Reading 7 – Sabbath, December 15, 2018
“… BEGAN TO SPEAK WITH OTHER TONGUES, AS THE SPIRIT GAVE THEM UTTERANCE”
By T. Petkov, Bulgaria/Sweden/U.S.A.
“Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.” Genesis 11:7, 8.
The events that transpired at the tower of Babel led to the development of today’s 6,909 living languages (ethnologue.com). It was the builders’ incorrect use of communication and grievous sins that caused God to con- fuse the languages. However, in the plan of salvation, the Lord command- ed that the good news be preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. Revelation 14:6. The Lord’s command requires an enormous communications effort. For this purpose, He gave His disciples the gift of tongues. This gift was immediately put to use at Pentecost. “Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans?” Acts 2:6, 7.
The dissemination of the word is of vital importance so people may gain a correct understanding of God and His character, as well as for building up the faith and the holy under- standing of the truth. The divine report in John 1:1 says that God created every- thing by the Word and by the power of His Spirit. This is how God presents Himself today. Therefore, through the gifts of the Spirit, God’s purpose is to overcome the obstacles created by sin, confusion, and disgrace.
In Jerusalem, “Every known tongue was represented by those assembled. This diversity of languages would have been a great hindrance to the proclamation of the gospel; God therefore in a miraculous manner sup- plied the deficiency of the apostles. The Holy Spirit did for them that which they could not have accomplished for themselves in a lifetime. They could now proclaim the truths of the gospel abroad, speaking with accuracy the languages of those for whom they were laboring. This miraculous gift was a strong evidence to the world that their commission bore the signet of Heaven. From this time forth the language of the disciples was pure, simple, and ac- curate, whether they spoke in their native tongue or in a foreign language.” –The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 39, 40. The result of this gift was immediate success, with 3,000 souls accepting Christ and joining the church of God. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the early rain made this miracle possible. Will not the latter rain present an even stronger testimony of divine grace and power?
The importance of words
Language is a major part of every culture and identity. It is the foundation of human civilization. In a unique way, we identify and express portions of reality through abstract sounds or graphics. We express our- selves intellectually and emotionally, and we communicate thoughts and ideas. Our words radiate our true selves–our characters. Remember that Peter was identified as a follower of Christ by the way he spoke.
Words have great significance in the plan of salvation. “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Matthew 12:37. Words and language are very important not only for communication among human beings but also in our communication with God. Considering the importance of the moment, the thief who was crucified next to Jesus used his last opportunity to ex- press his pain, hope, and faith in one sentence: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Luke 23:42. He immediately received the Lord’s answer: “Verily I say unto thee” today, thou shalt “be with Me in paradise.” Luke 23:43.
On the other side of Jesus, the second thief did not grasp the golden opportunity. He used words to mock the Saviour and to challenge His divine capabilities. By so doing, he condemned himself.
What must we do to make the right choice and obtain the gift of speaking the right words at the right time?
The Lord spoke to the multitude through the apostle Peter: “Re- pent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the re- mission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts 2:38, 39. The gift of the Spirit was not reserved to the apostles alone. It is available today, as it was in the time of Pentecost. It will be given to every converted soul in the form of the early and latter rains. You and I are included in this promise. “The outpouring of the Spirit in the days of the apostles was the beginning of the early, or former, rain, and glorious was the result. To the end of time the presence of the Spirit is to abide with the true church.” –The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 54, 55.
Exercising the gift
Every converted soul has been given spiritual gifts. Do we exercise ours? The first thing we need to understand is that the gifts of the Spirit are entrusted to God’s people for the benefit of the church and their fellow men, not for personal glory. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” 1 Corinthians 12:7. If we wish to receive the gifts of the Spirit, we need first to decide to dedicate ourselves to the gospel work and then to place our time, means, ambitions, and dreams for the future in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to begin to practice preaching and sharing the gospel with the means that we have, with the knowledge that we have, without paying attention to obstacles or difficulties that the enemy may put in the way.
I remember an experience in Ethiopia when, after a seminar conducted for a large group of interested souls, someone knocked at the door of my hotel room. My fellow pastors and all the translators had left, and I had only a few hours before I needed to leave for the airport. I opened the door and recognized a man who had attend- ed the seminar. He pointed to himself and said, “I … member.” I did not speak that brother’s language, and he did not speak English. What was I going to do? I invited him in and prayed earnestly to God. Since the man had been a practicing Adventist for years, we took our Bibles, and I pointed him to Bible verse after Bible verse, asking him yes or no questions. In this way, we covered all the principles of faith of our denomination, and he was accepted as the first member in Ethiopia. Today there are around 2,000 members in the country, and this brother is a faithful member and pioneer in God’s cause.
Sometimes a little knowledge with the Lord’s blessing may bring impressive results. To receive the gifts of the Spirit, we need to pray and work earnestly for the salvation of souls. Let us take the first step of faith and put our feet in the Jordan River, and God will do the rest.
The apostle Paul explained that the gifts of the Spirit should be practiced and developed. He advised his student Timothy: “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.” 2 Timothy 1:6. Sister White wrote: “The power of speech is a talent that should be diligently cultivated. Of all the gifts we have received from God, none is capable of being a greater blessing than this. With the voice we convince and persuade, with it we offer prayer and praise to God, and with it we tell others of the Redeemer’s love. How import- ant, then, that it be so trained as to be most effective for good.” –Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 335.
In addition, today it is easier than ever before to learn a foreign language. There are distance learning courses, multimedia DVDs, books, and audiovisual tools dedicated to that very purpose. If we dedicate a little bit of time every day to practice, we can develop the gift of languages and use it for God.
Misunderstanding the divine gift
The years passed by, and the apostles’ work was blessed by the Lord and advanced for His glory. However, in the church of Corinth, the apostle Paul noticed that the gift of tongues was not being used in the right way. Church members were speaking in tongues that could not be understood by others. “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” 1 Corinthians 14:2.
The most common interpretation of this verse’s context is that the church had an international representation of participants who spoke or prayed in their own languages that were foreign to the rest of the church. Jews, Greeks, Romans, and hundreds of different tribes and languages were under the Roman Empire. “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.” 1 Corinthians
14:11. The counsel given by the apostle was for believers to speak in a foreign language only if a translator was present who could communicate the message or prayer to the church. “In all our religious services we should seek to conduct ourselves in a way that will edify others, working as much as lies in our power for the perfection of the church. ‘Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret…. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.’” –Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 244.
In addition, the apostle Paul mentioned that some believers were praying in emotional ecstasy, using sounds but not clear words. “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” 1 Corinthians 14:14. This kind of prayer is still very common today in religions in which the repetition of words or sounds takes place until the person falls into a trance and loses the awareness of presence and reality. The Lord through the apostle Paul condemned this, and Jesus declared it to be unfruitful. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” Matthew 6:7.
The divine purpose for the gift of tongues is that it benefit the hearer, either personally or as a group. The apostle Paul used many examples and comparisons in his second epistle to the Corinthians to convince the church of the proper use of the gift, condemning the use of unknown tongues, for he wrote: “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church;…” 1 Corinthians 14:19, 28.
The gift of interpretation
Not everyone has the gift of tongues. But unbelievers need the gospel and the word of God preached to them in their own language. For that purpose, He gave the gift of interpretation. In 1 Corinthians 12:10, the apostle Paul listed the interpretation of tongues among the gifts of the Spirit. Because of this important gift, the Bible has been translated into 670 languages; and the New Testament alone, into 1521 languages. –Wycliffe Global Alliance, October 2017. The gift of translation makes it possible for millions of letters, experiences, and missionary materials to be translated and shared among different nations, tongues, and people. Proper translation of God’s word and its mes- sages gives a clear tone to the trumpet. 1 Corinthians 14:8. It makes the precious content accessible to the mind and soul of the listener.
Without the gift of interpretation, this article’s message would not be available to you. We need this gift in God’s church. Every country, field, and local church should have an interpreter who is gifted to translate and
communicate with brothers and sisters in other countries and especially with the union, division, and the General Conference. Also, more books need to be translated to support the can- vassing work, along with pamphlets, magazines, websites, and multimedia materials to share with as many people as possible. There is a great hunger and need for materials presenting the present truth enlightened by the Holy Spirit. “The Lord must guide our fu- ture. We see a terrible lack of men here to prepare publications for translation in the different languages, but the Lord knows all about it, and we trust the matter with Him.” –Letter 16, 1887.
Strive for this gift! Plead for it, and offer your services in the cause of God.
Tongues of fire
On October 8, 1871, at 8:30 in the evening, a cow reportedly started a small fire by kicking over an oil lantern in the barn of a certain Mrs. O’Leary in Chicago. From that small beginning, the fire spread and ultimately destroyed 17,500 buildings. More than 100,000 people were made homeless, more than 300 died, and the cost was estimated to be billions of dollars in to- day’s money.
The apostle James wrote that “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” James 3:5, 6.
The harm our tongues may cause by spreading wrong messages, giving false testimony, or criticizing and gossiping is immeasurable. The apostle compared this with fire. The news spreads from person to person, from mouth to mouth, and becomes ir- reversible, causing unimaginable hurt.
What good are many foreign languages if we cannot control our tongues and if the words that we use are neither purified by the Lord nor edifying to others? The gift of tongues is a gift of the Spirit that purifies speech. It also includes the ability to control one’s tongue and use it exclusively to bless and edify others. Such ability to communicate the truth holistically and powerfully will produce fruit for eternity.
The language of personal example
The gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues are important tools for the communication of the gospel to hungry souls all around the world. However, we need to remember that communication is more than just words. How can we understand the phenomenon that there are many people who speak the same language but do not understand one another? At the same time, children from different cultures and nationalities can play together, make friends, and understand each other without speaking.
Research by Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Los An- geles, found that spoken words constitute only 7 percent of our communication, while 38 percent is transmitted by voice inflection, and the remaining 55 percent is understood from facial expressions or body language (psych. ucla.edu).
This means that to communicate the good news successfully to others, we first need to live by the word of God, be convinced of it, and be converted to truth. Otherwise, our words may communicate the truth while our voice and body language give a completely different message.
The best way to communicate the truth is through personal example.
This was the daily sermon of our Lord Jesus Christ and His followers. “Paul’s patience and cheerfulness during his long and unjust imprisonment, his courage and faith, were a continual sermon. His spirit, so unlike the spirit of the world, bore witness that a power higher than that of earth was abiding with him. And by his example, Christians were impelled to greater energy as advocates of the cause from the public labors of which Paul had been with- drawn. In these ways were the apos- tle’s bonds influential, so that when his power and usefulness seemed cut off, and to all appearance he could do the least, then it was that he gathered sheaves for Christ in fields from which he seemed wholly excluded.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 464.
The gift of love
The gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, and tongues are all given as a “manifestation of the Spirit.” This is true unity in diversity. By exercising the gifts that are impart- ed to us, we will grow and become like Christ.
The presence of divine love in His people is God in them, for God is love. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are many, and all of them are important for the edification of the church. However, love is part of and superior to them all. Love and unity testify of conversion and divine action in the lives of God’s people. Furthermore, the apostle Paul declared that love is part of the sealed character of the true believers. “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” 1 Corinthians 13:8.
Let us leave behind every- thing that is childish and strive for spiritual maturity. “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” 1 Corinthians 13:13.
“Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” 2 John 1:3.