For the next four weeks, we will examine the role of spiritual gifts in our Christian walk. Just as the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been debated throughout church history, the nature of spiritual gifts has also been a topic of much debate. This reflection series will outline four of the most debated spiritual gifts that often follow a baptism by the Holy Spirit. There are other gifts, such as prayer; however, for the moment we will only discuss four. The four spiritual gifts are:
- Prophecy and Vision
All four of these gifts have a core purpose in common but as we will see they are unique from each other in the way they are used. This week, we reflect on tongues.
The gift of tongues is often a polarizing topic of discussion. Some Christians are raised understanding that the speaking of tongues is commonplace in the Christian life. However, others have lived a Christian life for many years and have never been in an environment where the speaking of tongues ever occurred. Since two separate groups living lives devoted to God can have such different experiences in regards to the speaking of tongues, why has it become so synonymous with the gifts of the Holy Spirit? While “speaking in tongues” can be left for a different time, at its heart, this particular gift has very little to do with “words,” “sounds,” or “body language.” In fact, at the heart of speaking in tongues is simply “worship.” Worship that is not corporate, but deeply personal and intimate.
When we read the account of Pentecost where the Apostles were baptized by the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues, what is most important is not so much that they were “speaking in tongues” but that for the first time they were caught up in deeply personal worship, not simply for, but with the creator God and according to his will. This worship was unique to them personally and was not necessarily for the benefit of the group.
The gift of tongues is entirely about the personal celebration of God. While all Christians possess a deep joy in being Christian and being known by God, someone with the gift of tongues has a specific means by which to express that particular celebration of God. When the non-Christian world uses the phrase, “speaking in different tongues,” they do so to express the presence of different languages, accents or dialects. Thus, speaking in tongues is known by everyone, Christian and non-Christian, as a way of communicating that is uniquely understood by one group but not by another. The gift of tongues is similar within Christianity. For example, someone who has been gifted to compose music for the worship of God has a unique ability to craft melodies to produce a song that glorifies God. While most people might not understand the process of songwriting, composition or musical theory, when hearing the final product in the music, it is clear that God is beautiful and beautifully good to us. Similarly, if a person finds true celebration of God in creating recipes that illustrate his provision and creativity in a delicious and beautifully nutritious meal, this also is a tongue that many people cannot understand the intricacies of, but can all come away worshiping the creator God as a result thereof.
While there are many who do speak in tongues, Scripture tells us that if traditional speaking of tongues does not express a celebration of God, then as Paul has said, it is simply the sound of an obnoxious cymbal.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. -1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Associating the gift of tongues with music or food might seem radical, but I believe that these unique abilities in all of us achieve the designed purpose of speaking in tongues in the first place. That purpose being the personal expression of personal celebration of God. Some people possess a unique quality, skill or even tongue that allows them to experience this deeply personal worship and in turn bring glory to God by sharing that gift with others, while never assuming that all must possess that gift in identical form.