I received the following question a couple of weeks ago via the Question Box on our congregation’s website, www.Plymouth-church.com, where I have answered an average of 2 questions per week for the past four years.
The short, quick answer is, “No.”
Corinth was a church where confusion reigned. Part, but not all, of that confusion was because many of the members of that congregation elevated speaking in tongues to something God never meant it to be. They seemed to be boasting of the ability to speak in tongues and disrupting the assembly of the church to “show off” their gift. By doing so, they exalted themselves instead of Christ.
In Paul’s first epistle to them, he dealt with speaking in tongues in two chapters (12 & 14), wrapped around a plea to them to “desire earnestly the more excellent gift.” While he did not forbid them to speak in tongues, he did strongly discourage them. In chapter 13, he even said that tongues would cease.
Whereas today, many say that speaking in tongues is the sign of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that. Instead, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul said that tongues are a sign for unbelievers.
When the assembled crowd on Pentecost, who did not believe in Jesus, heard those who had received the Spirit glorifying God in their own languages, they marveled and wondered what was happening. This opened the door for Peter to preach the good news to these unbelievers, and three thousand of them received his message and were baptized that day.
Similarly, when God through the Spirit sent Peter to the home of Cornelius (Acts 10 & 11), when that Gentile assembly began speaking in tongues, the Jews accompanying him (who did not believe the gospel was for Gentiles as well as Jews) were astonished. Peter, who had already received a vision from God on this matter, asked them, “Who can forbid water that these should not be baptized?” When he returned to Jerusalem, the church called on Peter to explain himself. He had gone to Gentiles; he had eaten with them; he had baptized them. What was he thinking? These disciples of Jesus obviously did not believe Gentiles had any part in the good news of Jesus. When Peter explained that God had given the Gentiles the gift of tongues, the assembled church rejoiced that God had granted repentance unto life even to the Gentiles.
In each of those instances, unbelievers were convinced by the sign. No where, though, does Scripture call speaking in tongues the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it was one of the spiritual gifts – but it was not “the more excellent gift.”
In fact, in in 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul wrote that we all are baptized by (literally “in”) one Spirit.” Later, toward the end of the chapter, he asked a series of rhetorical questions, all of which should be answered, “No.” One of these was, “Do all speak in tongues?” It was just after this series of questions that he said he wanted to show them a more excellent way – the way of love.
When people boasted over others because of tongues, they were not walking in love. They were not following the greatest commands of our Lord: to love God with all our being and to love ones neighbor as you love yourself.
Too much focus on things such as speaking in tongues tends to turn us away from truly following Jesus. Hence, Paul played tongues down as an important spiritual gift. In fact, in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians he elevated the message spoken above the experience of speaking in tongues, for he commanded them not to speak in tongues if there were no interpreter present. He said he would rather speak 5 intelligible words than 10,000 words in a tongue no one could understand.
Why the difference? Five words you understand can edify you; “God loves you; love Him” can build you up. Ten thousand words you do not understand do not build you up – except perhaps in your own eyes.
In my own experience I have seen the truth in what Paul taught. I have seen people who speak in tongues look at others as “inferior” Christians because they do not share that experience. Today, some are even teaching that unless you speak in tongues, you do not have the Holy Spirit and you are not going to heaven. This is exactly the kind of thing Paul was fighting against in the Corinthian congregation of God’s church.
The true evidence of the presence of the Spirit is in the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-24. When we walk in the Spirit, we demonstrate that we are children of God as we glorify Him in our lives.