Why Pray in Tongues?

By Mark Greenwood 2003

First let me say that love is more important than speaking in tongues. However this article is specifically about speaking in tongues in order to try and answer some of the genuine questions many people have about this gift.

 Let me also say that Ephesians chapter 4 is not talking about spiritual manifestation, the charisma gifts, which are endowed on believers by the operation of the Holy Spirit but rather Ephesians 4 is about the gifts of ministerial office given by Jesus Christ.

 Tongues of course is part of the gifts of the Spirit to believers.

 Why does the devil deride the use of this beautiful and most precious gift?

 Why does he undermine its use?

 Why does he copy it?

 Jesus said, “These signs shall follow those that have believed: in my Name they shall ---speak with new tongues” (Mark 16 v 17). This is one of several signs that may be used to witness to the believer.

 The Apostle Paul said,

 “Do all speak in tongues?” The answer is obviously no. (1 Corinthians 12 v 30)

 “I would that you all did speak in tongues”, (1 Corinthians 14 v 5)

 “I speak in tongues more than you all”. (1 Corinthians 14 v18)

 “Forbid not to speak with tongues”. (1 Corinthians 14 v 39)

 I think that this is one of the most beautiful gifts that the Holy Spirit has given the believer for his own personal edification and building up of his spirit.

When a person is baptised in the Holy Spirit then the tongue is the vehicle that is used to release the expression of feeling that is building up like a river about to burst its dams.  As the known language is inadequate to give the fullest expression of love, adoration and praise to God that is now flowing from the lips of the one baptised in the Spirit, then they naturally flow into speaking their praise in unknown languages.

After their initial baptism, this “new tongue” or language is given the believer in order to exercise their spirit in private prayer, what Paul calls “praying with the spirit” (1 Corinthians 14 v 14-15).  This praying with the spirit builds up the person in their spirit and can bring them to a place where they are praying “in the Spirit”.  When the gift of tongues is used in the church where it is followed by an interpretation then the person operating the gift of tongues needs to be speaking from a place “in the Spirit”, and not just exercising themselves by speaking in tongues.

To be “in the Spirit” is different from just praying in an unknown language (praying with the spirit).  Praying in an unknown language can, however, bring us to a place of “praying in the Spirit” in an unknown language.

The Apostle John said he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1 v 10).  To be in the Spirit means to be in a place where everything else fades into the background.  We are in the presence of God to hear what He is saying or to speak out the words which He would have us to speak.  We are burdened to pray what the Spirit is saying, as we speak, the words of the Spirit flow through us ministering to all who hear or reaching the very throne of God as incense of intercession before the throne.  Yes, it is our lips and our speech but the words are the words of the Spirit. 

Some confuse “praying with the spirit” with “praying in the Spirit”. They may happen together but there is a difference between their meaning.  Praying with the spirit is praying with our spirit (notice the small “s”), praying in the Spirit is praying in the Holy Spirit (notice the capital “S”.

 Prayer is a general thing that a Christian does, praying for kings, those in authority and for people to be saved.  Sometimes the Spirit of the Lord so burdens us that we intercede for someone in the power of the Spirit.  This is praying in the Spirit.  A person praying in the Spirit is not necessarily praying in tongues.  Praying in the Spirit is part of our spiritual armour (Ephesians 6 v 18, Jude v 20).

 Where the gifts are used in the church and for the benefit of the church then prophesy is a greater gift as it edifies the assembly.  When the church comes together for fellowship then the gifts are to be used for the edifying and the profit of the saints. On its own the gift of tongues will only edify the person using this gift (1 Corinthians 12 v 4) therefore it is better to prophecy in the assembly than speak in tongues.

 Where the gift of tongues is used in the church then it would seem that it is usually certain ones who get used in this gift, which is then followed by an interpretation. It is also certain ones that seem to be used in interpretation, in fact Paul says that if there isn’t an interpreter present (someone with the gift of interpreting), then let those who usually ministers to the assembly in tongues, be silent as far as the assembly goes. Let him speak to himself and God. How do we know that there is no interpreter present? Well, common sense and scripture say that if no one has interpreted after two or three messages in tongues then you have the witness that there is no interpreter present. Two or three witnesses are the required number in scripture to confirm anything. If there is an interpreter present then once again two or three interpretations will be sufficient to witness what God is speaking to the church.

Paul says that in a church meeting messages in tongues should be limited to two or three in turn with one interpreter.  This could mean that after three consecutive messages in tongues there needs to be an interpretation (if this doesn’t happen then others with the gift of tongues should be silent).  It could also mean, let only one person interpret all the message, in turn, after each one has been given.  Or, it could mean that only one person should interpret each message rather than several people interpreting the same message. This would allow for three different people being used to interpret three different messages in tongues.

The prophets should also speak in turn.  If someone seated gets a prophesy while one is speaking then the one speaking should be silent before the second one speaks.  The prophets are also limited to two or three and the others should judge. 

To pray with the spirit to God when in a church meeting means to pray quietly without disturbing others.  To pray loudly in tongues can cause offence and bring the gift into disrepute. 

 When a message in tongues is given in the church it does not necessarily have to be interpreted word for word but the interpretation could be a response from God to the prayer in tongues of the saint. 

 Paul himself said that “I thank God I speak in tongues more than all of you, BUT, in the assembly I desire to speak five words with my understanding, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14 v 18-19). What he is saying here is that although he speaks in tongues more than all of them, when the assembly comes together he would rather speak in the language they understand.

 If he doesn’t speak in tongues to the assembly, yet speaks in tongues more than any of them, then it is obvious that he prays in tongues in his private times of prayer.

 So, there are four uses of this gift that I can think of. One is the initial release of expression in worship and praise to God that often happens when a person is baptized in the Holy Spirit, the second one is as a witness to the unbelievers who hear and know the language that is being spoken, the third is when it is used in the assembly of believers (along side the gift of interpretation of course), and the fourth is when it is used in private prayer between the person using it and God, rather than as a message for the whole assembly.

 So, we can understand the devil being so against this gift and so bent on destroying its use amongst Christians.

 But why do many Christians treat this gift with contempt?

 In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14 v 5), Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that he desires that all speak with tongues. If then it is God's will and desire for all to speak in tongues, why do many reject and despise God's will in this area? In the same chapter verse 39, Paul, still inspired by the Holy Spirit, says, " do not forbid the speaking with tongues ", yet some Christians, while not forbidding others to speak with tongues, refuse outright to allow themselves to speak in tongues. They knowingly, willingly and intentionally resist God's will by refusing this gift for themselves. These are not to be confused with those who desire God's will yet have not spoken in tongues.

I do think that if a person desires to speak in tongues they should be baptised in the Holy Spirit first.  These days there are many people who are speaking in tongues but they haven’t received the Spirit.  They give a message in tongues to the church and there is no spiritual witness behind it.  If someone give an interpretation this is also void of any spiritual witness.  When someone is baptised in the Spirit they learn to distinguish between the flesh and spirit and between praying with the spirit and praying in the Spirit.

 As a person uses this gift between himself and God, he edifies himself. This gift that the Lord has given to believers is one of the ways that the Christian can exercise his spirit and so build himself up spiritually in his relationship with God. The word 'edify', which is used here by Paul in relation to tongues and the person using this gift (1 Corinthians 14 v 4) means, according to Vine, "The act of building, the promotion of spiritual growth". Strong's concordance also says that it means to build up. Paul says that when we pray to God in tongues we are praying with our spirit (1 Corinthians 14 v 14-15). In other words we are exercising our spirit in prayer, building ourselves up in the spirit.

 However one of the greatest benefits and uses of this beautiful gift is in worshipping God (no wonder the devil hates it). The bible says that they who worship Him will worship Him in Spirit and Truth. How can we worship God in the Spirit unless it is also with our spirit? Anyone who has worshipped God with the use of the gift of tongues will also, with Paul, thank God for this gift.

 Paul says “I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray also with the understanding; I will sing with the spirit, but I will sing also with the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14 v 15).

 To praise and worship God with the understanding is limited to our vocabulary. To bless Him with the spirit (in unknown tongues) gives us far greater expression of our love and adoration than which we humans are normally capable of. How can anyone tell God they don’t want it?

 When we are praying specific prayers of supplication we often don't know how we should pray. We don't know what the will of God is. However the Holy Spirit does. When we pray with the spirit and not with the understanding we are giving the Holy Spirit a channel to flow through in supplications according to the will of God. No wonder the devil opposes this gift.

 Now, we can see why Satan would knock this beautiful gift when it is used to build the believer up spiritually, and help him to worship God and intercede for the saints.