Understanding Speaking in Tongues


To correctly understand speaking in tongues, we must realize there are two different kinds of speaking in tongues mentioned in the Bible. The first kind of tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and the second kind of tongues is a personal prayer language.


“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all… to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Cor. 12:7,10b).

The first kind of tongues spoken of in the Scriptures is the public spiritual gift of tongues. The Apostle Paul said, “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.” (1 Cor. 14:5).

Prophecy and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are initiated by God – God speaking to us and blessing His church. God speaks to the church through prophecy, and He also speaks to the church through tongues and interpretation.

The public spiritual gift of tongues with interpretation is God speaking to the church, just like prophecy. Tongues is a language we don’t know, and the interpretation is in a language we do know. This is initiated by the Holy Spirit, as He wills it. When Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:30, “Do all speak with tongues?” he is talking about the spiritual gift of tongues. Not all believers will operate in this spiritual gift.

Paul goes on to say, “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” (1 Cor. 14:12-13).

God loves giving gifts to His church, and He gives us these gifts so that we can be blessed, encouraged and comforted. When you are exercising the spiritual gift of tongues in a public setting, the Bible tells us to pray for the interpretation so the church can be built up. This is the first example of the gift of tongues, and it is the public use of the gift of tongues.


“For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries… He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” (1 Cor. 14:2,4).

Tongues as a private, personal prayer language is the believer speaking to God. The public gift of tongues is God speaking to the church, but tongues as a personal prayer language is the believer speaking to God. These are two different gifts! So what does tongues as a personal prayer language, do? This Scripture tells us that this gift of tongues edifies your spirit. One of the ways you can build up or edify your spirit-man is by speaking in tongues. This is like charging a battery. If you want to energize your spirit, pray in tongues.

The Bible tells us that all believers can exercise this gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will… speak with new tongues.” (Mark 16:17). If you’re a believer who has been filled with the Holy Spirit, you can speak in tongues.

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood Scriptures on the topic of speaking in tongues is this one: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” (1 Cor. 14:27-28). In this passage, the Bible is saying two things. First of all, if you are exercising the public spiritual gift of tongues, only do it if there is an interpretation. Secondly, it is saying that it is okay to speak in tongues as personal prayer language to yourself and God. If you stand up in a church service and speak out in tongues without an interpretation, the church is not built up. But tongues as your personal prayer language edifies yourself.


Sometimes Christians wonder what the point and benefit of speaking in tongues as a personal prayer language is. There are several benefits mentioned in the Scriptures to speaking in tongues (or praying in the spirit), and here are five of them.

  1. Speaking in Tongues Edifies Yourself:

“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” (1 Cor. 14:4). Paul teaches us that speaking in tongues builds up your spirit-man.

  1. Speaking in Tongues Builds up Your Faith:

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 20). Jude says that when you pray in the Holy Spirit – praying in tongues – you build up your spirit and increase your faith.

  1. Speaking in Tongues Enables You to Pray the Perfect Will of God:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26). Sometimes you might be praying for someone and you don’t know how to pray about their situation. When you pray in tongues, the Holy Spirit will pray through you, praying the perfect will of God.

  1. Speaking in Tongues Praises God:

“we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God… For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.” (Acts 2:11, 10:46). Speaking in tongues is praising, worshipping and glorifying God! This is why Paul says, “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). Sometimes when you’re praying or singing, you just feel the need to pray or sing in an unknown tongue and praise and glorify God.

  1. Speaking in Tongues Refreshes You:

“For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” And, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear.” (Isaiah 28:11-12). When you speak in tongues, you are also entering into God’s rest and being refreshed as you experience communion or fellowship with the Holy Spirit.


And so you see that there are two different kinds of speaking in tongues: One is the public spiritual gift of tongues which is God speaking to the church. The other is the private gift of tongues which is a personal prayer language where we speak to God, edify our spirits, building up our faith and praying the perfect will of God and magnifying God.

A final thought on tongues. The Apostle Paul said, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all.” (1 Cor. 14:18). He believes that speaking in tongues is a good and important gift, and if you don’t have it, you should get it! The Bible tells us to “earnestly desire the best gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31) and again it says to “desire spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 14:1).

So Father God, I thank you for all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You are a Good God who loves to give good gifts to your children. I pray for a new and fresh release of your spiritual gifts in your church, and especially the gifts of prophecy and tongues. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen!

(This new teaching on tongues is an appendix I have added to my new mini-booklet “Unleashing the Gifts of the Holy Spirit” which you can download for free HERE).

Pastor Chris Jordan



About Chris Jordan

Husband. Father. Author. Pastor. Guidance Counsellor. High School Teacher. Follower of Jesus. And I enjoy a good cup of coffee!
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