The Rector’s sermon for July 23, 2017 



Week 9 of 16 –Speaking in tongues, Interpreting tongues – including slides #57—62    



Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43


(SLIDE #57)    For the past eight weeks we have been on a spiritual journey together.  I believe this journey was ordained by the Spirit for no other reason other than it was time.  Time for what?  Time to take another step into the future, to look at those things that will make us better Christians, to latch on to those gifts that will equip us to do the work God has given us to do. 


You will have a two-Sunday break while I’m away, and I hope you take that time to see where we’ve been and begin to determine what gifts God has given you.  There are “Summary Sheets” in the Narthex for you to take home and hopefully fill out at the end of our study.


Today we’re going to look at two more gifts that create the greatest confusion, misunderstanding and misuse of any of the gifts of the Spirit.  Those gifts are Speaking in tongues, and Interpreting tongues.  (SLIDE #58)



(ecstatic utterance—glossolalia)

A grouping of sounds or an unknown language

whereby the words are only understood by God



A gift that allows a person to interpret the words

or sounds of someone with the gift of tongues


The gifts of tongues—sometimes referred to as ecstatic utterance—glossolalia—whatever it’s called—let’s be honest about it.  Those who have the gift think it’s wonderful; ask them!  Some who don’t have the gift—and don’t want that gift, think it’s crazy, that it’s fake, that it makes no sense.   Wherever you stand, whatever your thoughts, I hope today will help you understand these gifts a little better.


First of all, what is the Gift of Tongues?   It’s a language or a grouping of sounds that is unknown to the person speaking them, yet it comes from the Spirit and is known to God.  It’s also called “Praying in the Spirit.”  One woman described it this way: “You’re not really out of control.  But you have no control over what’s happening.  You’re just flowing in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”   When is it used?  It can be used in private prayer or it can be used in a public setting; however, Scripture says that if it is used in a public setting someone with the gift of interpreting must be there. 


As crazy as it may seem, the gift of tongues is real; it’s genuine.  Now, you might be thinking:  What’s the point if you don’t know what you’re saying?  And that’s a good question.  But if you think about the gift of “worship” that we talked about a few weeks ago, this gift is about the worship of God.  And if you think about our purpose in life:  it’s primarily to worship God.  There is a story about a man who complained that he didn’t like the hymns for a particular Sunday, and the minister replied, “That’s okay.  We weren’t singing them for you.  We were singing them to God.”  Well, the same answer applies here.  Just as our Sunday hymns are meant to give praise and glory to God, whether you sing all the right notes or words or whether or not youlike the hymns, so too speaking in tongues is meant to give praise and glory to God, whether we understand it or like it.  Its main purpose is to glorify God and bring his people closer to Him.


While some of us might dismiss the gift of tongues as crazy, there is actual neuroscience to back it up.  Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues.  What they found was the part of the brain, which controls what people do, was quiet; so were the language centers.  In other words, the part of the brain that should have been active because something was happening wasn’t active.  They also found that the area involved in maintaining self-consciousness was active, which proved that the women were not in a trance.  And there was no indication of which region, which part of the brain, was driving their speaking.  So the researchers did another test.  They looked at two blood-flow images of the women’s brains:  one while they sang a gospel song and the other, while they were speaking in tongues.  When comparing the two images, they found pinpoint blood-flow peaks and valleys only when the women were speaking in tongues and they were unable to explain it. 


Now there are some who feel that speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues are the greatest gifts.  That’s not true.  There are those who say that because those two gifts are the last of the original nine gifts identified in 1 Corinthians they must be the least of all the gifts.  That’s not true either.  The reason they are identified last is because while all the other gifts appear in the Old Testament, these two gifts appear for the first time at Pentecost which of course is in the book of Acts in the New Testament.   If you remember, before Jesus ascended into heaven, he said to his disciples:  Don’t leave the city.  I am sending you a Helper, a Comforter, and when he comes he will teach you all things…  So they wait in the upper room—for about nine days—and on that first Pentecost, Scripture says:  “They were all together in one place, and suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  And all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”  Now Scripture goes on to say that it’s the Feast of Passover and thousands of people were in Jerusalem.  They were down below in the courtyard and they heard strange sounds that they did not understand…and it was 9 o’clock in the morning!  Scripture says they asked each other if the sounds they were hearing were coming from people in the upper room who were drinking….  But the disciples weren’t drinking.  What they heard was probably a “prayer language.” (SLIDE #59)



(a form of praying in tongues)


A form of prayer whereby the pray-er speaks to God alone

in a form or language that only God can understand


A prayer language known to God alone is one of the two manifestations of the gift of tongues—words of prayer that only God understands, and is obviously something a person uses privately between that person and God.   It’s given solely to glorify God and bring that individual closer to Him.  Such a gift can come at times of extreme highs or extreme lows.  For example, on that first Pentecost, it makes perfect sense that at that huge moment of fear and uncertainty for the disciples that God would bless them with a moment of intimacy that comes with speaking in tongues to Almighty God.  Many years ago a prayer language was explained to me this way:  there are times when a person wants to pray but there are no words, perhaps because they are experiencing a crisis and they don’t know how to pray.  It could be a time when they are so happy and blessed that they can find no words to praise God and thank him for whatever blessings they have received. 


Another way God uses the gift of tongues is to allow a person to speak a real language (SLIDE #60), a language they’ve never learned or spoken before…

A “real” language

Sometimes God will give a person the ability to speak

A real language that the person had never learned

In order to bring someone else close to Him


…and it’s for the sole purpose of bringing someone else closer to God.  You might wonder how that works.  Well, there’s a story of a young man who had married a Japanese girl while stationed in Japan with the Armed Forces.  The young couple returned to the United States, and were doing well, except that the young lady flatly resisted her husband’s Christian faith and held steadfastly to her Buddhism.  One night, after an evening service, the couple was at the altar, he praying to God, and she praying to Buddha.  Next to them was kneeling a middle-aged woman, a housewife from the community.  As this woman began to pray out loud in tongues, suddenly the Japanese woman grabbed her husband’s arm, and she whispered excitedly:  “Listen!  This woman speak to me in Japanese!  She say to me:  ‘You have tried Buddha, and he does you no good; why don’t you try Jesus Christ?’”  The young Japanese lady went on to say that the woman was not speaking in ordinary Japanese but in temple Japanese, and that she used the Japanese woman’s whole name which no one in the United States knew!   The young Japanese woman became a Christian shortly thereafter.


Going back to the story of that first Pentecost the passage says that the people began to hear “in their own language.”  Whatever the apostles were saying the first time they heard it—when they thought they were drunk—now Scripture says they understood “in their own language.”  That could mean the apostles were speaking many different languages or that the thousands of people in the courtyard that morning were given the gift of interpretation.   But it really doesn’t matter which it was.  The point is the Holy Spirit descended that day, Peter preached an amazing sermon about the power of Jesus and the cross and the resurrection, and thousands were baptized.   Thousands of people were brought closer to the Lord through the gifts of tongues and interpretation.


Now there is one other thing unique to the gift of tongues: this gift is the only gift with limits.  (SLIDE #61). 




Can ALWAYS be used privately


Is used in public ONLY

when an interpreter is present


Paul says it in Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:39-40):  The gift of tongues used in public will only build up the body of Christ if an interpreter is present.  In other words, if you think you need to share the gift of tongues in the middle of a worship service, you’d better discern correctly that there is an interpreter present before you open your mouth.  Otherwise—Paul says—keep quiet, because all that will happen is other worshipers will be disturbed, there will be a disruption in a place of worship, the glory will not be given to God, and the act of speaking in tongues in a public worship service in effect says, “Look at me.  I have the gift of tongues!”   There is much responsibility on our part to use correctly any of the gifts of the Spirit.


On a personal note, back in the eighties, I attended a five-week Lenten program on the Gifts of the Spirit at my church.  Speaking in Tongues, Interpreting Tongues, and Prophecy were called the “showy gifts.”  Makes sense:  if one has any of those gifts, one knows without a shadow of a doubt that they had a gift of the Spirit, unlike all the other gifts which are really a determination that one makes on their own:  i.e., I do things for other people, therefore I must have the gift of helps…or I give to a lot of people, so I must have the gift of generosity.  Most of the Gifts of the Spirit are really a conclusion that we come to after studying the descriptions and definitions of each gift.  But these three gifts—tongues, interpretation, and prophecy—would mean without a shadow of a doubt, I would have the Spirit present in my life.  I prayed for five weeks for the gift of tongues.  I watched as other people received that gift, and I couldn’t understand why…not…me.  I prostrated myself on the floor and prayed.  Nothing happened.  I did go to our chapel and was prayed for by a Deacon who asked me to pray and speak whatever came to mind.  But no matter what I did, it didn’t feel right.  I finally came to the realization that I told you in the beginning of this series:  God gives gifts to his people according to their needs and how he can be glorified in the best way.  Obviously that gift wasn’t what God had for me, and in retrospect, I wanted it for the wrong reason.  (SLIDE #62).


Tongues and Interpretation

Proven through scientific evidence

A personal prayer language

A public manifestation with translation

But most importantly…

God manifesting His love and

supernatural power


So, we add two more gifts to our list.   Tongues and Interpretation are real because there is scientific evidence to prove it.   Speaking in tongues is a form of prayer and praise that is used personally and on occasion it can be used in public when an interpreter is present.  But most importantly these gifts are two more ways in which God manifests His power and love to His children.  


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