Tongues is the initial evidence of the Holy Ghost Baptism. Whether people like to hear that or not, it is an undeniable truth and will always be one of the foundational pillars of Pentecostalism. What a tragedy that most churches accept almost all aspects of the New Testament, but write off speaking in tongues as an unnecessary anomaly from the distant past. Listen to many preachers or talk to the majority of congregations in America, and you will hear countless sermons and lessons on Jesus, salvation, and water baptism, but almost nothing on the Holy Ghost. Today’s Christians will light up with excitement describing how Jesus saved them, but as soon as the Holy Ghost is mentioned, they will either brace up indignantly or stare in puzzlement. But speaking in tongues was the most critical tool in giving the Early Church its power., and if the church today would yield to the Holy Ghost the way the disciples did on the Day of Pentecost, we would become the same unstoppable force that they were.
After all, God is an inseparable Trinity. Jesus said in John 14:9 He that hath seen me hath seen the Father, then later in Acts 1:4-5, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father…For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. Notice that Jesus did not ask them politely to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit, but commanded them to go. Receiving the Holy Ghost wasn’t an option. Where the Father is, there Jesus is, and where Jesus is, the Holy Spirit is, and the three of them constantly work in perfect unison. People cannot come to church and sing praises to the Father for sending Jesus into their hearts to be their savior, while shutting the Holy Ghost out on the street, unwelcome. It simply won’t work.
Try as we might, we cannot ignore the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. It is simply mentioned too many times in the New Testament and played too critical of a role in the Early Church. The Old Testament is filled with types and shadows of it. Jesus spoke of it several times before He ascended into Heaven (John 15:27). Even John the Baptist predicted that God would baptize His followers in fire: I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. But he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire (Matthew 3:11).
But why is speaking in tongues the initial evidence of being filled with the Holy Ghost? Because that’s the only evidence given; no other phenomenon in the Bible accompanied being possessed by the third person of the godhead. James 3 tells us that the tongue is the most unruly member of the body, with the power of life and death. Verse 5: Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. With the tongue we can either build the kingdom of God, or destroy it through gossip and spreading lies. Verse 8: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. If the Holy Ghost has possession of our tongue, it is the sign that He has complete control over us. If He has our speech, He has the soul, the mind, the body, and the entire being. It’s like a bridle in a horse’s mouth that a person uses to control the whole animal. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body (verse 3).
Of course, one cannot do a study on the Holy Ghost without beginning with the golden text of Pentecost. Acts 2:1: And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. The first miracle on the day of Pentecost was that the 120 apostles had gathered together in one mind and one accord. The Holy Spirit could only fall when they were in perfect unity; if the Christian church today would come together as one, we would have a voice that could not be silenced or ignored. Verses 2-4: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. First came the wind, then tongues of fire descended from heaven, and landed on each of them, and they began speaking in unknown languages.
I was about 12 or 13 when I first had this encounter. It was at a Holy Ghost rally, probably on a Saturday night, many years ago. I had been seeking it for some time. I remember sitting there in my seat, eyes closed, with thousands of people around, all seeking the Baptism. I felt like I was in a different atmosphere, as if I opened my eyes, I would be in heaven. I spoke in tongues, first babbling and then in a fluent language, and suddenly, my lips started to burn like they were on fire. At first it scared me, as I was completely unfamiliar with Acts 2:4 and the Holy Spirit manifesting itself this way.
I was probably 17 when this happened again, and this time, something was different. As I spoke in another language, I felt the fire burning on the tip of my tongue. The great blessing is that this wasn’t the only time; it happened again, and then the time after that. And praise God, that fire has still not left me. To this day, every time I pray in tongues under the utterance of the Spirit, the tip of my tongue burns like it’s on fire.
Being baptized means being submerged, and being filled with the Holy Ghost doesn’t just mean having him flood one’s innermost being, but being surrounded by His glory. For me, the greatest privilege of feeling that tongue of fire was the first time I felt it while not praying in the Holy Ghost. And this also continues to this day; it has become the primary way I feel God’s anointing. I will sometimes see the light of God shining from preachers as they preach, or will feel His presence emanating from other children of God as I speak to them, but the tip of my tongue burning is almost always the way I experience God. Sometimes I will feel it for no apparent reason, and then later find out someone was praying for me at that moment. Or something miraculous happened in the life of someone close to me. Or something terrible.
One important detail about the tongues of fire that descended on the Day of Pentecost is often overlooked: they were cloven. Think of an animal’s hoof; being split on the top indicates two sides. Speaking in tongues falls into two forms: what occurred on the Day of Pentecost is the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. The gift of diverse tongues is a completely separate phenomenon, described in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10: For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues. The Lord gifts people in churches with these 9 unique individual gifts for the uplifting of His kingdom. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret (verses 29-30)? Every congregation should have at least one person possessing each gift; the deficiency of people possessing the 9 gifts of the Spirit explains our churches' anemic growth.
The gift of diverse tongues goes hand-in-hand with the gift of interpretation. During a church service, the Holy Ghost will have a message from God, and will fall on a person. Everything is brought to a halt as the tongues are shouted, and then the Spirit finds someone in with the gift of interpretation to give the meaning. When reading about speaking in tongues in the New Testament, we have to differentiate between the Baptism of the Holy Ghost and the gift of diverse tongues. Unfortunately, most people do not understand the difference, and the result is a severe misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 14.
Let’s take a close look at this chapter to help understand the purpose of tongues in the church. Verse 2: For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. This is referring to the Baptism, because the speaker is not speaking to the assembly; the tongues are a heavenly communication between him and God. Verse 4: He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. The Baptism of the Holy Ghost plays a critical role in the believer’s life, bringing spiritual wisdom. The first elders of the church had to have it before they could be appointed. Acts 6:3: Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. It also builds our faith: But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost (Jude 20).
In 1 Corinthians 14:5, the focus shifts from the Baptism of the Holy Ghost to the gift of diverse tongues. I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. Paul is now referring to what is best for the church, versus what is best for the individual believer.
But in verses 6 and 9 is where confusion and misinterpretation begins.
In part 2 of this lesson, we examine the rest of 1 Corinthians 14, and will discuss the tragic consequences that its misinterpretation has had for the church. To be continued!