What Does the Bible Say about the Gifts of Tongues?

When it comes to the spiritual gifts (notice the plural; more on that later) of tongues, there are two extremes. At one extreme, you have cessationists; these are Christians who believe that the gifts of tongues were for the early church only and that they no longer exist today. At the other extreme, you have people who believe that every Christian can and even should speak in tongues.

In examining Scripture, I think the best place to begin is in Acts 2, the well-known chapter about Pentecost. In verse 4 we read, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Who is “them” in this verse? If you go back to Chapter 1, you will see that this pronoun refers to either the twelve apostles or to the 120 Jesus-followers at that time. What does “tongues” mean? If you look at verses 6 and 8 in Chapter 2, you will see that it means “languages.” Verses 5-6 say, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” (By the way, what happened on the day of Pentecost was prophesied by Jesus Himself just a few weeks earlier. In Mark 16:17, Jesus said, “They [those who believe] will speak in new tongues.”)

When I was a young Christian teaching in China many years ago, I met some other American believers who spoke in tongues; not only that, but they believed that every Christian could do so. A friend of mine (also a Christian) heard what they said, believed it, and said that she wanted the gift of tongues. The tongue-speakers gathered around her, laid their hands on her, and prayed in tongues over her, but after a few minutes, my friend had still not received the gift of tongues. She left in tears of frustration and doubt. When I talked to these tongue-speakers, they said that they believed every Christian should speak in tongues because of I Corinthians 14:5, where Paul tells us, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” However, I Corinthians 12, one of the chapters about spiritual gifts, makes it very clear that not every believer has this gift.

There is disagreement among Bible teachers about whether the gifts of tongues that Paul writes about in I Corinthians 14 refer to actual languages or something else, like the language of angels in I Corinthians 13:1. However, it is not my purpose in this post to answer that question; I want to focus on the guidelines for tongues that Paul gives in Chapter 14. As you read this chapter, you will notice that Paul tells us about two gifts of tongues: speaking and interpreting. Perhaps you already noticed this in verse 5, which I quoted in the previous paragraph. Verse 13 is similar: “For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.” Later, in verses 27-28, Paul writes, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two–or at the most three–should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.” I want to emphasize three things here:

  • When God’s people are together, any tongue-speaking should be done one person at a time.
  • Someone must (not should) interpret.
  • If there is no interpreter, the person speaking in tongues should keep quiet.

How could Paul make it any plainer to us?! Contrast his instructions with what John MacArthur has called the “charismatic chaos” that goes on in some churches, where multiple people are simultaneously speaking in tongues and no one is interpreting. In fact, one thing I have noticed is that when American Christians talk about “tongues,” it is almost always spoken of as the gift of tongues, not the gifts. In other words, it seems to always be thought of as speaking in tongues, while interpreting tongues is ignored.

More than once, I have been praying with a group of believers and someone has started praying in tongues. However, there has never been an interpreter. I was an ESL teacher for 32 years and heard a very large number of languages spoken during that time. Frankly, during the times that I have heard believers speaking in tongues, it has sounded like gibberish, not a possible language. In fact, John MacArthur in his book Strange Fire reports an analysis done of tongue-speaking in which no grammatical regularities could be found.

A sister in Christ once reported to me that she had overheard a couple speaking a language that sounded like something she herself had spoken in her private tongue-speaking. I asked her why she hadn’t spoken to them in that tongue, and she just said something like, “Oh, I never thought of that!” Based on Acts 2, isn’t communication with people at least one of the purposes of tongue-speaking?

Let me repeat I Corinthians 14:28: “If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.” In a similar vein, I Corinthians 14:2 says, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.” Finally, the second part of I Corinthians 14:39 says, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues.” I believe there is a place for speaking in tongues in private. However, Paul makes it crystal clear that when believers are together, speaking in tongues and interpreting them must be conjoined.

Religious and Political Hypocrisy

I’ve been thinking a lot about hypocrisy since the U.S. presidential election because I’ve heard a lot of it, as I’m sure you have. It has caused me to think about what Jesus had to say about it while he was on Earth, as recorded in the Bible.

First of all, the word “hypocrite” is usually taken to mean a person whose actions do not match his words. In that regard, it usually refers to someone who expects something of others that he is not willing to do himself. It can also mean a person whose words or actions are not consistent in or for different situations. Jesus denounced the Pharisees of His day over and over for their hypocrisy. For example, in Matthew 15:7-8, Jesus says, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'” In Matthew 7:5, which is the culmination of the well-known passage about judging others, Jesus says, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

In the “seven woes” chapter, Matthew 23, Jesus repeatedly denounces the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. In verses 13-15, Jesus says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” These words sound harsh to our ears, but Jesus was speaking to people who not only professed to be God’s people, but who were leading God’s people!

One thing that should be clear by now is that Jesus was denouncing the hypocrisy of religious teachers who had rejected Him as Savior and Lord. What about those who are currently leaders of God’s people? Is it possible for them to be hypocritical as well? I’m sorry to say that the answer is yes. For example, some women came forward recently to say that a well-known, internationally-recognized Christian leader had behaved inappropriately towards them in a sexual manner. I was very saddened to hear that because this man (who went to heaven this year) was someone who I admired very much and learned a lot from. Unlike the vast majority of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, this man was a believer, but he will have to answer to the Lord. I have no doubt that you can come up with your own examples of such people as well.

What does all this have to do with modern politics? Simply this: those in politics are by definition leaders: not religious, mind you, but leaders nonetheless. Two prominent passages in Scripture that deal with political leadership are Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17. Romans 13:1 tells us, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” First of all, as Christians we are expected to obey those in political leadership. (There are exceptions, of course, but this post has a different focus.) Second, because those authorities have been established by God, those individuals in leadership are accountable to Him, and that’s why the post-election hypocrisy has been maddening at times. Here are three egregious examples:

  • Before the election, our President and his supporters were vilified by the left (both political leaders and most of the media) for “super-spreader” rallies; they were accused of recklessly spreading COVID-19. Contrast that with crowds celebrating the apparent victory by our President’s opponent three days after the election; very few in the media denounced these rallies. While it’s true that mask-wearing was more common in the latter rallies than the former, social distancing was practiced in neither. (I also wrote about this phenomenon in June in a post called “A Christian Response to Recent U.S. Riots and Protests.”)
  • The apparent winner of the presidential election has called for “unity” and “healing.” Compare that with his calling Trump supporters “chumps” prior to the election and his comparing Trump to the infamous Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels. There are also many others on the left who did their utmost to promote disunity throughout the last four years. Not only that, but there are leftists who are now calling for the keeping of lists of Trump “sycophants.” One prominent media leader, Jake Tapper, even tweeted this not-so-thinly-veiled threat to those on the right: “At a certain point one has to think not only about what’s best for the nation (peaceful transfer of power) but how any future employers might see your character defined during adversity.”
  • Those on the right, including our President, are being told to “suck it up” and accept the (apparent) result of the presidential election because that’s what those on the left have had to do for the last four years. Really? First of all, many on the left have done anything but “suck it up” for the last four years. For example, Hillary Clinton demanded a recount in Wisconsin and other states in 2016 despite the relative absence of voting irregularities. Then even last year, during an interview with CBS, she stated, “He [Trump] knows he’s an illegitimate President.” Contrast Clinton’s demands for recounts in 2016 and her continuing refusal to accept that election outcome with the current demands for investigations into voting irregularities in last week’s election. In fact, what will be happening in some states over the coming weeks is not merely recounting votes but auditing them because of the multitude of documented voting irregularities of various kinds.

I suppose it’s obvious which direction I “lean” politically, so let me add this: four years ago, there were allegations of Russian “collusion,” which were investigated for two years, at great taxpayer expense, and ultimately found to not be credible. Why can’t we take a few weeks to investigate what happened last week?

The Lord holds those in leadership, whether religious or political, as well as whether they are His people or not, to a higher standard. Those who engage in hypocrisy will be held accountable. Although this post has been about hypocrisy in leadership, I should add that those of us who are not in leadership are accountable as well. As God’s people, let’s be men and women of integrity, which in its most basic sense means “wholeness.” We should be people who are whole and consistent in our words and actions.

God Is in Control

This morning (Nov. 4, 2020), I woke up to a lot of uncertainty in the political realm. I would imagine that you, like me, would like to know who our President will be for the next four years, along with which party will be in control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. And then of course there are races at the state, county, and city levels that are undecided. This is a good time for us to be reminded of God’s sovereignty; nothing happens outside of His control. He is in control of who will fill the various seats of power. That doesn’t mean that whenever a Christian runs for office, he or she will win; it means that whatever the Lord wills to happen, will happen.

Sometimes from our perspective, what happens not only isn’t what we want; it doesn’t even seem “right.” In the book of Job, Chapter 1:1, Job is described like this: “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” He had ten children and a multitude of material blessings. However, the Lord allowed Satan to take away everything: Job’s sons and daughters all died when the house they were in collapsed because of a mighty wind; all of his camels, oxen, and donkeys were carried off by raiders; all of his sheep were burned up; almost all of his servants were killed; and finally, Job himself was afflicted with painful sores over his entire body. Furthermore, for the most part, his friends and his wife thought he had somehow brought all of this upon himself by not being faithful. Why did the Lord allow all of this to happen to Job? We aren’t told directly, but I think that at least one reason was so that everyone, including us who read his story, could see how Job remained faithful to the Lord. At the end of the book, in Chapter 42, the Lord not only gives Job exactly as many sons and daughters as he had at the beginning of the book; He also doubles the number of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys that he had had at the beginning. I should add this, however: let’s not make the mistake of thinking that the Lord will also bless us in this way. Just think of the multitude of martyrs over the last almost 2000 years who remained faithful; in their case, the Lord gave them the honor of dying for Him, and their reward was waiting for them in heaven.

What does the story of Job have to do with the results of this year’s election? God is in control, regardless of whether the results turn out the way we want them to or not. Like you, I have preferences for who will end up in various offices, but I refuse to worry, regardless of the outcome. I refuse to worry about COVID-19, either. Read these words from Twila Paris’s song “God Is in Control:”

God is in control
We believe that His children will not be forsaken
God is in control
We will choose to remember and never be shaken
There is no power above or beside Him, we know
God is in control

Take comfort and strength from verses like Job 42:2, where Job says to the Lord, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Here’s another: Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” No matter what happens or what we think about what happens, God is in control!

Are Christians Obligated to Obey the Old Testament Law?

Several months ago, I read a post by someone whose argument went something like this: In Leviticus 19:19, the Lord commanded the Israelites: “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” The writer asked whether Christians follow this command; since most Christians are not even aware of this command (or even if they are, they don’t see a need to obey it), he accused them of disobeying God’s law. He went on to say that Christians should either be obligated to obey all of the Old Testament (OT) law or none of it. However, if we obey none of it, then we are free to kill or commit adultery. His conclusion was that Christianity was either not possible to live by or that we Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites.

Let me begin my response by saying that the law this blogger cites, like all OT laws, had spiritual significance to the Israelites. It was an example of the Lord’s saying that they should not be defiled by “mixing with” the pagan nations around them; the one-material clothing served to remind the Israelites of this spiritual principle.

Another example of this is the complex system of sacrifices that the Israelites were required to perform; it’s no wonder there was a tribe (the Levites) that was set aside by the Lord to, among other things, perform these sacrifices as well as many other tabernacle (and then later temple) duties. The purpose of the sacrificial system was to point the way to a Savior who would one day sacrifice Himself for all people who believe in Him for all time. Why don’t Christians still kill and sacrifice animals today? Because Jesus is the only sacrifice we need.

Now let’s look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:

  • “You shall have no other gods before me.”
  • “You shall not make for yourself an idol.”
  • “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”
  • “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”
  • “Honor your father and your mother.”
  • “You shall not murder.”
  • “You shall not commit adultery.”
  • “You shall not steal.”
  • “You shall not give false testimony.”
  • “You shall not covet.”

The first four are focused specifically on loving the Lord; the last six are focused on loving people. When you think about it, you can probably see the difference between the Ten Commandments and the laws regarding clothing and sacrifices; the latter kinds of laws are ceremonial, while the Ten Commandments and others like it are moral laws. Christians are obligated to obey OT moral laws, but not ceremonial ones. That is the fundamental flaw in the reasoning of the person who argued that Christians should either obey all of the OT law or none of it. Some laws are more obvious than others, but as you read the first five books of the Bible, it’s good to keep this ceremonial/moral distinction in mind. (There are also OT civil laws; the theocratic state of Israel carried out the punishments for breaking these laws.)

I want to comment on the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” For the Israelites, that day was Saturday; in the early church, that day became Sunday because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead. I grew up in small towns where stores were closed on Sundays; not working was a way of keeping the fourth commandment. Now, however, it’s difficult to find stores and other businesses in the U.S. that are not open on Sundays. I know believers, for example, who before COVID-19 would usually eat out after Sunday morning church. What are we to make of this? I’ll keep this brief: the Lord wants us to rest, not work, one day of the week. Your doctor will tell you that doing this is good for both your physical and mental health. Historically in the U.S., that day of rest has been Sunday; however, some people–pastors and medical personnel, for example–have to work on Sundays. My father was a pastor; his day of rest was Monday. My wife and I don’t work, shop, or eat out on Sunday because that is our day of rest, and we don’t want to “make” other people work on that day, either. Here’s what Romans 14:5 says: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

Sometimes there is a gray area when it comes to obeying OT laws or not; tithing comes to mind. That kind of law requires study of the whole Bible, discernment, and a God-informed conscience. However, there are plenty of laws which are very clear; we who are 21st-century Christians should be obeying all of the OT laws that are moral, but we are not bound by the ceremonial ones.

When Is It Right to Die?

In 2014, a U.K. judge ruled that, at the request of the mother, food and water should be withdrawn from her daughter Nancy Fitzmaurice, who was 12 years old and had significant disabilities which made her unable to talk, walk, eat, or drink; it took 14 days for her to die. One of the things that made this case particularly shocking was that at the time, the U.K. did not even have legalized euthanasia; in fact, it still doesn’t.

In 1992, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote a book with the title of this post; in 2018 the publisher came out with a revised edition, with some new material. It’s clear from the preface that the infamous decision by the U.K. judge is one of the things that prompted Joni to revise her book. I have no doubt that other developments also spurred her on. For example, there are now nine states, plus the District of Columbia, that have “Death with Dignity” laws; they permit doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Assisted dying in one form or another is now legal in ten countries; interestingly, nine of them are majority-white. Here are some definitions to clarify matters:

  • Euthanasia (“mercy killing”): steps are taken to end a person’s life by someone else
  • Assisted suicide: as the term implies, a person who wants to die is assisted by someone else
  • Assisted dying: this is an umbrella term including euthanasia and assisted suicide

I regard Joni as being especially “qualified” to write about this topic because she has been a quadriplegic since 1967, when she was 18. She is also a Christian and thus gives a Biblical perspective on this issue. To give further context: Joni is a staunch advocate for those with various kinds of special needs, whether they be physical (e.g. blindness), intellectual (e.g. autism), or both.

When I started reading Joni’s book, what I wanted was a Biblical answer to the issue of euthanasia. I got my answer, and much more. One important distinction she makes is between passive and active euthanasia. Passive euthanasia refers to the intentional withdrawing or withholding of treatment. An example of withdrawing treatment is “pulling the plug;” an example of withholding is not carrying out surgery that will extend life for a short time. Active euthanasia refers to a person’s directly and deliberately causing someone’s death; for example, a person could deliberately be given an overdose of pain-killers.

Joni comes to the conclusion that if a person is dying, then passive euthanasia is Biblically permissible. “Dying” is defined as a person’s having a relatively short estimated time remaining, as determined by medical professionals. Notice the plural here; this helps protect the dying person from anyone who might decide to take matters into his or her own hands. Maybe it goes without saying that if the dying person has expressed a desire not to have “aggressive” measures taken to extend his or her life, this also makes the decision much easier for the family; without that, such a decision may be too much for anyone to handle. Having a DNR order is also wise in that regard.

All of this explains what happened recently in a family I know. An elderly member of that family had been diagnosed with an illness so advanced that doctors estimated she had a matter of months, maybe even just weeks, remaining. She was mentally handicapped, so she was not able to make her own decisions. Furthermore, she had repeatedly over the years expressed how much she was looking forward to going to heaven to be with Jesus and her parents. Her family made the decision not to subject her to surgery which might extend her life a few months but which would make her remaining days more uncomfortable. Instead, they chose to make her as comfortable as possible at her home, where she had regular visits from a hospice nurse. She was allowed to eat and drink as she pleased. She went to heaven a matter of weeks later and is now indeed in the presence of the Lord and with her parents.

If you have never had these kinds of conversations with your loved ones, I would encourage you to do so; that way, if you face life-and-death decisions, you can make them and have the peace of God in doing so.