Thursday, 8 September 2016

Tongues and Interpretation

28  And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, DIVERSITIES OF TONGUES. 

Notice that each of the gifts listed in the above scripture are public ministries

In this article I want to draw our attention to the last ministry on the list – the public ministry of tongues and interpretation

Tongues and interpretation is a public ministry gift which God has set in the church.

Throughout I Corinthians 12-14, Paul isn't primarily discussing what the individual  believer can or cannot do during his private prayer-life for his own benefit.  Rather Paul is addressing what happens “when the whole church be come together into one place” (14:23).  Each of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in I Corinthians 12:7-10 are discussed as public manifestations of the Spirit for the common good.

Therefore when Paul goes on to ask, “do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” (14:29), he’s not implying that some believers will never be meant to speak with tongues ever at all.  He simply means that in the local church, all of us will not have the same function in public ministry.   

All believers today who are baptised with the Holy Spirit may pray with tongues, just like in every account in bible days.  Praying in tongues is personally greatly edifying and is to be encouraged. 

Tongues and interpretation as a public ministry was considered by Paul to be an important enough function to be listed along with the roles of apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, then gifts of healings [evangelists], helps [deacons], and governments [pastors/elders] in the church. 

Like the other offices, God “hath set [or appointed] some in the church [some members of the church] to function publicly with tongues and interpretation. 

We can learn to make room for it during our gatherings, just as we do for the expression of other ministries in the church.

Notice now that the following advice which Paul gives regarding the public use of tongues is not meant to limit in any way what happens when the Holy Spirit is poured out in a meeting.

“If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.  But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church” (14:27,28)?
Have you ever wondered why it is, when large groups of believers were baptised with the Holy Spirit and spoke with tongues in the Book of Acts, that there wasn't any insistence that the number of speakers be limited to two, or at the most three?  Or why they were never told to keep silence unless someone interpreted? 

For example, in Cornelius' household, “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word”, so that Peter's company “heard them speak with tongues and magnify God” (Acts 10:44,46).  We know this was no small gathering, because when Peter walked into the house, we are told that he “found MANY that were come together” (verse 27).  What's more, they even interrupted Peter's sermon in the process, for we are told that, “WHILE PETER YET SPAKE these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (verse 44). 

Also we are told that at Ephesus, “when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.  And all the men were about twelve” (Acts 19:6,7). 

Clearly then it isn’t unscriptural to have meetings where the Holy Spirit falls with the result that many speak with tongues at the same time, or prophesy, or see visions, or are filled with joy - even if no interpreter is present. 

I've seen meetings where all of that has happened – meetings just like the Pentecostal outpouring in Acts chapter two!  In fact, if you haven't been in a meeting like that for a while, you could plan it.  Make it happen - like Smith Wigglesworth who said, “If the Holy Ghost doesn't move, I move the Holy Ghost”.   

What then did Paul mean when he said, “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.  But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church” (14:27,28)?

This was a church that had been established long enough for varieties of ministries to become recognised among them.  Paul was now addressing the public function of the various ministries within the church.  To those among them whose ministry it was to speak to the congregation in an unknown tongue, Paul gave his advice: there's no point holding the floor, drawing the whole gathering's attention to yourself, if no one understands you – better to let the interpreter speak after two or three of you have had your say!  The goal for them to keep in mind was, “Let all things be done unto edifying” (14:26).  

Let me pose it as a question: is it edifying to the people in a meeting if the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all of them and they each start speaking with tongues?  Certainly it is edifying because all of them are being filled with the Spirit and no-one is holding the floor as such.

Now let me ask this: is it edifying to the people in a meeting if several individuals hold the floor, drawing everyone's undivided attention to themselves whilst they address the whole congregation in an unknown tongue?  Of course not – unless someone interprets.

So that’s entirely a different situation, and  precisely the type of situation Paul was addressing.  Certain members were taking the floor, wanting to address the whole congregation in an unknown tongue, while everyone else listened.  It’s only natural that in such situations, an interpretation should be sought. 

But that's altogether a different situation to the Holy Spirit being poured out on a gathering when the whole group starts speaking with tongues as a result.  Paul's advice in Corinthians in not inconsistent with such occurrences, as recorded in the Book of Acts

So it’s not unscriptural for anyone to be unobtrusively speaking, praying or singing in an unknown tongue to himself and to God during a gathering, even without an interpreter being present. 

We can have meetings like the time at Ephesus where as many as twelve people spoke in tongues and prophesied at one time (Acts 19:6,7).  We can have times like Cornelius' household where many were gathered (Acts 10:27), and yet all spoke with tongues even without an interpreter.  This is still consistent with Paul’s advice, “let all things be done decently and in order” (I Cor.14:40). 

But when members are standing up and exercising the public ministry of tongues, then it is much more helpful to their audience if an interpreter speaks as well.

So we see that there is a distinct and powerful public role for speaking with tongues and interpretation during our gatherings, which I have witnessed on many occasions.     

In one meeting, the Holy Spirit impressed upon a good friend of mine that he was to speak with tongues and that a certain brother would interpret—before he preached his sermon. 

So he proceeded to speak with tongues, then handed the microphone to the brother who gave the interpretation:

Come and be healed.  Be healed spiritually and emotionally...says the Lord.

My friend responded without any further ado by inviting the people forward to receive healing.  The power of the Holy Spirit manifested with many healings and one person was delivered from an evil spirit. 

Needless to say, everybody was eager to hear what my friend had to preach on after that!

It was the public ministry of tongues and interpretation that opened-up the things which God wanted to do in that meeting – things which hadn’t otherwise been planned by man. 

I remember another time in a church where I was a guest, I stood to the pulpit to preach—but instead I began to speak with tongues.  It went on and on—I wondered when it was ever going to stop.  Then I stopped and the interpretation flowed—so I just went ahead and preached by the interpretation of tongues.  As a result, several were touched by the Holy Spirit with tears, repentance, and reconciliation, and were filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy.  Afterwards one of the elders of the church told me, “This is exactly what we needed.”  God knows exactly what’s needed in a church—and sometimes it’s different to what we have in mind.  And in this case it was tongues and interpretation that led us into God’s will for that meeting.

In a Sunday morning service one time, the Holy Spirit was outpoured and many were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke with tongues.  When I stood to preach, I just preached in tongues while someone interpreted.  Many were so filled that day that they spoke in tongues for days afterwards.

Overseas visitors who heard the tongues that were spoken during that revival recognised one of them as a remote Chinese dialect; another man claimed he heard many people speaking Indonesian; another man reported that he heard someone speaking his own Maranaw dialect.  This was a sign and a wonder to them.   

One young person still couldn’t speak her own language when she went to school.  Her teacher asked her, “Why didn’t you tell me you could speak Chinese?”  She asked God to give her back her language, so she could explain to the class.  She preached the Gospel, and the whole class fell under the power of God. 

This continued for days so that classes couldn’t continue.  The Principal called her parents to the school, asking them to sign an affidavit that they would forbid their daughter to preach the Gospel anymore at school, or risk seeing her expelled.  But the more their daughter tried to keep order, the more her fellow students thronged her classroom seeking prayer.

Finally a TV news camera crew turned-up wanting to interview her.  But she didn’t want to attract any more attention to herself. 

She thought of a way she could see the work of God continue, without drawing any more attention to herself.  She could lay her hands on her friends, imparting the anointing to them, so they could be used to spread the work of the Spirit.    Everyone she laid hands on fell to the floor.  Demons came out of many.  They got up off the floor asking with tears, “What have we got to do to be saved?”  Hundreds came to the church.  Everywhere her friends went, they now carried the same anointing, and the work of the Holy Spirit spread to other schools and universities.  I visited one lecture hall where the whole contingent was flat on their backs under the power of God.   

This great move of God began with the phenomenon of speaking with other tongues.  Paul said, “Tongues are a sign to unbelievers”.  Well, how will they ever be a sign to unbelievers if unbelievers never get to hear them? 

So much can be gained for a meeting depending on how we respond to a manifestation once it has been given in a meeting. 

For example, if a message in tongues or prophecy invites the congregation to do something, the meeting leader could consider whether the word is meant to shape the rest of the meeting, and allow  time for the congregation to respond, opening up the rest of the meeting.    

Often we view the altar call as the end of a meeting.  But I’ve seen that if we continue a little longer, often one or two will remain under the anointing even after everyone else has gotten up off the floor – and they will begin to minister to the congregation with tongues and interpretation or prophecy, and go lay hands on the congregation.  Very often one person one of them will stand and speak with tongues while the other interprets.  Quite often their message is one of repentance and of the need to preach the Gospel, because of the soon return of the Lord.  Sometimes after an altar call various people can begin to share the visions they’ve just seen.  The altar call doesn’t have to be the end of the meeting—often it’s just the beginning of the next thing God wants to say and do in our midst, if we are open to it. 

So much can be gained depending on how practical we are about making time for the Holy Spirit to direct our meeting.  The interpretation of tongues can become more than just a word during a meeting, but it can open up the whole meeting, or even start a whole work of God in the community.  God is willing to do things and say things in our meetings—and when we give place to whatever He wants, whenever He wants, through whomever He wants—it gives Him room to accomplish what He wants in our midst.

“I would that ye all spake with tongues”, said Paul, meaning that this office is not limited to those in the office of prophet.

Interpreting tongues is also useful in one’s private prayer-life as a means of obtaining guidance from the Lord. 

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