Sooner or later, we all have to face this question: What about speaking in tongues?

I received a query from a young adult friend of mine, here is part of it:

Apparently, tongues is gaining popularity within very spiritual and open Adventist circles, and after one person “receives” the gift, another wants it, and another, and so on. I’m trying to make sense of it all.

. . . . Is it as simple as asking for it, and voila! I can speak in tongues?

My first observation is a simple one: Why tongues? I mean, this happens all the time, the burning question about speaking in tongues. What about the other gifts? I never hear anyone burning for the opportunity to have the gift of giving.  Or helping. Seems like there are always needs for both of those gifts, yet few, if any lamenting about not receiving them. Nor am I aware of anyone making reception of these other gifts tests, indicators of whether or not one has truly received the Holy Spirit.

But, if 1 Corinthians is any indication, it was always so. Many people know 1 Cor 13 as “the Love chapter,” but fail to recognize that it is in the middle, and is an integral part of, Paul’s discussion of tongues. What we call 1 Cor 12, 13, and 14– all three chapters– are a single discussion about tongues.

Chapter 12 begins with ” 1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” And quickly Paul gives a list, and a purpose:

 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. “ (emphasis mine)

Note two important points

1. The gifts are for the common good.

2. The same Spirit distributes them “just as he determines.

For me, that answers the question asked above : “Is it as simple as asking for it, and voila! I can speak in tongues?” If the Spirit determines it is for the common good, then ‘yes’ seems the likely answer. Otherwise . . . .

And why should this be different than any other prayer? After all, the old meaning of ‘pray’ is request, as in “Grant me, I pray thee . . . .”  C. S. Lewis pointed out “That wisdom must sometimes refuse what ignorance may quite innocently ask seems to be self-evident.” And Harry Emerson Fosdick has stated, “God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things”  Surely God will not act as a “cosmic bellboy” just because what we want is a spiritual gift.

On the other hand, Paul does include speaking in tongues as a true spiritual gift.  Martin Luther compared the Christian to a drunk riding a horse down a road: first he falls off into the ditch one side of the road, then–overcompensating–he falls off into the ditch on the other side of the road.

Claiming that everyone must speak in tongues to demonstrate baptism in the Spirit seems to me to be one one ditch; attempting to banish or ignore tongues looks very much like the other ditch.

This is a classic dilemma. It’s easy to simply prohibit things: alcohol, smoking, taking drugs, movies, dancing, sex. In some cases, prohibition works just fine. There is no minimum daily requirement of alcohol and tobacco. Their consumption is never necessary to life.

But food and work are necessary to life–yet they can become addictive. They cannot simply be prohibited, because they are necessary and good, at least in proper amounts. So dealing with overeating is not the same as dealing with smoking.

That’s the sort of challenge speaking in tongues presents. We can’t simply ban it, because scripture indicates it as a blessing–a gift of the Spirit–under the right circumstances.

So what do we do about tongues?

Next time, let’s see what Paul did in 1 Corinthians 12-14.