The Gift of Tongues
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 12. I trust you will ask God to help you to pay very close attention to the message. It is not a message that I particularly want to bring, and the reason I say that is that I love the people of God, and I love folk who love God. It always grieves me when it is necessary for me, on the basis of the Word of God and my conviction, to disagree with folk who love the Lord. Some of you will not agree with the message. I make no apology for bringing it because I believe what I say is based on God's Word, and I never make any apologies for the Word of God. The only prayer I have in my heart is that people will accept what is the truth and that God will enable me to say what I say in love without offense because—I repeat—I love God's people, and I don't like to see the people of God divided in any way whatsoever, especially when basically all of our hearts' desire is to do what the Lord would have us to do.

Review

For quite some time, we have been thinking about the gifts of the Spirit in answer to the question: What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit? We discovered as we read passages of Scripture related to the subject that the gifts of the Holy Spirit could be divided into three categories and could number 14, 15, or 16, depending upon the way that you included one with the other because they were so very similar or because there was a repetition. So in the weeks that have gone by, we have discussed with you the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit by the word wisdom, by the word knowledge , by the phrase discernment of spirits , and by the word teaching . We refer to these as spiritual gifts because they are used by believers for the spiritual welfare of the Body of Christ.

Then we said the second category might be called service gifts . There is not necessarily a spiritual character about them, but they are more related to the practical things related to the Body of Christ. We have recognized those particular gifts as helps, government, giving, and the showing of mercy. Of course, helps is something that you just do. You are just a help, and it is a real gift of the Holy Spirit. Government refers to the officers of the church which are necessary for the orderly operation of the Body of Christ. Giving is what you do when you make your offering. This is a gift. Anybody can put something in the collection plate, but it takes a real gift of giving to recognize that which is related to the needs of the Body of Christ. Then the gift of showing mercy is something that people can do in a sense without any particular gift of the Holy Spirit because you can be merciful whenever you have the opportunity to be merciful, and yet some folk have a special gift along this line because they are able to recognize the need for mercy, and they are able to show mercy in a fashion that ordinary people are not able to show.

The third category of gifts which we considered together are what we refer to as sign gifts. We said these might also be called supernatural gifts because there is a supernatural element about them. We refer to them as sign gifts because we said that we believe, as we understand the Word of God after careful study, that some of the gifts were meant to be used to lend an authentic note to the message of the apostles, and they ceased at the end of the Apostolic Age. That does not mean that all of these gifts did, but it does mean that some of them did, and that is the reason we call them sign gifts. There is the gift of faith; there is the gift of healing and the gift of miracles.

We said that we believe in this day and time that men do have the gift of faith. It may be sparsely scattered in the Body of Christ, but it would be very difficult to say that it was not in evidence. We said to you that we believe God heals today. We believe that God works miracles today, but we do not believe that any one individual, at least none whom we have met, has a gift of healing whereby he can command individuals to be healed. The reason we do not believe that is that it is based upon the wrong premise—the premise that all illness is of Satan, and it is not God's will that anybody be ill.

When it comes to the gift of miracles, we do believe in a miracle-working God, and we have experienced miracles worked in our own lives. We have seen Him work miracles in the lives of others, but we have never met an individual whom we personally believed had the gift to perform a miracle such as—without any question as to the will of God—to raise the dead, to walk on water, to turn stones into bread. We have never met such an individual; and for that reason, we have referred to these as sign gifts , which were absolutely necessary before the final revelation of God was complete. But now that it is complete, it is not necessary if you remember the passages of Scripture we read to you as to why these particular miracles were performed.

That brings us to our discussion of the last two in the list of sign gifts—the gift of tongues and the gift of the interpretation of tongues. We consider these two together because they are always used together in the Scriptures when there is any listing of the gifts; and not only are they used together in the Scriptures, we are told in instructions related to the matter of the gift of tongues that the gift of tongues should never be exercised without the exercise of the gift of interpretation. More is said about these two gifts—the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues—in Christian circles today than any other kind of gifts.

The reason for it is that about 1955 there was what is referred to as a revival of the charismatic gifts. The charismatic revival, taken from the Greek word charisma , suggests that the gift of tongues has been given again in these last days. One distinction about this revival that has not been true of those who have believed in the gift of tongues for this Age of Grace is that the gift of tongues as it is described in modern tongues movement has touched what is referred to as the old line churches. There are records of where Episcopal Rectors have spoken in tongues. We do not mean to speak unkindly concerning Episcopalians, but I think an Episcopalian would tell you himself that he is not given over to a great deal of emotion. His services are related to ritual and to form. So when an Episcopalian Rector in Van Nuys, California, announced to his congregation that he had spoken in tongues the night before, all of the wire services picked it up and spread it across the country.

This thing has grown one step after another until it has reached proportions to where it has divided a great many Christian bodies and has caused a great deal of concern for various reasons which we will be examining by and by. So significant is this so-called charismatic revival that any well informed Christian ought to know about it and ought to know what the Word of God has to say about it. We are going to examine what is referred to as the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation of tongues.

I am going to suggest to you the procedure that I plan to follow and the reason that I am suggesting the procedure that I plan to follow is that it would be impossible for me to consider this entire matter in the brief time we have together in one sitting. First, we are going to have some Scriptural comment. We are going to do that today. We are going to find out exactly what the Word of God says about the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation. Then we are going to have something to say to you concerning the sad controversy, because there is a controversy. Beloved, this controversy is not between liberals and modernists. This controversy is not between Bible-taught believers and untaught believers. This controversy is between some of the cream of the crop, spiritually speaking, and that is why it is so sad.

It never has been a problem for me to roll up my sleeves and fight a man who says he doesn't believe in the inspiration of the Word of God, but it has always grieved me to have to disagree with those who love the Lord as much as I do. This does not mean that when I say I don't like to disagree, that I won't disagree. I wouldn't be bringing this message if that were true. I'm simply saying it grieves me for Christians to be divided, and so I refer to it as the sad controversy .

I'm going to deal with the subject on the basis, not so much on the Scripture, because the Scripture is here today, but of what is being done and said in this particular area of religious thought. Every thinking Christian is going to have to come to a conclusion relating to this question, a definite conclusion before the Lord.

You may take care of this whole matter today, and you may wonder why I don't, by simply saying that the Bible says it is not for this age, so forget it. Beloved, precious human souls are involved in this thing, and it isn't enough just to say that the Bible says it isn't for this age; forget it. That does not answer their question; that does not explain to them some of the manner of truth that has been taught them in all sincerity, and it does not forewarn them of the dangers—I say that with all sincerity—the very dangerous things men are dealing with when they are dealing with what is commonly known as the manifestation of the gift of tongues.

Now, don't misinterpret what I said. The gift of tongues as it was taught in the Scripture and as it was used in the scriptural age for which it was intended was not a dangerous thing. But when unenlightened minds take something that is precious and sacred and use it very carelessly, then many dangerous things can happen, and that is what concerns me.

Today we are going to notice what I have already referred to as the scriptural comments related to the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Scriptural comments, first, as related to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for people who advocate what is known as the modern tongues movement insist that the gift of tongues comes as an indication of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that Christians are not baptized by the Holy Spirit unless they can speak in tongues.

The Importance Of This Gift

The basic portion of the Word of God that deals with the gift of tongues and is used for the basis of the modern tongues movement is the Corinthian letter. So we are going to limit our discussion today to what is found in I Corinthians, chapters 12-14. I would suggest that you read carefully all three of these chapters when you have the time. We are going to notice some of the things in these three chapters which indicate to us that the gift of tongues and the gift of the interpretation of tongues (Listen carefully to what I am saying.) is not for this age. We are going to look at that portion of the chapter that indicates it is not for this age.

Some of you may say, “What about the portion within the chapters that indicate it is for this age?” There are none such. We are looking, first, at the manner in which Paul discusses the gift of tongues in the Corinthian church, for just as certainly as it is a problem today among believers, it was a very real problem in the day in which the Apostle Paul lived.

The first thing we want to call to your attention from this portion of the Word of God is the suggestion concerning the importance of this gift. How important is it, anyway? The manner in which people are seeking it, the emphasis which is being placed upon it would lead you to believe it is exceedingly important, that it was the most important of all the gifts that the Holy Spirit bestowed upon the believer, and you saw that list at the beginning of our discussion today. Will you look with me, please, at I Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 10:

I Corinthians 12:

10To 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 Gift To Be Least Desired

Where in the list of the gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit is the gift of tongues found? At the very last, and this is common. If you will turn over to verse 28, you will read:

I Corinthians 12:

28And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

If you will look at that last statement there—“diversities of tongues,” —you will see that it is last in the list of gifts. I would not want to suggest to you that everything that could be said would be based upon this one simple statement, but the grammatical construction of this list does indicate that the importance of the gifts is indicated by the order in which they are presented. It seems to me, on the basis of that, if we are talking about seeking one gift above another, we would not seek the gift that is mentioned last in the entire list. Then I would suggest to you something else right along with that, and that is, Paul said to the Corinthians that this gift was the least one to be desired.

Some people are troubled by the fact that Paul said in this section of Corinthians, “I myself, have spoken more in tongues than you all.” Of course, he did. He was living in the age in which tongues was given. For him to say, “I have spoken in tongues more than you all,” does not indicate at all that tongues are meant for this age. It simply adds to what I am saying to you at the moment, that this gift is the least to be desired of all the gifts because he said, “I have spoken in tongues more than any of you,” and yet I want to say to you—look at verse 31 of chapter 12—that this gift is not nearly so important as you think it is. Notice verse 31:

I Corinthians 12:

31But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Then notice verse 1 of chapter 13, where we read:

I Corinthians 13:

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Do you notice what he said? “Covet earnestly the best gifts,” and then immediately he said, “I'm not talking about tongues because if you speak in tongues and do not have the love of the Holy Spirit in your heart, you can become as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.”

Look at chapter 14, please. Notice we are emphasizing that Paul believed that this gift of tongues was the least of all gifts to be desired, for in verse 1, he said:

I Corinthians 14:

1Follow after charity [love], and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy [speak in tongues].

Do you see why I say to read your Bibles? If you have your Bibles, you know that isn't what it says. But from the importance that is placed upon this gift, you would think that would be what it would say. Instead it says:

I Corinthians 14:

1Follow after [love], and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
2For 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.

What is the apostle saying? “If you're going to desire a gift, don't make it tongues; make it prophecy.” Look down at chapter 14 and notice verse 12:

I Corinthians 14:

12Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

Then in verse 14 we read:

I Corinthians 14:

14For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

Then in verse 19 he said:

I Corinthians 14:

19Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

The Apostle Paul emphasizes that this is the least of all the gifts of the Spirit to be desired. So why place so much emphasis upon it?

The second thing I would like for us to notice in this Corinthian passage is that the gift of tongues, as every other gift, is sovereignly bestowed. That is, the Holy Spirit bestows the gift, not because the person wants it, not because he is worthy of it, but because the Holy Spirit Himself wills it. Will you look at chapter 12, verse 11, please:

I Corinthians 12:

11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

And there is the simple statement that the Holy Spirit gives these gifts to whomever He wills. I beg to suggest to you today that if you get on your knees and pray and plead for God to give you the gift of tongues, then you are ignoring the sovereign right of the Holy Spirit to give the gift to whosoever He wills. And if you yourself have had the experience of tongues and yet feel that everybody else ought to have it, you are ignoring the sovereign will of God. And not only are you ignoring the sovereign will of God, you are ignoring what the Scripture plainly says. Will you notice in this same passage of Scripture:

I Corinthians 12:

30Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?

The purpose of these questions is to illicit an answer which would be in the negative because of the very nature of the question. Then you might compare this particular passage of Scripture with verse 17 of I Corinthians, chapter 12, where God, comparing the Body of Christ to the human body and the various members of the body, endowed for the specific gifts for specific service to the various things the individual human body can do, said, in verse 17:

I Corinthians 12:

17If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
18But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

Selfish Exercise Of The Gift

If you insist that every Christian should speak in tongues in order to have a deeper experience with the Lord, as you may put it, or to speak in tongues in order to prove that he has the baptism of the Holy Spirit, then you are ignoring what is plainly said in God's Word. Everybody in the church doesn't do it, and God did not intend everybody to do it. The Apostle Paul, in dealing with this matter in the Corinthian church, saw some very dangerous things cropping up, and I see these same things in this modern tongues movement. One of them, for want of a better way to express it, I have referred to as selfishly exercised. Paul said to these Corinthian believers, “You are exercising this gift in a very selfish fashion.” If you will look at verse 4 of I Corinthians, chapter 14:

I Corinthians 14:

4He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

Paul said to these Corinthian believers, “You are more interested in the edification of yourself than you are in getting the Word of God out to everybody concerned.” Look at verse 17:

I Corinthians 14:

17For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

“You think it's so important to pray in tongues. You may get a blessing out of it, but here is somebody who has no idea of what you are saying. You are to be concerned about building him up when you pray instead of exercising this for your own spiritual benefit.”

I say this very kindly today, but I have examined very closely all that has been written, comparatively speaking, for and against the modern tongues movement; and invariably I have discovered that one of the things folk use to advocate it is, it brings YOU such a great spiritual blessing. It brings YOU so much closer to God, and the idea is that your spiritual welfare is more important in many instances than the welfare of the entire Body of Christ.

There is something else that concerned Paul, and it concerns me in the selfish exercise of this gift, and that is, in the church at Corinth many were using the gift of tongues, which was a priceless gift, as carelessly as a child might use a very valuable tool as an expensive toy. Individuals who professed to have the gift of tongues shut it on and off whenever they desired. Individuals who have the gift of tongues use it in any way they want to use it, and it sends cold chills up and down my back, for I have heard several of them at my request exercise the gift when I asked them, “Can you use this gift any time you want to?” They say “Yes.” “May I hear you?” “Yes.” And immediately they begin using the gift of tongues, and I have a strange feeling that the sacred is being handled in a very careless manner, and such was the trouble in the Corinthian church. Look at chapter 14, verse 20, and you will find the Apostle Paul saying:

I Corinthians 14:

20Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

Then he goes on a few verses to emphasize the manner in which they were using the gift of tongues in a childlike fashion, not using it at all in the manner in which God intended.

Seeming Competition

Let me hurry on over these other things as I suggest to you another problem in the Corinthian church is what I refer to as seeming competition. There seemed to be a desire on the part of these folk at Corinth to compete in relation to the exercise of the gift of tongues. They were proud of the fact that they could speak in tongues, and they wanted to show that they could speak in tongues to such an extent that, if you read carefully the paragraph which begins with verse 26 and concludes with verse 28 and adds verse 33, the Apostle Paul was saying, “You are creating endless confusion because your meetings are all marked by this seeming desire to compete with one another to see who can speak in tongues first, the longest, or the loudest.”

Female Sex

I have here a phrase which may seem strange to you—female sex; because in the Corinthian church there was a problem that was created by women, according to verse 34, who were exercising the gift of tongues without regard to the leadership of the men in the assembly, and they were doing it to such an extent that the Apostle Paul said, “I am issuing an order. From here on out, you women keep quiet in the public assembly in relation to the gift of tongues because your pushing it and your emphasizing it is creating untold confusion, and it must not be permitted.” I say this as kindly as I know how to say it, Beloved, but the modern tongues movement is marked by emphasis on the part of women, in many instances more than on the part of men, and such women are acting in an unscriptural fashion.

Sounding Brass

The next to the last phrase I have is simply sounding brass, and if you are listening, you probably know why I am using those terms. Remember, we are looking through this portion of the Word for suggestions as to why we do not believe the modern tongues movement is scriptural, nor is it for this day and age. Notice chapter 13, verse 1, where we read:

I Corinthians 13:

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

How can I say this so you will understand me? I love God's people, yet I have had people to write me letters and say, “Your ministry is terribly lacking. One thing would make a difference. If you would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues, your ministry would have what it needs. You need to speak in tongues.” I have had people say they are praying that I will speak in tongues because my ministry is powerless, and I am accomplishing nothing.

I am willing to let God pass on my ministry. I know—and I say it with all sincerity—that much of my ministry is wood, hay and stubble; but Beloved, I have noticed on the part of many people who advocate speaking in tongues this sounding brass spirit. There seems to be such a little manifestation of love. For if they speak in tongues, anyone else who hasn't is not doing anything worthwhile for God.

Meant To Cease

The last thing I am going to say to you is the phrase, meant to cease. As we examine the Scriptures in I Corinthians, chapters 12-14, on the subject of the gift of tongues, I say to you, on the authority of the Word of God, that there were three gifts which the Apostle Paul said were meant to come to a natural end, and tongues was one of them. If you will look down at chapter 13, verse 8:

I Corinthians 13:

8Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies [that's the gift of being able to foretell the future], they shall fail; whether there be tongues [that's what we are talking about today], they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

The word knowledge here is not a word, as you will recall when we looked at the gift of knowledge, that describes what you are able to learn from books. It represents divine revelation which is given outside the Word of God because the Word of God was not completed when the gift of knowledge was in operation; and here the Word of God very plainly says that tongues will come to a natural end.

Do I hear someone saying, “Is that so? Why don't you just forget the whole matter? Why don't you just hush and not talk about it any more?” The reason I can't close the subject without making a statement is that tongues were meant to cease, and therefore they could not be in existence today.


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