Is there a difference between speaking in tongues and the gift of tongues?
Yes, there is a difference.
Any born-again believer can be baptized with the Holy Spirit, which will always be received with the evidence of speaking in other tongues for use in personal prayer, worship, and service to God. During times of corporate prayer and worship, Spirit-filled Christians often pray and worship the Lord in their personal prayer language, but what they speak in tongues is not meant to be interpreted.
I Corinthians 12:10 mentions “divers kinds of tongues,” or the gift of tongues. This specific gift of the Holy Spirit given to some Spirit-filled believers is an utterance in tongues spoken in a public setting such as church—an utterance that is meant to be interpreted for the purpose of giving messages from the Lord that will bless, edify, and inspire the people.
This is confusing to many non-Pentecostal people. They do not understand the difference and think they are both one and the same. They are not.
To simplify, we could say that one is a promise, and one is a gift.
The Promise Of The Father
After His resurrection and before His ascension to heaven, the last thing Jesus told His disciples was to wait for “the promise of the Father.”
“And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:4-5).
As Donnie once put it, Jesus was telling His followers: “You’ve been with Me these three and a half years, but I have to leave. I’ve got to go away. But I’m not going to leave you comfortless. I’m going to send Someone back who will not only be with you, but who will be in you. But first go to Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father. Don’t go build churches. Don’t go teach. Don’t go evangelize. Wait for the promise.”
That promise was made by God in Joel 2:28 which starts out, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” On the Day of Pentecost, the wait was over; God fulfilled His promise: “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:3-4).
As a side note, this group of a hundred and twenty believers, or however many there were that included Jesus’ chosen disciples, had already given their hearts to Christ. Previously, Jesus had told them to rejoice because “Your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
This shows that a person is not baptized with the Holy Spirit simultaneously with conversion. As my husband often says, “The baptism with the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, is an experience separate and apart from salvation.”
Acts 2:4 says, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” In the Greek text, there is no evidence whatsoever that their speaking in tongues was gibberish or language coined at that moment by the Holy Spirit.
As we see in Acts 2:6-11, these were languages unknown to the speakers but clearly understood by others from various nations:
“Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”
If you have ever seen someone experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit, as my husband and I have many, many times, then you know how precious, how holy it is. It never ceases to amaze. Why? Because you are witnessing the Spirit Himself giving that believer utterance—a new capability to draw closer to the heavenly Father through fellowship, prayer, and worship. <br><br>
Again, everybody who is filled with the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues, but not everybody who speaks in tongues has the gift of tongues.
The Gift Of Tongues
“Divers kinds of tongues,” or the gift of tongues, is one of nine gifts of the Spirit given expressly at the discretion of the Lord Jesus Christ through the person of the Holy Spirit to Spirit-filled individuals to bring forth direction to the body of Christ in message, comfort, and exhortation.
Divers kinds of tongues are a supernatural utterance given by the Holy Spirit in languages never learned nor understood by the speaker and seldom understood by the hearers. It has nothing to do with man’s linguistic ability, mind, or intellect. The gift of tongues is a vocal miracle.
Since the gift of tongues is meant to be interpreted, another gift of the Spirit is required—the gift of interpretation of tongues, which is also listed in I Corinthians 12:10.
These two vocal gifts of the Spirit—tongues and interpretation—are used to give messages from the Lord that bless, edify, and inspire the people.
The purpose of interpretation is to render the gift of tongues intelligible to the hearers so that the church, as well as the possessor of the gift, may know what has been said and may be edified. Paul said, “greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying” (I Cor. 14:5).
We have several Spirit-filled believers at Family Worship Center who are used in the gift of tongues and in the gift of interpretation, and it is always a blessing to the entirety of the church body, when they are used according to the guidelines of the Holy Spirit.
After hearing the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation in operation, some may wonder why the interpretation is longer or shorter than the utterance in tongues. The reason is an interpretation of tongues is just that—an interpretation. It is not a translation. So the interpretation may be shorter or longer, depending on the language that was used in the initial utterance.
The apostle Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, devotes a good portion of I Corinthians 14 discussing these subjects because there is potential for confusion. My husband and I have been in services where two people attempt to operate in these gifts at the same time. Maybe you have seen this as well. It doesn’t mean that the devil is behind it. It just means that people sometimes get things mixed up.
But if we will learn to stay in the Spirit, follow the Spirit, walk according to the Word, and be sensitive to what the Spirit wants and desires, then everything will work out right, because God is not the author of confusion.