Paul described two different types of the gift of tongues—two expressions with two different purposes. This helps us to better understand two statements that seem to contradict each other, that “not all” have the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12:30), yet “all” can receive it (1 Cor. 14:5, Mark 16:17).
“The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom…to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues… Do all speak with tongues?” (1 Cor. 12:7-10, 30)
“For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him… He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself…I wish you all spoke with tongues…” (1 Cor. 14:2-5).
In 1 Corinthians 12:30, Paul asked a rhetorical question, signifying that not every believer has the gift of tongues to profit the corporate body: “Do all speak with tongues?” In 1 Cor. 12 the gift of tongues that Paul referred to was “for the profit of all,” yet he wrote in 1 Cor. 14 about tongues that bring personal edification to the one speaking in tongues. There is a difference between the gift of tongues given to a few for the profit of the corporate body (1 Cor. 12:7) when the speaker speaks to men, and the gift of tongues given to all as a devotional prayer language for the profit of the individual who speaks privately to God (1 Cor. 14:2, 4). Paul indicated that all can have the gift of tongues for their personal lives (1 Cor. 14:5, 39). Jesus said that speaking in tongues was one of the signs that would follow those who believe (Mark 16:17).
“I wish you all spoke with tongues…and do not forbid to speak with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5, 39).
“These signs will follow those who believe…they will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17).
Praying and Singing in the Spirit
Praying “with the spirit” and praying “in the spirit” includes praying in tongues. We can pray with our understanding (our minds) and with our spirits. Both types of praying are important, but praying with our spirit impacts us in a different way than praying with our minds. God designed us so that our spirit engages with God by speaking or singing in tongues (1 Cor. 14:15, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16).
“I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15).
Both singing with our spirit and with our understanding is important in our spiritual life. Paul taught that if we sing to God from our hearts, we would experience God’s grace and the Spirit’s presence.
Being Considerate When Praying or Singing in Tongues
Paul spoke of times in church services when it is best not to pray in tongues out loud, but rather to pray in tongues to oneself and to God. He spoke of it as a practical expression of edifying others and seeking to excel in love (1 Cor. 14:12). In a public gathering such as a church service or prayer meeting, it is important not to distract others when praying in tongues. A public prayer room is like a public living room. There are many different types of personalities sharing this “living room.”
“let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel…If there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God” (1 Cor. 14:12, 28).
We show love and consideration to others by praying in tongues quietly to avoid distracting others. If the majority of the people in the prayer meeting are singing in the Spirit or praying aloud in the Spirit together, then by all means join in. If you are one of the only people praying out loud in tongues in a meeting, then do it quietly to yourself. It does not quench the Spirit to pray in tongues quietly; in fact, it honors the Lord when we show love and consideration for His people.
Receiving the Gift of Tongues
Praying in tongues is a universal benefit for all believers. It is not a requirement or proof of salvation; rather, it is a benefit available to us through the work of Jesus and the indwelling of the Spirit. It is not reserved for those with a special calling. It does not require any special training, qualification, or preparation. It is a free gift to all as a part of the benefits of our salvation.
“I wish you all spoke with tongues…I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; …desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5, 18, 39).
If you have never received your devotional prayer language (the gift of tongues), then you can ask for it now. It is simple—just ask the Lord to release this particular aspect of His grace to you. Some say if the Spirit wants them to speak in tongues, then He will make them. However, the Spirit will not “force” anyone to speak in tongues. Some wait for an overwhelming sense of the Spirit, but often the Spirit touches His people like a gentle breeze.
“Purse love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 14:1).
Therefore, as you pray for the release of the gift of tongues, you may simply feel the presence of God lightly or just a gentle urge to speak out. I encourage you to speak out the words that come to you and see what the Holy Spirit does.