Thanks for your questions about the gift of tongues. Here are some thoughts. Bob will also add some comments.
First, Jesus tells us that speaking in tongues will be one of the signs that follow those who believe in Him.
Mark 16:17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
This should not be taken as a requirement for the gift of tongues but simply as a description of one of the signs we should expect in His followers. Taken together the Book of Acts and 1 Corinthians give us what results in three kinds or descriptions of the gift of tongues.
The first occurs in the Book of Acts where we see the early Christians speaking in known foreign languages on the Day of Pentecost. I have talked to Christians who have been in meetings in which this has happened, although it is rare.
1 Corinthians 14:2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.
The second we find in 1 Cor. 14. In verse 2 Paul tells us that speaking in tongues is speech to God, not men. He tells us that this is speaking “mysteries” [that which is not rationally intelligible] from our spirit to God. In other words, speaking in tongues allows a direct communication between our spirit and God’s Holy Spirit. He tells us in verse 4 that this communication edifies [builds up] the speaker. I believe this makes perfect sense because how could direct communication from the deepest part of ourselves to the Spirit of God not build us up?
1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. NIV
The third kind of speaking in tongues is mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 13:1 where he refers to “speaking in the tongues of men or of angels”. This is a rather vague reference, but many have taken it to mean that at times when one speaks in tongues they may be speaking an angelic language. Since this is the only reference that refers to angelic language not much should be made of the idea.
When we hear people refer to their “prayer language” I believe they are referring the gift of tongues as described by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:2 – spirit to Holy Spirit communication between us and God. There is no reference in the New Testament to a “prayer language”, at least not one I could find. It is a logical description of the spirit to spirit communication Paul is describing. It is not an unbiblical description to use, it is just not stated specifically as a “prayer language”.
Although Paul makes it clear he wants everyone to speak tongues he makes it more than clear that the purpose of speaking in tongues in any public meeting is to edify the community. This means that there must be the separate spiritual gift of the interpretation of tongues also present in the meeting.
1 Cor. 14:5-6 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified. 6 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 knowledgeor prophecy or word of instruction?
When a tongue is interpreted legitimately it operates like prophecy – it edifies or builds up the community.
To try to answer your question about why the Pentecostals attach so much importance to speaking in tongues; my personal belief is that when it entered the early experience of those who became known as the “Pentecostals” it was accompanied by an overwhelming experience of the love of God.
One writer who was present in those early meetings described the experience as being overwhelmed by wave after wave of liquid love. It was such a divine experience that it defined their faith. Because the gift of tongues accompanied this experience they attributed the experience of love to the gift of tongues. They made an unnecessary association.
My experience was entirely different. I experienced the overwhelming love of God years prior to receiving the gift of tongues. As I said in my previous post, when I experience the gift of tongues there was no emotional content except perhaps a mild increase in my experience of peace. Even though this was and is the case, I still speak in tongues occasionally as part of my prayer life.
I often do it when I cannot seem to adequately express what I want to say to God. Tongues seems to bridge the gap when I can’t find the right words. Also, when I am running a ministry time in a meeting and I am waiting for God to tell me what he wants to do next, I will quietly speak in tongues while I wait. It seems to help “center” me.
In my teaching of the spiritual gifts I do not make a big deal out of speaking in tongues simply because it has become such a divisive gift. Not because it is bad in any way but because it has been used as some sort of spiritual requirement for genuine holiness. I do not believe it is the sign of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but it is a good gift from God.
If you find yourself wanting it, ask for it and then exercise faith to receive whatever a good Father God wants to give you. If He tells you to start making sound, just do it and see what happens. If He tells you nothing, then leave it for now. The one thing I want to leave you with is this; you are not a second-class Christian because you have not spoken in tongues. I hope this helps. God bless you in your search for truth!
I am going to invite Bob to join us in this discussion because his experience was different than mine and he brings a different perspective to the discussion. Again, God Bless!
Further Comments from Bob
Mark has pretty well covered your questions in his comments above but let me add that Paul makes the statement in 1 Cor 14:18.19 that he speaks in tongues more than all the other believers in Corinth but that he does so in private not in the church. This is where he expresses what we call his “prayer language”.
So if he’s speaking to God, as he states a person speaking in an unknown language does, then when he’s alone and doing that he’s praying to God in that unknown tongue (1 Cor 14:2). As Mark already mentioned, praying in the spirit builds up the person praying in tongues. Jude echo’s this in
Jude 20, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit” (NKJV).