They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:3-4 NIV)
Both Jews and converts to Judaism Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine." (Acts 2:12-13 NIV)
And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues. (Mark 16:17 ESV)
Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? (1Co 14:22-23)
I have been pondering much lately on the power, effect, and purpose of the message in tongues in the corporate setting. This has not just been an academic exercise, but one accompanied by an eager desire to move into and discover more about this gift through moving in it personally, and provoking others in the body to step out too.
I think it is fairly clear (in our circles anyway) that the purpose of the gift of tongues on a personal level is for edification and stirring oneself up in the Spirit, and to communicate deep-to-deep with God unhindered by the mind's doubts. (1Co 14:4, 1Co 14:2, 1Co 14:14)
In the corporate setting, I think it is equally clear that the message in tongues should always be followed by an interpretation (1Co 14:27-28). And it is for the purpose of building-up (edification). However since a prophecy carries the same effect, and Paul gives much warning against the abuse of tongues to the Corinthian church, I think it has led some to believe that the message in tongues is a poor cousin to the prophetic word, and that since Paul says it is better to prophesy, we can skip this stage and move straight on to the greater gift. I disagree.
The message in tongues brings a different dynamic to the gathering. All spiritually discerning individuals are put on "red alert" and open themselves up to the Spirit for the interpretation. There is the obvious catalytic effect is has on the prophetic, and the fact the Paul still goes on to say that it is one of the manifestations of the Spirit that should be present in our gatherings for the common good. But beyond all this, tongues is singled out in a way that prophecy is not in relation to... unbelievers.
This is the aspect I have been really chewing over, since I was asked the question in a previous post on this gift. Tongues is listed as one of the signs that mark the believers in Mark's gospel. And Paul says explicitly that it is the message in tongues not the prophetic word that is for unbelievers, even though the widespread corporate expression of these gifts has the opposite effect.
It's curious isn't it, because if we were planning a guest service I doubt that "message in tongues" would be currently top of our list, or even on the list! So how is the message in tongues a sign for unbelievers? Well, this is just my own musings on the subject, but I believe that tongues operates towards the unbeliever to draw and to separate.... I shall explain what I mean in the following posts.