Miracles and, speaking of Tongues…

The Greek term for “miracles” Paul used in 2 Corinthians 12 generally means “power.” Therefore a person who has the gift of miracles can instigate an event that bypasses universal laws and defies logical explanation. Tapping into the unlimited power of God, they can perform stupefying acts far outside of the natural scheme of things. Most translations of the Old Testament call miracles “wonders” or “mighty works.” In the New Testament they’re labeled “signs” (John 2:11) and on three occasions they’re called “signs and wonders” (John 4:48, Acts 5:12 and 15:12). The miracles of Jesus and His Apostles legitimized them in the eyes of the populace and gave authenticity to the message they were broadcasting. Folks weren’t wrong to question whether Christ and His disciples were the “real deal” or not. They’d been fooled by false Messiahs repeatedly throughout the ages. God was aware of this. So, at strategic moments, He manifested Himself to humans via “wonders” in order to grab their attention. And sometimes they’d then listen to what His anointed servants were telling them. A great example is what went down with Elijah on Mount Carmel. The prophet was doing his best to keep the Israelites from embracing Baal as their one and only God but it was like pulling teeth. Finally he challenged the priests of Baal to a showdown. If they could coerce their God to kindle a fire under a sacrificial cow he’d step aside. The priests went for it. They pleaded, groveled and cried like babies for Baal to fire up the grill but he was a no-show. When it was Elijah’s turn he added insult to injury by first drenching the wood pile in water and then standing back while the great I AM incinerated the whole pit with flames sent down out of the clear blue. Everyone was impressed.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:12 there was a way people could tell he was a bona fide apostle of Christ. He wrote, “…the signs of an apostle were performed among you with great perseverance by signs and wonders and powerful deeds.” The gift of miracles was bestowed upon the early apostles by the Holy Spirit to prove their claims of being messengers of the Lord and assist them in ushering in a new era in the history of mankind. However, God rarely relies on miracles to get His point across. Many of the greatest individuals in the Bible performed nary a one. Take John the Baptist for instance. John 10:41-42 reads, “Many came to him and began to say, ‘John performed no miraculous sign, but everything John said about this man was true!’ And many believed in Jesus there.” In other words, John successfully steered hundreds toward Christ without doing anything other than preaching the truth to them. No jaw-dropping tricks needed. The Master said of him in Matthew 11:11, “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.”

Skeptics ask, “So where are these ‘miracles’ today? Did God use ‘em all up?” It’s my opinion that in the modern era big extravaganzas aren’t needed to spread the good news of the Gospel to the world. Yet miracles are taking place all the time in the form of changed lives and transformed hearts in those who surrender to Jesus. (If you think God’s running low in the special effects department I suggest patience. Both Hosea and Joel prophesized that, as the end times approach, miracles will reappear and abound.) It’s interesting to note that Jesus, referencing His miracles, told the disciples they’d perform “…greater deeds than these(John 14:12). But what could be greater than what our Savior did when he healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, raised the dead and cast out demons? It would seem He was encouraging them to strive for more than they thought they could accomplish by letting the Holy Spirit work through them. I read an anonymous quote once that said, “Jesus didn’t come to preach the Gospel, but to give us a Gospel to preach.” Due to His resurrection Christians have a message of hope. One that can lead people to discover forgiveness and be born again as a new creation. As a man who’s experienced it in his own life, I’ll testify that a miracle of epic proportions occurred in me when I finally answered the knock on my door and let Christ in.

The gift of tongues has few peers when it comes to being controversial. Let me announce right off that, having never been in close proximity to it, my understanding of tongues is limited to what I’ve picked up from reading about it. One thing’s for sure. God the Holy Spirit never intended for any of His gifts to create discord or divisions in the body of Christ. If that happens it’s an indication the gift has become corrupted and, therefore, has turned sinful. The Bible confirms tongues have a place and function in the Church but, like anything else, if it becomes “trendy” or superficial to the point where it takes a believer’s eyes off Jesus then it’s lost its power to be a positive influence. In other words, if it doesn’t glorify God then it has no use.

A little fundamental data is always helpful. The Greek word for speaking in tongues, glossolalia, shows up in only two New Testament books – Acts and 1 Corinthians. In the former it’s the centerpiece of the events at Pentecost when the promised Holy Spirit made His spectacular entrance into the world. The “tongues” the disciples spoke to the crowd in consisted of a wide variety of foreign languages and dialects. Thusly every person in the throng could clearly understand the message being preached no matter their nationality. Acts indicates four things occurred that day. First, a loud roar like a gust from a hurricane filled the place. Second, what looked like flames hovered above every disciple in the upper room. Third, each one of them became filled with the Holy Spirit. Lastly, they all began to speak in tongues. The languages they orated in were known to the people from all over the Roman Empire region who’d come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Whether the miracle transpired in the ears of the listeners or in the mouths of the disciples is immaterial. Fact is, something extraordinary took place that day that defies rationale and it’s never occurred since. There are many subsequent Bible passages that tell of folks becoming “filled with the Spirit” yet they didn’t start speaking in tongues so, obviously, the two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. The bottom line is this: if the soul-saving Gospel gets communicated to someone who wouldn’t otherwise understand the language it’s being delivered in then God has worked a miracle.

Now, in 1 Corinthians the gift of tongues referenced is a different animal altogether than what’s described in Acts. At Pentecost every listener heard the Word in their native language even though the speakers had no idea what dialect they were uttering. But in 1 Corinthians the hearers had no clue as to what was being said so people with the gift of interpretation were required to translate. In chapter 13 Paul mentions there’s a special language used by angels and infers some believers are, on occasion, able to speak it. Just like with the gifts of healing and miracles, those given the ability to speak and/or interpret the angelic idiom are extremely rare. Therefore a healthy skepticism isn’t out of line when dealing with someone who professes to have that particular gift. Remember, in that same chapter Paul emphasizes that any spiritual gift not accompanied by love is worthless. As always, God’s Holy Word is the most reliable source of information about almost anything (especially when it comes to mysterious phenomenon of this sort) and 1 Corinthians 14 gives us a lot to mentally chew on. There are six points to consider. First of all, there does exist a gift of tongues that’s different from what went on at Pentecost because no interpreter was needed on that occasion. The kind Paul brings up usually sounds like nonsensical gibberish to the average person and that’s why it’s such a hotly debated and volatile issue. No wonder Paul spent three chapters in 1 Corinthians (12-14) warning folks not to get too caught up in it!

Secondly, it’s expressed that speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a fruit of the Spirit. All followers of Jesus should produce fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 states, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Conversely, spiritual gifts are doled out to Christians according to the sovereign will of the great I AM. Thus, not everyone receives the gift of tongues any more than everybody gets the gift of prophecy. What I’m saying is that one shouldn’t feel like a B-list believer just because they don’t speak in tongues. I certainly don’t feel that way but there are some out there who’ll insist that everyone must experience it or their salvation is bogus. However, there’s no Scripture that backs that claim up.

Thirdly, Paul makes it clear that the gift of tongues is the least important of all the gifts of the Spirit. With good reason. It rarely draws a non-believer closer to accepting the truth about Jesus. The other spiritual gifts have been proven beneficial for building up and strengthening the body of Christ, but not so with speaking in tongues. When it happens spontaneously we can rest assured that God has a distinct purpose for it but to consider it the ultimate in Christian growth would be a mistake. As Billy Graham wrote, “Millions of spiritually mature Christians have never spoken in tongues, and many who have spoken in tongues are not spiritually mature.” Makes sense to me.

Fourthly, speaking in tongues doesn’t necessarily, in and of itself, signify a believer has been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. It’s particularly true in 1 Corinthians because the people Paul was writing to had already been incorporated into the body of our Lord once and for all and nowhere does it indicate they had to first speak in tongues to qualify. Even in Acts when so many were speaking in tongues it’s never intimated it was proof positive the person doing so had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. We should also not jump to the conclusion that speaking in tongues somehow equates to being “filled with the Spirit” or vice versa. One can be filled with the Spirit and never speak in tongues even once. A Spirit filling can manifest itself in a host of ways. Speaking in tongues may be one of them but it’s certainly not the only way.

Fifthly, the Bible and plain ol’ common sense tells us the gift of tongues can easily be faked, manipulated and abused. In other words, it can be dangerous in more ways than one. For example, it can lead to the magnification of the sin of pride. A person who experiences a thrilling, life-altering episode of speaking in tongues can potentially let it go to their head and become convinced it means they’re better or more spiritual than other Christians who’ve never done so. Speaking in tongues can quickly lead to discord and even hostility within a congregation if the one possessing that gift attempts to force it on others. Another hazard is the imbalance it can create in a believer. A person who suddenly starts speaking in tongues can become wholly obsessed with it. So much they may abandon all their other gifts and devote their entire spiritual life to focusing on that one thing, forgetting that their primary commission is to spread the Gospel far and wide. Their sole aim can become making every other believer behave just like them instead of emphasizing and cherishing the beauty of diversity that pervades the body of Christ. Perspective and moderation are essential in dealing with this unique gift of the Spirit. Still others might view it as a shortcut to spiritual certainty. They may feel that, by experiencing it, it’d be a palpable confirmation, an emotional epiphany they could latch onto as literal proof that God’s power is real and flowing through their veins and that the Holy Spirit does, indeed, dwell in them. Often these folks want to sidestep having to rely on faith. Or maintaining a consistent prayer routine. Or diligently studying their Bible. Or spending quality time in fellowship with other Christians. The only way to develop a closer relationship with the Heavenly Father is through unwavering devotion to doing His will and becoming better acquainted with His Word.

The most misleading and potentially harmful thing about speaking in tongues is that it can be easily counterfeited. Sometimes it’s due to deliberate deception being involved. It can also be rooted in a psychological disorder. Plus, Satan and his demons aren’t indisposed to employing it in their despicable plots to hoodwink the gullible. And speaking in tongues isn’t just a “Christian” thing. The ancient Greek oracle of Delphi was said to babble on in an indecipherable language, as did the priests and priestesses at the great temple situated above the city of Corinth. Almost every religion known to man has behavior such as this documented in its lore. People who were purported to have been genuinely demon-possessed sometimes spoke in languages they were otherwise unfamiliar with when in their right mind. That’s why in 1 John 4:1 we’re told, “…do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to determine if they are from God…” Nothing on this earth – no matter how amazing or supernatural it may be – can be allowed to take the place of God’s Holy Word in our lives. Everything we experience or witness must be held up to the light that is Jesus Christ for validation because He is the way, the truth and the life.

Finally, speaking in tongues can and perhaps should be something very private and intimate, not openly shared outside of one’s personal time spent in communion with God. In Romans 8:26 it says that “…the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.” Our groanings could possibly be a form of speaking in tongues. Unfortunately the Scriptures say little about this aspect of the gift but Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:18-19, “…I speak in tongues more than all of you, but in the church I want to speak five words with my mind to instruct others, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” I take this to mean he preferred not to employ his gift in order to show off in public but in silent prayer.

To say the gift of tongues is a tricky subject is like pronouncing the sun hot. Put ten scholars together and you’ll get ten different opinions about its relevance to our faith. One thing’s for sure, though. Every Christian needs to be “filled with the Spirit” and if that causes some to involuntarily speak in a tongue they and no one else understands then I’m not going to question their sincerity. The Bible teaches it’s a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit bestowed upon selected individuals and that’s enough for me. In 1 Corinthians 14:39 Paul says, “…do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues.” Just because we don’t “get it” doesn’t mean there’s something wacky about those who do. The Holy Spirit is God and He grants gifts to individuals in the body of Christ as He sees fit. Here’s the gist of the matter: (1) The gift of tongues is a valid gift having spiritual value in God’s plan. (2) The Holy Ghost uses speaking in tongues whenever and wherever it can further the kingdom of God and glorify Christ. And (3) we must never forget we’re living in what the Bible calls “the latter days” when many of the “sign gifts” of healing, miracles and tongues will become more noticeable. Thus we believers dare not discriminate against or be judgmental toward those who display these unusual gifts. We’ve been told to love one another unconditionally and we can’t do that if we ostracize those who worship our Savior differently than we do. We all work for the same boss and His name is Jesus Christ. Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.” And in Galatians 5:25-26 he admonishes all Christians with this message: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another.”  ‘Nuff said.

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