It was the time of the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, a
time of joy and happiness, and drew a lot of foreign visitors to Jerusalem
to celebrate it. It was the feast of the harvest, or "first fruits".
The apostles and disciples, around one hundred and twenty, met that morning, in prayer (and excitement I imagine), waiting for the fulfilment of the promise given to them by Christ. (Jn 14:25). And they were not disappointed. The birth of the church of the new covenant was ushered in with incredible signs which awed onlookers and filled them with fear. A supernatural sound resembling a mighty rushing wind came out of the heavens and filled the whole house where they had gathered. Tongues, like flames of fire, spread among them, settling on each one. They came neither burning nor consuming, but imparting to each the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Down through time God has used wind, and fire to manifest his presence. Look at the burning bush when He spoke to Moses; then leading the Israelites out of Egypt; on the Mount, accepting Jerimiah's sacrifice in front of the Baal priests - all these are a few examples.
"And they were filled with the Spirit and began
to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" Acts 2:4.
With the infilling of the Holy Spirit they had but one desire, to glorify
God and witness of Christ to their fellow man, so that all might hear and
receive the gift of salvation. Peter saw in this event the
fulfilling of the words of Joel:
This was the first appearance of tongues (glossolalia) and is fully described by Paul along with the other incredible gifts of the Spirit bestowed on the church by God. (1Cor chpt12) It is interesting to note that those sympathetic to the speakers message understood it while unbelievers scoffed, saying they were mad or drunk. It certainly got everyone's attention though, which Peter used to full advantage. This first appearance differs from later ones in that people heard the gospel in their own languages. In Corinth and other places an interpretation was needed. There were some present in Corinth though that recognized the tongues being spoken (1Cor chpt12 and 14). Why have need of interpretation if people were there who could translate? Perhaps they arrived after the speaking in tongues had started.
Tongues is for personal use, for thanksgiving, praying and singing by those absorbed in communion with God, a communing of spirit, the Holy Spirit giving voice to the emotion of the worshipper. To unbelievers it sounds like madness (1Cor 12:11) or drunkenness (Acts2: 13,15), BUT the speaker is not talking to man, but to God (1Cor 14:2).
Paul taught that while speaking in tongues was good, prophesy was better as it built up the whole church. In 1Cor chpt 12-14 he spoke of all the giftings of the Spirit of which tongues is only one. Not everyone spoke in tongues, for the Holy Spirit distributes to each person individually (1Cor 12:11). Paul wished all could speak in tongues. They edify (build up) the speaker, but Paul rightly pointed out in 1Cor 14:24 that if an unbeliever comes into your assembly and you are all prophesying he is convicted and called to account by all, the secrets of his heart being disclosed. If all are talking in tongues he thinks you are mad! Paul also wisely taught that if tongues was used to limit it to two or three and have an interpreter. If no interpreter was available the speaker was to keep silent in church and just speak to himself and God (1Cor 14:27-28)
Theologians have debated the reality of tongues for centuries, thinking that along with the other gifts it was just for first century christians, to give christianity a boost. But did God only mean to build his church in that first century? If so then what of the church today? There is no biblical indication that the Holy Spirit would stop giving this gift of various tongues, or any other, to the church. If we look at 1Cor 13:8-10 we find that one day tongues will cease, and prophecy and knowledge will pass away, for only in part now do we know and prophesy, and the partial will be done away with when the perfect arrives. No timespan however was put on the fulfilment of this prophecy, and God is able to bestow this gift, and the others, on mankind again if he did indeed allow it to cease.
The tongues we hear today - is it glossolalia of the new church? Perhaps. From the close of the nineteenth century a movement of the Holy Spirit has been passing over the globe. Springing from Kansas in the United States of America and the valleys in Wales, slowly the pentecostal movement has reached out to touch most nations and glossolalia again is being heard. In Episcopal, Lutheran, Anglican and even Catholic churches, there is a growing acceptance and emphasis on the manifestations of the Holy Spirit and His work.
As in all things we must not naively accept that these things are from God. In ancient times demonic forces could imitate miracles. In Egypt, for example, the magicians could copy the plagues, up to a point. Simon the Magi could perform miracles in the New Testament times (Acts 8:9). Other religions use tongues too, and we must be sure what we hear is from God, testing it against the truth we find in scripture. Attributing all tongues to the work of demons could be construed as blasphemous to the Holy Spirit however, which spiritually could be dangerous in light of what Jesus said concerning this. (Lk 12:10). Wisdom in these matters is needed. As Paul said, if there is no one present to interpret tongues, let that man keep silent except to himself and God.
Lastly, let us remember that the Holy Spirit bestows gifts as He chooses. One gift is not given to all but the gifts are distributed wisely among the church, for the good of all. They are not rewards for good deeds or believing, nor are they a cause for pride. The Holy Spirit empowers our lives and service for the advancement of the kingdom and our own personal growth, helping us understand the mysteries of God. He helps us keep focused on the One who sent him.
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