On December 30, 2018 a new study entitled “The Holy Spirit and What Biblical Spirituality Looks Like” will begin in our Christian Life Hour.
This study will meet in the East Classroom and will be led by John Ihne, one of the deacons in our church. We would love to see you there as a part of this exciting study.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” ~2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
Does Acts 6:1–7 tell us anything about deacons, technically speaking? After all, the word deacon is not used, some of the seven men appointed to ministry also preached (Stephen and Philip), and the seven’s appointment was for a singular task, not serving the church’s tangible needs as a whole.
While such a description may push us towards describing the men in view as something other than deacons, it is fair to conclude that Luke was indeed describing the first appointment of deacons within the church. The task given was managing the distribution of food to widows, an example ministry of how deacons minister to the church. While deacons are not required to teach (cf. 1 Tim 3:8–13), neither are they forbidden from doing so. As for the word deacon, their ministry in Acts 6 was to “serve tables,” and the word serve is translated from diakoneō, the verb form from which we get our title deacon (cf. 1 Tim 3:8, diakonos).
When compared to 1 Timothy 3:1–13, Acts 6:1–7 provides further indicators that deacons are in view. One contrast between an overseer in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and a deacon in 1 Timothy 3:8–13 is that an overseer was to be able to teach, but not a deacon. In Acts 6:1–7, the apostles were unique as apostles, yes, but they also functioned as the church’s first overseers and were thus given to the “preaching of the word of God” (Acts 6:2), which is also described as “the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The seven, however, were appointed in order to keep the apostles from being distracted from this focus, and the preaching of Stephen and Philip was something in addition to and did not take away from their ministry to the widows. Just as overseers and not deacons have to be able to teach, so also the overseeing apostles needed to give their time to teaching and not the seven who were appointed to serve the widows’ tables.
A comparison between Acts 6:1–7 and 1 Timothy 3:8–13 also shows that, just as the seven were to meet certain character requirements, so also are deacons in general. In Acts 6:3, being “of good repute,” being “full of the Spirit,” and having the “wisdom” necessary to oversee a practical ministry is simply shorthand for the more detailed requirements for deacons found in 1 Timothy 3:8–13.
Having explored the above, we see something of the amazing unity and diversity that Christ has ordained for the church. Just as some members may be the mouths who speak the word of God, so also others are the hands that tend to the church’s specific, tangible needs. One ministry could not exist without the other, and when these ministries work in harmony, the word of God increases, disciples multiply, and many become obedient to the faith (cf. Acts 6:7).
Psalm 23 has been precious to the saints throughout the ages. It gives comfort in the midst of death, and it strengthens our delight and trust in the Lord because He is our Shepherd.
Its author is David who knew the Lord as Jacob did, “the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day” (Genesis 48:15 ESV). As king of the nation, David knew Him as the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1 ESV). And, David, too, was a shepherd—first of sheep and then of Israel. God “took him from the sheepfolds…to shepherd Jacob his people” (Psalm 78:70–72 ESV). David was uniquely qualified to write Psalm 23.
In looking at the first four verses of this psalm, we see that…
Our greatest delight is to know the Lord as shepherd (Psalm 23:1–4).
We can summarize how the Lord ministers to us as our Shepherd in four ways:
First, the Lord gives (Psalm 23:1).
David’s statement “I shall not want” stems from having the Lord as his Shepherd—He gives to us Himself as our Shepherd, which meets our greatest desires.
But how exactly does He shepherd us? Psalm 23:2–4 lists in detail how the Lord ministers as Shepherd.
Second, the Lord guides (Psalm 23:2).
The Lord guides us to be at peace, pictured by the guidance of a sheep to “green pastures” and “still waters,” places where sheep can safely eat, drink, and rest. Through His Word and the gospel, the Lord guides us to be at peace, if nothing else, with Him through Christ who died for us (Romans 5:10). If this is so, we will experience this peace in full when He brings us into His glorious kingdom (cf. Romans 16:20).
Third, the Lord governs (Psalm 23:3).
Using the word “governs,” we capture the idea of the Lord watching over and bringing back a wayward sheep. The word “restore” (šwb) implies these thoughts.
This word can be used to describe physical restoration, whether strength (Lamentations 1:11, 19) or life itself (1 Kings 17:21, 22). Spiritually speaking, the soul can be restored by a comforter (Lamentations 1:16) or faithful messenger (Proverbs 25:3). As David uses the word here, the imagery of the shepherd restoring the sheep indicates that the Lord brings His wayward children back to Himself and makes them spiritually whole.
Isaiah used this word when he foretold that the Christ would restore Israel to the Lord (Isaiah 49:5 ESV). Christ likewise does so for us today: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25 ESV).
The reason for restoring His sheep is “for His name’s sake.” The Lord will not allow His reputation as Shepherd to be shamed by a sheep’s wayward walk. He gathers us away from evil ways to lead us unto “paths of righteousness” so that others think highly of Him as a Shepherd.
Fourth, the Lord guards (Psalm 23:4).
In perhaps the most memorable portion of this psalm, David speaks of when he would “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Death is so close to the sheep that it is overshadowed by it. This “shadow of death” (ṣalmāwet) is not just literal darkness but indeed speaks of death. It is elsewhere paralleled to “the gates of deep death” (Job 38:17) and the death-giving desert, “a land of drought” (Jeremiah 2:6).
Despite walking in death’s valley, “evil” brings no “fear” to David because the Lord is present with him (“you are with me”)—notice how David moves from speaking about to speaking to his Shepherd. An Ancient Near Eastern shepherd led by going ahead. Here the Lord walks beside the sheep in this valley. Only He is present, it seems.
Furthermore, the valley’s evil brings no fear because “comfort comes from the Lord’s “rod and staff,” tools of defense against enemies (cf. 1 Samuel17:35) or for controlling the sheep through such a perilous walk.
Summarizing the Lord’s shepherding ministries up to this point, we saw that our greatest delight is to know the Lord as shepherd because He gives Himself to us, guides us in following Him, governs us back to Him when we go astray, and guards us as death is near (Psalm 23:1–4).
Coming to the last two verses of our psalm, we see that…
Our greatest dwelling is in the house of the Lord (Psalm 23:5–6).
At this point, David breaks from the imagery of the Lord as his shepherd to speak of what it is to dwell in the house of the Lord. We could summarize these verses with two statements:
First, the Lord gives His people a grand entrance (Psalm 23:5).
We see this entrance into the house in how the Lord prizes His people.
The Lord Himself is the table-master who delights to “prepare a table” for his guests. The psalm thus moves from a personal metaphor of sheep and shepherd to something even more intimate—companions at the table who eat together.
The Lord even goes so far as to “anoint my head with oil” and make sure the guest’s “cup overflows.” Anointing a guest with oil was an act of celebration (cf. Psalm 104:15) or welcoming someone into the home (cf. Luke 7:44, 46). An overflowing cup showed an abundance lavished upon the guest. This picture shows us that the Lord lavishes His love upon us as His children who make up the household of God.
Once in the house, we see also that the Lord protects His people. This table, anointing, and overflowing cup are “in the presence of my enemies.” Whereas David once spoke of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, now he has moved to sitting at the Lord’s table because the enemies have been conquered or have been held at bay so that feasting can take place. Either way, the picture is one of protection—He keeps us in His house, and once there, there is no one that can harm us.
Second, the Lord gives His people a grand eternity (Psalm 23:6).
The psalm moves from (1) being led by the shepherd (Psalm 23:3) to (2) walking with the shepherd (Psalm 23:4) to (3) eating with the Lord (Psalm 23:5) and finally, to (4) dwelling with the Lord forever. The intimate setting for a meal in Psalm 23:5 anticipates constant fellowship in Psalm 23:6.
In this final scene, we see this grandy eternity in how the Lord pursues His people. They are not the one’s to chase “goodness and mercy,” but these blessings rather “follow” them. This takes place, yes, “all the days of my life,” but it is something true for the one who will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Besides this promise, a note of comfort closes the psalm with one last use of šwb. Earlier translated “restores” in Psalm 23:3, the semantic range of šwb allows for “dwell” in Psalm 23:6. While “dwelling” is the primary thought, having Psalm 23:3 in mind, David may have meant to recall that wandering sheep, if truly God’s sheep, will be shepherded back into the fold and with such grace that such a one will one day never wander again. Just as the Lord pursues His residents with blessing, so also He preserves them in bringing them to heaven.
Summarizing our look at Psalm 23:5–6, we saw that the Lord meets our every desire to want nothing else (cf. Psalm 23:1) because He does more than minister to us in the present—He will faithfully love us for all our days in heaven and graciously ensures that we will be there.
Whether we are facing the best of times (Psalm 23:1–2, 5–6), looking death in the face (Psalm 23:4), or walking away from the Lord (Psalm 23:4) – if we are God’s sheep, we will see (Psalm 23:1) or be faithfully and firmly shown (Psalm 23:3) that our greatest delight in this life and the one to come is only found in Him. May we delight in our Shepherd all the days of our life and for eternity.
*For many points made above, see Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72 (TOTC: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 127–30.
The body of Christ is something bigger than the local church, and believers should in theory be able to serve at one church just as at another. However, heresy, ecumenicism, ungodly living, misunderstanding, and disagreements abound in many churches today, making it necessary for a local church to spell out in detail its confession and covenant to which the church holds its members accountable.
In other words, the early churches checked their members for belief in Christ and devotion to godly living, and we are forced to be more detailed about the matter today thanks to 2,000 years of heresy and ungodly living. There has been and is so much of what not to believe and practice out there that we have to state and clarify with precise detail what it is that we do believe and practice. This level of detail, at least to me, is the primary difference between us and the early church when it comes to the practice of local church membership.
But, you may ask, does the Bible really teach church membership? Consider this—churches knew how many people were added to their number (e.g., Acts 2:41). In that number, a church was to know who its widows were (1 Tim 5:9), know which men among its number could be suggested for deacons (Acts 6:3), and even know the membership’s exact number in order to determine a majority vote (2 Cor 2:6), something likely used to determine its elders and deacons (Acts 6:3; 14:23; Titus 1:5). ((In Acts 14:23, the appointment of elders is described by the verb chairotoneō, a verb meaning “to raise the hand,” an act used in a voting process. Titus 1:5 describes the appointment of elders with the verb kathistēmi. Likewise, Acts 6:3 uses this same verb for the appointment of deacons. Considering these passages together, it is plausible to conclude that just as an elder was appointed to his office through a congregational vote, so also a congregational vote can be used to appoint a deacon to his office as well.)) The very nature of a shepherd assumes an identifiable flock to whom he is accountable and who have committed themselves to one another and his leadership (cf. 1 Thess 5:12–13; Heb 13:17).
So how do we grant church membership today? At the first, it should be through baptism—the convert pledges to God before the church that he is in Christ, and the church affirms this confession by administering baptism to the convert (cf. 1 Pet 3:21). The church and convert thus commit themselves to one another, which is the very essence of church membership. After that, should one transfer his membership from one church to another, whatever the justifiable reason may be, the receiving church may simply recognize the individual’s prior membership, which assumes a credible profession of faith and baptism (which all assumes a chain of rightly-ordered churches).
That the whole church should be involved in a member’s inclusion is also implied in the church’s role in a member’s exclusion (e.g., Matt 18:15–17; 2 Cor 2:6)—just as a church majority provides for an exit, so also the church majority allows for an entrance.
So how does a church inform and examine a candidate for membership as it concerns the church’s confession and covenant? Pastors can go through this process on an individual basis in smaller churches, and sometimes it is helpful for larger churches to have a class on the matter if there are multiple people simultaneously desiring to become members. Perhaps a membership committee involving pastors and deacons should examine prospective members as well. However the process takes place, as the shepherd has interviewed a sheep for his prospective entrance into the flock, should things move forward, the shepherd can knowledgeably and confidently recommend the individual sheep to share his testimony before the flock in order for the church to knowledgeably accept such a one into membership.
Among other reasons that could be given, I believe the practice of formal church membership is necessary in our context in light of the presence of denominationalism, false churches, and worldly living that is clearly at odds with the Christian life. Individuals commit to a church’s confession and covenant in order to identify themselves in a certain way and distinguish themselves from others in both what they believe and how they live.
The NT indicates that the church should practice what we call church membership. The church knew who its members were and were not by what they believed and how they lived. While this practice may look more formal or informal from one congregation to the next, it is a practice that exists to one degree or another in every healthy, biblical church. Below are a few strands of evidence from the NT that together make a strong argument for church membership.
The early churches knew their constituencies with precision. They kept track of who was “added,” sometimes recording the number (Acts 2:41; cf. 2:47; 5:14; 11:24). Within that number, a church could even track its widows and their ages (1 Tim 5:9).
Specific Ministries and Accountability
Knowing its membership, a church could choose members for specific ministries and hold them accountable. Peter was accountable to the church in Jerusalem for making disciples (Acts 11:2, 18), Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22), and Barnabas and Saul together to Antioch (Acts 13:3; 14:27). Churches sometimes appointed representatives to minister to or inquire of other churches as well (Acts 15:22; 2 Cor 8:19–20; cf. 8:18–21). ((Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 2012), 92–99.))
Churches have pastors (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9), which assumes established bodies of people who are accountable to follow their leadership (cf. 1 Thess 5:12–13; Heb 13:17). Likewise, deacons are men initially suggested by the church from within the church’s membership to its leadership for their respective ministries (Acts 6:3).
A defined membership for the church is necessary to exclude those who do not belong (Matt 18:15–17). This exclusion is for those who, in significantly deviating in doctrine or practice, are no longer identifiable as Christians (e.g., 1 Cor 5:1–13), and it is carried out by a majority vote of the assembled church (2 Cor 2:6).
Just mentioned above, Paul described a repentant individual as one once excluded by “the majority” (2 Cor 2:6). Having a clearly defined membership, the Corinthians knew their exact number in order to determine a majority vote.
In a leadership situation, Luke used the verb cheirotoneō in Acts 14:23 to refer to the appointment of elders, literally meaning to “stretch out the hand” in a voting situation. ((BDAG, s.v., “χειροτονέω.”)) The members voted their pastors into leadership, which again assumes the churches knew who their members were and who could vote.
From Acts 6:3 above, the same word for appointing deacons (kathistēmi) is used of elders in Titus 1:5, which means that elders, too, were suggested by members from among the membership, implying a clearly defined church membership.
While an early church may not have been as formal as many churches today, there was at least an expectation of belief and living necessary for being admitted into its membership, an admission carried out by the existing membership. However formal or informal a church may be about the matter, the NT indicates that church membership must be present in some way.
Psalm 110:1 enjoys more references in the NT than any other verse from the OT. It is quoted 5 times and given allusion 15 times. From my own study, I’ve grouped these quotations and allusions into the headings below, and every reference cited is to one of those quotations or allusions. ((All quotations are from the ESV.))
“Jesus…endured the cross, despising the shame” because He was motivated by “the joy that was set before Him,” that is, being “seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). Jesus persevered and has been rewarded with the right-hand seat that was promised to Him. We are likewise exhorted to do the same. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). Stephen faithfully persevered unto death, seeing “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” as if to applaud and welcome him home (Acts 7:55–56).
Paul prayed for his readers to know of “the immeasurable greatness of his power… that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:19–20). The power of God was shown in both the resurrection of Jesus and His placement at His right hand.
Jesus’ right-hand seat indicated that He had a position over all things. There He sits as the Messiah and David’s greater Lord (Matt 22:44 / Mark 12:36 / Luke 20:42–43). It is a seat that is not even given to angels (Heb 1:13) because there He sits “with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Pet 3:22). In fact, His position is one in which the Father “put all things under his feet” (Eph 1:22), which indicates of the Father that “he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him” (1 Cor 15:27).
“We have such a high priest,” Jesus, “one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb 8:1), which indicates the completion and present carrying out of certain priestly functions. He sat there “after making purification for sins” and having “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:12). Shortly after taking this seat, He “poured out” the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:33), sits as “Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” and anyone else who repents (Acts 5:31), and “indeed is interceding for us” (Rom 8:34).
As seen above, Jesus is over all things at the Father’s right hand. From there, however, He has been “waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Heb 10:13), including those who disbelieved Him (Matt 26:64 / Mark 14:62 / Luke 22:69) and even death itself (1 Cor 15:26–27).
Though all are created in God's image, there are some characteristics of God which we as finite beings cannot fully reflect. However, ever since Adam and Eve fell for the serpent's temptation to be like God, we have all been grasping in some way to push past our human limits and be like God as well. In reading through None Like Him, we will study 10 ways God is different from us and how that should affect our worship, our view of ourselves, and our relationships with others.
Each week there will be a handout for the assigned reading on our church’s information desk. Please feel free to make notes and write down questions along the way to add to our Sunday evening discussion. Also, be sure to read the verses for meditation and questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. And even if it’s a busy week and it’s hard to keep up with each study, come anyway to be encouraged by God’s Word and fellowship with the ladies of our church!
Below is a tentative schedule with the dates to meet for each Sunday night at 6:00 PM along with what chapters to read in preparation for each study.
Sunday, September 16 – Introduction & Chapter 1
Sunday, October 7 – Chapters 2–3
Sunday, October 21 – Chapters 4–5
Sunday, November 11 – Chapters 6–7
Sunday, December 2 – Chapters 8–9
Sunday, December 16 – Chapter 10 & Conclusion
All ladies are welcome. We hope you can join us!
In Acts 2:36, Peter concludes his sermon in this way: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (ESV cf. Acts 2:14–36). Let’s look at these two titles for Jesus.
First, Jesus is Lord. David identified Him as his Lord to come who the Father would grant to sit at His right hand (Ps 110:1; cf. Acts 2:34–35). The outpouring of the Spirit and the resultant speaking of tongues verified that Jesus had indeed sat down with His Father. The Father gave Him the promised Spirit, He poured the Spirit out, and thus He showed Himself to be Lord. Additionally, as He was given authority to pour out the Spirit (2:33–34; cf. 2:1–13), and as Joel identified as this outpouring as a function of God (Joel 2:28–29; cf. Acts 2:17–18), Jesus is therefore the Lord God who poured out the Spirit.
Second, Jesus is Christ. Christ means “anointed one,” and “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38; cf. Luke 3:21–22). Such an anointing was reserved for the promised Descendant of David, the One who would eternally rule God’s people (Acts 2:30; cf. 2 Sam 7:12–16; Ps 89:3–4, 35–37). An eternal rule could only be accomplished by overcoming death, and for whatever the psalm meant to himself at the time, David “spoke of the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:31) when he prophesied in Ps 16:8–11 that the Holy One, God’s anointed king, would neither be abandoned in death nor see corruption—He would be in the presence of God forever (Acts 2:25–28). Thus, God raised Jesus up from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven (cf. Acts 1:9–11), and there Jesus is “exalted at the right hand of God” as promised in Ps 110:1. He is indeed the Spirit-anointed King who overcame death and will rule God’s people as Christ.
Given these two titles, it is no wonder that the Israelites listening to Peter “were cut to the heart” once they learned who “this Jesus” really was (Acts 2:37). They had crucified Him, the very Lord and Christ who was the Author of their salvation! What a dilemma to be in! Nonetheless, the mercy of God was on full display on the day of Pentecost—even these Israelites who had crucified Jesus could call on His name, repent, and find forgiveness in Him (Acts 2:38–39).
For us today, we may not have called for Jesus’ crucifixion with the crowds or jeered at Jesus at Golgotha, but we are just as deserving of punishment for our sins as they were then. May we be reminded of the great mercy it is that Jesus our Savior was crucified for us, and may we see Him for who He really is—Lord and Christ over all!
In Acts 2:14–41, Luke records Peter quoting or alluding to a half-dozen passages or so in his Pentecost sermon. These passages are listed below along with a snapshot explanation for why Peter quoted each passage.
Joel 2:28–32a in Acts 2:16–21
Peter quoted Joel to identify the cause for speaking in tongues as something of the same nature of the outpouring of the Spirit that will take place before the end of our present age. As in Joel’s day and as in the future day about which he prophesied, so also it was on the day of Pentecost—all who called out on the name of the Lord would be saved.
Psalm 16:8–11 in Acts 2:25–28
Peter quoted and applied David’s psalm to Jesus. It was not David but his descendent Jesus who had not been abandoned to Hades and seen his flesh corrupted. God raised this Jesus up and exalted Him to His right hand. The proof of this exaltation was Jesus’ having received and sent the Spirit, resulting in many speaking in tongues.
Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30
Peter alluded to this psalm, which in turn summarizes the covenant between God and David in 2 Sam 7:12–16 (and sounds much like Ps 89:3–4, 35–37). God swore an oath to David that He would set one of his descendants on his throne forever. This descendant is Jesus.
Psalm 110:1 in Acts 2:34–35
Peter quoted this psalm to identify the exalted position of Jesus at the right hand of the Father. This position was the explanation behind why the people heard Peter and others speaking in tongues. Only Jesus at the Father’s right hand could have been given and poured out the Spirit, which also meant that He was raised from the dead in order to be there.
Isaiah 57:19, Joel 2:32b, and Others in Acts 2:39b
Peter alluded to Isaiah and maybe other texts and then Joel’s prophecy again to instruct his listeners who could receive the Holy Spirit. The promised Spirit and salvation were for anyone that the Lord calls to Himself (Joel 2:32b), children included (similar to many passages – cf. Gen 9:9; 17:7, 9, 10; 28:14; Deut 30:19), even if they were from far off (Isa 57:19; cf. Acts 2:9–11).
Deut 32:5 and Ps 78:8 in Acts 2:40b
Peter exhorted his listeners to be saved from this crooked generation. In the Septuagint, “crooked” is used by both Moses and Asaph to describe Israel in Moses’ day as well, a fitting parallel for Peter’s generation who nailed Jesus to the cross.
While I realize that many disagree with cessationist beliefs (i.e., that special revelation and its occasionally-accompanying sign-gifts such as tongues were limited to the apostolic era and have thus ceased), it is helpful for anyone to study the topic of speaking in tongues as it is involves multiple chapters in Acts and 1 Corinthians. I know it has been helpful for me, and these are some answers from my own study that I provided to my church while preaching through Acts 2. My intent is certainly not to argue with anyone or stir debate with those who disagree. I don’t expect to bring others to my convictions (though I would not object if that happened!). I simply hope to share what I and my church believe for the benefit of others. Whatever your position may be, if otherwise, perhaps you will find it helpful as well.
What were people saying when they spoke in tongues?
The speakers were speaking actual, human languages. Acts 2:1–13 provides an example of multiple tongues (languages) being spoken and lists them out. In the context of instructing the Corinthians, Paul states, “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning” (1 Cor 14:10), implying that, whatever words they were speaking, and whether or not they had spoken the language before, they were being spoken in a meaningful, human language.
In 1 Cor 13:1, Paul supposes a situation in which he could speak in “tongues…of angels.” In doing so, Paul could have been speaking hyperbolically to stress the role of love as the motivation for using spiritual gifts—even if hypothetical but actually impossible angelic tongues could be spoken, even this kind of superlative tongue-speech is unprofitable if spoken for self and without love (cf. 1 Cor 13:1–7). Or, as he “heard things” in “the third heaven” and “paradise…which man may not utter,” the tongues of angels may be real, angelic languages but still impermissible for man to utter, even with the gift of tongues (2 Cor 12:2–4).
Acts describes in the content of tongues-speech in various ways. First, the content involved “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11), which had to do with works such as the resurrection of Jesus and finding salvation through the Spirit in Him (cf. Acts 2:14–41). Second, the content had to do with “extolling God” (Acts 10:46). Most likely, the context of Acts 10 involved new converts extolling (praising) God for what they had just believed of the gospel as well (cf. Acts 10:34–43). Third, speaking in tongues is joined with “prophesying” (Acts 19:6). As Peter explained speaking in tongues in terms of prophecy (cf. Acts 2:17), and as it spoke of “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11), the content of tongues in Acts 19 likely involved prophesying in that they speakers were praising God for His mighty work through Christ for salvation as well.
Added to the above, Paul identifies the content of tongues-speech as “mysteries” (1 Cor 14:2). “Everywhere in Paul’s writings ‘mysteries’ were truths about God and His program that for a time remained hidden, but were at that moment revealed through the inspired writer (Rom. 11:25; 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; 13:2; 15:51; Eph. 3:3–4, 9; 5:32; Col. 1:26).” ((Robert Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts (revised edition; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), 87.)) For one speaking in tongues, these truths about God and His program were not essentially different from the other mysteries Paul would reveal in Scripture after writing to the Corinthians. The difference is that, with tongues, the mysteries were spoken.
What was the purpose for speaking in tongues?
On a basic level, the purpose for speaking in tongues indicated to the speakers and others that the speakers had been given the Spirit (Acts 2:1–13 with 2:33; Acts 10:46 with 10:47; Acts 19:2 with 19:6).
Paul likewise taught that “tongues are a sign…for unbelievers” (1 Cor 14:22). Looking more closely at the examples of tongues as the gift involved unbelievers in Acts, we could say that, like other miracles (a miraculous gift in this instance), tongues signified to unbelievers that what was being said of God’s Word was true (Acts 2; cf. 1 Kgs 17:24; Acts 14:3; Heb 2:4). In the other instances, tongues signified to new converts and especially others that the new converts had indeed believed the gospel and had been accepted by God as His people (Acts 10, 19). They could not speak in tongues by the Spirit if they did not have the Spirit. Within the gathered assembly (the situation that Paul is addressing in 1 Cor 14), it seems tongues could have likewise verified the truth or the certainty of one’s conversion as long as certain guidelines were followed (cf. 1 Cor 14:27–28).
Though these passages are not exactly alike in every detail, each passage somehow involved unbelievers and speaking in tongues. Either unbelievers heard the tongues-speech and then believed, or unbelievers believed and then spoke in tongues to confirm their belief.
Are some Christians able to speak in “private prayer languages”?
A surface level reading of 1 Corinthians 14 leads some to the conclusion that Paul spoke of privately praying in tongues. After all, in the context of instructing the Corinthians about how to speak in tongues, Paul did mention that “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God” (1 Cor 14:2), that “the one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself” (1 Cor 14:4), that one can “pray in a tongue” (1 Cor 14:14), and that he could “speak to himself and to God” (1 Cor 14:28).
For each of these passages, however, one should remember that the entirety of 1 Cor 12–14 has to do with the assembled church and not what to do in a private, isolated setting. Paul’s repeated point in 1 Cor 14 is that the Corinthians were to do what edified the assembly (1 Cor 14:5, 12, 19, 26). With this necessary contextual element in mind, speaking or praying in a tongue to God alone should be understood as a misuse of tongues—an interpreter was necessary to make known to all the mysteries given by the Spirit, and the assembly would thus be edified (cf. 1 Cor 14:5). If an interpreter was not present, the one who could have spoken in tongues was to remain silent (1 Cor 14:28), be personally built up by silently contemplating the mysteries he could have otherwise spoken (1 Cor 14:4, 28), and let edification prevail through prophecy instead (1 Cor 14:5, 19). To clarify, tongues could certainly have involved praying in a tongue (cf. 1 Cor 14:14), but only in the assembly. The gift of tongues was meant to edify others.
Should missionaries witness in tongues?
In Acts 2, unbelievers heard the mighty of acts of God being declared in their native languages (Acts 2:8–11), which eventually led to the salvation of many (Acts 2:41). Moreover, Paul declared that “tongues are a sign…for unbelievers” (1 Cor 14:22). Should we attempt today to speak in tongues to unbelievers as a sign that what we say is true, which may lead to their salvation?
As a cessationist, I would obviously answer no to the question of whether or not missionaries should witness in tongues. But even if we set cessationism aside, the book of Acts describes this kind of thing only once in all of its 28 chapters (Acts 2). In Acts 10 and 19, it is not even the missionaries who were speaking in tongues. A well-known hermeneutical axiom is helpful here for Acts 2 (and Acts 10 and 19 for that matter)—“the descriptive is not necessarily prescriptive.” Stated another way, “narrative is not necessarily normative.”
If anything, this sign-gift fits with the overall theme of Acts—how the gospel spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). People spoke in tongues in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1–13), maybe further to Judea and Samaria (compare Acts 8:14–17 with 10:44–48), yet further to Caesarea (Acts 10:44–48), and yet even further all the way to Ephesus (Acts 19:1–7). The gift of tongues verified that the Spirit was given to believers in Jerusalem and others as the gospel spread to new and further geographic regions.
Should new converts to speak in tongues once they believe the gospel (e.g., Acts 10:44–48 and 19:1–7)?
Again, as a cessationist, I would answer no. But, along the lines of how we just answered the last question, if we build our expectations for new converts according to narrative descriptions alone, we should also include the instances of people being saved without speaking in tongues immediately thereafter (e.g., Paul in Acts 9, the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, etc.). Even for the book of Acts, speaking in tongues is not a uniform element for those who come to Christ.
Some try to narrow tongues-speaking and conversion to what happens on the frontiers of the gospel in a way that parallels Acts 10 and 19. But again, even with cessationism set aside, this claim is at best making a narrative normative, albeit in a limited way. It may keep tongues and any related excesses out of established congregations and isolate the gift to the ends of earth, but we have no direct instruction to expect this kind of thing. Narrative is not necessarily normative.
Does speaking in tongues have anything to do with reversing the judgment of tongues in Genesis 11?
Some suggest that the confusion of tongues at Babel in Gen 11 is “reversed” through tongues breaking the language barrier in Acts 2. The table of nations in Gen 10 likewise finds a parallel in the languages listed in Acts 2:8–11. And just as language was confused in Gen 11 to spread man over the earth, so also Acts 2 gives unity in language through tongues to take the gospel to every end of the earth to which man has spread (cf. Acts 1:8). ((Chalmer E. Faw, Acts (Believers Church Bible Commentary: Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1993), 51.)) Or, a softer conclusion, maybe Acts 2 showed the judgment of Gen 11 being not actually but only “symbolically broken” and will be “realized finally” at “the fulfillment of kingdom expectations (Rev. 5:9).” ((Chad Brand, s.v., “Tongue” in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman, 2003), 1605.))
As interesting as these parallels may be, Acts 2 does not explicitly identify its events as a reversal of the judgment of Gen 11. Moreover, it does not even record everyone (whatever their spiritual state) speaking one, singular language, which would have been a full reversal of Gen 11. Many languages persist today as they did in Acts 2. That tongues are no longer spoken today is further evidence (for the cessationist) that Gen 11 has not been reversed as well.
No study is complete without looking at the Scriptures for yourself, but hopefully the above can be an introductory guide in studying this difficult topic. If nothing else, what an amazing gift it was for some to speak in tongues, edify others, and show the spread of the gospel!
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.