Appropriating God’s Bequest
The famous 19th Century English Reformed Baptist minister, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, once visited an elderly woman who was dying of malnutrition. She was living in abject poverty in a hovel made largely out of packing cases. Whilst ministering to her, Spurgeon noticed a document pinned to the wall. It had apparently been given to her by the mistress she had worked for 10 years previously and was in fact a bequest entitling this poor, illiterate lady to a home and an income for the rest of her days!
Now this is a true story and it is both shocking and sad, because this lady had lived as a pauper, when within her grasp was everything she needed for a very comfortable retirement.
But I wonder this morning whether any of us as Christians might be living our lives largely missing out on some of the key life-transforming benefits and blessings that Jesus intends for us. Through ignorance, carelessness or just plain negligence, are we missing some aspects of the marvellous bequest he has left us and so living Christian lives that are diminished as a result.
This is what I want us to consider this morning as we look together at a few vitally important words from Jesus’s half-brother Jude. In verse 20 of his short letter he writes this: “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”
Jude is here charging each of us with a personal responsibility. He says: “build YOURSELVES up”. This is something that will not just fall into our laps or that someone else can do for us. We must do it ourselves.
Today, we’ll focus on just one part of the process that Jude describes – but it is a part that I believe can literally transform our daily lives and our FRUITFULNESS as Christians – perhaps in a way that nothing else can do. And, if we are really fruitful in our lives in the John 15:16 sense of bearing “fruit that will last”, then we will be fulfilling God’s call on our lives, and others will be really blessed. So, let’s take a look at one often neglected part of the special BEQUEST that Jesus has provided for each one of us.
We can read about in Acts 2:1–4 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. (And, here’s the key verse -) All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
This morning then I want us to consider our use of what Paul calls in 1 Corinthians 12:10 “speaking in different kinds of tongues” and I want to do it because it is a vital part of what Jude 20 describes as to “pray in the Holy Spirit”.
Now, a careful reading of the Bible distinguishes FOUR distinct aspects of speaking in tongues:
1. Firstly, “tongues for interpretation”. In 1 Corinthians 14:5 Paul says: I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. This form of tongues is where one person speaks out in a tongue and this is then followed with an INTERPRETATION of the message in tongues - most often by another person.
2. Secondly, “tongues for intercession”. In Romans 8:26 it says: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Whilst this verse may not exclusively be a reference to using tongues, it is certainly true that using tongues enables believers to pray earnestly for others without the constraint of our natural language, or having any real understanding or knowledge of HOW best to pray. In a way, this use of tongues allows God to pray THROUGH US when we do not really know how we should pray.
3. Thirdly, “tongues as a sign to unbelievers”. In 1 Corinthians 14:22 it says: Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; This, you remember, is what happened on the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 2:7–11 we read: Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” This use of tongues occurs when the Holy Spirit enables a believer to preach, teach, or testify about Christ in a language they have never learned.
4. Finally, there is what we can call “tongues for personal edification”. In 1 Corinthians 14:4 it says: “He who speaks in a tongue EDIFIES HIMSELF”. This is prayer in the supernatural language that the Holy Spirit gives us that we can pray AT WILL and AS MUCH AS WE WISH. Though not everyone does so, this gift is available to us from the moment we receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And it’s this last type of speaking in tongues that I want us to consider this morning.
Tongues for edification tends to be the Cinderella of spiritual gifts. It is often heavily under-rated and even to have something of a bad press in some circles. One reason for this may be that Paul himself APPEARS to relegate it to an inferior place in the spiritual gift list by urging us in 1 Corinthians 12:31 to “eagerly desire the GREATER gifts”. This can make us think, “well why bother with tongues – let’s just concentrate on the major gifts like the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, or the gifts of faith, of healing or miracles”. Then also, in 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul declares: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Again, this can make us think that Paul is telling us that tongues for edification is somehow an inferior gift.
But let me give you two reasons that expose the error in that kind of thinking.
i. First, all the other gifts are intended for use within the church or in ministry to OTHER people. In this sense, but only in this sense, they ARE therefore more important because they minister to MORE people and they are, very commendably, about blessing others. “Tongues for personal edification” though, is a gift for us as INDIVIDUALS. It is NOT in a direct sense intended to provide a blessing for anyone else – only for the one who is speaking. Tongues for edification, is as we shall see, a personal ministry to us by the Holy Spirit with the primary purpose of facilitating OUR spiritual growth and OUR ministry as a Christian. I think that most of us would concede that building up and developing our own Christian life is pretty important – especially as a strong, mature Christian is more able to minister effectively to others.
ii. Second, Paul himself clearly did NOT in fact share the view that tongues for personal edification was of little or no importance because in 1 Corinthians 14:18 he declares “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you”. Why would he spend so much time speaking in tongues if he did not understand the great value of doing it? No, Paul understood the critical importance of speaking in tongues for our personal growth and was in fact an ace practitioner – it was a hallmark, a key feature of his daily life and ministry as a Christian and he did it MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE! So, if it was good enough and important enough for Paul, then surely it is good enough and important enough for us too!
Tongues for edification then is the one and only spiritual gift that operates in US to build US up and edify US as a Christian and that allows our lives to be flooded with the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s prayers AT WILL and as much as WE CHOOSE.
Speaking in tongues operates within us, if you like, as a “fifth column” channel for the Holy Spirit to work through us as God’s children, so that God can accomplish his purposes in us! And the really brilliant thing is that God, through tongues for edification, has provided what is available in none of the other gifts! He has allowed US to be in control of our own edification. (“build yourselves up”!) We can, of our own free will, choose how much or how little we will let the Holy Spirit pray through us and so shed his blessings into and through our lives. Imagine being able to allow God the Holy Spirit to do his praying FOR US at any time we choose! That is exactly what the gift of tongues does for us.
We simply reach out in faith and the Holy Spirit responds immediately by creating words in a supernatural language right down on the inside of our spirit and out flows HIS prayer for us and for HIS purposes in and through our life and ministry.
“Tongues for personal edification” is NOT the poor relation in the list of spiritual gifts – rather, it is an ESSENTIAL ingredient to the fulfilment of God’s purposes for our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that it is FOUNDATIONAL for our spiritual growth and fruitfulness in God’s service.
I wonder then if for any of us this morning, speaking in tongues for personal edification is an example of an UN-USED BEQUEST and blessing that we, like the poverty stricken lady in our story, are failing to benefit from? If so:
• if we don’t yet operate in this gift, shouldn’t we prioritise being baptised in the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of tongues; or,
• if we’ve already received the gift, shouldn’t we start to give it the same MAJOR place in OUR Christian life that Paul evidently thought it merited.
Tongues for personal edification is the only one of the four types of tongue that we can exercise out of choice, any time we like, and it’s the only one that comes with a GUARANTEE in God’s Word that it WILL cause us to grow as Christians because 1 Corinthians 14:4 clearly says “He who speaks in a tongue EDIFIES HIMSELF . . .”
But here’s another thought: I think it is highly significant that Paul, who said in 1 Corinthians 14:18 “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you”, is pre-eminently the one who through his letters to the young churches and his ministry among them, was used to establish the truth of the gospel and lay down sound foundations for the church and that he received his understanding and knowledge by REVELATION.
It is true that Paul clearly had a massive intellect, knew the Old Testament scriptures intimately, and was a fierce contender for the faith, but he was also most clearly a man whose insight came from a level of personal revelation that most of us know little about. He said so himself didn’t he? In Galatians 1:11–12 he says: I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. Also, in Galatians 1:15-16 Paul says “. . . God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to REVEAL his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles”. (I think it is significant incidentally, that he says “reveal his Son IN me” and not just “to me” since we are looking this morning at the gift of tongues that operates IN us)
Remember too, the incident Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12:2–4: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. Although he was reticent to say so, I think most people recognise that the man Paul was referring to here was himself. So, by any standards, Paul’s revelations from God were spectacular.
Also, according to Galatians 1:18, after Paul’s dramatic salvation experience on the road to Damascus and then receiving prayer from Ananias to restore his eyesight and to receive the Holy Spirit, Paul then spent THREE YEARS in the desert which are not mentioned in the account in Acts, before he then re-emerged to take up his God-given commission. It’s a guess, but I like to think that during that period he was edifying himself, at least in part, through the operation of the foundational gift of speaking in tongues, because this gift opens the door to the reception of God’s amazing wisdom and revelation which was so much the hallmark of Paul’s unsurpassed apostleship of the church in its critical early years. I want to suggest ALSO that speaking in tongues for personal edification is inextricably linked with personal revelation of truth in OUR lives too.
You may recall that in his excellent word on Pentecost Sunday Phil said that if we are in Christ and have the Holy Spirit we already have all there is, but, whilst there is no more to have, what we do need, he said, is more of the Holy Spirit’s REVELATION of what we already have. My suggestion this morning is that speaking in tongues is one way that the Holy Spirit can bring that revelation into our lives.
I want to finish this brief look at the gift of “tongues for personal edification” – with just three short points that might prompt us all to take this bequest from God down from the walls of our Christian lives and start to enjoy its benefits a great deal more, so that we might personally respond to Jude’s challenge to: “build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”
POINT ONE: Tongues for personal edification: is a key for personal spiritual TRANSFORMATION. As we have seen, speaking in tongues involves the Holy Spirit supplying his words directly into our spirit – the very part of us where all spiritual change MUST be birthed. Speaking out these spiritual words from the Holy Spirit is “exercising” our “spirit man” and leads to personal growth and transformation. It is, if you like, a personal fitness regime for our human spirit, managed by no less of a personal trainer than the Holy Spirit himself! It does something amazing to us on the inside. It’s like plugging in an electric car at a charging point. God’s lively words pour into us to refuel us with His divine energy and power!
So, if we often feel that spiritually we are pretty much running on empty, I would say that we urgently need to change the daily routine of our spiritual lives to include frequent and prolonged times of speaking in tongues as a key way of re-charging our spiritual batteries so that our spiritual lives are transformed.
POINT TWO: Tongues for personal edification: empowers and enhances THE WAY GOD’S WORD WORKS IN US. 1Thessalonians 2:13 speaks of “the word of God, which is indeed at work IN you who believe.” and Philippians 2:13 confirms that “it is God who works IN you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Put these two great promises together with Jesus’ own prophetic promise where he tells us before his crucifixion and resurrection in John 14:17 that the Holy Spirit “lives WITH you and WILL BE IN YOU” and you can see how speaking in tongues can open the door to the Holy Spirit, because this gift sees the Holy Spirit putting his words directly INTO our spirit which we then speak out as God’s prayer for our lives and the lives of those to whom we are called to minister. If you haven’t seen this for yourself, try praying in tongues for a while and then speaking out some of your favourite Bible verses – (or your less favourite verses). Something very special can happen; it can be like lighting the blue touch paper on a firework – but the “explosion” that follows is an explosion of revelation and blessing that sweeps over your soul. Also, and this is really great, because as Romans 10:17 says “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” hearing the Word with the enhanced revelation that speaking in tongues brings, makes faith arise all the more in our spirit. It’s a double whammy of blessing that can blow your spiritual socks clean off!
POINT THREE: Tongues for personal edification: provides each one of us with THE ULTIMATE PRAYER PARTNER-THE HOLY SPIRIT. He is a prayer partner . . .
• who is available to us 24 hours a day, every day;
• who knows us even better than we know ourselves;
• who understands what really is best for us;
• who leads us and guides out of his matchless wisdom and knowledge;
• who is a party to our Heavenly Father’s plan for our lives and knows just what the Father wants for us;
• who sees the dangers and pitfalls around us that we are often completely oblivious to ourselves;
• who can supply the power to overcome our character flaws and besetting sins that so often bring failure and road block our development as Christians;
• who is totally aware of our spiritual history including all our failures and weaknesses but still has our best interests at heart; and,
• who is absolutely number one at praying power-filled, life-transforming prayers over us and who NEVER, EVER prays a dud prayer!
Praying in tongues allows us, any time we choose, to have this perfect prayer partner praying into our lives and ministry. So, since we have this superlative prayer resource available to us, how long do you think we should have him pray for us? How much should we pray in tongues? The answer to that surely lies in how much we really value and covet God’s blessing, his wisdom, his guidance, and his anointing for service?
Some, like me, are only too aware of our limitations intellectually and understand that we will never really be able to grasp everything we need to live as we should as Christians. We have neither the time available in our lifetime nor the mental wherewithal to grasp all that we need to know. But the gift of speaking in tongues for personal edification allows us to receive blessing, wisdom, revelation and unsurpassed prayer power “intravenously”, or really, “intra-spiritually” direct from God the Holy Spirit to our spirit.
My suggestion this morning then is for all the good reasons I have just referred to, and for all those possibly even better reasons I have not yet understood, we should all right now, take down God’s bequest of the amazing gift of speaking in tongues and start to give it the same kind of priority that Paul gave it. For us personally, for our church, and for the benefit of those God allows us to minister to, the result will be to move us into a whole new dimension of Christian experience, revelation and fruitfulness.
Let’s make a firm personal resolution today to take Jude’s words to heart “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”