A good way to look at the whole range of spiritual gifts is through the prism of speaking with other tongues. This is a much misunderstood and underused resource in church life today. Read about it in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 14:1-9, 14-15, 18-19, 31.
- It was the one new gift bestowed by the ascended Christ at Pentecost
- Miracles were wrought by Moses at the Red Sea; by Elisha when he made the lost axe head swim to the shore, and raised a boy from the dead;
- healings, such as Naaman’s recovery from leprosy, and in Jesus’ ministry;
- faith was shown throughout the generations according to Hebrews 11:0;
- Elijah had a word of knowledge about Gehazi’s stealing Naaman’s silver and suits and his plans to invest them in his retirement fund (2 Kings 5:15-27);
- the book of Proverbs is jam-packed with words of wisdom;
- Jesus cast seven spirits out of Mary Magdalene, distinguishing different spirits;
- prophesying was ministered by many Old Testament prophets;
- and Daniel interpreted words in an unknown tongue written on Belshazzar’s palace wall by some angelic hand!
But no human is ever said to have spoken in a language he never learned. ‘Tongues … will cease; … when the perfect comes, the[y] will pass away’ at Jesus’ return (1 Corinthians 13:8, 10).
- Tongues are real languages
Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 14:8-9 that music is a kind of language with ‘distinct notes’. Dolphins communicate with meaningful squeaks, and elephants by stomach rumblings.
- They are unknown to the one speaking
Although, as Paul assures us that the speaker ‘utters mysteries in the Spirit’ (Earnestly desire to speak regularly in tongues14:2), the mind is unfruitful’ (1 Corinthians 14:14), as when someone once heard me speak in perfect Italian.
- Speaking in tongues is the only spiritual gift that can be exercised at will
‘I will praise with my spirit’ (1 Corinthians 14:15-16).
- They are a means of praising God and praying to God with your spirit
‘I will praise with my spirit’ (1 Corinthians 14:15-16), and ‘one who speaks in a tongue speaks … to God’ (1 Corinthians 14:2) in prayer. So, ‘speak to yourself and to God’ (verse 1 Corinthians 14:38).
- They are a sign to unbelievers, but prophesying will convince them of God’s awesome presence (1 Corinthians 14:22a, 24-25).
- Used privately they are a stimulus to functioning in all the other gifts
(1 Corinthians 14:5, Greek text: ‘I wish you all to speak in tongues, but rather in order that you may prophesy’). When Elisha was agitated and wanted to concentrate on hearing God’s prophetic voice he called for a musician (2 Kings 3: 15-16, ‘ “…now bring me a harpist.” And while the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha and he said, “This is what the Lord says” …’). Our personal speaking to God in tongues resembles the role of the harpist; it will release us into other gifts that may be required in any given situation.