Do I Have to Speak in Tongues?

You have probably been in a fellowship meeting, and as the singing session gets intense, you suddenly hear the people burst out into what we biblically would call ‘speaking in tongues.’ What you hear at the time is gibberish, unintelligible speech. Men and women walk around with lifted arms, shouting at the top of their voices in tongues. Others are probably on the floor, crying and, in some instances, rolling over. Later, the man of God will come and state that they have had a mighty move of God as evidenced by the speaking in tongues.

Another example would be a mighty man of God coming, and at the end of his message, he says that God wants to fill his people with power; everyone is challenged to express the evidence of God’s move in the meeting. And how is this done, you ask? By speaking in tongues. But that is not the biggest problem. It is only the beginning, as we shall learn later. Sometimes, the preacher man will start a practical lesson on speaking in tongues for those who are not yet speaking in tongues. The participants may be encouraged to let their tongues loose, open their mouths, and say something. I have personally gone through this experience at some point, and I was considered hard of heart and in bondage because I didn’t get the gist of just opening my mouth to speak a ‘heavenly language’ under the tutelage of my then pastor. Now, what can one gather from these scenarios?

What really is this thing called ‘speaking in tongues,’ and what does the Bible say about it? Can we know for sure when God is at work? Does every born-again believer have to speak in tongues?

Biblical Evidence

The Promise of Christ

Jesus, in one instance recorded in Mark 16:17, said that speaking in tongues would be among the signs that would follow the believer’s life. This promise was given before Pentecost. We shall follow through with this verse to establish whether it is mandatory for all believers. For now, please note that there was a promise from the Lord about the reality and activity of the gift of tongues in men. 

The Day of Pentecost

The first instance of speaking in tongues is on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. After the ascension of Christ (Luke 24:50-51, Mark 16:19, Acts 1:1-11), the disciples gathered in the upper room upon instruction as they awaited the promised Holy Spirit. On the material day, after the tongues of fire, the apostles proclaimed the gospel boldly to the crowds who had gathered, speaking in the tongues/ languages of those who heard them. An important note here is that the apostles were Jewish by descent. Still, they could be heard proclaiming the great works of God in the languages of the Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians (Acts 2:9-11). This was clearly not empty babbling. 

Secondly, whether all 120 spoke in tongues is arguable, for we are told all were filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues. Notice that the languages cited in the scripture were less than twenty places. But we are told the men who heard were from The Greek word translated “tongues,” which means “languages.” Therefore, the gift of tongues manifests when one speaks in a language they have never learned to minister to a native of that language. 

The Gentile Believers

Another place where we see this gift poured out is in the house of Cornelius (Acts 19:6). Here, it is recorded that they ‘spoke in tongues and magnified God. We know that these two things happened among those who were there in the house of Cornelius. During Peter’s preaching in Macedonia, the Gentiles spoke in tongues and extolled God. Paul, in Acts 19:6, lays his hands on the Ephesian believers, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. We must see that the scripture does not simply say they spoke in tongues alone but adds the conjunction ‘and’ to speaking in tongues. As we asked earlier, should we make it a blanket rule that all must speak in tongues if they are believers? Scripture says they also prophesied, magnified God, and extolled Him. This is expounded on in the next segment. 

Different Gifts of the Spirit 

The foundational truth is captured in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 where Paul captures the truth about the spiritual gifts; different gifts come from the same Spirit. God is intentional in building up his body, and he gave his church a variety of gifts. We must note that the scriptures do not teach about the monopoly of spiritual gifts. No one saint can claim to have control of or have all the gifts listed in the scriptures. He gives generously to all his children for the common good of the body (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 29-30). 

Recently, we have seen an emphasis on this particular gift of speaking tongues such that, in Kenya, you would be considered spiritually weak if you cannot speak in tongues. Notice that the sister gift to tongues–the interpretation of tongues–is not mentioned much among those who will insist that speaking in tongues is a must for all saints. Is it not valid for us to demand interpretation classes if we have tongues training? We must mention as well that where there is no interpretation of tongues, for the sake of Church order–as required in scripture, one should not speak loudly but silently and away from others for it becomes unnecessary noise (1 Corinthians 14:26-28). We ought to ask the question ‘why.’ Otherwise, we will sadly find ourselves in non-God-glorifying situations.

The Body of Christ is One 

We also need to note that the spiritual gifts are only given to members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12), which is one. There are no other bodies of Christ. Therefore, when God gives the gifts of the Spirit, he does it so that they can benefit the members of this body. It is uncalled for then to deem another saint weak because they do not possess a particular spiritual gift or to consider oneself superior because you have some gifts (1 Corinthians 12:21-25). Paul says that you are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), which implies that we have a responsibility to each other. The Biblical mind cannot think in terms of superiority on account of gifts because there is a deep realization of how the body of Christ functions in humility (1 Corinthians 12:25) and honour. 

Many Gifts, One Body

We have noted that the reason for this distribution is the good of all (1 Cor. 12:7). He says, “To each is given,” and then adds in 1 Corinthians 12:8, “For to one is given…”. These phrases teach that the gifts of God are many, and he has gifted each believer differently. No one gift is superior to the others in terms of the building of the body of Christ. For this, it is unscriptural to claim the one gift that all believers should possess is the speaking of tongues, knowing full well that the Spirit of God gives these gifts as ‘He wills’ and not as we want (1 Corinthians 12:11, John 3:27, Romans 12:6, Ephesians 4:7). How can a man claim to have the know-how to train others how to do that which God has explicitly called ‘his work’ and ‘his gift’? It is a contradiction and a distortion of biblical theology and inspired truth. 

Should all Saints Speak in Tongues?

The instances cited beg an answer to the question above. As earlier stated, I was tagged hard-hearted because I refused to fall for the usual ‘don’t think about it too much… open your mouth and let your tongue loose…’ gymnastics from a pastor. What does the Bible say about this matter? The straightforward answer is found in 1 Corinthians 12:28-31, where Paul asks some good questions: Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all interpret? Do all speak in tongues? The answer to these questions does not need much thinking, for it is a straight-up ‘no’. Therefore, no, you do not have to speak in tongues. Not every Christian will speak in tongues, and you don’t have to do that in order to prove you’re a Christian. There are other proofs that prove you’re a Christian, but speaking in tongues is not one.

The place of the saint is to desire that the Lord would gift them and that, for the sake of the building up of the body of Christ. We must also know that whenever we use spiritual gifts for our selfish gain, it goes against the purpose of God for the sake of the unity and maturity of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:12). Essentially, the spiritual gifts are by God and from God and for God’s glory. 

Let those who believe in the sufficiency and authority of scripture submit to it to the latter. God is glorified when we make much of him even in matters gifts of the spirit. May God guide us unto his will even as we desire the gifts of the Spirit. Amen. 

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