Speaking in Tongues

6 purposes of Tongues

The baptism of the Holy Spirit has a singular, primary purpose of empowering the believer for the task of witnessing locally, nationally, and globally. 1
At His initial encounter with the disciples gathered in the upper room, already in their 10th day of prayer, the Holy Spirit displayed three signs to these believers who were eagerly waiting for “it”, though they weren’t exactly sure what “it” was, or what “it” looked like. They were the sight of Fire, the sound of
wind, and the speech of speaking coherently in languages that were foreign to the disciples, but understandable to the listeners. Only the latter is identified in the additional experiences of this baptism in the Holy Spirit, and apparently without the miracle of bystanders understanding. Yet, a review of the rest of Acts, and the letters of Paul would indicate that this tongues speaking became the norm of the New Testament church. 2
I suggest there are 6 specific purposes, all explicitly spelled out in Scripture, for this supernatural gift.

Proof that you’ve received the promised gift. This is the aspect of this sign that Pentecostal believers, especially those of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and their sister fellowships around the globe,
are most noted for. Peter’s confidence in God’s acceptance of even those who were not God’s people, the non-Jews, exclusively rested on this point. Two chapters of Acts are devoted to God’s preparation of Peter, and the resulting response of Peter, to His inclusion of the Gentiles regarding this sign. Peter concluded, and then convinced the Jews back in Jerusalem, not only that God had given the “gift of the Holy Spirit” to
these Gentiles, but also salvation, proven by his suggestion that they be baptized with water as well. 3
I was recently asked if I believed that tongues were the only initial evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The suggestion was that the other supernatural gifts could also be evidence of the Holy Spirit’s baptism. I believe that tongues were the Biblical initial evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
I suggest it’s still available and still necessary today. Not only do we still need the power -- we still need the proof.

An evangelistic tool when the tongue is known to the bystander. The sudden jump in early church attendance, from 120 to 3120 was clearly influenced by this miracle of the “Galileans” speaking fluently in native languages of 15 other nations. 4
I see no evidence that this aspect is repeated in the New Testament, and I am sure it was not present in the Church in Corinth, for Paul clearly stated that “his mind was unfruitful”, and that “no one understands him.”5 More pointedly, “you will just be speaking into the air.”6
I was thrilled recently when I read of an account where a speaker witnessed to a foreigner in a language previously unknown to him, but fully understood by both the speaker and the hearer during the encounter. It still happens today! This two way, miraculous communication has a Biblical precedence, but is not a Biblical standard.

Personal edification through spirit-to-Spirit prayer. This is the one that I believe we need the most focus on, as modern day Pentecostals. This gift is not a trophy to mark a spiritual level of arrival, but a daily spiritual drink that will build you up – if you don’t leave it in the fridge! John’s footnote is very explicit regarding what the living water offered by Jesus consisted of. “By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”7
Paul clarifies this aspect of speaking in tongues when he states, “He who speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself…”. No wonder he adds “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all”. 8

Corporate edification when interpreted. Tongues are inferior to prophecy in the corporate climate of church because "the one who prophesies builds up the church." 9
Paul's driving admonition to this gift laden congregation is "strive to excel in building up the church." It is only when the unknown tongue is interpreted in the known language, that "the church may be edified.” 10

A supernatural sign to unbelievers.
This goes hand in hand with the second one mentioned above, identifying the evangelistic aspect to tongues. But it is not identical, because the utterance referred to in 1 Corinthians, where Paul clarifies that “Tongues are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers”11 does not include the bystanders understanding the message as in Acts 2. Yet, even without understanding the message, they recognize something supernatural is occurring. The resulting admonition to the Corinthian church is to ensure order is maintained, or the conclusion may not be that this is supernatural, but rather that “you are out of your
mind”. 12 

Powerful, personal prayer - bypassing the mind.
This aspect of tongues helps to capture the essence of it. It is prayer, spirit-to-Spirit, capturing the
aspect of “living water” mentioned in the earlier reference to it in John’s gospel.13
But it bypasses the mind of the believer. Note that although the mind is “unfruitful”, both the
spirit and the will are active. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind.” 14
I have found this facet of tongues has relevance in three expressions of prayer.
When I pray, and simply don’t know some pertinent details about a particular situation, or don’t know specifically what to pray, I find tremendous freedom to pray with fervor 15,
even when I can’t pray with significant understanding 16.
Secondly, in cross cultural missions ministry, when every communication between our team from Canada and the Nationals with whom we are ministering is done through interpreters, there is a refreshing release of freedom in prayer, when both they and we revert to our heavenly prayer languages. And thirdly, in the midst of crisis, when once again we find ourselves praying with extreme emotional involvement, but
uncertainty as to God’s will, this prayer that engages both our will and spirit while bypassing our logic is a form of prayer that I’m most grateful for. As I offered first aid to a precious friend and deacon while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, recognizing the seriousness of the life-threatening injuries he had received in the accident, including his flailing chest wound, that we later learned had punctured his lungs, I overheard his wife, and his daughter, pacing along the shoulder of the road and calling his grandchildren to “Just pray in tongues! Just pray in tongues!” In the wreckage of what had been his van, I was comforted knowing three generations were beseeching God on Brian’s behalf in a powerful, personal prayer language that
didn’t require them to understand.

Perhaps that encapsulates the message for us today – Just pray in tongues!


1 Lk. 24:48-49, Acts 1:8

2 Acts 10:45,46; 19:6, 1 Cor. 14:5, 15,
18, 26, Eph. 6:18

3 Acts 10:45-47; 11:15-17

4 Acts 1:15, 2:7-8, 41

5 1 Cor. 14:14,2

6 1 Cor. 14:9

7 Jn. 7:37-39

8 1 Cor. 14:4,18

9 1 Cor. 14: 3,5,19

10 1 Cor. 14:5

11 1 Cor. 14:22

12 1 Cor. 14:23

13 Jn. 4:24

14 1 Cor. 14:14-15

15 James 5:16 KJV

16 Ro. 8:26


Edson Family Worship Centre

6350 13 Avenue | Edson | Alberta