Speaking in tongues and the “Gift” of tongues is a subject that is confusing for many Christians. There is a difference between the two.
Speaking (praying, singing) in Tongues = personal self-edification.
Gift of Tongues = Giving a public prophecy in a language you have never learned (and either you or someone else interprets in English or the language of the hearers).
Speaking in Tongues
- Speaking, praying or singing in tongues is for your own personal self-edification. 1 Corinthians 14:4 “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.”
- Speaking in tongues is just between you and God. 1 Corinthians 14:2 “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the Spirit he speaks mysteries.”
- When you pray in tongues, your spirit is praying although your mind does not understand. 1 Corinthians 14:14 “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.”
- Paul mentions two ways to pray and sing: A) pray in tongues and B) pray in your own native language. 1 Corinthians 14:15 “I will pray with the Spirit (in tongues), and I will also pray with the understanding (in my own language, such as English). I will sing with the Spirit (in tongues), and I will also sing with the understanding (my native language).”
- Praying in tongues builds you up in your innermost being. Jude 20
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost.”
- All Christians are encouraged to speak in tongues. Sometimes this is referred to as praying in your Heavenly prayer language. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:5 “I wish you all spoke with tongues.” 1 Corinthians 14:18, 39 “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all.” “Do not forbid to speak with tongues.”
- The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues, happens AFTER a person has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 2:38 “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 19:2 “He (Paul) said unto them, ‘Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?’ Acts 19:5-6 “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.”
Speaking in tongues is praying alone in your Heavenly prayer language or singing to the Lord in tongues in your private life.
Sometimes, in the public assembly, the whole congregation worships the Lord together by singing in tongues and praying in their Heavenly prayer language together. There is unity. It is very beautiful and anointed when that happens. In intercessory meetings, this often happens when everyone present is praying in their own Heavenly prayer language. Then someone may go to the microphone or speak very loudly and begin to share a prophecy that the Lord has showed them.
Gift of Tongues
- The Gift of tongues, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, is for the purpose of giving a public prophecy in the congregation in a language you have not learned, with an interpretation following by either you or someone else who has the gift of interpretation of tongues.
1 Corinthians 14:10-13 “There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore, let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”
1 Corinthians 14:27-29 “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.”
- The gift of tongues is for the edification of the corporate Body of Christ. It is for the purpose of ministry to the whole church. It is the Lord speaking to His people, exhorting and encouraging them.
1 Corinthians 14:4-5 “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.”
1 Corinthians 14:12-13 “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore, let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”
1 Corinthians 14:26-28 “Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.”
- The Gift of Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues equals Prophecy. Paul said that in the church setting, prophecy is greater than a message in tongues because no interpretation is necessary, and also because everyone is edified because they understood what was being said. 1 Corinthians 14:5 “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.”
1 Corinthians 14:18-19 “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
1 Corinthians 14:23-25 “Therefore, if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”
- The purpose of prophecy is for exhortation, encouragement and comfort to men and women (1 Corinthians 14:3). Prophecy can be giving a message in English (or language of the people) or it can be in the form of giving a message in tongues with an interpretation following.
- Both tongues and prophecy serve as a sign. Tongues are a sign to unbelievers, and prophecy is a sign to believers. 1 Corinthians 14:22 “Therefore, tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.”
1 Corinthians 14:21 In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord.
Acts 2:5-12 “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”
In a previous post, I talked about how the Jews in Jerusalem were astonished because Galileans were speaking eloquently and fluently the wonderful works of God in their native tongues. Galileans were uneducated, they spoke crude and were rough around the edges. So it was a sign and a wonder when these Galileans were speaking in languages they had never learned before, as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance.
- The Gift of Tongues is speaking to mankind (in a language you have never learned), and it must be interpreted. On the contrary, speaking, praying or singing in tongues is communication just between you and God. 1 Corinthians 14:2-4 “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the Spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
- Those who learn to speak languages fluently very quickly, such as in a matter of months, have the gift of tongues. An example is a missionary I know who went to Hong Kong over 40 years ago not knowing the Chinese languages, and in a matter of months was able to fluently speak two Chinese dialects (standard Chinese and Mandarin Chinese).
I’ve heard of situations where someone began to speak, or prophesy, in tongues to another person or group of people who spoke another language. The person doing the prophesying did not know what they were saying, but the recipients understood perfectly what was said.
Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?”
In this passage where it mentions tongues, Paul is referring to tongues as one of the Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12. The Gift of Tongues is to give a public prophecy in an unknown tongue, with an interpretation following. Or like in Acts 2, to declare the wonderful works of God in the languages of others.
The Power of the Tongue
God is the One who invented speaking in tongues. It’s a wonderful, beautiful thing that should not be despised, but rather embraced and activated on a continual basis. The human tongue is the most unruly member of the entire body, and it cannot be tamed (except by the power of the Holy Spirit). God chose to invent speaking in tongues so that we would use our lips to speak pure things of the Spirit and to glorify the Lord. When we yield our tongue to the Holy Spirit, He can speak through us His words of life, so that others are edified and we ourselves are built up.