Today, we come to one of the best known as well as one of the more controversial gifts of the Holy Spirit– “speaking in tongues”, as the King James Version has it.
“Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit Who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.” 1 Corinthians 12: 10,11 NLTJesus Himself, as He gave His final instructions to His disciples, said that speaking in new languages would be a sign that would follow those who believe.
Certainly, the speaking of different languages was one of the first recorded spiritual gift exercised by the disciples. On the day of Pentecost, hundreds of assembled Jews from scores of different nations heard the Gospel proclaimed, each in his own language.
So why the controversy? Simply put, there are still those who seek for a sign, some external proof that they are OK with God. If Jesus said that speaking in tongues would follow those who believe, doesn’t it follow that, if only I can speak in tongues, I will have proof that I am a genuine believer? So some Christians strive mightily to get the ability to speak in tongues, to prove to themselves and others that they have made it.
But this, says Paul, is not the purpose of the new tongues. They are a gift from the Holy Spirit to the whole church, and must be followed by a translation (often another member of the body) so that the entire church can be strengthened.
In the case of speaking new languages, as in every other gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, God’s gifts are intended to build up His whole Body, to serve His Purposes. It is the Holy Spirit, Paul says, who distributes the gifts as He alone sees fit.