Speaking in tongues (or other languages, formally known as ‘glossolalia’) is a gift given by the Holy Spirit enabling people to speak in languages not learned academically. It is one of the characteristics of Pentecostal churches. It is not essential to speak in tongues to be a Christian, but this is a gift given by God to enable us to grow spiritually (see 1 Cor 14:4; Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke about this in a recent interview with Justin Brierley.)
Jackie Pullinger is a missionary to Howloon city in Hong Kong who has seen many drug addicts delivered from addiction. She says that praying in tongues is the chief ‘method’ she has used to see this deliverance: ‘heroin users would pray in tongues and find themselves miraculously released from their addiction.’ From a purely practical point of view, she commented that when you need to pray for hours on end for someone, ‘it’s quite hard to keep going [for that long] in your own language’!
Speaking in tongues can be misused (see 1 Cor 14:6-12 when Paul addresses the use of speaking in tongues in a congregational rather than private prayer setting), but Paul encourages this gift to be used and we too should encourage this gift to build up the church and enable us to connect further with a God whose generosity knows no limits.,
Garry continued his series on the characteristics of a Pentecostal church, looking further at the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Many dispute that this is needed nowadays, saying that this only happened in the early church to ‘get it started’ and that we now have completeness (e.g. the completed canon of Scripture) and therefore signs and wonders are no longer needed. It is difficult to conclude how this can be the case when so many across different denominations claim to have experienced this baptism and theologically, 1 Cor 13:8-10 (often cited as a proof that prophecies and tongues will cease) seems to be referring to a time in the future when Jesus has returned and we are with God permanentl, something which has not yet happened.
In the book of Acts, we have many signs of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the first occurring on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Tongues of fire were seen and a rushing wind was felt; the disciples subsequently spoke in tongues. There is clearly a visible element to this experience (see Acts 8:14-19 when we read that Simon saw the Holy Spirit was being given at the laying on of hands) and the most obvious sign of this is speaking in tongues (or other languages) (see Acts 10:44-46, Acts 19:1-6).
Speaking in tongues can sound very strange. It is not gobbledygook, but an ability to speak in real languages that have not previously been learned. The purpose of this is in some ways to restore the confusion of languages which occurred at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11) and is a means of edification (1 Cor 14:4), something which promotes growth and gives a close connection to God. It is a method of praying (1 Cor 14:2). In some ways, this method of prayer bypasses the mind (1 Cor 14:14-15), enabling us to connect directly with God.
We need to ask God for this gift and when we have received it we must use it. Speaking in tongues is not something to be displayed like the best china in a glass cabinet, something we possess but never use for fear of spoiling it or because we’re waiting for a ‘special occasion.’ We need to speak in tongues, to use this gift and to grow in faith and closeness to God as a result.
The blessing of good relationships is something God wants us all to enjoy. He sets us in families; He gives us friends; He knows we live in a world full of people and wants us to be a blessing and to be blessed in our relationships with all these people. Learning to live well among people is an outworking of our love for God; Jesus linked our love for God with our love for others (“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40)). John reminds us frequently that our love for other people is the measure of our love for God, saying, ‘Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.’ (1 John 2:10-11)
Love needs to be seen in our family relationships: in our marriages, in our relationships to parents, grandparents and children. It needs to be seen in our friendships and in our church. It needs to be seen in our workplaces. Love and respect for people remain at the heart of the Christian faith.
The Bible is an honest book and shows us how often people fail to love in this way. From Cain who killed his brother because Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God and who acted out of jealousy and hatred to David who committed adultery and failed to discipline his sons, from Abraham who schemed his way into getting a son and who treated his wife’s slave with contempt to Jacob whose favouritism of Joseph caused so many problems among his children, we see plenty of examples of relationships which failed and which did not reflect God’s constancy and faithfulness. But it shows us also examples of what this love can look like: steadfast Ruth and honourable Boaz, for example, who are recorded in the lineage of Jesus our Saviour, Hosea the prophet who mirrored God’s constancy and faithful love to a wife who persistently rejected him. As we allow God’s Holy Spirit to have control of our lives, we can know the blessing of good relationships and we can trust Him to work in all those fractured, broken areas of our lives where perhaps we feel reconciliation is impossible and restoration can never happen. We mustn’t ever give up or lose hope. God is ableto orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. (Rom 8:28, The Voice) He is able to bring healing, restoration and reconciliation as we seek to live in the blessing of good relationships.
The blessing of good relationships is also a powerful means of evangelism. Jesus said, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:34-35) May we show God’s love in all our relationships and see Him working in our families, friends, colleagues and neighbours so that others may know this blessing too.
This morning we continued our series on ‘Battles and Blessings’, looking at the blessing of good relationships (Eph 5:21-6:9). Paul mentions three specific relationships in these verses (marriage, parent/ child relationships and master/ slave relationships), but the principle of all good relationships is laid out in Eph 5:21. It’s only as we submit to one another and honour each other that relationships can flourish (see Phil 2:1-4).
Marriage is one of the greatest blessings God has given to people, and yet it’s so often a relationship that is fraught with tension and unhappiness. Our inherent sinfulness and selfishness mean that we often end up hurting the people we love the most. God made Eve to be Adam’s companion and helper, because He saw that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). Marriage is meant to be a relationship of mutual love and support. Adam recognised this when he said, ‘“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”’ (Gen 2:23) For centuries, we have recognised that marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of society, a relationship blessed and sanctified by God, but in these days, that very relationship is under attack from every angle. We need to keep coming back to what God tells us about marriage. It’s so very important not simply from a human point of view, but because, as Paul says, it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with His people. Christian marriage mirrors the relationship God has with His church and as such must always be honoured.
Christian marriage involves submission to the husband by the wife and unconditional love from the husband to the wife. The Message version translates submission as ‘understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ’ and urges husbands to ‘go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting.’ When we do things God’s way, we find our marriages are not battlegrounds, littered with corpses, but are places that reflect the unity and harmony that exist in the Godhead.
Parent/ Child Relationships
Paul teaches children to obey their parents in the Lord. This is the right thing to do; it fulfils the commandment to ‘honour your father and mother’ and he reminds children that this comes with a promise of blessing: ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ (Eph 6:3, Deut 5:16) But he also looks at the responsibilities of parents too, reminding fathers in particular that they have a responsibility not to exasperate their children, but to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:4) That word ‘exasperate’ has been translated ‘don’t provoke your children to anger’; the Amplified version expands on this idea saying, ‘do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; don’t show favouritism or indifference to any of them.’
We live in a society where many children don’t even know their fathers, where parents may well not live together and where the fundamental security and love a child needs to grow in wisdom and understanding are often sadly lacking. God wants our most basic of relationships to reflect His love, kindness, unconditional acceptance and faithfulness. There is such blessing when there is a good relationship between the generations, when great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and children can share in love, loyalty and acceptance.
Master/ slave relationships (or how we respond to those in authority or handle authority)
Paul then goes on to talk about the relationship between a master and a slave, a relationship which may well seem to lack any kind of mutual respect, since a master was someone in a position of authority and a slave often had few, if any, rights. Yet once again, Paul insists that there is respect and mutual responsibility in this relationship. Slaves are urged to live lives of obedience, but this is to be more than outward or token obedience. It’s to be ‘with sincerity of heart’ (Eph 6:5) and this can be done because the master is seen as the earthly representative of Christ: ‘just as you would obey Christ.’ (Eph 6:5) Obedience is not just because we want to win favour and have an easy life; it stems from ‘doing the will of God from your heart.’ (Eph 6:6) Paul shows us in these verses that any relationship we have is a reflection of our relationship with God. We serve wholeheartedly, he says, ‘as if you were serving the Lord, not people.’ (Eph 6:7) We can serve gladly and willingly, no matter what our position, because we have an eternal perspective. We know God rewards each one for whatever good they do. (Eph 6:8) In other words, we see beyond the present and look into eternity. This has enormous implications for each one of us, whatever job we are doing. Christians should be the best workers in the workforce, not because we are any better than anyone else, but because we are working ultimately not for our employer, but for God. Joseph is an example of this; whether he was working for Potiphar or in the prison, he was constantly winning the favour of those above him because of his willingness to serve. The prison warden didn’t have to do anything because God’s favour was on Joseph and because he worked so hard. (Gen 39:22-23)
Paul is revolutionary, however, because he lists responsibilities for masters also. He wants those in positions of responsibility not to abuse that position, not to treat slaves with disdain or threats. He wants them to show respect and consideration. (Eph 6:9) There is no place for manipulation and oppression in any Christian relationship. Paul teaches all people are equal before God: ‘you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.’ (Eph 6:9) If we live with the daily conviction that there is no favouritism with God, that He loves all people equally, that He sees how we live as a vital outworking of our faith, then this will influence every relationship we have and will colour how we live.
The story of Little Red Riding Hood is another classic fairytale which uses repetition with variants (‘all the better to hear you with… see you…’ etc.) to reinforce its point. The basic moral of the story reminds us that it’s dangerous to talk to strangers and that danger lurks in unexpected places; this is the story of another little girl in the forest, off to visit her sick grandmother with a basket of food, who finds the hungry wolf she meets in the forest has other ways to deceive her (the wolf gobbles her grandmother and pretends to be the grandmother to beguile the little girl.)
Such fairytales clearly have the potential to scare children; they are a reminder that life is not perhaps as safe and saccharine as we would like it to be. The wolf’s slyness and cunning remind us that we have an enemy who can appear to us in different guises; the smooth lies of the serpent are just as dangerously deceptive as the roaring of the lion. Little Red Riding Hood is naive and does not immediately recognise the wolf in her grandmother’s clothing. We too need to be on our guard, for the enemy – as C. S. Lewis skilfully reminds us in The Screwtape Letters – can appear to be eminently plausible and reasonable. We’re on our guard against a wolf, but the wolf does not always look like a wolf, hence the need for ongoing vigilance.
This fairytale warns of the pitfalls and perils in life, and we too need to be very aware of these, especially the dangers of deception. The serpent deceived Eve in the garden and is perfectly capable of deceiving us too. (Gen 3:13) In addition, the pride of our hearts can deceive us (Obadiah 1:3) and we can easily be led astray and distracted from a pure devotion to Christ. (2 Cor 11:3) The wolf doesn’t always look like a wolf… The devil does not always look devilish… but the consequences remain dire if we succumb to his deception. We don’t need to be discouraged, however. The woodcutter comes to Little Red Riding Hood’s rescue and we have a Rescuer who is mighty to save us too. (Ps 81:7)
Christian leadership is a vast subject and one on which many books have been written. Alex Montonya says, ‘all the definitions of leading have one thing in common: the leader is one who leads others to the accomplishment of a common goal. If no one follows, he is obviously not a leader, regardless of what titles and degrees may precede or follow his name.’ (‘Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry’, John F. MacArthur Jr. and The Masters Seminary Faculty, Word: Dallas, 1995, p. 283) Chuck Swindoll gives an even pithier definition: ‘At the risk of oversimplifying . . . it’s the word influence.’ (‘Leadership’, Chuck Swindoll, Word: Waco, 1985, p. 19)
At this stage of history, no one quite knew what church leadership would look like; as the people waited for the Holy Spirit to fall, there was no real understanding of what the church would look like, let alone its leadership. At the same time, the eleven apostles (named in Acts 1:13) knew they had been called by Jesus (see Luke 6:13-16) and Peter was adamant that they needed to choose a new apostle to replace Judas. (Acts 1:16-21) Whether this was because the number twelve was symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel or because his understanding of prophecy had been honed in this waiting period (he quotes Ps 65:29 and Ps 109:8 in giving his reasons for saying another apostle must be chosen) is not clear, but this appointment of Matthias gives us important insights into leadership choices. An apostle, Peter said, must be someone who had been with Christ throughout His earthly ministry and who had witnessed the resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22) In other words, the apostle had to have had a personal relationship with Christ, and had to have witnessed the resurrection to be an effective witness to others. (Acts 1:8)
The rest of the New Testament gives further insights into Christian leadership, but it is interesting to note that this starting point of a personal walk with God and a personal testimony remain crucial. What is interesting in all the guidance about choosing leaders and the characteristics of godly leaders is that character matters enormously. 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-8 have more to say about the character of a leader than what the leader actually does. Holiness of life, soundness of doctrine and a lifestyle compatible with Christian truth are crucial. Moreover, these first believers were content to leave the decisions to the Lord (Acts 1:24-25) once they had done all they could. We can be confident that God knows what He is doing and will both call and equip those to whom He calls to leadership.