The most important truth about the baptism of the Holy Spirit is often overlooked, and it has to do with the purpose of the experience. Many have defined it in terms of personal ecstasy, joyful emotions, or inner spiritual happiness. None of these things even touches on the basic reason for the promised outpouring of the Spirit. Some of those things might be included in the subsequent fruits of the experience, but they cannot and should not be mistaken for the baptism itself. Just before His ascension Christ told His disciples to tarry at Jerusalem until the Spirit came upon them "not many days hence" (Acts 1:5).
Then He spoke these words: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall he witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Christ emphasized in this promise that the Spirit would give power in their ministry to others. A witness is a person who tells to someone else something which he knows firsthand. The disciples definitely had something to tell, because they had been eyewitnesses of the Messiah. But they were completely unqualified to stand up and effectively communicate what they had seen and heard. The Holy Spirit would come to make them powerful witnesses, so that souls could be won by their preaching. There was no hint from Jesus that the baptism by the Spirit would give them any special feeling. It was not for their personal benefit, but that others through them might be instructed in the way of salvation.
The disciples obeyed the words of their Master and waited in Jerusalem for the promised power, and on the day of Pentecost it happened. While they were all together in a certain house the heavens seemed to open with a rushing sound, and tongues of fire flashed down to rest on each one of them. The promised blessing had arrived just as Jesus had foretold. The witnessing power had descended to fit them for their work of reaching souls; but how did it qualify them and empower them? What did they need in order to witness to all the people in Jerusalem, Judea, and the uttermost parts of the earth? (Acts 2:9-11) records sixteen different language groups who were present as the Spirit-filled disciples stepped outside the house to start witnessing.
Let the Scriptures tell us what happened next. "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4).
The astonished crowd could not believe their ears "because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed ... saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" (Acts 2:6-8).
Here is a simple description of the true gift of tongues. It is not the uttering of some ecstatic language of heaven. The tongues were real languages that people could understand, and every person of every race was edified and enlightened by hearing the gospel preached in his own mother tongue.
Did this gift of tongues continue to operate in the early church when it was necessary to reach unbelievers? Yes, on certain occasions it was needed in order to overcome the language barrier and also to confirm the Gentile converts into the largely Jewish-oriented church.
In Acts 10:44-47 we have the experience of Peter, opening up the gospel to the Gentiles for the first time. While Peter spoke to them the Holy Ghost fell upon them. The Jewish converts "were astonished ... because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost." Peter urged that no one oppose their baptism, since they had "received the Holy Ghost as well as we." Here Peter equates the tongues spoken on this occasion with the tongues he had spoken at Pentecost—an actual language. Later, when he gave a report of the experience to the Jerusalem brethren, Peter affirmed that "the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning (Acts 11:15). The reference is unequivocally to the tongues experience on the day of Pentecost. The other Bible account of tongues in Acts 19:5-7 seemed to be for the purpose of confirming the gift of the Spirit upon the struggling little church of twelve members at Ephesus, where paganism had threatened to swamp the early efforts of the apostles. There is no reason to doubt that this was also the same gift of languages as that demonstrated at Pentecost.
Subsequently at Corinth, the gift began to be misused to such a degree that it was creating confusion in the church. Paul had to devote a full chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church to correcting the problem. Among those spiritually-weak Christians, many problems had plagued the apostolic leaders. Corinth had been a hard place to win converts, and the corrupt pagan background had been difficult to erase from the minds of the new believers. Emotional and spiritual immaturity was often the subject of Paul's appeals in his Corinthian letters.
Now let us take a close look at 1 Corinthians 14, in which the tongues problem is brought into focus. Over half of the verses in this chapter mention the words edify, understanding, learning, or teach. It is obvious that the Corinthian church was not using the gift as it was supposed to be used. Over and over Paul urged that tongues be used only to teach the barbarian, unbeliever or unlearned. Apparently some were creating great confusion by speaking any foreign language they knew, even while others were talking, and also when no one present could understand the language they spoke. The burden of the entire chapter is that no one use the gift of tongues except to edify someone who could not be reached otherwise. Interpreting of tongues was also to be utilized only for instructing those who could not understand without a translation. Almost every verse focuses on the original Pentecost idea of witnessing or communicating:
Verse 4,"edifieth the church."
Verse 5, "except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.."
Verse 6, "except I shall speak to you ... by knowledge."
Verse 7, "except they give a distinction in the sounds..."
Verse 8, "if the trumpet give an uncertain sound..."
Verse 9, "except ye utter ... words easy to be understood."
Verse 11, "if I know not the meaning of the voice..."
Verse 12, "seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church."
Verse 13, "pray that he may interpret."
Verse 14, "my understanding is unfruitful."
Verse 15, "pray with the understanding..."
Verse 16, "seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest."
Verse 17, "the other is not edified."
Verse 19, "that I might teach others."
Verse 20, "be not children in understanding."
Verse 22, "tongues are for a sign ... to them that believe not."
Verse 23, "unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?"
Verse 26, "let all things be done unto edifying."
Verse 27, "and let one interpret."
Verse 28, "if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence."
Verse 30, "let the first hold his peace."
Verse 33, "For God is not the author of confusion."
Verse 34, "Let your women keep silence."
Verse 35, "if they will learn anything ..."
Verse 40, "Let all things be done decently and in order."
Those who read this chapter for the purpose of finding ecstatic utterance can locate two or three verses which seem to give them support. But when those verses are studied in the context of all the rest of the chapter, and with an actual foreign language in mind, they all can be seen to harmonize. Paul's discourse here is built around his contention that "tongues are a sign ... to them that believe not" (Verse 22).
Now, a few questions: Were the Corinthians not creating disorder and confusion by talking loudly in tongues while others were talking? Were they not obviously speaking in languages which were not being understood, and which were not edifying anyone? Were they not priding themselves in being especially blessed and gifted in speaking their tongues, and using it to exalt self? The answers to all these questions must be Yes. Then could the Holy Spirit have been producing those tongues to the confusion of the church? No, because the Spirit does not operate to such ends.
What must we conclude, then, about the problem in Corinth? Those weak and immature church members had seen the true manifestation of Pentecostal tongues—actual languages. Forgetting that the tongues were bestowed miraculously for the purpose of instructing foreigners in the gospel, they began to think that any words in a foreign language had to be evidence of God's special blessing. The result of such a false premise led to the problem Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14. Many were jumping up in church to speak loudly in whatever smattering of foreign language they might know. At the same time others were trying to drown them out by their "gift" of being able to use another tongue. It was a self-produced scene of indecent disorder. Apparently some of the women, were creating the greatest confusion. Paul wrote,
"For God is not the author of confusion, hut of peace, as in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches... Let all things he done decently and in order" (Verses 33-40).
Would Paul have commanded the women to keep silent if their gift had been the ecstatic outburst of the Holy Spirit's power? If so, he would have been guilty of commanding the Holy Spirit to keep silent.
The same would have been true of Paul's command in verse 28. He said, "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church." How could such an order be obeyed if the speaker were breaking forth in some heavenly language under the Spirit's control? How could such a one know that there would be an interpreter to their "unknown" words? Paul speaks of the gift as one that could be controlled by the individual using the tongue. Unless they could ascertain that there was an interpreter to convey the translation clearly, so as to edify the listeners, Paul commanded that they not speak at all.
The modern problem of tongues is similar to the ancient situation, except more confusing. Instead of speaking in actual languages, the air is filled with sounds unrelated to any tongue on earth. Even when someone purports to "interpret" the sounds, no one is edified because the message is often inane or meaningless. And the big question is, Why would the Holy Spirit seek to enlighten or instruct someone in truth by going through all the process of a strange tongue and translation when the listener could under stand plain English to begin with? If the gift of tongues is for edifying the unbeliever, how perverse it seems just to talk among believers in a garble of words whose meaning must depend on the absolute veracity of another believer, whose "interpretation" provides no objective test for accuracy
Our conclusion must be that this last-day phenomenon of tongues does not meet the Bible criteria of truth on two major grounds. First, the baptism of the Holy spirit cannot be given to those who are not obeying all of God's commandments. Second, the true purpose of the gift of tongues—to edify and instruct unbelievers in their own language—is not being served by the gibberish of the modern "tongues" movement. We have found, in fact, that the phenomenon meets all the basic requirements of a vast counterfeit by which Satan can lead millions to disobey God's holy law. Untold numbers of sincere Christians are being led to believe that God's Spirit and approval can rest upon those who transgress His law. Man's flicker has been mistaken for God's flame, and the world is being prepared to make the wrong choice when the Sabbath-obedience issue climaxes the controversy between good and evil. May we be spared from such an error by trusting the Word alone as our infallible guide.
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