Expositions on Spiritual Endowments
The Grace of God in Truth
THE tremendous growth and success of the modern charismatic movement has brought considerable respectability and acceptance to practices which nearly all deemed spurious only a few decades ago. Nonetheless, many outside the movement, perhaps out of fear of the unknown and due to their aversion to activities and mannerisms which often seem strange or distasteful, too often reject its claims out of hand. Others, however, are far too ready to accept its claims, being unduly influenced by the fervor and sincerity of many a “charismatic Christian.”
On the one hand, those who are profoundly impressed by the knowledge that practically all of the famous scholars and theologians of centuries past did not speak in tongues deem this fact to be a virtual disproof of the modern custom. To them, it is inconceivable that such a vast body of devout and spiritual believers would have lacked such a gift were it of God.
On the other hand, those who are deeply influenced by their own experiences, having become convinced of the rectitude of such a remarkable and intimately personal phenomenon as tongues-speaking, are nearly always full of confidence concerning the validity of their practice. Even though in most cases it is a learned skill, acquired through instruction and example, it is deemed to be a supernatural divine gift. To its practitioners, the proposition that modern glossolalia constitutes the scriptural gift of languages is generally beyond question. The erstwhile paucity of those possessing the gift is of no moment to the convinced charismatic, for he has tasted for himself and is acquainted with countless others who have done the same. He does not think he is correct; he knows that he is.
In reply to all such imaginings and appeals to man– whether to venerated church history or to exalted contemporary experience–we can only say, “Let no one be boasting in men” (1 Cor.3:21). “If we are obtaining the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater” (1 John 5:9). It is of no consequence whatever, insofar as truth is concerned, whether any certain belief should be popular or unpopular, applauded or condemned among men. Our appeal can only be to the Scriptures themselves. What do we have to do with the flesh–including “Christian” flesh–whether in its annals or its affections?
THE BASIS OF LANGUAGES
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now concerning the spiritual endowments, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant” (1 Cor.12:1). He begins by reminding them of their own former unbelief and spiritual darkness, saying, “You are aware that when you were of the nations, you were led away to the voiceless idols, as ever you were led. Wherefore I am making known to you that no one, speaking by God’s spirit, is saying, ‘anathema is Jesus.’ And no one is able to say ‘Lord is Jesus’ except by holy spirit” (1 Cor.12:2,3). Before God began to enlighten them, the Corinthian believers were just as blind as anyone else, and were therefore unable to recognize the cause of the glorious change that had occurred in their lives for what it was, the powerful operation of God’s holy spirit.
Since the Corinthians, however, were minors in Christ and were fleshly (1 Cor.3:1,2), they were “puffed up, one over the one, against the other” (1 Cor.4:6). Consequently, they did not realize that every good thing they enjoyed, including those things which others among their brethren may not have possessed, was God’s gift to them in such a way that any boasting in themselves was completely unwarranted. “Now what have you which you did not obtain? Now if you obtained it also, why are you boasting as though not obtaining?” (1 Cor.4:7).
The apostle Paul makes it plain that all that we have–whether riches, health, success, understanding, self-discipline, willingness, good character, faith or even some special spiritual endowment–is that which we have but received from God. Everything we possess is given to us by God, even those things which we “take” to ourselves through much time and effort. “He Himself gives to all life and breath and all” (Acts 17:25).
When noting the differences between ourselves and others, do we ever stop to think, and then face the fact, that all these things have their own cause? They are all caused to be as they are. Do we realize, then, that it is altogether foolish to be “puffed up” about our own virtues and powers while looking down upon others in their weaknesses and incapacities?
Among the Corinthians, “not all [were] speaking in languages. Not all [were] interpreting” (1 Cor.12:30). Rather than being proud, and imagining that their fellow believers could have had the ability to do so but had somehow failed to supply something of their own toward the acquisition of this power, those who did have a gift of language were to understand that “there are apportionments of graces [OF-GRACE-effects, charismatõn] yet the same spirit, and there are apportionments of services, and the same Lord, and there are apportionments of operations, yet the same God, Who is operating all in all,” “apportioning to each his own, according as He is intending” (1 Cor.12:4-6, 11).
At that time, the apostle Paul himself possessed a certain special endowment of language, and exercised it more than any of the Corinthians (1 Cor.14:18). And, as he said concerning another gift, that of continence, “I want all men to be as myself, also, but each as his own gracious gift [charisma] from God, one indeed, thus, yet one thus” (1 Cor.7:7).
The English adjective “charismatic” is from the Greek noun for “grace,” charisma, JOY [GRACE]-effect. It speaks of that which is the product of God’s favor, not that which is given as a reward or due to qualification. The leaders of the modern religious movement which styles itself the “charismatic” movement, however, while placing much emphasis on speaking in tongues, nearly always insist that “the gift” is readily available to all who will merely do this or that in order to get it. Such also claim that the phenomenon of modern glossolalia is an integral and vital element in a spiritual walk. Indeed, they often thus distinguish themselves from other believers who do not share their views on this theme (or perhaps their related views concerning such things as bodily healing or forms of worship) by speaking of themselves as the dispensers of “the full gospel.” Though they may speak of “grace,” the fact is that in this matter of tongues, and concerning other endowments as well, they insist that most, if not all, finally depends not upon the grace of God but upon man and his “free will.”
Nonetheless, the basis of one’s possession of any spiritual endowment–in any era and under any administration–is the all-sufficient grace of God, the endowment itself being possessed by its recipient solely due to His will.
“THESE LANGUAGES OF OURS”
The Greek word for “tongue,” man’s principal organ of speech, is glõssa, from which our word “glossary” is derived. When it is used literally (e.g., Mark 7:35) it is translated “tongue” in the CV. When it is used figuratively, as a figure of association for the body of words which are common to a community or nation, it is translated “language.”
It is beyond question that the “tongues” spoken on the day of Pentecost were normal coherent languages and not unintelligible ecstatic utterances. “And at the fulfillment of the day of Pentecost, they [the twelve] were all alike in the same place. And suddenly there came out of heaven a blare, even as of a violent, carrying blast, and it fills the whole house where they were sitting. And seen by them were dividing tongues as if of fire, and one is seated on each one of them. And they are filled with holy spirit, and they begin to speak in different languages, according as the spirit gave them to declaim.
“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem, Jews, pious men from every nation under heaven. Now when this sound occurs, the multitude came together and was confused, for each one hears them speaking in his own vernacular [dialektos] . . . .” As these Jewish pilgrims themselves declared, concerning what they heard, “[we are] hearing, each in our own vernacular in which we were born” (Acts 2:8), “we are hearing them speaking in these languages of ours of the great things of God” (Acts 2:11).
This passage is the only passage in all the Scripture which actually describes the nature of the gift of languages given by the holy spirit, and its testimony is clear. The only other two occurrences concerning this gift in the book of Acts are in 10:46 and 19:6. There is certainly nothing in either of these passages to show that that which occurred was the giving forth of unintelligible sounds or ecstatic non-linguistic utterances. To the contrary, since no description is given, it is evident that Luke expects the reader to have prior knowledge of what he means from his explicit description already given in chapter 2.
Like those of Acts 10:46 and 19:6, the new tongues or “languages” of Mark 16:17 are not described. The entire list of items (Mark 16:17,18), however, are said to be signs, signs of the then-imminent terrestrial kingdom, and refer to miraculous abilities such as those exercised by the apostles. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the tongues referred to are the miraculous languages described elsewhere, in Acts 2.
Furthermore, the account itself (in Mark 16:20), besides the general record of the book of Acts, makes it evident that the commission spoken of here was fulfilled. Such practices were hardly the norm for ordinary believers even during the period covered by Acts, much less for those living beyond the close of that period.
Despite its length, 1 Corinthians 12-14, the remaining, and longest, portion of Scripture which includes any information concerning the gift of languages, does not state explicitly what the tongues are. Certain passages in 1 Corinthians 14, however, obviously refer to actual languages, while others are simply not definitive. Yet even in these indefinitive passages, it can be demonstrated that actual language fits the context very well. Though in a few such passages some may infer or suppose the presence of ecstatic utterances, since such passages, in fact, are simply indefinitive, it can hardly be proved that even any of these texts must refer to non-linguistic, incommunicative ecstatic sounds and not to actual language.
Therefore, any who engage in non-linguistic utterances purported to be the scriptural gift of languages, do not do so in response to revelation but to speculation. Such “tongues” are not of faith, but only of inference. It follows, then, that their supposed interpretations are merely a “parading of what one has [heard], feignedly [eikê, SIMULATEly], puffed up by his fleshly mind” (cp Col.2:18). Such “interpretations” are by no means a word of the Lord. It is not that the intention is to pretend, but that the action, nonetheless, is imitation or simulated, not genuine.
THE PURPOSE OF LANGUAGES
1 Corinthians 14:22 is the only passage which states what the purpose of the true spiritual endowment of languages is. It is preceded, first of all, by the entreaty, “Brethren, do not become little children in disposition” (1 Cor.14:20a). Regrettably, as the entire tenor of 1 Corinthians 14 makes evident, hitherto, some of the Corinthian believers had indeed been disposed to “showing off” their gift of languages. One should never seek to display even a genuine gift at an inopportune time, inexpediently, or for an unsuitable purpose. Therefore, Paul’s counsel is, “in evil be minors, yet in disposition become mature” (1 Cor.14:20b).
The apostle continues on, saying, “In the law it is written that, In different languages and by different lips shall I speak to this people, and neither thus will they be hearkening to Me, the Lord is saying” (1 Cor. 14:21). Paul’s inspired conclusion then follows, and let us take special note of it: “So that languages are for a sign, not to the believers, but to the unbelievers” (1 Cor.14:22).
It is therefore unscriptural to regard the purpose of tongues as devotional or as a means of private prayer and praise to God. And Paul has already made it clear that languages are not for use in the ecclesia, or assembly: “I thank God that I speak in a language more than all of you. But, in the ecclesia, do I want to speak five words with my mind, that I should be instructing others also, or ten thousand words in a language?” (1 Cor.14:18,19).
The passage to which Paul refers is Isaiah 28:11,12. It prophesies destruction upon Israel. The context speaks of God’s judgment upon His people due to their unbelief (apparently in reference to the invasion of the Assyrians, who spoke a language foreign to the Israelites). Paul, drawing a certain principle from this passage (which, in itself, deals with an entirely different matter), says, “So that”–because of the the validity of the principle which he has noted in Isaiah 28:11, 12–it is evident that God’s purpose in the gift of languages which He had given to some of the Corinthians was that their ability to speak in languages different than their own might serve simply as a sign, and at that, not as a sign to the believers themselves, but as a sign to the unbelievers in their locality (1 Cor.14:22).
The general principle which Paul notes in the passage from Isaiah, which he therefore recognizes as also being true in the case of any proper implementation of special languages among the Corinthians, is that whenever God speaks to those who are “in flesh” (Rom.8:9), those who are not energized by His spirit, they will not hearken to His message, regardless of what it may consist of, and even if its means should be most extraordinary or even miraculous.
The unbeliever receives a sign, a sign that God gives spiritual endowments, but he does not accept it. A “sign” is simply “an act or circumstance which has a meaning or message” (KEYWORD CONCORDANCE, p. 270). Acts 2:4-11, on the day of Pentecost, is a specific instance in which tongues served as a sign to unbelieving onlookers. It seems likely that this was the case as well concerning the prophesied “new languages” of Mark 16:17-20, under Christ’s commission to herald the evangel to the entire creation. Paul explains that languages were to continue to serve as a sign to unbelievers through the testimony of the Corinthians.
In all cases, the basic testimony set forth to the lost is that, This Jesus, Who died for men’s sins, is the very Christ of God, Whom God raises and exalts to His right hand (cp Acts 2:32,33; 1 Cor.15:3).
It may be that the languages signified as well that the nations would be included among the beneficiaries of the evangel of Christ. Its recipients were not to be confined to the people of Israel, but would include “whosoever the Lord our God should be calling to Him” (cp Acts 2:39). “For thus the Lord has directed us: I have appointed Thee for ‘a light of the nations; for Thee to be for salvation as far as the limits of the earth.’ Now, on hearing this, the nations rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord, and they believe, whoever were set for life eonian” (cp Acts 13:47,48). Faith is truly the gift of God, granted to His chosen ones. Otherwise, even where God’s testimony is wholly beneficent, attended by the miraculous and of the most glorious nature possible, men will still not believe what He says.
As remarkable as it may seem, the purpose of the miraculous languages was to afford a sign to the unbeliever (1 Cor.14:22a). This reminds us of Philippians 1:28 where Paul explains that whenever unfaithful believers oppose the truth, this is “to them a proof of destruction [or ‘loss’].”
In the first of these matters, a sign is given to unbelievers of divine salvation! In the second, proof is given to opposing believers of their error! Yet in both cases, because of human stubbornness (cf Rom.11:32), God’s testimony serves not to establish man’s faith but as a testimony against his unbelief.
To the recalcitrant unbeliever, God’s “sign” signifies nothing. To him, “Christ crucified” is either a stumbling block or abject foolishness. Likewise, to the deceived saint, God’s “proof” proves nothing, for he already has “the truth,” no matter how strongly deluded he may actually be. Yet in each of these matters, to those who have eyes to see, God’s sign is significant and His proof is convincing.
We know, then, at least for a time and among certain believers, whether in Jerusalem, Caesarea, Ephesus, or Corinth, that the miraculous languages which attended their testimony to the saving work of Christ thus served as a sign to unbelievers.
Yet what we actually need for ourselves today–and no matter how good certain popular customs may seem– is the fostering [NOURISHment] which can only come from “the words of the faith and of the ideal teaching which you have fully followed” (1 Tim. 4:6). It is much easier to gain a soulish proficiency in zealous vocalizings while calling these things spiritual than it is to become sound in the faith (Titus 2:2), spiritually endowed so as to be loving our Lord Jesus Christ not only with good intentions, but in incorruption. “Grace be with all who are loving our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption! Amen!” (Eph.6:24).
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