Q: I recently attended a service where the pastor said, "When was the last time you prayed or spoke in tongues?" I was always taught that speaking in tongues was a gift and not something that is "gifted" to just anyone. What does the Bible state about the topic?
Instructions concerning the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues appear in just one of Paul's New Testament letters. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes:
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. 1 Corinthians 12: 29-31 (ESV)
In these verses, the Apostle asked a series of rhetorical questions, each of which assumes a negative response. No, not everyone is called to be an apostle, no, not everyone has a prophetic gifting, no, not everyone is a teacher, and so on. The same is true with the gift of tongues — not everyone is so gifted.
However, there are certain groups within Christianity that have either decided to ignore what the Apostle writes here, or they believe he is saying something other than what appears obvious to the rest of us. Either way, some have linked the gift of tongues with salvation in such a way as to require it as proof that a person has been genuinely saved. This teaching is not only unbiblical, it is incredibly dangerous.
Having said that, let me be very quick to say that spiritual gifts are not dangerous. There is an unfortunate attitude of "guilty by association" in the minds of many believers that draws a line between the unbiblical use of spiritual gifts with the gifts themselves. That is incredibly sad on many levels. The fact is, the gifts come to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit, and to believe that He could ever bring us anything that is not for our good and building up of the kingdom of God is unthinkable.
I believe the Apostle Paul's exhortation that begins the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians is just as important today as it was when he wrote it:
Pursue love, and earnestly desire spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:1 (ESV)
For more on spiritual gifts, check out the following teachings by Pastor Paul: