he subject of speaking in tongues is probably one of the most divisive topics in the church. In most cases, it makes more sense to never bring up the matter than to have a healthy discussion on the meaning of it. Some Pastors would rather shove it aside and deal with it on a need to know basis, others project an unhealthy view of it, requiring it as a pre-requisite for salvation. On both sides, there are legitimate reasons for speaking and for not speaking in tongues altogether. Today, our aim is not to force a position, but rather give the scriptural framework around the subject and to provide personal experiences.
If you are reading this then you are probably interested in learning how to speak in tongues. Not to worry, we will get there in the end, but first, we need to lay some pivotal groundwork around the controversial subject. This is critical if we are to discover the subject from a healthy perspective. Before we uncover how to speak in tongues, we must first consider the biblical framework surrounding the monumental subject.
Before we do, please consider this. This will not be the final account of speaking in tongues. We know this. Truthfully, this was not written to persuade you. Our only aim is to provide biblical guidance and experience around a very controversial subject because there is much out there that inaccurate and harmful. In order to do this properly, I feel I must share my own personal experience regarding speaking in tongues.
Before I do that, let me just tell you this - I am a normal person. I have a wife, kids, a mortgage, car payments, just like everyone else. I have been blessed to work both in the church world as a pastor and the secular world (as churchgoers like to call it) as a digital marketer for the last 12 years of my life. I enjoy playing with my kids, laughing with my wife, the Dallas Mavericks, playing guitar, exercising, and beating my twelve-year-old son at anything. I do all of this and yes, I speak in tongues.
Personal Experience With Speaking In Tongues
I grew up in a church that spoke in tongues regularly. Quite frankly, I didn’t know any different. It was pretty normal. When I was seven years old, I gave my life to Jesus and was baptized. By the age of nine, my heart wanted more from God and I went up to the altar (another church word) after a sermon and asked God to help me speak in tongues. Because of my age, I didn’t think twice about what was happening. All I knew was that I wanted all that God had for me and I felt like speaking in tongues was it.
When discussing the first moment a person has spoken in tongues, some people say it was nothing big emotionally, while others say it was one of the most powerful moments in their life. For me, the latter is true.
The first time I spoke in tongues I felt so connected to the love of God. I felt a tangible presence over me that brought so much gratitude and thankfulness into my heart. I remember all I could say was “thank you, God, thank you, God”. I recall repeating that phrase over and over again. Afterward, I remember giving hugs to everyone in the church because I felt so much joy and love in my heart.
I have been surprised to notice that some people speak in tongues only once in their lifetime. For me, I have consistently spoken in tongues since the age of nine. As soon as I did, I felt so alive and connected to God. Never in my wildest dreams, would I have thought I would have to learn and unlearn so many common misconceptions about my experience. As I grew to learn, I had a lot of experiences with speaking in tongues, but I didn’t have a lot of theology behind it to be able to lead other people to do the same. I was not alone. Later, by the age of sixteen, I asked my Pastor if he could help me understand the subject better. He responded by handing me a book that left me more confused about the subject after reading it.
Not only could I not find much-written material that matched up with my experience, but the church I went to as a young boy had a theology that didn’t match up with the Bible I was reading. All in all, I was very confused about the subject and couldn’t explain it. All I had was my experiences. Because all of my experiences with speaking in tongues were so good, I knew that I would eventually find answers that matched up to my experiences.
Charismatic vs Evangelical
In my early twenties, I decided that I wanted to go to Seminary. Because I didn’t really didn’t know enough about various branches of beliefs, I decided that I would go to what most people label a Baptist or Evangelical Seminary. Now, growing up, the same people would label my church-going experience as Charismatic, even Pentecostal. In Seminary, I was sure that I would get the answers I needed on the subject of tongues along with other biblical questions I had regarding faith, justice, and the sovereignty of God.
In my first theology class, the professor handed me a 2,000-page book on systematic theology. After acknowledging to myself that I had never read a book over 150 pages, I cowardly flipped over to the table of contents. The first thing I looked for was the chapter on speaking in tongues. What I found was bizarre to me. Out of the 2,000-page book, only a page was on the subject of tongues. On the page, the writer gave biblical evidence on why the gift of speaking in tongues had ceased, meaning it didn’t exist anymore. I closed the book confused emotionally and mentally. “But I’ve spoken in tongues?” I thought to myself. Over the course of the next few months, I would hear lectures on how speaking in tongues didn’t exist anymore, all the while being a person that spoke in tongues.
As you may have imagined, this was a very confusing time for me, but the one thing I could tangibly hold onto was my experiences. I had the confidence that later on in my life, my seeking to know the truth would pay off, and it did.
Even though I lean more in a charismatic persuasion, I have immense respect for evangelicals. At the seminary, I learned so much about their knowledge and hunger for the word of God. Never once did I try to use my speaking in tongues experience to confuse anybody who didn’t believe in it. Some would say I should of and liberated the whole college. I don’t know about all of that. All I can say is today, I don’t regret going and am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn from such amazing teachers and people.
Biblical Framework Around Speaking In Tongues
For many interested in the subject of speaking in tongues, it is a short conversation. Their belief is found in 1 Corinthians 12:30, when Paul states, “do all speak in tongues?” No. Not everyone speaks in tongues, so why pursue it? Okay, mystery solved! Well, it’s not that simple. In order to understand this properly, we must consider the context of the New Testament.
The Bible mentions four different types of tongues. They are:
- Tongues As a Sign To Unbelievers - 1 Corinthians 14:22
- Tongues Given For Interpretation - 1 Corinthians 12:28-30
- Tongues For Personal Prayer - 1 Corinthians 14:14-15
- Tongues For Intercession - Romans 8:26-28
Two of the types of tongues that are listed are for public ministry (the first two), meaning they are tongues for the edification of a group of people. The other two are for the development of one’s personal private prayer life.
In 1 Corinthians 12:30, Paul is asking the question do all possess the ability by The Holy Spirit to give tongues for interpretation in a public setting? No, not all have this spiritual gift. This type of tongues is different than the tongues Paul list in 1 Corinthians 14:5, in which he states, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues.” The tongues that Paul mentions here is the first type of tongues, tongues as a sign to unbelievers.
So on one side, Paul is saying “not everyone speaks in tongues” and on the other side, he is saying, “I wish all of you spoke in tongues.” Is Paul contradicting himself in the Holy Spirit? Absolutely not. We must first consider the types of tongues in their biblical context and thefunction they are to operate in. Only then will we truly understand how Paul was emphatically not contradicting himself.
Tongues As A Sign To Unbelievers
“Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22)
When I was in my early teenage years, we had a powerful worship service at church. The glory of God was so strong that everyone in the room remained silent after the worship set, as a way to linger in the presence of God. As we remained locked into the moment, a person broke the silence and began to speak in tongues. Although we couldn’t understand what the person was saying, we waited on someone to interpret. Well, the interpretation never came, that is until after the service.
The pastor came back up to the pulpit (another church word) and shared a testimony of the tongues. He explained that after he was done preaching, a Chinese person (whom we will call Bill) came up to him told him something amazing about the tongues. Bill told the Pastor that the person who spoke in tongues spoke in his native Chinese language. In Chinese, the person speaking in tongues was saying how much they loved and worshiped God.
Because the moment was so powerful to Bill, he went up to the person who had spoken in tongues after church and asked them a question in Chinese. They replied they had no idea how to speak in Chinese, but just felt the need to speak out in tongues during the worship service in their spirit. This moment amazed Bill so much he felt like he needed to share it with the Pastor, who then shared it with us.
This is an example of the first type of tongues that are given as a sign to unbelievers. It is to be administered in a public setting and its function is to bring unbelievers into a God moment. These are the types of tongues that were first given in the book of Acts.
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” (Acts 2:4-8)
As you can read, the primary function of these tongues is to bring a sign that God is real to unbelievers. The Holy Spirit comes upon a person and gives them the supernatural ability to speak in a language that is unknown to them. In these moments, God goes out of his way to uniquely touch people with His love and tendor care.
Tongues Given For Interpretation
“And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:28-30)
The second type of tongues that is listed in the Bible is tongues given for interpretation. These are the tongues that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 and is meant to be used in a public setting. They are tongues spoken in a heavenly language in which there is no known dictation or dialect on earth. Therefore, the only translation that can be given is through the Spirit of God. Tongues given for interpretation are not a known tongue. It cannot be translated by another human being. It has to be interpreted.
The tongues of 1 Corinthians are not the same type of tongues as Acts chapter two. At Pentecost, when the power of the Holy Ghost fell, there was no need for interpretation because each bystander of the upper room heard their own language.
“Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” (Acts 2:8)
These are the category of tongues that Paul asks, “do all speak in tongues?” What Paul is asking is this. Do all speak in a heavenly tongue that nobody understands? The answer is no. In my experience, many in the body of Christ have used this verse to downplay the pursuit of speaking in tongues in one’s life. To downplay the gift of tongues is in direct opposition to 1 Corinthians 14:1, which says, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit...”
What confuses most people is the following question. Why would Paul ask us to pursue speaking in tongues in verse 1, only to say that “not all” speaking in tongues in verse 30? Is Paul contradicting himself? No, he’s not. In order to open your understanding of what he means, you have to realize which type of tongues Paul is speaking of.
In order to grasp this further, let’s go back to my story used in the previous section. If the person speaking in tongues after the worship set was speaking in an unknown tongue, instead of a known “Chinese” tongue, Bill in the audience would not have had the same experience or God moment.
To take it further, what if all of us in the church was speaking in an unknown tongue. Bill would have never had a God moment but instead walked away thinking half the church was crazy.
This is the type of tongues that Paul says later in verse 14 of the same chapter.
“Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Corinthians 14:19)
Paul is not downplaying the gift of tongues for a believer. Again, why would he ask believers to eagerly pursue a gift only to speak ill against it verses later? This wouldn’t make sense. Paul spoke in tongues himself (see 1 Corinthians 14:18), why would he bash it? This line of understanding is wrong.
Paul is not speaking of the same type of “known” tongues, as verse 1 makes reference to. He is speaking of the tongues of an unknown heavenly language. Actually, the New Living Translation translates the verse this way.
“But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.” (1 Corinthians 14:19)
Therefore, what Paul is wisely educating the people of the Corinthians church on is the administration of the gift of tongues, as it is expressed through a heavenly language. He is not weakening the role of tongues in a believer’s life or in a church setting. He is merely educating a church that has experienced the power of the gift of tongues on how to steward the gift properly for interpretation.
Tongues For Personal Prayer
“For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying. Well then, what shall I do? I will pray in the spirit, and I will also pray in words I understand. I will sing in the spirit, and I will also sing in words I understand.” (1 Corinthians 14:14-15)
What Paul is doing in this verse is identifying the gift of tongues as a prayer language. Earlier in the passage, in verse 2, Paul writes, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.”
Notice, in this verse, Paul informs us by the Holy Spirit that in this type of tongue we are speaking to God. The previous two types of tongues are to men. The first type of tongues are a sign to unbelievers, the second is to be used in the church to build faith and encourage the body as part of the nine functions of the Holy Spirit. The third is to be used privately in a person’s prayer life.
One of the functions of the gift of speaking in tongues is to build a person’s inner spirit man. When we pray in tongues, the Spirit makes intercession for us. When we don’t know exactly what to pray or how to pray, the Spirit of God fills in the spiritual gap by God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Tongues For Intercession
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:26)
The Holy Spirit is not limited to our ability to pray. Through the gift of tongues, the Holy Spirit makes intercession to effectively position our needs for a breakthrough. God does not want our prayers to remain unanswered. Through the gift of speaking in tongues, our inner man is strengthened and positioned for a life of victory.
Prayer is vital to the health of the inner man of our spirits. Just as our natural man needs water and food to gain strength, our spirit man needs prayer and the presence of God to grow into its full strength.
Personally, I cannot even begin to describe to you today how important the gift of tongues has been for my prayer life. There have been many occasions when I have been overwhelmed and distraught by life circumstances, only to find comfort and strength through the power of the Holy Spirit by praying in tongues.
As I have experienced the gift of tongues, I have learned that God truly has equipped me to stand in a place of triumph over the enemy. For this reason, I would like to personally share how a process to speak in tongues.
How To Speak In Tongues
Over the course of this extending blog post today, I have given the biblical framework surrounding speaking in tongues, along with a few of my own personal experiences. In no way have I provided the final statement on the subject, but have instead given my humble knowledge and experience.
Along with the Apostle Paul, I have experienced this amazing gift of God and wouldn’t know a life without it. I would like to share with you my personal teaching method I use when praying with believers to receive this gift.
- Relax - Far too often, I come across people who are eager to receive the gift, but because they already have too many preconceived notions of what the experience may be like, they become anxious or worried they won’t receive it. Take it from the early church (see Acts 2:1), relax. God wants you to receive the gift. It is in His nature to give gifts as a good Father. Take every preconceived notion you may have of the gift and lay it down at the foot of Jesus. Open up your heart and mind to believe in the same way a young child does receive a gift from their parents.
- Have Faith - Understand that the gift is funded by the grace of God and given received through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not aided by any human effort, only through a moment of faith.
- Repent - Before you ask to receive the gift, ask for forgiveness from any doubt and sin in your life. Take a moment to come clean before the Lord.
- Ask For The Gift - Tongues are a gift from God. He is such a good Father and desires for you to receive the gift of speaking on tongues. Simply ask God for it and open your spiritual mouth to speak.
After You Speak In Tongues
After you have spoken in another tongue, don’t stop. Grow in your gifting. The best way to grow in the gift is to marinate your life in the presence of God. Each day, go to God in prayer and step into the realm of faith. By faith, grow in your gifting. You will be amazed at how much your life grows in the presence of God.
Thank you for reading today’s post. This subject means a lot to me personally as I have seen this gift misunderstood far too often. I’d like to write more on this subject, so please be on the lookout for more on subjects like:
- Is speaking in tongues the evidence of being filled with the Spirit?
- What are the common misconceptions about speaking in tongues?
John Bevere Talking To an Evangelical About Tongues
St. Augustine On Speaking In Tongues
Essential Guide To The Holy Spirit by Randy Clark
Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism