June / July 2015 - Vol. 80
Updated Version May 19, 2015
Exercising the Charismatic Gifts of the Holy Spirit
tongues of fire at Pentecost 
The Holy Spirit's Gift of Tongues is for All
Who Believe in the Power of God

"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other
tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" - Acts 2:4

by Don Schwager

Tongues of Fire
The first signs of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were the visible tongues of fire and the audible gift of tongues which enabled the first Christian disciples to speak out in languages which they did not previously know.

What is the significance of the visible display of tongues of fire at the feast of Pentecost? The tongues of fire were a visible manifestation of the presence and power of God at work in and through the early disciples of Jesus who had gathered in the upper room in prayer on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:12-14 and 2:1-4). God gave each of them a tongue of fire to signify his immediate presence and power to change them and work through them in a new and mighty way.

Miraculous signs of fire were not unheard of in the Old Testament Scriptures. There are a number of occasions when God used fire to manifest his presence and power to his people. One example is the burning bush which Moses saw at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 3:1-6). This was a miraculous fire which continued to burn without consuming the bush and from which the voice of God could audibly be heard by Moses. Another key example is the Pillar of Fire by night and the Pillar of Cloud by day which guided the Israelites as they journeyed in the wilderness for forty years (Exodus 13:21-22, Exodus 40:38, Psalm 78:14). The Pillar of Fire and the Pillar of Cloud were a continual reminder and a vivid display of God's presence, protection, and guidance for his people.

This manifestation of God's continual presence with the Hebrew people in the wilderness points to the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to fill his followers with the Holy Spirit who would remain with them. Just as the Pillar of Fire and the Pillar of Cloud continued to guide the Hebrews throughout their journey in the wilderness until they reached the Promised Land, so, too, the Holy Spirit continually guides and gives light to God's people today as we journey to our homeland in heaven.

When the Temple was dedicated in Jerusalem the glory of God's presence was manifested in a cloud which filled the Temple and a fire was kept burning to remind the people of God's presence with them. Now God's presence comes to dwell in the people whom Jesus has redeemed and made holy through his blood shed for us on the cross. We are sealed in this new covenant blessing and grace through the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Paul the Apostle tells us that since the Holy Spirit now dwells within us both corporately and individually, we become living temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and Ephesians 2:19-22).

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues
Why did the miraculous fire which appeared on the Feast of Pentecost take the shape of a tongue above the head of each of the disciples (Acts 2:3)? The tongues of fire were a visible sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon each of the disciples and was immediately followed by the miraculous gift of speaking in other tongues or languages (Acts 2:4). The tongues of fire pointed to the purifying action and power of the Holy Spirit working in and through the disciples of Jesus. 

The gift of speaking in tongues was both for the benefit of the disciples and for the people they would witness to about the marvelous deeds of Jesus who came to save his people and to fill them with the Holy Spirit. The gift of speaking in other tongues is a sign of God purifying our tongues and anointing us with a spiritual gift which is given by the Holy Spirit. This charismatic gift enables us to pray and to speak the praises of God and to declare his mighty deeds in a new and direct way under the inspiration and action of the Holy Spirit who works in and through us for the glory of God.

This gift demonstrates how the charismatic gifts of the Spirit work in and through us under the anointing and leading of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit require our cooperation - God gives the gift and the power to exercise the gifts. We must then use the gifts as God directs so that they will bear fruit and accomplish what God intends. This is what happened on the day of Pentecost. The disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they all began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Why did they speak out in different and varied languages which they had not previously learned or known? God obviously wanted to manifest his presence and power through this new gift of speaking in unknown tongues or languages. That is why the Holy Spirit prompted them and compelled them to utter words beyond their own natural comprehension. They were given the supernatural ability to speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit words which only God could form as they yielded their physical tongues to the inspired "utterances of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4). The Holy Spirit gave them words of praise and revelation of the marvelous works of God and the glory of God. Thus through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the Father filled the  disciples of Jesus with the same glory which he and the Son share together with the Holy Spirit.

The miracle of speaking in tongues reverses the curse of Babel
What is the significance of the gift of speaking in other tongues? And why was this the first gift of the Spirit given to the disciples at Pentecost? Speaking in unknown tongues or languages normally causes confusion, misunderstanding, and division among peoples. At Pentecost God reversed the curse of the Tower of Babel where he had confused the rebellious peoples with diverse languages they could not comprehend (Genesis 11:1-11). God caused division and confusion at Babel as a curse and punishment for their rebellious pride and usurping of God's rightful authority and sovereignty over them. Now God reverses the curse of Babel by filling the disciples of Jesus with the fulness of his Spirit which enabled them to speak in diverse languages which they previously could not speak on their own - both heavenly angelic languages as well as many varied human languages. Strangely enough this diversity of unknown languages brought about a wonderful and harmonious work of unity as the disciples spoke and prayed under the inspiration and prompting of the Holy Spirit. 

The fact that the disciples did not know what strange language they were each speaking out did not hinder them from raising their voices loud enough for all the visitors from around who came rushing to hear what all the noise was about. Then the foreign-speaking peoples who were in Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost began to recognize in their own native language what the disciples were speaking out. Luke lists at least 14 different language and nation groups present when the apostles and other disciples began to speak out in foreign tongues (Acts 2:8-11).

The reaction of the bystanders was utter amazement. They thought the apostles had gotten drunk with wine even though it was still early morning - around 9:00 am! That is why the Apostle Paul would later write, "Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18).

This miraculous gift of speaking in unknown and strange languages now brings about a new kind of unity in the Holy Spirit that both purifies and unites all the diverse languages into a harmonious language of praise and revelation of God's glory among the human race. Now the languages of heaven - the angelic orders who sing their choruses of praise and worship - are united with the multitude and diversity of humans who praise and glorify God with diverse tongues and languages. This united chorus of angelic and human beings blend into a glorious chorus of praise, worship, adoration, and revelation of God's glory and majesty which shine through all of his creation - both spiritual and material, angelic and human.

The Holy Spirit unites and draws us to the Lord
The hallmark of the Holy Spirit's action is to always unite rather than to divide, to heal rather than harm, build up rather than tear down. The Holy Spirit does not drive people away but draws us into the presence of God. The Spirit gives us a direct immediate experiential knowledge of God's presence with us. The Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirit that the Father has raised his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, from the dead and and has exalted him at his right hand in heaven. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we can truly acknowledge that Jesus is Lord over the heavens and the earth - he is the Lord and Ruler over all his creation (1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11).

The gift of tongues is a sign of God's sovereign power to bring us into his presence and to unite our spirit with his Spirit in a chorus of praise, wonder, awe, reverence, glory, and exultation.

Exercising the gift of tongues today
Some scholars and teachers argue that the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of tongues, ceased with the death of the last apostle. The historical record of eyewitness testimonies of numerous people throughout the past 20 centuries give ample evidence of charismatic gifts and miraculous signs and wonders recorded in the lives of many saints, missionaries, martyrs, churches, and renewal movements.

The gift of tongues did not completely cease after the age of the early apostles. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the pentecostal and charismatic movements which began in the early 20th century, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the charismatic gifts have spread widely to many millions of people around the world (see Dr. Vinson Synan's article on The Century of the Holy Spirit - an historical account of the Pentecostal - charismatic renewal since January 1, 1901.) It is clearly the largest growing Christian movement worldwide.

Today many millions of people experience the charismatic gifts of the Spirit - including the gift of tongues. Modern skeptics who do not believe in miracles regard the "speaking in tongues" as mere babble or incoherent sounds. Paul the Apostle lists two kinds of tongues - the "tongues of  humans" and the "tongues of angels" (1 Corinthians 13:1). Who are we - mere mortals - to tell God that the gift of tongues is impossible or too impractical for modern skeptics and believers alike!

I have personally recognized some of the languages which people have unknowingly spoken out when they were praying in tongues or prophesying in tongues under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I have heard people I know personally pray out the Lord's Prayer (the Our Father) and other prayers in perfect Greek or in perfect Latin (two languages I had studied and learned to speak in university) - even though these people had no previous understanding or ability to speak these languages. When I told them what language they were praying out and translated the words of the prayers they were saying, they were completely dumbfounded and amazed.

I have also witnessed and have spoken with other observers who could identify the particular language and dialect uttered by people who were speaking in tongues they did not previously know. I remember very vividly on one occasion a visiting missionary who had been stationed for several years with a small isolated tribe in a remote section of Africa attended our Thursday evening charismatic prayer meeting. He was a professor who specialized in linguistics. During the course of the prayer meeting he distinctly heard someone close to him pray out loud in an obscure foreign language which he immediately understood and recognized to be from the remote tribe he lived with in Africa. The person who was praying in tongues was a university student who did not have any previous learning or facility for speaking in another language.

This professor had spent several years working with this particular tribe in order to deciper their language and translate the Bible into their native tongue. As far as he knew he was the only person outside this isolated tribe who had systematically studied their language and could understand it well. Now, thousands of miles away at a prayer meeting in the United States he hears a young American student pray a perfectly articulated prayer in this native tribal dialect. The visiting professor stood up in the prayer meeting and explained to everyone present what he had just heard and understood. He was absolutely convinced that this was a miracle and a sign God had used for his own personal edification.

In the past 45 years, since I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in January, 1969, I have prayed with thousands of people to receive a full release of the power of the Holy Spirit and for the gifts of the Spirit. Nearly everyone I have prayed with have received the gift of tongues during the prayer session for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. A few received the gift of tongues a few days or weeks later. I also know a few who refused to ask for the gift of tongues because they didn't want it. I am convinced that God wants this gift for everyone because it helps us to pray more easily and with greater expectant faith and conviction. The Holy Spirit knows better than we do how God wants us to pray and what he wants us to pray out and intercede for.

Paul the Apostle describes how the Spirit helps us pray:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

The Scriptures are full of examples of how the Lord opens our lips to praise him and to speak his word:

Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. (Psalm 51:15).

The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.(Isaiah 50:4)

Yielding to gifts of the Holy Spirit
If we desire to receive the gifts of the Spirit, then we must learn to yield to the Holy Spirit. Jesus instructed his disciples in how to pray with expectant faith for the gift of the Holy Spirit:

And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;  or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9–13)
The first step to yielding to the Holy Spirit is asking with expectant faith. If God makes a promise, do we expect him to fulfill his promise? If we ask him to give us something he wants us to have now and not later, then we ask with trust and with expectant faith that he will answer us as he has promised.

What do we ask for when we pray to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? We ask with expectant faith for a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives - for a full release of the gifts and power of the Spirit within us. We ask for the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation of tongues. We ask for the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of prophecy so we can speak his word to others as he leads us to speak to them. We ask for prophetic direction in being led by the Spirit to speak with certain individuals the Spirit wants us to speak with. And we ask for the Spirit to give us the words and message he wishes us to speak to others - especially in evangelizing and sharing our testimony with others.

Yielding to the gift of tongues
Paul the Apostle writes, "I would like every one of you to speak in tongues" (1 Corinthians 14:4). Learning how to yield to the gift of tongues is very beneficial for us. It is first and foremost a gift of prayer - a prayer that allows the Holy Spirit to pray in and through us for the glory of God (Romans 8:26–27).

The Acts of the Apostles explains how the first disciples of Jesus received the gift of tongues on Pentecost:

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).

Notice in this passage from Acts that "all were filled, not some." Each of the 120 disciples did something – they each spoke out in a language they did not previously know. As they began to speak out the Holy Spirit formed their speech into a new tongue or language they did not know. When we pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of tongues it is important that we first stop speaking out in our own language. We then speak out whatever sounds, syllables, and words the Holy Spirit begins to give us. As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, the new words in another language will flow from our lips as we allow the Spirit to speak through and within us for the glory of God. 

Learning to exercise spiritual gifts
Speaking out and praying in tongues is a cooperative work of the Holy Spirit and the individual who yields to the gift of the Spirit by speaking out with the new tongue the Spirit gives. Learning how to yield to the gift of tongues is an excellent way for learning how to yield to the other charismatic gifts of the Spirit. We ask with expectant faith. We yield ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We step out in faith by acting and speaking out as the Spirit leads us. 

Do you want to grow in yielding to the Holy Spirit and to the gifts the Spirit wishes to give you? Pray with other Christians who have experience and wisdom in exercising the gifts of the Spirit. Learn from those who are wise in discerning the spiritual gifts and who have experience in helping others grow in using the gifts of the Spirit. The Life in the Spirit Seminars is an excellent and proven way to learn how to yield to the Holy Spirit and gifts of the Spirit. 

[Three excellent books: Life in the Spirit and Life in the Spirit Seminar for Children by Jerry Munk, and Life in the Spirit Team Manual all available from Tabor House.]

See related articles: 
> Baptized in the Holy Spirit by Steve Clark
> Spiritual Gifts by Steve Clark

> Exercising the Prophetic Gifts of the Spirit by Bruce Yocum
> Forms of Prophecy by Bruce Yocum
> Clues for Evangelism by Joe Difato

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Don Schwager is a member of the Servants of the Word and author of the Daily Scripture Android App, Kairos Daily Meditation email subscription, and the Daily Scripture Readings and Meditations website
Don is also author of the book, Training in Excellence: How Godly Character Forms Strong, Mature Men and Women and Strengthens the Building of Communities for Generations to Come, 131 pages, published in 2014 by Kairos Publications. 
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