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What is speaking in tongues?

Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?  Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes?  Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?  So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.  Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning.  If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me.  So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church. 1 Corinthians 14:6-12

            Speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift of speaking a different language. 

            The Bible reveals three different types of tongues:

1.      In Acts 2 the people spoke in tongues, but they were languages and dialects they previously didn’t speak.

2.      In 1 Corinthians 14:6-12, tongues was an unintelligible (“heavenly”) language that has a meaning spoken publicly by an interpreter.

3.      In 1 Corinthians 14:13-17, speaking in tongues was a way to pray, praise and give thanks to God, like during personal devotion.

God would use a person with this gift to speak out loud and though it seems their words have no meaning, someone could stand up and declare that meaning through the gift of interpretation.

            Why is this useful?  It’s meant to build up the church and show unbelievers that there is an amazing God out there.  It was a sign meant to create a wow factor.

Paul, the apostle, said he spoke in tongues but he recognized teaching the word of God had more meaning.

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.  But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. 1 Corinthians 14:18-19

            Is this still active today?  As with all gifts we must make sure that we’re using them to build up the church and not to bring attention to ourselves.  Paul said other gifts were more useful.  There’s a debate as to whether some gifts are no longer active and whether they are needed as much today as when the early church was forming.  Others believe God never changes and he can do whatever he wants to do.