This is #10 in a series of posts by PJ on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It deals with the gifts of tongues and interpretation (1 Corinthians 12:10).
How Will I Know if I Have the Gift of Tongues?
If you have the ability to speak in tongues privately, then you have the potential to bring a tongue in public because the actual speaking of tongues is the same dynamic for the speaker whether done alone in his room or in front of 1,000 people. But, not everyone has this gift of ‘public’ tongues.
In my experience, those that are gifted to bring a ‘public’ tongue that leads the people in Spirit-worship of God, are those who have real worshipping hearts and who can speak confidently and expressively in public. Remember, tongues is man-speaking-to-God (invariably a declaration of deep worship and praise about some aspect of who God is and his dealings with man), so if you are leading the meeting for those few moments then you need a strong worshipping heart, a strong and expressive voice, and an attitude of faith. Without these things then the tongue is going sound rather feeble and boring and may not provoke much of an interpretation.
For me, it works like this: during a time of worship I sometimes feel a special urge to bring a tongue of pure praise to God. At that moment I usually feel particularly thrilled and moved by God and I sense a nudge in my spirit to pour it out publicly in a tongue. I just feel the need to do a deluge of praise unhindered by my mind. It is hard to explain but you know when you have it. In fact, at first you are not sure so you should just give it a go, especially if you know that someone who is gifted with interpretation is present. Also, early on it is usually best to find the leader of the meeting and say that you have a tongue ready to roll if and when he feels the moment is right. This will be an added source of encouragement and protection for you.
How will I know if I have the interpretation?
Theologically speaking, Paul assumes that some people are known to have the gift of interpretation (1 Cor 14:28), and ready to interpret any tongue that comes. Practically speaking, the best person to bring an interpretation is the one(s) who feel a rise of faith or excitement as the tongue is being brought, and who get a sense of the theme of the tongue – not the detail, just the theme. If that is you, then step out in faith and immediately (even as the tongue is being spoken) come to the front and get ready to unleash a river of interpretation.
When I start to interpret I only ever have the idea of the first couple of sentences, and I find that as I start to speak God gives me the idea for the next sentence, and so on. Remember, it is important that the interpretation is man-speaking-to-God.
Those with the gift of interpretation will, like the tongue bringers, be those with worshipping hearts and who can speak confidently and expressively in public. Remember, your interpretation is a form of leading the people in worship to God!
Note that it is an interpretation, not a translation. This means that the interpretation will capture the theme of the utterance rather than the detail of each word.
Can a tongue have more than one interpretation?
Theologically I feel that this is possible because tongues is dynamic language rather than one with a dictionary, but practically it is pretty confusing to have completely different interpretations to one tongue. Tongues and interpretation is hard enough for newcomers to cope with, without adding the extra challenge of widely diverse interpretations! Therefore, it is usually best to only allow interpretations along a similar theme and ask those with other interpretations to graciously hold back.
Should tongues and interpretation be used in seeker-sensitive meetings?
Look at these two extracts from 1 Corinthians 14:
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Cor 14:23-25)
He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified (1 Cor 14:5)
From these scriptures we learn (a) that any tongue that is brought must be interpreted, and (b) if it is, it has a similar ‘power’ to prophecy that is potent for the unbeliever to be exposed to, but (c) that there are challenges with administering the gifts of tongues and interpretation in a way that is helpful to the unbeliever. For example, immature demonstrations of tongues and interpretation might technically pass Paul’s criteria, but practically may give unbelievers an unnecessary hurdle to jump. Conclusion – if you are going to have these gifts in meetings where unbelievers are present, then do them decently and in order and with power and effectiveness.