The Tongues Conundrum (Part 4)

Thus far, I have posted 3 articles centred around the gift of tongues. But I would say they haven’t come in the best form of ordered succession. So, below are the links to the 3 articles in the order that would flow the best. When I finish the series, I will post a PDF file with all the articles in order.

In this article, I want to specifically look at the three purposes of tongues. In my study of the subject of tongues, I have come to see that such a gift is given for mainly three activities: praise, prayer and proclamation.

a) Praise

Here are three specific passages that point to tongues being utilised as praise to God.

… we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. (Acts 10:46)

15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? (1 Corinthians 14:15-16)

Now, the second passage in Acts 10:46 could be seen as distinguishing tongues and praise from one another. And, if that is true, of course I am fine with such. Nevertheless, there is no doubt tongues will be utilised in praise to God. This is why you might walk into a church gathering and here people singing in tongues, or they might refer to it as singing in the Spirit. And, though I don’t have a lot of time to go into it in this post, I believe this is also not too far off from Paul’s two references to ‘spiritual songs’, or ‘songs of the Spirit’ (see Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

b) Prayer

One of the more obvious texts that point to tongues as prayer is found in the well-known passage of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:14)

Now there are other passages that many Pentecostals and charismatics would refer to as pointers to prayer in tongues. The word ‘tongues’ is not found in the three passages below, but it does speak of prayer and groanings in/by the Spirit. What are those three texts? The first is found here:

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:18)

In this passage, it seems that praying in the Spirit is differentiated from other ‘types’ of prayer. Why? Paul first says, ‘praying at all times in the Spirit,’ and then goes on to say, ‘with all prayer and supplication’. The second phrase refers to what we might term ‘normal’ prayer and supplication, while the first phrase projects us praying in, or by, the Spirit.

One might ask – Well, do we not only pray because of the work the Spirit in our lives, kind of like Paul said that no one could say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ unless by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3)?

Such is a good question. But what I would liken this to is the role and gift of faith. No doubt one can only come to faith in Christ by the activity of the Holy Spirit. Such is very clear in the teaching of Scripture. But, beyond this faith activated in every believer by the work of the Spirit, Paul also distinguishes it from the gift of faith, as in 1 Cor 12:8-10. That gift of faith is what is normally activated by the Holy Spirit in God’s people for the workings of miracles and healings.

Thus, just as we would distinguish between the faith given to all saints for belief in Christ and the faith-manifestation of the Spirit for enacting miracles and healings, so I believe we can differentiate between prayer that is a reality in the lives of all believers and prayer in the Spirit that is a specific enabling of God’s Spirit to pray and intercede above and beyond that in which we would normally participate.

Now, to the question of what ‘praying in the Spirit’ actually details, I personally do not believe praying in the Spirit is intrinsically connected to praying in tongues. Still, what I would suggest is that, if tongues comes via the activity of the Holy Spirit and prayer in the Spirit comes via the Holy Spirit, then it is highly possible the two are linked together. Or, I might even suggest that praying in the Spirit is more of a broader, ‘umbrella’ term of which praying in tongues comes under. Some will disagree. But, at this point, that is my conclusion from studying the Scripture, as well as interacting with God in prayer via the specific activity of the Spirit.

And, as a side note, the phrase, ‘at all times’ in the Ephesians 6 text, probably does not refer to praying in the Spirit every second of the day, but rather to regular prayer in the Spirit.

These words of Jude are somewhat similar to Eph 6:18:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 20)

Again, I would argue that praying in the Holy Spirit does not necessarily involve the act of praying in tongues, or praying with our spirit as it is worded in 1 Cor 14:14-15. I believe we can pray in the Spirit via our own mother tongue. But I would also maintain that praying in tongues is part of praying in the Holy Spirit.

The final text centred around praying in the Spirit, though worded a bit differently, is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Now this verse does not seem to have any specific connection with tongues. But, again, both tongues and these ‘groanings’ come as a stirring and work of the Holy Spirit within the human spirit. And those who have been involved in deep times of prayer and intercession will know that, at times, we are not sure what to pray. But, in those times, we sense the stirrings of the Spirit welling up in us and all that comes forth are groans and cries from our heart. In those times, we can be assured the Spirit is actively at work in our weakness, praying according to the will of God.

Regardless of whether or not these three verses – Eph 6:18; Jude 20; Rom 8:26 – refer to tongues, which I suggest they could be distinguished from tongues, what we can note is that one of the purposes of tongues is that of prayer (1 Corinthians 14:14).

c) Proclamation

Many a Pentecostals and charismatics will stop with those two when it comes to the purpose of tongues. But I believe tongues can also function as proclamation. Why would I suggest such? Well, for starters, let’s look back at a passage in Acts:

… we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

I don’t believe that this statement has to intrinsically be tied into praise, though some are convinced it is. I believe that to tell, or declare, the mighty works of God (in another language) functions as a proclamation. Matter of fact, this specific act led to the drawing of 3000 people into the kingdom of God on that Pentecost day. Much more than praise was probably being given.

And, let’s notice something else that is interesting about the Pentecost event. Following the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter quotes Joel with these words:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

Peter says that what has just happened is a fulfilment of Joel’s prophetic utterance centuries before. And the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s people – male and female, young and old – would be prophecy. But what happened at Pentecost? The event did not include prophecy, in the specific sense. Rather, it included tongues, which were understood by the on-lookers. Therefore, the outpouring of the Spirit along with the fruit of tongues became the initial fulfilment of a passage that specifically referred to of prophecy as the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit.

Thus, I believe that tongues, when miraculously spoken and understood, or miraculously spoken and interpreted, can function like prophecy. So, tongues is a like the sister of prophecy, just as miracles and healings are quite related to one another.

This is why I believe tongues can function as a proclamation of God’s truth. And, even if it comes forth as praise, that praise can also operate as proclamation.

If you would like to hear the audio recording of my teaching on the gift of tongues this past Sunday, you can listen to it by clicking on the audio icon below, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.

The Tongues Conundrum (Part 2)

I recently began a series on the gift of tongues, but started with some thoughts on the larger scope of Spirit-inspired speech. But let’s move on specifically to the gift of tongues.

The first instance that we read about tongues is at the Pentecost event of Acts 2:1-4:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The word normally translated as ‘tongues’ in our English versions comes from the Greek glossa or glossia (plural). It could also be translated as ‘languages’, which seems an acceptable translation when considering the biblical teaching on this gift. Though some might argue it sounds like babble (or babel), it actually comes as some sort of intelligible language, even if that language is not personally known to the speaker.

As a kind of side excursus, many theologians see this act of the initial outpouring of the Spirit as a reversal of the curse at the Tower of Babel where there was a confusion of languages (Genesis 11:1-9). Because of Pentecost, tongues now stands as a sign of unity in the body of Christ, God using people to speak in languages they have not learned to be a blessing to the body of Christ.

Of course, one of the main purposes of tongues in Acts 2 was that of an evangelistic drawing of people to Christ. But, a sort of theological deduction from considering tongues across both Acts and 1 Corinthians (and possibly a few other passages) is that such was given as a unifying sign of edification to the body of Christ, thus, reversing the curse of Babel for God’s covenant people. And, I can only suppose that the first Christians that witnessed the amazing and paradigmatic event of Acts 2 would have been blessed and edified by the outcome.

Now, in the account of Acts 2, the people spoke in languages that were recognised by those gathered around (see Acts 2:5-12). This is really the only biblical account in which we see tongues being utilised evangelistically. But that does not mean it was never again utilised in such a way in the New Testament record, especially if an interpretation comes forth, which we will consider later on from looking at 1 Corinthians 14.

We see other specific examples of tongues in Acts, specifically with Cornelius’ household in 10:46 and the Ephesian disciples in 19:6. But neither of these accounts point to an evangelistic use. Rather they were a response to the baptism/initial filling of God’s Spirit.

Still, though tongues might come forth in a language recognised by those present (and I can think of a couple examples off hand from ministry friends in the present day), we must also bear in mind that tongues might not always be spoken in a language that is recognised by those present. I think such is acceptable when we consider words like there from Paul:

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

But it is through the interpretation of the tongue that understanding is brought to the body of Christ for edification, or even utilised in drawing people to Christ. And, I suppose the need for the gift of interpretation would only point to the fact that tongues are not always understood by those present.

There is much discussion about another aspect of tongues, as highlighted by these words of Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Some will claim that this reference to ‘tongues of angels’ is a hypothetical situation and one should not expect to find themselves speaking in such a manner. But remember the first words of Paul’s statement: ‘If I speak in the tongues of men.’ Now, we know this is an actual certainty – speaking in the tongues of men that we have not learned. Thus, it seems highly unlikely that Paul would refer to one situation that is a reality and one situation that is hypothetical. And, noting that tongues is a Spirit-enabled language, it’s possible that one might speak in a heavenly tongue.

Nothing could be ‘proved’ in regards to this, since tongues can regularly come forth in languages one has never learned, and especially since there are thousands of languages and dialects in the world. But I would propose that, since it is possible to speak in tongues (languages) or men, then the same could be true with regards to tongues of angels.

As an encouraging personal side story on the gift of tongues, I share an account of a specific local church where a friend of mine is an elder-pastor. This happened about a year and a half ago.

My friend specifically works with a church that officially relates to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But, while they maintain that relationship of accountability, the church does not always practically function in regards to every specific of the SBC. For example, they have a plurality of eldership, which is not the norm for SBC churches.

Also, as you might imagine, historically, the SBC has not been an advocate for the practise of the more ‘charismatic’ giftings of the Spirit, i.e., those in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. My friend’s church never preached against such, and they actually were quite open in allowing people to openly share what God was stirring in them during their corporate gatherings, even some things that could be classified as prophecies and revelations. But, with tongues, there was not much knowledge or practise of this gift.

So, my friend and the wider eldership of the church decided to take up preaching and teaching through the book of 1 Corinthians. Wow, what a challenge to say the least! And, of course, many months down the road, they took up a close study of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Not too long after they finished the teaching on those chapters, God brought a surprise into their midst. God was making sure that their spirituality was not just doctrinal teaching, but also a practical reality. In one of the Sunday gatherings of the congregation, a person gave the first ever public message in tongues. In recalling the story to me, my friend shared how he kind of sat back in his chair and went on to let God know that he trusted Him. This was something that had never happened before. But my friend was not going to ‘nip it in the bud’, as they say.

And when the message in tongues was finished, the interpretation came forth by the one who spoke in the tongue.

But here is the beautiful part – After the gathering ended, a young man came forth to speak with my friend who is one of the elder-pastors. This young man did not usually attend their gatherings. Rather, he happened to be there as he was in a close relationship with one of the members of my friend’s church. I guess he was the boyfriend of one of the young adults of the church. He shared with my friend that he was of Jewish background and the tongue that had come forth in the gathering was in Hebrew (obviously more modern Hebrew than ancient-biblical Hebrew). And the young man preceded to share that the interpretation that came forth was correct.

A fantastic story of God’s grace and gifting amongst His people. A testimony to the reality of the gift of tongues being utilised, and utilised properly, in the corporate gathering of God’s people.

Thus, here are some summary points from this first post on tongues:

  • Tongues is most likely a God-statement that He was reversing the curse of Babel for His body.
  • Tongues can be utilised evangelistically (as in Acts 2) or in edifying the body (1 Corinthians 14).
  • Tongues can be spoken in actual human languages or in the languages of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).

I hope this has begun to give somewhat of a solid introduction into the gift of tongues. Stay tuned for more articles in which I will discuss other important aspects of the gift.

The Tongues Conundrum (Part 1)

After three week’s of teaching on the gift of prophecy at Cornerstone, which you can listen to or download the messages on our podcast (part 1, part 2, part 3), I was looking forward to moving into a three-part series on the gift of tongues.

You can listen to the message below from this past Sunday, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.

One of the more perplexing gifts of the Spirit to discuss has to be the gift of tongues. Of course, there are enough opinions out there about every other spiritual gift found in 1 Corinthians 12 – healings, miracles, prophecy, etc – that we could spend the rest of our lives conversing over the in’s and out’s of just those.

But tongues might just be in a class all by itself, causing confusion, and even much worse, for some non-continuationists. So I thought it would be good to post a series about tongues here (maybe 5 or 6 posts), hoping it brings some clarity about the nature of tongues, at least from my study of Scripture.

Over the series, I want to address some major points in regards to understanding the gift of tongues. But, in this post itself, I will simply give a kind of introduction to the nature of the gifts.

For many Pentecostals and charismatics, the gift of tongues is part and parcel to the practise of their faith. For others, the practise of this gift has been the cause for steering clear of more Pentecostal and charismatic churches. And even in decades past, the use of tongues could have been regarded as demonic a small portion of believers. But thankfully, such a belief has pretty much faded to the background.

But what I began with in my message this past Sunday was a brief overview not only to tongues, but to the reality of Spirit-inspired speech amongst the Spirit-empowered people of God. I had three specific points.

1) A new age by God’s Spirit

I’ve written on this plenty of times, but suffice it to say that, with the Pentecost of Acts 2, we entered the fulness of the new covenant age in which the baptism, filling and empowering of God’s Spirit would now be available to all God’s people – men and women, young and old. EVERYONE!

This allows for the continuation of all that Christ began to do (see Acts 1:1), this being through the Holy Spirit via the Spirit-empowered ekklesia-church.

2) A new gift by God’s Spirit

All manifestations of God’s Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 were all witnessed and evidence before Pentecost – in the Old Testament and in the life of Jesus. But this is the first time we see the manifestation of God’s Spirit through the gift of tongues.

Many theologians believe that this was a direct statement pointing to the reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel (see Gen 11:1-9). There, God confused the languages of a rebellious humanity. Here, God does a unifying work amongst the body of Christ via this special demonstration of God’s power.

Interestingly enough, tongues actually functions in a prophetic sense. How? As we know, after the outpouring of the Spirit of God, the people spoke in other languages they had not learned. But, when Peter quotes Joel in Acts 2:17-18, the emphasis of those words was that prophecy would be the fruit of the outpouring of God’s Spirit. But here, they are speaking in tongues.

What’s going on?

Well, though the specifically spoke in tongues, this gift functions prophetically when 1) people speak languages they do not know but the listeners do understand what is being spoken or 2) the gift of tongues is followed by the gift of interpretation. And I know examples of both in various situations, as well as an example of both at the same time.

3) A new proclamation by God’s Spirit

For those who have studied the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and his gifts, many will be aware of the Pentecostal argument that tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. The five usual instances in Acts that are pointed to are found in 2:1-4 (Pentecost), 8:12-19 (the Samaritans), 9:17-18 (Paul), 10:44-48 (Cornelius and household), and 19:1-7 (Ephesian disciples). I won’t go into detailed reasons why Pentecostals usually argue for this, but I, personally, believe this is too strict a statement – that tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit.

But what I would argue is that a Spirit-baptised, filled and empowered people are a people who are to be utilised in Spirit-inspired speech of all forms. Why would I claim such? There are five major accounts of people being filled with the Spirit in Acts that I believe point out that the people of God are regularly used in such Spirit-directed and empowered speech: 2:1-4; 4:27-31; 8:12-17; 10:44-48; 19:1-7 (not to mention 4:8ff).

Now the only example where we don’t see any speech come forth from the mouths of those baptised-filled with the Spirit is that of the Samaritans in 8:12-17. The usual argument by Pentecostals for the gift of tongues being the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit is that something must have been happening for Simon the sorcerer to want to buy the ability to impart the Spirit of God through the laying on of hands (see 8:18-19). While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it must have been tongues, I will venture to say that some kind of Spirit-inspired speech probably did come forth from their mouths noting the four other examples I pointed out: 2:1-4; 4:27-31; 10:44-48; 19:1-7.

But what I will note is not all instances records tongues, i.e., 4:27-30 and the ever-debated passage of 8:12-17. But, again, what I do note is that various Spirit-inspired speech does come forth from a Spirit-baptised, filled and empowered people: prophecy, tongues, praise, the word of God.

And so, if anything, the people of God are to be a Spirit-empowered people speaking forth Spirit-inspired speech in all of its various forms. This also includes things like words of knowledge, words of wisdom (look back at 1 Cor 12:8-10), or what Paul notes as revelation (see 1 Cor 14:26).

Thus, while I believe it is a bit too strict to say that the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit is tongues and tongues alone, I would argue that the Spirit-empowered people of God are to be a people speaking forth Spirit-inspired speech in all its various kinds.

If you want more details, feel free to listen to the message.

The Power of the Spirit (Acts 2)

Acts 2 presents a paradigm shift in the way the body of Christ will function forever. The paradigm shift for the people of God would mirror that of the Messiah, Jesus Himself. And that is very important in Luke’s account of early church history as found in Acts. What happened in Acts parallels what happened to Jesus in Luke’s presentation in his Gospel.

As one theologian notes:

In the structure of Luke-Acts, the Pentecost narrative stands in the same relationship to the Acts as the infancy-inauguration narratives do to the Gospel. In the Gospel of Luke these narratives not only introduce the motifs which define the mission of Jesus, but they also show that Jesus will execute His mission in the power of the Holy Spirit. In a similar manner, the Pentecost narrative introduces both the future mission of the disciples and the complementary empowering of the Spirit. (Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, p49)

And so, in Acts 2, we find the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:5:

for John baptised with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.

It is this paradigm shift event of Pentecost which thrusts forward the walking out of the thesis statement of Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

The Spirit poured out means just this – an empowered people! When they were baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) or filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) or clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49), it gave them the power to be witnesses. Simply put, they could not have been the witnesses Jesus intended had they not been empowered, baptised, filled and clothed with the Spirit of God. We might have a theology that allows otherwise. But that theology fails knowing the reality of what Luke teaches us in Acts 1 and 2.

Thus, with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the first followers of Christ were not given a ministry of maintaining the status quo. Far from it! They were given power to be His witnesses!

As I said in a recent post, what if Acts 1:8 had said this:

But you will receive the ability to maintain the status quo when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Good grief, I am glad it does not say that. Though we so easily fall into the trap of carrying out such a ministry. Oh, so easily. I know. I’ve been there.

But rather the Spirit was sent and given as a gift to empower God’s people so that they might continue the works of Jesus as witnesses in all the earth. That was my major point in this recent article. This would allow for the whole Christ to be known in the whole earth.

Not only were all of God’s people an empowered community, but they were also a prophetic community.

What do I mean by this phrase – prophetic community? Well, let me break it down a little more.

First off, the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, that is, all God’s people irrespective of gender or age. That, in and of itself, was quite a paradigm shift to the general nature of the old covenant, though we had little intimations that this would one day be a reality in the new covenant. That is why we read these words in Acts 2:17-18:

17 And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

The Spirit given to all groups and all types of people. And what is the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit of God? Go back and read these two verses. They shall prophesy! That is what these two verses emphasise as the by-product of the Spirit coming on all of God’s people.

And this makes quite a lot of sense when we realise that Jesus was the great prophet. Yes, more than a prophet. But still a prophet nonetheless, and a prophet par excellence. And He sent the Spirit to continue His exact same ministry in the earth today. The Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy, if anything else. And this is the same Spirit that indwells and empowers all of God’s people. Thus, we have a prophetic community.

Yes, I believe God gifts specific people as prophets and with prophetic gifts. But there is a sense in which the whole body of Christ carries a prophetic measure. And this measure should affect all areas of life, not just when we are used in the gift of prophecy. This affects right across every action, every word, every mindset, every thought, every attitude. Our whole lives are to be a prophetic pointer towards Christ.

Still, when we read 1 Corinthians 14, it seems in particular that prophecy, along with tongues, are the two most readily available gifts to the body of Christ. And tongues can function like prophecy when there is an interpretation of the public message in tongues (see 1 Corinthians 14:5). But we see Paul’s passion for the prophetic body of Christ with these words:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

This was a statement to the church at Corinth. Not just a special group of prophets. Roger Stronstad articulately expresses this amazing reality in another of his books, The Prophethood of All Believers:

Jesus completed his redemptive ministry by giving orders to his disciples by the Holy Spirit about their imminent Spirit-baptism and empowering (Acts 1.2, 5, 8). Having ascended to heaven he then poured out the Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.33). He thereby transferred the anointing and empowering Spirit from himself to them, just as the Lord had earlier transferred the Spirit from Moses to the 70 elders, from Saul to David, and from Elijah to Elisha. By this act of transferring the Spirit to his disciples, Jesus, the Spirit-anointed prophet, makes his disciples a community of Spirit-baptized prophets. This fulfils an ancient oracle of the prophet Joel about a future age of restoration and blessing when the entire nation or community of God’s people, irrespective of age, gender or social status, would have the Spirit poured out upon them. Thus, on the day of Pentecost Jesus inaugurated the prophethood of all believers. (p71)

And, so, with the pouring out of the Spirit on God’s people, we also have the prophetic community. We cannot get away from our nature as Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people. We are a community of prophets. These are the things I preached this past Sunday at Cornerstone. If you are interested, you can listen to the message by clicking on the audio icon below. Or you can download from our podcast site or iTunes.

Why the Holy Spirit?

I would have to say that the second most important event of history, second only to the resurrection of Jesus, is that of the pouring out of the Spirit recorded in Acts 2. So important was it!

Now, what we must realise is that the feast of Pentecost had been annually celebrated for some time. It was connected to the feast of Shavuot, where the Jews also remembered the giving of the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

So Acts 2 was not the recording of the first Pentecost. Hence, Luke’s words here: When the day of Pentecost arrived…(Acts 2:1). They were already expecting Pentecost to come. I’m just not sure they were fully expecting the fruitful harvest that came on that particular Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. A greater gift was given here than at Mt. Sinai!

What had been intimated at and prophesied about for centuries past (see Numbers 11:24-30; Isaiah 32:14-15; 44:3; Joel 2:26-29), and promised by Jesus himself (John 7:37-39; Acts 1:4-5), had finally arrived. No longer was the Holy Spirit to be given to only a select few. He was to be given and poured out on all God’s people, no distinction made – male/female, young/old, Jew/Greek.

The Messianic age would also be marked as the age of the Holy Spirit! Fantastic news, no doubt.

But, one might ask: Why the Holy Spirit? Why was he given?

Good question. And while Scripture does not answer every single question we ask, it seems to clearly answer this question. It’s recorded by Luke, coming from the lips of Jesus.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Pretty clear, heh?

This statement in the early words of Acts stands as the thesis statement for the whole book. The account of Acts would be an outworking of this one statement. The Spirit would be given, and through such an event of extreme import, the people of God would be empowered witnesses.

This was not something for a group of twelve, or a group of twelve and a few other special people. Again, this was a reality for all of God’s people. Remember, the Spirit would not differentiate via gender or age or social barriers. This is one reason why Peter quotes Joel:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18; quoting Joel 2:28-29)

So, reason number 1 for the Spirit being given – that we might receive power and that we might be his witnesses. If there is anything that should mark the life of the Christ-follower it should be the power of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit to be his witnesses. No, I do not only mean that we all must be used in miracles and healings, though I am definitely not opposed to such. Rather, we are to know the power of God across all areas our lives. The power of God is to be available in every aspect, leading to a life that seasons with salt and shines with light.

I cannot imagine anything less.

So, as I shared in my last post, the Spirit of God was not given to ‘maintain the status quo’. It was not given to make sure we hold together nice meetings, a prayer meeting here, a Bible study there, a fellowship meal here, a finance meeting there. None of those are bad in and of themselves. But they are not necessarily the fruit of Acts 1:8, especially if it is tied into solely maintaining the status quo.

Can you imagine Acts 1:8 saying this?

But you will receive the ability to maintain the status quo when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you might possibly be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

I’m sorry, but I can honestly say I would not want any part of that. The Spirit was not given to make sure we all live out a nice and comfortable life in Christ. The Spirit was given that we might be empowered witnesses. Acts 1:8 does not get any clearer.

I am stirred deep by the reality of the reason the Holy Spirit was given when reading Acts 1:8.

The second reason the Spirit is given, not that it is subservient to the first reason I pointed out, is found in the very first verse of Acts 1:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach. (Acts 1:1)

Luke’s first volume, the Gospel of Luke, was an account of the things Jesus began to do and teach. Jesus was not finished. He had more to accomplish and say. Hence, he poured out the Spirit to continue his work, for the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus (see Acts 16:7; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19).

But, though the Lord of heaven and earth, as one man, accomplished quite a lot, he was not able to accomplish all as that one human being. Remember, he did not grasp at his equality as the divine (Philippians 2:6).

So, as I have emphasised, to continue his powerful work, Jesus pours out his Spirit to empower an entire body, though that body started at about 120 (Acts 1:15). Hence, why his words in John 14:12 make a lot of sense:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Not a select few, but whoever believes. I know there are plenty to argue that this does not mean everyone, since Jesus was only talking to the disciples-apostles. Or that this does not really mean all of Christ’s works, since some of those works are not needed much any more because the gospel has spread enough and we have the testimony of Scripture.

I am glad that gospel has spread, though I am not sure we understand the power of the gospel at times, and I am glad we have the God-breathed Scripture. But I am not sure whoever believes can be any clearer as to whom Jesus envisioned when he uttered those words. Suffice it to say, I am clear on what Jesus clearly meant – whoever believes. But if you want more to chew on, here is a great article to read.

Now, let me also note that I do not believe the ‘greater works’ is so much speaking qualitatively as it is speaking quantitatively. You get me? We can’t really walk out much greater a manifestation of the works and power of God than raising the dead, healing the blind, seeing withered hands restored, etc. Thus, I believe this is speaking more about the whole Spirit-empowered body of Christ being able to accomplish more than the Son of God as one human being.

Can you imagine millions and billions of Christ-followers empowered with the same Spirit? I’m thinking greater works, quantitatively. Remember, the same Spirit that Jesus relied on in the flesh, even post-resurrection (see Acts 1:2), is the one who indwells and empowers the body of Christ now.

Of course, I am not so silly as to believe that John 14:12 is only speaking of major manifestations of God’s power through healings and miracles. The works of Jesus include compassion for the hurting, mercy for the downtrodden, food to the homeless, respect and love for our spouses, tender care for our children, overcoming the temptation of the enemy and flesh, etc, etc. But I could never deny and step back from recognising that the works of Jesus also include healings and miracles and other demonstrations of the powerful work of the Spirit. We cannot argue our way out of this one.

Again, whoever believes in me will also….

So, why was the Spirit given? Simply put: 1) to continue the works of Jesus and 2) to empower God’s people as witnesses, so that those works might continue. This didn’t stop with Jesus. And this didn’t conclude with Acts 28. This has been continuing for some 2000 years and will continue on until all is accomplished and he returns to marry his prepared bride.

Oh, that we might know his power.