Tongues of Men and Angels

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love,
I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." 1 Corinthians 13:1

Opening Prayer: Father, I want to experience ALL the gifts that Your Holy Spirit will give me. Help me to grow in the knowledge and experience of your gifts, that I may become the person You would have me be.

This lesson is part of the Transformed Life series. By this point, we assume that you have learned the material in the previous lessons and have put your trust in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, as your Lord and Savior. In addition, we hope you have read the earlier lessons on Baptized with the Holy Spirit and Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

This lesson is about adding joy and depth to your prayer life. You can experience a great deal in the Lord without the gift of tongues, but the experience of tongues is a blessing that I hope you receive.

Let's begin by reviewing 1 Corinthians 12, verses 5-7:

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.

Notice these important principles:

In verses 8-10, Paul gives us a partial listing of the gifts:

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

These gifts are all described in our previous lesson.

Verses 11-14 explain WHY the gifts were given:

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.

When we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, we are baptized into the body of Christ. We are immersed into a life very different from our previous experience. Instead of being enslaved to our (sometimes harmful) body passions, we willingly submit to the nourishing Head-ship of Jesus Christ. With His new life in our hearts through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He is our Head. We suddenly discover that we have a new role to play, as part of a much larger body. We might not be happy with our present roles, but all roles are important to the survival of the body. Unlike physical body parts which are very specialized, you and I might discover ourselves playing different roles on different days -- as the Holy Spirit directs.

You might find yourself very gifted in one respect, but absolutely clueless in certain other gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is normal. The Holy Spirit gives the gifts as He wills, not as we desire.

Hey, teacher, my pastor says that everybody must speak in tongues as evidence of Holy Spirit baptism. Is that true?

There are a few denominations with teachings like that. When I was a new believer, that doctrine caused me a lot of personal grief and confusion (more on this subject later). We can easily dismiss that doctrine with a few verses of Scripture.

These Scriptures are verses 27-30:

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

Notice that Paul repeats the principle that gifts are distributed by God to build up the Church, the body of Christ. Notice the wording of verses 29-30: "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?"

In both the English and the original Greek, the sentence structure demands a negative response. The reader is forced to say, "No, we all have different gifts and different roles in which to exercise these gifts." The Holy Spirit directed Paul to put this clear statement here for a reason -- He KNEW false teachers would arise to confuse God's people.

The above-mentioned doctrine is problematic for another reason: the gift of tongues is the easiest to fake. In fact, I've seen TV ministers lead new believers into "baby-talk" exercises -- getting them to make sounds that mimic tongues. This is outrageous and blasphemous. The Holy Spirit has POWER. When He chooses to speak through a yielded vessel, that person will NOT need to help God by making baby talk.

A Tongues-Tied Teacher

Your teacher came to the Lord in a Baptist church that did not encourage operating in the gifts of the Spirit. So I visited a Mens' Meeting at a nearby charismatic church, and came forward to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Some men prayed for me but it felt like nothing happened. Singing angels didn't appear in the rafters. Tongues of fire didn't descend upon our heads. And I didn't speak with other tongues. Bummer.

Weeks went by, still no tongues. In the meantime, the Holy Spirit was using me strongly as a teacher to handicapped adults and in the outreach evangelism class. It seemed like I was operating in some of the gifts, but not tongues. Oddly enough, I'd see other people come to the Lord and get prayed for -- and they'd start chattering in tongues right away, before they even knew why they should.

"Well, maybe the first prayer didn't work," I thought. Made another visit to the charismatic Mens' Meeting and asked another couple of brothers to pray for me to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. This time, the group leader got two sentences into the prayer and suddenly stopped.

He looked at me and said, "You've already RECEIVED the baptism of the Holy Spirit." I was dumbstruck. The Lord had interrupted the man's prayer and given him a Word of Knowledge. Something in my heart told me that the Word was 100% true.

"Well, I was prayed for, but didn't feel anything different afterwards," I said.

The brother then said one of the most profound statements I'd ever heard: "You must walk in the Holy Spirit baptism like you walk in your salvation: by FAITH, and not by sight or feelings." That was a Word of Wisdom, and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I can't remember what happened later, except that I still wasn't speaking in tongues. Still didn't feel Spirit-filled. So NOW what?

The Breakthrough

Throughout all this, my driving passion was to experience the Lord like Moses and David did. I wanted to know God as intimately as the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 16, verse 11:

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I just knew that the Psalmist was telling the truth, and that inexhaustible joy was waiting for "whosover wills." But that joy seemed out of reach. Maybe the gift of tongues would help me break through.

After months of studying and praying, the day came when I couldn't wait any longer. Closed the book, got down on the floor and started praying. Told the Lord that I wasn't moving from that spot until I KNEW I was baptized with the Holy Spirit and fully connected to Him. After about 20 minutes, the Holy Spirit came over me in a most-unexpected way. Besides feeling His presence and His love, I began weeping for joy.


Weeping is a normal part of life for most people, but not for me. Your teacher was born with a very level-headed temperament. An old man at two years old. Didn't laugh or cry much; just went about my business. Weeping was VERY unusual -- until that day. Ever since, weeping (or at least that welling-up feeling) has been one of the key ways that the Holy Spirit communicates His will to me.

Later I discovered the term "brokenness" -- and realized how it applies to believers. There are lots of clues in the rest of life:

A believer is broken, by the Holy Spirit, when he reaches the end of his own strength and surrenders in tears to the will of God. The believer can then be used by God to accomplish His purposes.

Go ahead: be as stubborn and comfortable and doctrinally correct as you please. But you won't experience the full depth of God's presence until you've hit the limits of your own strength. Furthermore, you'll need to hit the wall hard enough to hurt.

Your strength is worthless to God. He doesn't need your help. And He's willing to let you flounder and sink as long as YOU are in control of your own life. There is no combination of words (mis)quoted from Scripture that can FORCE God to help you.

Psalm 34, verses 17-19, is a picture of what MOVES the Lord to help us:

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

If you're too comfortable to experience brokenness in prayer, then verse 19 above should make you think. Righteous people DO experience afflictions. We all walk through the valley of the shadow of death. What is YOUR attitude toward affliction? When YOU get cancer or when your neighbor's kid dies at the hands of a drunk driver, what is YOUR gut feeling? Choose one:

Well, did you speak in tongues THEN?

Nope. And I didn't worry about it. The Lord spoke to me in the brokenness, and THAT was what I really wanted.

Years later, I asked the Lord WHY NOT tongues? The Lord replied that too many charismatic pastors experienced tongues before they reached brokenness, and that too many teachers associated tongues with deep prayer. The Lord told me He wanted somebody who could clearly teach about deep prayer and intercession both WITH and WITHOUT the experience of tongues.

Years later, in a home fellowship group, the tongues began for me as a tickle in the back of my throat. Later it developed into more of a prayer language as I prayed and practiced.

The point is that God wants us to pursue HIM in prayer. That is our primary responsibility as believers. We are commanded to seek His face whether we speak in tongues or not.

Continuing with our passage in I Corinthians, Paul conveys a profound truth in chapter 13, verses 1-3:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

In our lesson on the Fruit of the Spirit, we saw that the Fruit of the Spirit is evidence of the Holy Spirit's life-changing work in our hearts. The fruit consists of character traits, of which love is foremost. If there is no love evident in your character, you'll have a difficult time convincing me that the Holy Spirit has been at work in your heart recently.

Let's see what these 3 verses tell us:

This passage echoes what Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7, verses 22-23:

"Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'
23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'"

Let's continue in 1 Corinthians 13, with verses 4-7:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

If you substitute "Jesus" for the word "love" in this passage, you will suddenly gain a fresh appreciation of our Lord. The God who created the heavens and the earth has the power to force you into slavery. Instead, He CARES about YOU so much that He relies on delicate cords of love to draw you to Himself. The cords are very light and very long. You can run away from God for a very long time, and He'll respect your decision. But the cords are strong enough to pull you out of the deepest pit when you turn back to God and seek His face once again.

When the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart, love will manifest in your life like this. You will become more like Jesus. When people of different ages, genders and nationalities allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, they become more like Jesus and more like each other. Two people that selflessly love each other should find it easy to agree on important matters.

Special Note to Married Couples:

At the end of verse 5 we see the words "...thinks no evil." The word "thinks" translates a Greek accounting term. It means to carefully record and reckon something to a person's account. In other words, love does not keep a grudge list of wrongs committed and mistakes made. Love does not get historical during arguments.

Special Note to Everybody:

If you re-read verses 4-7, you'll notice that love sometimes "doesn't get its needs met." Think about it.

Now let's read verses 8-10:

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

Does this passage PROVE that the gifts of the Spirit are NOT for today?

No. It absolutely does not.

This passage states that the gifts of the Spirit will perish when "the perfect" has come. The obvious meaning of the passage is that "the perfect" refers to Jesus' return, and the heightened understanding we'll have in Eternity. Nevertheless, some seminaries teach that "the perfect" refers to the Bible, or the "canon of Scripture." Their reasoning is that since we now have the Bible, we don't NEED the gifts of the Spirit.

What arrogance!

Further proof that these seminaries are wrong comes in the next two verses:

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

To be sure we understand him, Paul draws a comparison between a child's world view and an adult's. We thought ourselves pretty smart at age 7. At age 47, we have a better sense of perspective.

Likewise, in verse 12, Paul says that we believers (including Paul himself) have only a dim idea of what God is actually doing these days. Paul experienced God a lot more personally than most of the people teaching in seminaries, so it is unbridled PRIDE for those teachers to infer that THEIR understanding is perfect. Do these men experience the presence of God face-to-face, 24 hours per day? I don't think so. We'd have heard of it by now.

The ugly extension of that prideful philosophy is the attitude that people operating in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are actually being moved by the devil and demons. It is blasphemy to ascribe works of the Holy Spirit to the devil or vice versa. That's dangerous ground. Don't go there. If God wants to give you His gifts, shut up and receive them graciously.

Hey, teacher! It's not very loving to talk like that.

It wasn't very loving for Jesus to drive the moneychangers out of the Temple or to call the rabbis of His day "vipers" or "whitewashed tombs." It's hard to act loving toward snakes when they endanger your children.

If you would like to ask further questions or discuss this in more detail, please feel free to send me an e-mail by clicking the "mail-to" link below. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can (assuming the first rapture event hasn't already happened).

Closing Prayer: Lord, I truly WANT the Transformed Life. Please show me what You would have me do next.

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