Gifts of the Holy Spirit



9. What is the utility of speaking in tongues?



Here is the answer.

Paul says to the Corinthians: “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries” (1 Corinthians 14:2 - NKJV). Therefore, since he who speaks in other tongues speaks to God, he does a useful thing. If speaking to God in our own tongue is a useful thing, how could speaking to God in an unknown tongue by the Spirit be considered a useless thing? But let us see what a believer says to God in other tongues since Paul says that he who speaks in the Spirit (or in other tongues) speaks mysteries (so he speaks things unknown both to him and the listeners). What are these mysteries? Paul says to the saints in Rome what these mysteries are; here are his words: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now he who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27 – NKJV). Therefore, these mysteries which are uttered in the Spirit (that is, in another tongue) are requests (prayers) made by the Spirit to God for the saints. That is confirmed by the fact that Paul calls speaking in an unknown tongue ‘praying in an unknown tongue,’ such as when he says: “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful” (1 Corinthians 14:14). Paul calls it also ‘praying in the Spirit,’ as he says: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:18); because when a believer speaks in an unknown tongue he prays to God by the Spirit. Many testimonies confirm this: for many believers on a certain day and at a certain hour of the day (sometimes even during the night) began to speak in other tongues because the Spirit suddenly began to pray for some believers who at that particular moment needed some particular things: obviously, those who spoke in other tongues did not know the needs of those for whom they prayed in the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit knew their needs because He knows everything. Therefore, speaking in an unknown tongue is nothing but a speaking by which a believer, by the Spirit, makes intercession for the saints without knowing their needs. Therefore it is a help which comes from the Spirit in the field of prayer. The point I want to stress is this: if a brother and his needs are unknown to us, the only way we can help him in prayer is the one I have just mentioned because the Holy Spirit Himself makes intercession for that brother. We can’t help him by praying to God with our understanding, as when we pray for a brother we know, because our understanding has its limits. In other words, since I don’t know that brother who has those particular needs I can’t pray to God for him; my knowledge has its limits, it is evident, and so I can’t pray for him. However, the Holy Spirit helps in our weaknesses (our lack of understanding and knowledge) and He Himself prays for that brother. That’s why Paul says: “Likewise the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought” (Romans 8:26 – NKJV). Nevertheless, it must be said that the Spirit can pray also for some brothers we know but whose needs are unknown to us.

Therefore – in the light of all this – it is clear that this spiritual manifestation is useful to the saints.

However, sometimes he who speaks in other tongues does other things, that is, he sings to God and gives thanks to God. This is confirmed by the following words of Paul: “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified” (1 Corinthians 14:15-17). Therefore, speaking in other tongues is useful also in the field of praise and thanksgiving unto God. In that the Holy Spirit does what a believer, beyond some limits, can’t do by relying upon his knowledge and understanding. The songs which are sung with the Spirit are spiritual songs.

There is something else, however, that must be said about the utility of speaking in tongues. Paul says that “tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22 – NKJV). What does he mean by that? He means that God uses speaking in tongues to show the unbelievers His greatness and power so that they might believe in the Gospel. In other words, God uses tongues to confirm the Gospel, just as He uses other signs, such as healings, miracles, and deliverances of people from the power of demons for the same purpose. For instance, on the day of Pentecost tongues were for a sign to those Jews from every nation under heaven who were staying in Jerusalem, for those Jews heard the disciples of the Lord speaking in their own tongues (that is, in the tongues of those Jews who heard the disciples of the Lord) the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:1-11). They were all amazed and perplexed because they knew that those who were speaking in their own tongues were Galileans, who did not know their tongues. And – as you know - after Peter told them that what they were seeing was the fulfilment of the words of the prophet Joel concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, and he preached to them the Gospel, many of them believed and were baptized. God still works in this way to lead some people to believe in the Gospel.