The Gift of Tongues
What Saith The Scriptures?
There are many honest Christians who wonder if they are not missing much of God’s best by not seeking after the gift of tongues. There is no doubt that many have fallen into error through a sincere desire to possess God’s best. We have known some godly persons who have sought this gift with the concentration of all their powers, and who have suffered a nervous breakdown, Honesty alone is not enough.
It ever must be linked with intelligence in the Word of God if the soul is to be preserved from irreparable damage. James exhorts that God be asked for wisdom in order that one in trial may glorify the Lord. He then exhorts that one receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save the soul; that is, from any damage in the trial. The wisdom of God is enshrined in His Word. We need the light of that Word, not only to solve the problems of life, but also to meet the confusion of thought in our day.
It behoves us therefore to try and shed the light of the Word of God on this most serious and difficult matter.
A knowledge of the ways and the works of God will very often reveal that God is not in the earthquake, figuratively speaking, nor in the fire but in the still small voice (1 Kings 19).
His gracious dealings with His people are seen, not so much in earthquakes as in heartbreaks and silent tears; not so much in the fury of the fire or the noise of the wind as in His quiet operations within us which are like the silent dew that revives the parched ground, or as the creeping dawn that dispels the darkness of the night. Characters are moulded into His image under the pressure of adverse circumstances, through the silent moments spent in the sanctuary, and in quiet submission to the will of God. The greatest weapon in the hand of God against the enemy is the silent witness of a godly, submissive saint whose life speaks more than words could express.
When Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12:31, of coveting earnestly the best gifts, he certainly makes it plain that the best gift is not the gift of tongues; the best gift is that which edifies others. This is the very essence of true Christianity. The gift of tongues edifies only the person who may possess it. It is for this reason that the Spirit of God put it in the lowest place in the scale of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14).
Temporary or Permanent?
Was the gift of tongues among the sign gifts that were of temporary duration or was it permanent for the entire Church era? Was the testimony of the Church to be one of supernatural display, or one of Christ-like character? 1 Corinthians 13 was written to draw a distinction, not between earth and Heaven, but between those gifts that served the Church in its infant stage and those virtues of character that must constitute its testimony until the return of her Lord, namely, faith, hope, and love (V. 13).
We are plainly told in verse eight that the gift of tongues would cease. Then in verse ten we are told when it would cease: “When that which is perfect is come.” This reference to a concluded thing is undoubtedly to the entire Canon of Holy Scripture. Verses nine and ten in the Verkuyl Translation reads, “For our knowledge is fragmentary but when the total ensues then the fragmentary becomes antiquated.” The miraculous or sing gifts, therefore, served the Church during the absence of the perfected New Testament. Until the New Testament was completed the Old Testament was like a darkened mirror in which one could not see his own face clearly (V. 12). But with the completion of the New Testament the vision in that mirror is no longer blurred. The Old Testament revealed the mind and will of God in part. The saints could only know in part. Now we look into the undarkened mirror of truth. James cats this glass or mirror, “The perfect law of liberty.” Just as we are known by God in all the perfections of His Son and sustained by the high-priestly ministry of Christ until we enter the inheritance reserved for us in Heaven, so in the light of the New Testament only, shall we know the love of our God in its fulness, the grace of our Saviour in its sweetness, and the work of the Divine Spirit both in us and for us. Only as we walk in the assurance and the enjoyment of our riches in Christ shall we reflect His own gracious character of faith, hope, and love.
The revelation of the mind and will of God is given in its entirety in the New Testament. There is now no necessity for the prophetic message that was given by direct revelation to the prophets: nor for that special knowledge that was imparted to chosen vessels in the early Church. The gift of tongues served as a sign to the Jewish nation of its imminent rejection by God. The prophetic gift gave way to the teaching gift (2 Pet. 2:1); and the gift of tongues to the universal mission of the Church, that of evangelizing the nations.
Moreover, in the same chapter (1 Cor. 13:11) the Spirit of God makes it clear that these miraculous gifts were educational toys for the infant Church to lead her on to maturity: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” When the Church reached maturity on the completion of the full revelation of the truth of God, she settled down to the witness of the character adequately expressed at the close of the chapter, “And now abideth (when the miraculous is withdrawn) faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
The Gift of Tongues, Why Given?
The purpose of the gift of tongues is stated in 1 Corinthians 14:21, “In the law it is written (Isaiah 28:11), with men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people (the Jewish nation); and yet for all that will they not hear Me, said the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign.”
God had chosen that nation to be a witness to all nations. The Jewish nation failed in this responsibility; that magnanimity that should have marked her as God’s witness was dwarfed by an hierarchal pride and a narrowness of vision. Jonah is indeed a true picture of that nation in its unfaithfulness.
After Israel’s failure God gave the gift of tongues to the infant Church. It was a sign to the Jews of their guilt in failing to share the knowledge of God with “the men of other tongues.” The olive tree had refused to shed its benefits abroad; consequently, the branches from the wild olive were grafted on as the natural ones were broken off. The Church thenceforth stood responsible to God to shed the light of the glorious Gospel to men of all languages. Paul prayed that the hearts of the saints be directed into the love of God. What an all-embracing love! God’s plan is that all men should hear the message of His love: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
But the languages of the nations must be learned. Were the gift of tongues permanent this would not be necessary; yet, that in which the Church has excelled is the learning of languages. At the present time the Word of God is translated into hundreds of languages, and through them it sheds its beams upon the darkened and benighted strongholds of Satan.
It is the devil’s purpose to divert God’s people from the true lesson of the gift of tongues to an occupation with the gift itself. If the gift could be received, it would be a pleasure only to the one who possessed it; all others would be forgotten in a selfish ecstasy, the spirit of which is the antithesis of genuine Christianity.