Did you know that we find three specific contexts where we find speaking in tongues in the Bible?

Each of these three contexts in the Bible show us expressions of speaking in tongues that will represent a unique purpose.    

I want to address these important questions:  

  • Where is the gift of speaking in tongues in the Bible?   
  • How does the gift of tongues help us fulfill the Great Commission?  
  • How does the gift of speaking in tongues relate to the Baptism with the Holy Spirit?  
  • How does the gift of tongues get used in the church? 

I know you want to know how to receive this gift and how to grow in using the gift of tongues, so let us understand this basic teaching about speaking in tongues first.  

The Bible gives us three different contexts for speaking in tongues.

These demonstrate and explain the reason why the Holy Spirit is so eager to give disciples of Jesus Christ the spiritual gift of tongues. 

Use of Tongues: Mission Outreach 

In the fulfillment of the Great Commission, there will be powerful expressions of the Holy Spirit and gifts given by the Holy Spirit.   

“Later Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  

And these signs will accompany those who believe; In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Mark 16:14-18 (NIV)

I recognize the contextual problem with Mark 16:14-18. Some scholars do not believe this portion of scripture is found in the original manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark and that this section of scripture ends at verse 8.    

But I believe with the tradition of the Church, this rest of Mark is included in the scriptures and verses 14 to 18 contain the actual words of Jesus Christ.  

These words are recorded at the end of Mark by the early Church.

They are completely consistent with what Jesus Christ had said to His disciples while giving them the Great Commission. Along with Jesus’ promise to us given in Acts 1:4-8.

They had experienced a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And the disciples fulfilled their mission of being witnesses to Jesus Christ.  

The disciples had experienced a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And they fulfilled their mission of being witnesses to Jesus Christ unto the ends of the Earth.
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It is reasonable to conclude that these particular verses are included in scripture because of the evidence found in the early Church.

Jesus included the gift of tongues as a valid manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

He also clearly put these verses in the context of being able to fulfill the Great Commission.

This is the context we need for understanding all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

If these are just the words of the early Church, then they were experiencing what we also experience today: The gifts are the power tools needed for making disciples, building the Church and advancing the gospel. 

The evidence of the Holy Spirit coming upon the first Christians in fulfilling Acts 1:4-8 can include all that Jesus mentioned here:

  • the gift of tongues, 
  • healing,
  • casting out demons and
  • even being able to overcome dangers like snakes and deadly poison.

These are a few of the expressions of His power that take place as we have the Holy Spirit upon us, to live the resurrected life in Christ.

Use for Tongues: Empowerment

We find the three explicit occasions in the Bible when the Holy Spirit comes upon them in power from on high and gives His people tongues.

At Pentecost:

“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. ” 

Acts 2:3-4 (NIV)

   The Gospel goes to the Gentiles:

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?  They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  

Acts 10:44-47 (NIV)

On the Disciples at Ephesus:

“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus.  There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”  So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”  “John’s baptism,” they replied.  Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.  He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”  On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” 

Acts 19:1-6 (NIV)
At Pentecost, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The Gospel goes to the Gentiles, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The Disciples at Ephesus, the Holy Spirit came on them
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In these verses, we find specific terms used to describe this work of the Holy Spirit.   

  • At Pentecost, they were filled with the Holy Spirit  
  • The Gospel goes to the Gentiles, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message
  • The Disciples at Ephesus, the Holy Spirit came on them 

These are the terms that describe the way the Holy Spirit works.  

The first time the Holy Spirit falls on a person in connection to being called to witness and service, may be called aBaptism of the Holy Spirit.”  

Read more: What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

We also may call this experience:

  • Receiving the Holy Spirit
  • Being filled with the Holy Spirit, 
  • The Holy Spirit falling “upon” a person.  

All these references are found in the Bible and all have to do with Holy Spirit empowerment for the ability to become a witness of Jesus Christ.

What is the difference between being filled with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit coming upon people?    

In these particular instances, we find that the result is the same– the people showed manifestations of the Holy Spirit and in this, case the gift of speaking in tongues.     

R.A. Torrey describes some of these terms as “one and the same experience” of empowerment:

Baptized with the Holy Spirit,”

Filled with the Holy Spirit,”

“The Holy Ghost fell on them,”

“The gift of the Holy Ghost was poured out,”

Receive the Holy Ghost,”

“I send the promise of my Father upon you,”

Endowed with power from on high,”

are used in the New Testament to describe one and the same experience. 

(R.A. Torrey, What the Bible Teaches About the Holy Spirit (New York: Revell, 1898, pp. 270‐271.)

This “one and the same experience” is the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we experience, so that we may be witnesses to Jesus Christ as promised in Acts 1:4-8. 

All of these cases are evidences of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.  

The gift of speaking in tongues is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power and can be a sign of empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  

In our PRMI teachings, we hold to the truth that the spiritual gift of tongues is not the only evidence of the Holy Spirit coming upon us for power.   

All of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are part of our witness to Jesus Christ.  

Use of Tongues: Use in the Church 

Paul gives us key instructions about the gift of tongues for the Body of Christ found in 1 Corinthians 12-14. 

  • 1 Corinthians 12: Paul lists the various gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit and their role in building up the Church. 
  • 1 Corinthians 13: Everything must be done in love.
  • 1 Corinthians 14: Guidelines for church services that are led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

Paul gives us general guidance about appropriate use in 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 

“So then, brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues. And do everything in a decent and orderly manner.”

1 Corinthians 14:39-40  (NIV)

Here are 15 observations on the use of speaking in tongues as found in these chapters in 1Corinthians: 

  1. They are one of the manifested gifts of the Holy Spirit (12:10). 
  2. They are one gift among multiple gifts and callings (12:28, 30).
  3. Tongues of men or angels are useless without love (13:1). 
  4. Tongues like all imperfect things will cease, but love will never end (13:8).
  5. The one who speaks in tongues speaks not to men but to God (14:2).
  6. He who speaks in the gift of tongues edifies himself (14:4).
  7. Paul wants us all to speak in tongues, but in church, more to prophecy unless there is interpretation (14:5). 
  8. The need for interpretation if tongues is used in church (14:6-12).
  9. Those who speak in tongues need to pray also for the gift of interpretation (14:13).
  10. We are to pray and sing in the spirit (i.e. in tongues). We are also to pray and sing with our minds, both modes are important (14:15-17).
  11. Paul is thankful that he speaks in tongues more than any of the rest of the Corinthians, but in church he would rather speak a language all can understand (14:18-19).
  12. Tongues is a sign for unbelievers while prophecy is for believers (14:20-25).
  13. There should be order in the worship, Paul suggests two, or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret (14: 27).
  14. In public worship, if there is no one to interpret the tongues, the gift should not be exercised publicly (14: 28).
  15. Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order (14:39-40).

When did Paul receive the gift of speaking in tongues?  

Paul declares, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Corinthians 14:18-19). 

When did Paul receive the gift of tongues? 

Was it when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus?

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Acts 9:3-6 (NIV)

Or was it when Ananias laid hands on him and prayed that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.

Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized

Acts 9:17-18
Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
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There is no reference in Scripture for the gift of tongues to be a part of Paul’s initial experience of the infilling with the Holy Spirit.  

I know it is an argument from silence, but there is a possibility that Paul received this gift of speaking in tongues sometime later. 

All we know for certain is that Paul declared he spoke, prayed, and sang in tongues.

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