Is The Gift of Tongues Part of God’s Program for the Church Today?
Let us turn to 1 Corinthians 13. Now keep in mind the fact that the subject in Chapters 12-14 is spiritual gifts with the main emphasis on tongues, because tongues was the one gift that the Corinthians were abusing. Chapter 12 concludes with “tongues” (12:30) and Chapter 13 begins with “tongues” (13:1). Obviously from the behavior of the Corinthians they were lacking in the fruit of the Spirit, namely, love. And so in Chapter 13 the Apostle dwells upon the essential ingredient of love which supercedes the gifts, and without which the Christian is nothing at all.
Among the Corinthians there were quarreling and division, but the needed fruit of the Spirit, love, was missing, so Paul writes, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (or love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (13 :1). In Corinth the tongues-speaking amounted to so much noise because carnality had invaded their exercise of the gift. Even today there is a kind of spiritual prestige associated with tongues-speaking. For a Christian to show off any gift that God has given manifests pride that is lacking in love. Where love is lacking, the exercise of any gift is worthless.
If Christians would take seriously, within context, all of the teaching about tongues in 1 Corinthians, they could not fail to see that tongues-speaking would cease. Paul writes, “Charity (love) never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away” (13:8). There will always be the need for love, therefore love will never drop off. But when the canon of Scripture is made “perfect” (or complete), there will be no further revelation from God, neither in predictive prophecy nor in divinely revealed knowledge other than prophecy. The gifts of “prophecy” and “knowledge” will be entirely unnecessary with the completion of the Scriptures. And “if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18).
Paul acknowledged the incomplete nature of the Scriptures in his day when he said, “For we know in part, and we prophecy in part” (13:9), or more literally from the Greek, “For in part we are knowing, and in part we are prophesying.” Then he adds, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (13:10). The word perfect is in the neuter gender, and therefore refers to the perfect (finished or completed) Word of God. If the word perfect referred to Christ it would be in the masculine gender. The sign gifts were “done away” (rendered inoperative) with the completion of the New Testament.
Now what about tongues? “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease” (13:8). Tongues shall cease (Gr. patio), that is, they shall come to a complete halt. Who needs tongues? Only the untaught, carnal babes in Christ, for Paul added, “When I was a child, I spake as a child . . . but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (13:11). The word “spake” in context can only refer to speaking in tongues. So that Paul himself came to the place of Christian maturity, through God’s revelation to him, where tongues were no longer necessary. And so in the same tongues context he admonishes the Corinthians, “Brethren, be not children in understanding . . . but in understanding be men” (14:20). Experientially, tongues cease when the Christian matures on a diet of the meat of God’s Word. Actually tongues is baby talk.
For the past two years I have made it my practice to ask many of the leading Bible teachers and scholars, some of whom having a rich working knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, if they have ever spoken in tongues. Among them are college and seminary presidents and professors. To date I have not had one of about sixty men tell me that he ever spoke in tongues!
I have been asked if I ever spoke in tongues. No, I have not. God and I have gotten along nicely for the past forty-five years in English. I speak to Him in English and He hears and understands me. He speaks to me in English through His Word, and I understand Him.
How then can we account for the wide-spread practice of speaking in tongues? I do not have all of the answers to this question, but I will make three suggestions for your prayerful consideration.
First, speaking in tongues can be self-induced. Second, speaking in tongues can be group-induced. Third, speaking in tongues can be satanically-induced.
Since the creation of man Satan’s insidious master-plan has been to put a veil between God’s children and God’s inerrant Word. It began in the Garden of Eden when the Devil asked Mother Eve, “Yea, hath God said . . . ?” (Genesis 3:1), thereby raising doubt as to the authority and authenticity of what God has said. We know that this enemy has stepped up the pace of his strategy.
Our present generation is witnessing the growing menace of satanic activity in the realm of the miraculous. Where the Devil does not succeed in taking the Bible from us, he works hard at taking us from the Bible. And he succeeds in getting Christians to focus their attention on the claims of men and women to some supernatural experience, and in so doing those seekers after the experiences of others have neither time nor interest in searching the Scriptures for God’s truth.
God does have a plan in His dealings with the human race, and that plan does not necessarily include the continuing repetition of the same miracles in every succeeding century. The miracles of God are rare occurrences in history. Enoch’s bodily translation from earth to heaven was the only recorded miracle performed by God in over 1700 years between Adam and the flood.
The Church of Christ does not need a new Bible, nor new apostles, nor new faith-healers, nor new charismatic movements, nor self-styled miracle workers. What the Church needs is to return to the Word of God and proclaim the whole counsel of God in the power and love of the Holy Spirit.
And if my reader has never had a personal experience of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, I urge you to receive Him at once, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).