Gifts of The Spirit —Discerning Spirits, Tongues, and Interpretation

Gifts of The Spirit —Discerning Spirits, Tongues, and Interpretation June 1, 2009

So far I have shared a transciption from my recent sermon of my general thoughts on the gifts, on the word of wisdom and word of knowledge, and on miracles, faith, and healing. Today we move to discerning of spirits, tongues and interpretation.

This is a gift of recognizing the work of the enemy, but also recognizing the work of God. Sometimes I think we panic. Could it be the devil? Could it be God? Actually, God gives us this gift so that we can tell where the spirits come from. Of course, one of the key ways to tell is (as we see in 1 Corinthians 12), that no one can declare Jesus is Lord by a demon and mean it. It doesn’t happen. That’s one of the ways to tell.

But there’s also that sense that something is not quite right. Sometimes you will meet somebody and you have a God-given concern. Actually, it can work the other way, too. You’ll meet somebody and you’ll think, “I think you’re a Christian, aren’t you?” Have you ever had that experience? I’ve had that experience. That’s discernment of spirits. We need to be careful not to quench that experience as it is a vital gift from the Spirit.

Paul talks about different kinds of tongues. The Bible is quite clear about this. There are various places where tongues can happen. Tongues occur in a private setting, in an evangelistic setting (in Acts 2), and here in 1 Corinthians 12 in the context of a public church meeting, a time where there are visitors present—people who are not Christians. Paul has some things to say about how tongues should be used in a more public context.

It seems that tongues can sometimes be real languages that people understand, and that’s what happens in Acts 2. But here in 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about tongues and he expects that no one will be able to understand. He doesn’t say in 1 Corinthians 14 “when you speak in a tongue, maybe there will be Frenchman in the audience and he will understand what you’re saying.” He doesn’t say that. What he says is, “When you speak in a tongue, nobody will be able to understand”—unless what is listed as the ninth gift of the Holy Spirit happens, which is the interpretation of tongues. This is a supernatural gift of being able to understand what someone is saying in a tongue, and that’s very important, particularly when tongues are spoken out loud in a context like this, for you all to hear.

It’s a bit different when it’s just you speaking to God, maybe even sometimes when we’re together, because we sometimes all speak out to God individually, praying with one voice as they did in Acts 4:24. This verse when seen in the context of other “crowd speaking” verses in Acts does not mean that they all chanted a single prayer, but that they all prayed different prayers together and those words summarize the intent. You don’t really know what language the person next to you is using, especially in a church like this. We probably have French, Swahili, and goodness knows what, and maybe some tongues are going on as well. And that’s fine. But if someone was to come to the front here and start speaking in tongues for everyone to hear, none of us would understand, so then it needs to be interpreted.

We need to be careful about the gift of tongues. I do think it’s possible to over-emphasize it, but it’s also possible to under-emphasize it. Paul does say that he thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than all of them. And he also says in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I want you all to speak in tongues.” There you go! Some people wonder about that. Should all Christians be able to speak in tongues? Well, obviously not every Christian speaks in a tongue, but should all Christians want to be able to speak in tongues? It seems that that’s okay. Paul says, “I want you all to be able to speak in tongues.” So it’s not wrong to ask God for that gift. But he does carry on and says something else—“but even more, to prophesy.” So Paul focuses in on that gift of prophecy which we will cover in the next section.

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