1 Cor. 12:10 - "…to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another interpretation of tongues."
1 Cor. 12:30 - "Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?"
1 Cor. 14:27-28 - "If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God."
Tongues and Interpretation are the eighth and ninth spiritual gifts – the last two in the list. We always discuss them together because they should always occur together in the church. (If you have not received our lessons on the other spiritual gifts, please notify us by email and we will send them to you). We want to have all nine gifts in our churches.
The Gift of Tongues has been the most controversial spiritual gift for the last 100 years. It is also partly due to the constant abuses of the Gift of Tongues by Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches, which scandalize other evangelicals and cause spiritual harm to their own members. In our churches, we feel it is very important to have Tongues and Interpretation function properly in our churches, and to avoid any abuses or confusion about these spiritual gifts. The Bible says we should not have everyone speak in Tongues at the same time during our services (see 1 Cor. 14:23, 27, 32-33), but the largest Pentecostal denominations ignore the Bible and do this anyway. On the other hand, the Bible says clearly, "Do not forbid speaking in tongues," (1 Cor. 14:39), but many fundamentalist churches (and missionary organizations) in the West disobey this Scripture, and forbid speaking in Tongues. There seems to be less controversy or contention about Tongues and Interpretation in Africa and Asia, fortunately. Most believers accept it, but there is still much confusion and uncertainty about the issue.
As with all the spiritual gifts, God's purpose or goal is to edify the whole church through the proper functioning of the gift. (See 1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Cor. 14:5). It is never the Holy Spirit's intention to draw attention to an individual person or elevate a man in God's house. Any time a spiritual gift is functioning in a way that elevates or promotes the person bringing the gift, something is wrong. The Gift of Tongues is the only spiritual gift by which the Bible says a person "edifies himself" (1 Cor. 14:4). It is unique in that sense, and is therefore more prone to abuse in the church services, because people derive a personal benefit or blessing from speaking in Tongues, even if it disrupts the church service. The Holy Spirit does not want to disrupt the church service, but rather wants order and peace (1 Cor. 14:33). The individual can still receive their personal blessing or edification by speaking in Tongues very softly, almost silently, without distracting anyone else in the service (1 Cor. 14:28).
The Gift of Tongues (along with Interpretation) is not an earthly language. We sometimes meet people who think that this is merely the special ability some people have for learning foreign languages. They are mistaken. Spiritual gifts are miraculous operations of the Spirit, not just abilities or talents - like language acquisition skills - that even an unbeliever might have. When Tongues occurs in our churches, it is not an earthly language like English, Kiswahili, or Hindi. It is a heavenly language (see 1 Cor. 14:1-2, 13:1), which nobody could learn in a school or from books. The words come from the Holy Spirit not from the person's mind (1 Cor. 14:15). In fact, the original Greek New Testament usually uses different words for the Gift of Tongues and specific, earthly languages like Hebrew or Greek (but there are a few exceptions to this). The Gift of Tongues is a heavenly language. We can know the meaning of the words only by another miracle, the Gift of Interpretation.
Contrary to what some large Pentecostal churches teach, Tongues is not a universal gift that everyone receives. The Bible is clear that not all will have this gift (see 1 Cor. 12:30 - Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?"). Paul lists the nine spiritual gifts saying "to one is given…" and then "to another," meaning that no members have all the gifts, and no gift is given to all members. Instead, the complete menu of gifts can occur only in the Body as a whole. We must be clear on this point: Tongues is nota required sign for everyone who receives the Baptism in the Spirit, contrary to what others teach. Those other churches call tongues the "initial evidence," the absolute test to determine whether the Baptism in the Spirit occurred.