Medals, Tongues and Language
Going for Gold/tongues/all nations: 1 Corinthians 14 v1-13
Over the past few weeks I have been helping transport some of the Mega Cities team about as they carry out God’s work in Barking & Dagenham, and blessing us here at St. Chad’s. An amazing bunch, and it would be wrong to single out any of them for special praise. However their leader Zenna is worthy of special praise. I have observed whilst here and as I have accompanied her to several churches, her ability and warmth to communicate with all ages and always has such a beautiful smile. I don’t want to sound patronising but I am also so impressed with the fact that although German she is so fluent in both the pronunciation and understanding of the English Language! I don’t know about you but languages and me don’t get on too well! I can remember about 15 years ago Maggie & I befriended a Spanish single mum that turned up at a previous church we attended. Like most single parent mum’s she was struggling financially, so Maggie & thought it a good idea to pay her to give us Spanish Lessons. It was all going quiet well, although I struggled with the grammar and definite and indefinite articles. I then got an invitation to minister in Albania and thought I should at least know some important expressions such as hello, good morning, God Bless and a large beer please. Not only is Albanian one of the hardest languages to learn but their head movements are the opposite to ours i.e. Yes and No! Shortly after accepting this invitation I got another invite to go to Brazil and I thought great my Spanish Lessons will be useful and maybe that’s why God wanted me to learn Spanish! However to my dismay when I mentioned this to my Spanish teacher she pointed out the language in Brazil is Portuguese! My brain nearly exploded with the thought of learning 3 languages all at the same time! So before I completely flipped my lid, I had to stop learning all 3, except for the very basis essential words. What a relief that my next invitation was to the USA, at least they speak English, or so I thought! I remember getting dressed ready for my first Sunday Morning Service in the USA. I asked my host, my Liberian friend Joe, what would be appropriate to wear, hoping that in the extreme heat we were facing, he wouldn’t say tie and suit job! He never requested that, but to my initial amazement he said a shirt and a pair of smart pants will be ok. Please don’t vomit anybody but can you imagine me standing here in my Marks & Spencers Y fronts! Of course what he meant was a pair of smart trousers and a shirt! He also told me of when he first arrived in the States at the airport he told his wife he was taking his young daughter to wash her hands in the toilet. Someone who overheard him, said “You savage, here we wash our hands in the hand basin”.. As if my friend Joe would stoop so low to wash his daughter’s hands in the toilet bowl!
Ok that’s enough about me and my language experiences but I wanted to make the point of some of the difficulties of language. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if everybody spoke the same language, preferably English! Did you realise that in the beginning God gave us all the same language. Genesis Ch. 11 v1 “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech”. So what happened? Why did God complicate things? If we read all of Genesis 11 the story of the Tower of Babel, the builders of the Tower became proud and arrogant about their achievement, so God punished and confused them by giving them different languages, then scattered them over the earth. The tower of Babel was a great human achievement, a wonder of the world. But it was a monument to the people themselves rather than to God. As my Life Application Bible points out ‘We often build monuments to ourselves, expensive clothes, big houses, fancy car, important jobs, dare I say even ministries, to call attention to our own achievements.’ These may not be wrong in themselves but when we use them to give us identity and self worth, they can take God’s place in our lives. Of course it’s not wrong to have ambitions, to have high expectancy, to go for Gold or Silver. God mysteriously gave us freewill. We are free to develop in many areas, but we are not free to think we have replaced God. I guess the film Chariots of Fire is a good example of an athlete’s struggle between personal achievement, and giving glory to the will of God. I personally don’t think God is a kill joy and I do things on a Sunday others may not and visa versa. Sometimes what is right for one may not be right for the other, we need to ask God, to seek His face and permission. For example for a parent to decided where to encourage their children to be on a Sunday, in church or playing football or any other sport, especially if they have potential?
Now my DIY especially Carpentry is even worse than my ability to converse in several languages! In my first house we were having a kitchen / bathroom extension built and I had temporary re- affixed some kitchen cupboards on the lounge wall. One Sunday lunch time I returned from the Pub, which used to be my place of Sunday worship before I become a Christian, and there was Maggie sitting on the floor in tears covered in flour, gravy granules etc. I wonder how many of you like me, have finished off screwing a screw by hitting it with a hammer when it gets hard to turn? Or maybe use matchsticks instead of rawplugs? I can speak from experience, do it at your peril! I bet Jesus would have done a better job than me, after all he was know as The Carpenter from Nazareth! By all accounts he was good at his human job, hence being renowned. Unlike me, He would have used the right tools for the job!
As I mentioned in my last talk Jesus instructs his disciples and that included me and you, after his resurrection we are to carry on his work here on earth. I cannot over emphasis the importance of reading, understanding and obeying his words in John 14. The Bible tells us there is only one unforgivable sin, anyone know what it is? Matthew 12 v31 – 32 Jesus said “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” I have to ask does a refusal to acknowledge, stifle or to criticise the Gifts of the Holy Spirit place us in dangerous territory?
Jesus wants to give us the perfect tools to communicate, continue and complete His work. Just one of the gifts and probably the most controversial, is the Gift of Tongues which time only permits a brief insight. Let me start by telling you what the Gift of Tongues is not.
Much to my amusement, The Sun recently featured an article about this man. He accepted a bet, probably when drunk but not by the holy spirit, to visit every Cathedral in the country and lick it!…………
Niether is it a gift to enable you to win a Christian Gold Medal, to place you top of the podium. There are no Gold, Silver or Bronze, 1st class 2nd class or third class Christians. The moment you open your heart and mind to Jesus, you take a leap of faith, to start the race as Paul puts it, you become the winner. All Christian winners are equal in God’s sight! The only losers are those who fail to accept and reject God’s love and Grace through Jesus.
Can you remember ever receiving a gift you didn’t particularly want. I remember I was upset when I was 11 all my aunts bought me smelly things such as Brut instead of the usual toys or sweets as I got in previous years! Or maybe your partner bought you some jewellery or jumper you wouldn’t have chosen yourself. I guess most of us would accept the gift rather than hurt the feelings of the giver. Can you imagine God’s disappointment when people reject his gifts to us? I believe in all The Gifts of The Holy Spirit, I also believe that God can give and take away, just as he did in Babel. Never eagerly desire a gift to promote yourself but only to bring glory to God. I believe gifts can be given for a life time, a season or a one off to fulfill God’s purpose.
So let’s look at the gift of tongues as mentioned in our reading 1 Corinthians 14 v1 -13. Paul begins by instructing the church at Corinth, First and foremost to follow the way of love then eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy v1. In the Eighties when such charismatic churches or organisations such as New Wine, New Frontiers etc. were becoming popular there seemed such an importance on the Pentecostal view that Speaking in tongues was a requisite for proving your spiritual maturity. Many, Christians, including me were made to feel inferior, and were getting desperate for this apparent sign or seal of being Born Again, as the jargon put it! I went on many seminars and conferences hoping I would be given this supernatural language, but it never happened, even though being instructed on one occasion, to learn and repeat weird words being uttered on the stage and then go home and practice saying these words whilst relaxing in a warm bath. What rubbish! It never worked and I was becoming more paranoid! Listen if God gives you a gift you will not have to practice it but put it into practice! I hope you see the difference. I used to be friends with the retired chairman of The Shaftsbury Society, a very large and respected Christian organisation. John Emms was a lovely Charismatic Christian who was obviously so spiritually aware and blessed. One day I spoke to him about my dilemma, and much to my surprise he said “Roger I’ve been a Christian all my life, I’m in my 70’s and would love to have spoken in tongues, but I don’t have the gift”. I then realised that this gift wasn’t necessary to be a good spiritual Christian and stopped being so eager or desperate to receive the gift of tongues. However God with his sense of humour soon afterwards gave me the gift! I guess I wanted it for the wrong reasons! When anyone eagerly desires the gift of tongues I would ask 2 questions, First why do they want this gift and secondly will the gift enhance their ministry or relationship with God? If their desire is to bring glory to God not themselves and is in line with the will of God the chances are God will bless with such a gift. V2 of our reading tells us “that anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but God. Indeed no one understands him, he utters mysteries with his Spirit”. Although as we read Corinthians 14 there seem some contradictions, hopefully as we work our way through things will become a bit clearer. When someone speaks in tongues it is not in a recognisable or known language, this makes it distinct from the other language gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2. Although no lesser a gift from God and still miraculous, that language somehow was understood by the crowd as their own various native language. On face value it seems Paul is being negative about tongues v4 “He who speaks in tongues edifies himself, but he who prophecies edifies the church”. But it would be wrong to draw that conclusion, both Paul and I passionately believe in all the Spiritual Gifts but recognised they must be used with wisdom and sensitivity. This is why Paul gives guidelines to the use of gifts including tongues in 1 Corinthians 12 Please do read it and the rest of 1 Corinthians 14 when you get the chance! I want to appeal to those who will or have already been called into healing ministry and also have the gift of tongues, please be careful if you feel the need to combine the two. I’m not saying never speak in tongues but don’t use it as a matter of course. Can you imagine a sweet little old lady who has suffered say arthritis for years when The Holy Spirit encourages her to come forward for ministry maybe for the first time in her life, when the healing team jump on her and start rattling off in tongues, you may cure her of her arthritis as she dies of a heart attack through fear! Seriously you will seldom hear me speak in tongues whilst praying unless it is with someone who understand this gift and I want to praise God for the healing I see taking place in front of me. I go along with Paul’s words in v9 “Unless you speak intelligible words, how will anybody know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air” v19 “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongueâ”
So is there a place for the use of tongues in the church today? Yes very much so! I shared in my last talk how blessed I was when a crowd of ladies started praising and worshiping God by singing in tongues. Ladies can I let you into a secret. Most men find it hard to say to their wives 3 little words, no I don’t mean “I’ll wash up” we may love you, but find it hard to say those 3 little words “I love You”. Likewise some Christians find it hard to find adequate words to express their love to God, so worshiping in tongues can be used to edify God. A word of knowledge may be given and spoken in tongues by a person in the fellowship to edify, encourage and build up the church, but we are told an interpretation can only be given by another member if the Holy Spirit gives confirmation and sanctification. I personally wouldn’t take any notice of someone who gives and interpreted their own tongue! Satan will seize on every opportunity to disrupt and try to destroy a Spirit filled church! After all why should he bother with a church that is already Dead! We must test everything, even if mentioned at one of the biggest respected organised conferences or seminars. For example in the 90’s The So Called Toronto Blessing was a curse to some and a blessing to others especially Canadian Airways or Toronto Hotels! Maybe that’s a little unfair, because God often does move in ways we don’t expect or understand. But God gave us a brain and we must use it to test and discern, sadly too often churches fall into what I call the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome. As I said before it is a tremendous privilege but also a tremendous responsibility when God wants to speak through us using words, visions and tongues. Can I suggest as with any prophetic word, vision or interpretation of a tongue, we use what I called the Ann Watson test. Ask God is this really from you, if not take it away from my mind.
To conclude, over the next month over 17,000 people will be competing in the Olympics to fulfill a life’s dream of gaining a medal. For many it will be an impossible dream, remember Britain’s Eddie The Eagle the skier, or Eric ‘the eel’ the Equatorial Guinea 100 meter freestyle swimmer who had never swam more than 50 meters in his life, he struggled to even finish, but he did and actually won his qualifying heat because the other 2 were disqualified for false starts! Taking part is the important thing, and obviously if you don’t take part there is no hope of victory let alone a finish. My friends one day all of us will reach the finishing line of life. Where are we in the race? Are we walking, jogging or running with Jesus? Maybe we are struggling or have never even started a relationship with him. Some may even feel I’m not good enough to even compete for a place in heaven. I tell you the Gospel the Good News of Jesus is available to all right now, step up to the starting line today. I can’t offer you a snazzy track suit, only the clothes of righteousness, neither can I offer you Gold or Silver. Although you will prosper knowing Christ, I don’t preach the prosperity gospel of materialism as such, but you can experience the love, power and healing of God. The Christian race will not always be easy, there will be many hurdles, even conflicts, but if we are open to the anointing of God, prepared to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, willing to allow ourselves to be transformed and display the fruits of the Spirit we will have victory and a podium place in heaven. Amen