In our last audio show, The Vine and The Branch, we discussed this very difficult to explain life-giving Spirit that gives us empowerment to live according to our new nature in this dark world. This subject can be very confusing for many, I suspect, as it most often is assumed that we need to apply the working of God in us in some human way. We tend to ignore much of the Spirit has and is already doing in us, don’t we Jim?
Adam, there is a statement Paul made to Timothy that fits so well with what you suspect regarding the unofficial religious stance toward the working of the Spirit. He wrote: 2 Timothy 3:1-5
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. 2 Timothy 3:1-5
Listen to this part again: “…holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power”. Dear listener, what do you think Paul meant by holding to a form of godliness … or maybe I should ask, what do you think might be included in that statement? I can tell you how it impacts the form of godliness I used to hold to, and I imagine it might be very similar to some of what you hold to. You see, I used to be so enamored by the power of words, I assumed that if my church or my pastor or my teacher taught on a particular doctrine, then that was what they believed. Let me pull back a bit to give you a broader perspective of where I’m coming from here because I don’t want to you think what I suggesting is restricted to the religious institution.
On many levels in this world, you and I have been confronted with words that hide the real intentions of those who speak them. I’ve been around long enough that when a company, a politician, or a lawyer says “Trust me”, I have learned to immediately question whatever it is I am being asked to trust them for. I know you know what I’m talking about. Let me bring it down a few levels: Did you ever get dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend right after his or her profession of undying love? If so, you know what I’m talking about, especially when you see yourself as the one who made the false claim. There are reasons we learned to use words to mean the very opposite of what they claim at face value, and I don’t have to explain those reasons because you know them as well as I do.
Somehow though, when it comes to God-stuff or religious beliefs, we too often assume that the picture painted by the words expressed must mean exactly what is claimed. We forget that the same people who fooled us in the non-religious world simply brought the same false pretenses into the world of religion. What I’m telling you is, you simply can’t assume that just because your pastor, your teacher or your denomination preaches about the Spirit of God they have any idea as to the true power of God. Words of persuasion within the realm of religion will most definitely include phrases that pass as earmarks of truth. Throughout Christianity, there are many words that will tell you about the power of God, and all too often those who speak them deny their very power.
The reality behind the picture of the vine and the branch — which is our integration into the very being of God with his life flowing from Christ through us producing the fruit of his Spirit — this reality has been pushed so far to the back that all we end up with is merely a hint of an illusion of closeness to Jesus. You know, something that can give us the warm-fuzzies when we need it.
Well this week’s audio is entitled “Tongues Of Fire”. We are doing this audio in response to some excellent feedback we received from a listener. In fact I am going to read her comments and questions right now:
Hi Jim and Adam,
Thanks for all you are doing. Your work is really helping me realise the freedom in Christ and His finished work. I would like you to adress the issue of praying in tongues as part of the Armor of God, praying ceaselessly and Romans 8 in particular the part that says “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit helps in our infirmities through groans that cannot be uttered.”
I have been taught that in doing so we are prophesying our future etc. I learnt that tongues are the rest and refreshing promised in Isaiah. I have been taught that we should pray all day in tongues like Paul who prayed in tongues more than all the Corinthians, not loudly of course, but muttering the words. What do you think?
After a while it got tiring and created some kind of bondage for me? I would like to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you, Grace
Well Jim, we have quite a few questions here, but before we jump into them I wanted to ask what you think about doing an audio on this touchy subject matter of tongues?
I think everything we have dealt with in these ShovelAudios can easily lead to controversy and resistance, after all, every week you and I have been challenging the very core of what most of us have come to hold as Christianity. However the specific issue of speaking in tongues has already produced much divisiveness in the history of the Christian church. I’m sure that many of our listeners will have already taken a stance one way or the other. I suspect that many of you listening right now are doing so only because of the subject matter itself, and you may well be wondering on which side of this issue I stand. Well I say, issues be damned, for they too often create the illusion of good versus evil, right versus wrong, truth versus error. Nevertheless, I will offer a brief account of my own history related to the issue.
Up until I was 19, I was rather oblivious to the whole issue … other than the one or two Sunday School classes I attended that dealt with other religions in my Lutheran church. Even after that, when I moved to Florida and started attending the local First Baptist church, I pretty much stuck to a non-emotional approach to religion. I never wanted to be thought of as one of those weird Christians. Little did I know how weird I would come to be viewed, eh?
Anyhow, once I made the drastic move to enroll in an independent Bible college, my anti-charismatic leanings were given a lot of support, as there were many classes related to debunking the whole issue of speaking in tongues. I’m not going to tell you that I now disagree with everything I learned in the process, however I have come to understand that the same force behind the official stance turned on me when I began to delve into what it means to have a real grace relationship with God through the working of Christ and his Spirit.
No, I’m not a Charismatic, nor have I ever been, but I have had a better relationship with some who have called themselves Charismatics than I ever did with most of those from the groups of my early religious upbringing. I have since been part of a few groups that were comprised heavily of those from Charismatic backgrounds. But they accepted me based upon our mutual sharing in the life of Christ. I can tell you this much, my lack of holding to the lines I used to stand behind has made some of my former cohorts question my true devotion to the gospel Jesus Christ.
Anyhow, the questions posed by this dear lady, Grace, come from a realization of bondage from that which has been presented to her as rest. So Adam, let’s jump in!
Why don’t we first address her questions regarding the armor of God?
Alright, let’s start right there by taking a look at the Biblical passages these matters are built upon.
Pay attention to:
the introduction to the armor: be strong in the Lord
the nature of the individual pieces of this armor as described by Paul: truth, righteousness, gospel of peace, salvation. Nothing here to lay claim to in the flesh.
the same kind of language as used by Paul earlier in the letter that refers to the putting on of Christ, which speaks of our counting as true that which is already true in us.
the lack of any actual mention of speaking in tongues. It would have to be read into the phrase “with all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit.”
groanings too deep for words (NASB), unspoken groanings (Holman), inexpressible groanings (NET), groanings which cannot be uttered (KJV), groanings unutterable (YLT).
How do we even imagine that groanings which cannot be uttered nor expressed, those which are too deep for words might be somehow describing any verbal form of language? What Paul described here links back to his statements about “the sufferings of this present time that are not worthy to be compared to the coming glory to be revealed in us.” For just previous to the verse about the deep groanings within us, he described how “the whole creation groans together and labors in birth together until now.”
There is a rescue yet to be realized where the creation itself will be set free from its bondage of futility when the sons of God are revealed. We sense these groanings together with the rest of the creation, for nothing is as it appears. And we long for this within ourselves. These longings that cannot be expressed far surpass any angendas of man. As much as we follow patterns and programs and training classes in how to pray, we do not understand how to pray as we should. Believe me, I recognize the appeal found in adopting a prayer language, but this intercession from the Spirit comes not with words of any kind.
ADAM, WHAT ABOUT PRAYING WITHOUT CEASING, AS FOUND IN 1 THESSALONIANS 5:17 “pray without ceasing;” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NASB
Whether one uses a special prayer language or not, the whole demand that we should pray without ceasing has presenting many believers with a requirement they cannot keep. This conundrum has often prompted creative attempts to restrict the heavy weight and concentration needed for a ceaseless prayer. If Paul was not creating some new Christian command or principle, perhaps he was once again connecting everything back to the reality of the Spirit of Christ that is within us, for the Spirit does not cease interpreting our inward groanings to the Father who hears us. His words would be an encouragement for us to become aware of the onging reality of this intercession so that we will stop hesitating and join in at any and every opportunity.
Not an agenda, not a format needing to follow, not a program, not tied to any schedule.
It is no wonder that those who strive to consciously pray all day long — tongues or not — will eventually burn out so that they lose any sense of rest or refreshment. Adam, isn’t this the same burden of a legal approach to God that we’ve seen in countless other so-called Christian commands?
ADAM: What about the idea that Paul prayed in tongues more than all the Corinthians?
I have been taught that we should pray all day in tongues like Paul who prayed in tongues more than all the Corinthians, not loudly of course, but muttering the words. What do you think?
I think there’s a lot of assumption found in the suggestion that Paul made any claim to have prayed in tongues at all.
1 Corinthians 14:18 Paul may have claimed to have spoken in tongues more than all of them, but the assumption is made that it had anything to do with prayer. Paul’s conclusion based upon praying in unfruitfulness was that he would pray with his mind as well as with his spirit. There is a more obvious reason behind why Paul would have spoken in tongues more than all the Corinthians, and it had everything to do with him being sent out into the world to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to those who did not believe. For he also told the Corinthians that the gift of tongues was not for those who believe but for those who did not believe.
1 Corinthians 14:22 not to believers but to unbelievers
And this is where we really need to dig in order to discover the significance behind the miracle of tongues. The fact that it happened way back on the day of Pentecost was a new thing, but the foundation for that miraculous event was ancient, even at that time.
Back in the Sixties when Rock and Roll first dominated the air waves, millions of the younger generation identified themselves by it. I mean, it was OUR music. It defined our rejection of the Status Quo, the society of previous generations that we refused to emulate. It was the music of our rebellion against authority. One thing was for sure, it was not the music of our parents. Black, White, Hispanic, it made no difference … as long as you were under 30, you could claim it as your own. I was there, and I remember what offended us. It was when outsiders thought they could play it. Oh yeah, we laughed at old-timers or foreigners who decided to jump on the bandwagon and record a popular Rock song. As newer forms of music were introduced along the way, diehard Rockers scoffed, for they would not accept the changes. The contention was so strong that Billy Joel expressed his belief regarding the many off-shoots that,
“Hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk …. Next phase, new wave, dance craze … Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout the new sound, funny, but It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”
Now, the very idea that Rock tunes would end up as Elevator music was unthinkable, for as far as we were concerned you would have to drain away everything that was Rock in order to make it happen.
Now, my question for those who are listening is this: What has offended or maybe still offends you in this way? What is it that so identifies you in this world that you find it offensive for someone outside your peer group to enter into? What is it you would tell someone that they have no right to claim as their own because it belongs to you? And now imagine the thing you hold to as your claim to fame being taken away from you and given to someone else. How would that offend you? You see, what happened to Israel on the day of Pentecost tops the list of offensive experiences.