.” Nay, friend. Is it not possible even for a believer to be deceived and demonized to some degree? Yes, it is … and far too many of us have given him ground and access in our lives through our own lazy ignorance and carnality. Rather, we are to be meekly ” instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (2 Tim 2:25-6) When we believe the enemy’s lies we give him access; when we give the enemy access we give him ground; when we give the enemy ground we give him control; when the enemy has control we are possessed by him, taken captive by him at his will. For a complete analysis of this topic please see the classic text, War On the Saints as well as my own analysis, War With the Saints. Do not give place to the devil (Eph 4:27); do not pretend to be immune to his insidious deceits.

Predisposition

To reinforce this concept, God begins His instruction in the matter of spiritual gifts, by reminding the Corinthian believers of how the enemy had deceived them in the past before they came to a knowledge of Christ: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.” (1Co 12:1-2) Why does God calls us all to look at how easily we were led astray prior to coming to the truth? Perhaps there is a pattern of instruction here if we consider it carefully. Even as believers, there is a part of us that is predisposed to lapse back into spiritual darkness; we must therefore be vigilant.

What led us prior to our coming to Christ? Why is it that God calls this to our remembrance to begin His teaching? The god of this world has led us all in the past (Eph 2:2), through his lies and counterfeits, in the ways of world, in one fashion or another. Satan leads with ignorant sincerity, with ecstasy and thrill, with smugness, pride and arrogance, with emotional stirrings and passions, with false purity and devotion. He lies to us about what is good and right, and without Christ, being prone to darkness, we tend to like what we hear and internalize it without really thinking it through. (2Ti 4:3) There are no counterfeit 3 dollar bills … because there are no real ones. Satan’s work generally looks righteous on the outside; his common ploy is to closely imitate the divine when calling to a pursuit of the devilish. (2Co 11:13-15)

Even in what we might think are Christian circles, it is relatively easy for the enemy to infiltrate and deceive us if we are not very careful. Case in point: it is an easily verifiable fact that common teaching in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles today tells us that in order to be filled with the Spirit and speak in tongues we must let down our mental guard and relax our mind. I have personally experienced the urging and prompting of many such teachers here; there have been no exceptions … not a single one. All of them pressured me to let down my guard, told me that I was too much “in my mind,” and that the Spirit couldn’t have His way with me unless I quit thinking so much. Yet this is exactly how eastern mystics enable demonic access … though an empty, idle mind.

Through ignorance of Satan’s devices and how he works (2 Cor 2:11), the enemy has easy access and influence in our churches and assemblies today. Common teaching on tongues encourages the believer to regularly participate in activity without understanding, to empty the mind and “let the spirit move.” The mind is regarded to be an impediment to the Spirit and a regular blockade to effective spiritual prayer. Yet if this be so, how then is the believer to try the spirits of the false prophets, or to ensure that he himself is not infested with spiritual wickedness? Most professing Christians in our day don’t bother with such testing, not at all, not really. Spiritual carelessness and slackness is extremely dangerous and incredibly common in our churches now; it is quite likely that most every “spirit-filled” congregation is simply overflowing with poor souls who have become demonized through this wicked, ignorant nonsense.

The accuser’s followers often have no sense of the wickedness and rebellion mixed into their worship, and by all outward appearances will appear to be most wholesome, at least to themselves. Such is the way of the adulterous woman, she eateth and wipeth her mouth, and saith, “I have done no wickedness.” (Pr 30:20) Having consciences that are broken and seared, as the gentleman who interrupted the missionary was sincere and filled with a soulish excitement, let no one think himself in the truth merely because of how earnestly and passionately he is moved in his experience. Let us humbly admit that we must be very, very careful here.

It is good then for us to remember how we were deceived in our past follies as a means of avoiding error in the present. We must learn from our ignorance, and purpose to defend ourselves and others as best we can as we move on in truth.

Protection

How is it that believers are to protect themselves from the infiltration of the enemy, to ensure that their conduct is in all purity and godliness and that the general assembly of the saints is not awash with demonic babbling and blasphemies? If it is not by the understanding, illuminated through and enlightened by the Spirit of God and the written Word of God, then it is not at all. There are no other means provided in God by which one may prevent such filthiness of spirit. The enemy would have us turn off our minds and open wide the door of our being to him … yet a holy mind and heart filled with the Spirit is the only part of us that can wield the only weapon God has given us to purge the darkness from our way: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” (Eph 6:17)

God has intended that saints prevent the intrusion and influence of Satan in the church by exposing his lies through a careful study of the Word of God and the prayerful, earnest application of one single fundamental principle: God never violates His perfect written Revelation (Is 8:20); any supernatural experience that is inconsistent with His inspired written Word is demonic in nature.

This process of protecting ourselves through spiritual verification is relatively simple to describe … but not so easy to do. It takes a lot of effort, in community, and a lot of humility. By the illumination of the Holy Spirit, let us seek out His wisdom and revelation in this matter, by prayerfully studying His Word.

In searching out the truth of God’s way in the Spirit, one of the very first things one should do, and this is particularly helpful when looking to understand the nature and dynamic of the gift of tongues, is to take several months and memorize 1st Corinthians 12 through 14, and then meditate on these passages until they are woven into the very fabric of the soul.

In general, such a task is not peculiar to this particular doctrine per se, it really applies to any subject one wishes to understand: Hide the Word of God in your heart that you might know His way and not sin against Him. I myself did this when seeking to understand tongues, as it has been my general manner of life in God in all matters of study, and I found the effort here, as always, pricelessly valuable. It is very difficult to maintain an error by picking and choosing texts when you are diligently feeding your soul on them all, on the entire context of Scripture. We are much more effective in interpreting one verse in the context of another when we are looking at everything together as a whole, taking in the entire of the revelation of God. When you are done with these texts, certainly the rest of the Bible is worthy of the same.

Process

Armed and saturated with the Word of God, and knowing that the enemy will do his level best to deceive us, it is prudent that we employ every means at our disposal to ensure that we do not give him space to work. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1) God calls us to wisely define processes and patterns of testing the spiritual forces at work among us to ensure that they are of God. Whenever anyone is claiming to speak on God’s behalf, God Himself invites us to test them as thoroughly and completely as we can, in order to remove all doubt and suspicion of their authenticity and legitimacy. God wants us to obey Him and Him alone in spiritual things … and certainly the enemy would absolutely love to get into the mix and get us to follow him instead.

Therefore anyone wishing to speak in tongues in the congregation must first be thoroughly vetted; as with anyone given the floor in a congregational setting, their godly character must be fully known in the assembly by living in community with the saints for an extended period of time, known as a faithful brother or sister from practical life experience. This is a basic and primary step that is taken with anyone given a place of significant influence in an assembly of believers. (1 Tim 3:2.10; 5:22)

Before allowing a supernatural tongue the congregation must also be convinced that a faithful saint is present who is able to accurately translate what is spoken. If no translators have yet been established for the given speaker, then this should be done first, prior to allowing the speaker access to the congregation. At least three faithful souls who claim that they are able to accurately translate the speaker’s tongue should be validated for that speaker by first asking each of them to translate the speaker blindly in multiple independent trials, with the translators not collaborating, conferring or knowing what the other translator is thinking. Their translations should be recorded for analysis and several additional faithful brothers in the congregation should independently verify that all translations from each trial closely match, and confirm that each message is entirely consistent with the written Word of God to the best of their ability.

Only translators who provide matching translations are qualified to translate for a speaker, and anyone posing as a translator who provides an inconsistent translation in this context, varying from translations given by others of this tongue which are consistent with each other, should never again be allowed to translate anything for the congregation or to address the congregation publicly, ever. The same goes for any tongue speaker who openly contradicts the Word of God during any trial run: they are never permitted to use their supposed gift in any public setting of the saints. Falsely claiming the ability to speak supernaturally for God, whether by prophecy, tongue or translation, is a crime punishable by death in God’s economy; (Deu 18:20) though in most cultures the church is not permitted to execute such judgments physically, this is a most serious offense in the Body of Christ and should be treated accordingly. Any use of such a gift after that must be thoroughly filtered and digested by the brothers prior to being presented to the congregation as a whole.

Then, after establishing that the speaker’s tongue can be accurately and faithfully translated, the speaker should be allowed to speak to the congregation in their supernatural tongue. The message should then be translated and interpreted by the validated translators who are present, and they must all be in complete agreement on the translation. If they are not in complete agreement then the translated message should not be given to the saints and the validation process should be repeated.

If all translators are in agreement, then the translated message should be presented to the saints and then, as in any type of address to the congregation, publicly challenged and processed, dissected and discussed by all of the faithful brothers who are present.

If there is ever a general agreement among the men that any notion or concept presented through a tongue clearly contradicts any Scripture, or that any part of a prophetic word does not accurately come to pass, the brothers should publicly highlight this, denouncing and correcting all errors for everyone’s benefit. Further, in any such case, since tongue speakers be definition are claim that God speaks directly through them supernaturally, if any known error is ever detected in the message then the congregation must from that day forward treat that tongue speaker as a false prophet and bar them from ever using their “gift” again in any public setting of the saints.

If God is truly at work in a congregation in this way, edifying them supernaturally through the gift of tongues, the above process can work quite well, seamlessly and efficiently, allowing multiple inspired messages during any corporate meeting (1 Cor 14:27) while safeguarding the spiritual life of the congregation. It is a rigor that any of God’s prophets of old would have welcomed and thrived in. But apart from such rigor, allowing those who claim the gift of tongues, or any supernaturally prophetic gift, to operate unchecked in the assembly will inevitably lead to chaos and confusion among the saints, bringing extreme danger and harm to the body of Christ.

Provision

God has provided sufficient direction and instruction for us regarding the nature and purpose of the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14; He places our quest and interest in spiritual gifts in the context of loving, humble edification, which must involve our own intelligence and understanding. Yet many verses in this passage, as well as other passages, have been taken from context to support an improper use of tongues, opening the door to dangerous encounters and relationships with spiritual darkness. This has brought much confusion and harm to the Body of Christ, leading many sincere souls into foolishness, lusting after emotional excitements and shallow power grabs … and it is the work of the enemy. In the ensuing chaos the enemy moves many of our other dear brothers and sisters to shun the life-giving power of the Spirit entirely, tempting them to deny the supernatural and accept a spiritual dryness that brings the very breath of death to the soul.

Equipped with God’s instruction, let us seek to be holy as believers and as believing communities so that the Spirit will not be quenched among us, so that His manifestations will be welcome in our midst to glorify Himself, to present Him to the lost, and to edify His bride. Let us also be wise and discerning as those come into our midst with little understanding of spiritual warfare, those in deep spiritual bondage through the enemy’s counterfeits.

God be merciful to us in our journey; it may seem a more difficult road to travel, but it will certainly not be boring! God is with us to show us the way and equip us for the tasks that lie ahead. Remembering the entire context of Scripture as we go will be a valuable safeguard, enabling us to honor our Lord while keeping the enemy out of our lives and out of our assemblies.

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