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 Does a person lose control when the speak in tongues?

John Hoole February 08, 2009


To introduce our lesson today, I want to take you to a place we visited in 2005. During that trip we visited Turkey and Greece and took a cruise through the Greek Isles. After the Acropolis of Athens, Delphi is the most popular archaeological site in Greece. In Greek mythology, Delphi is the center of the known world. It was the habitation of Apollo, the son of Zeus.

People who worshiped the Greek gods and goddesses, and that would be most of the people in this part of the world would come to Delphi to receive a prophecy from the Oracle. And thus, we have what is known as the Oracles of Delphi. I should mentioned that the person giving the oracle was always a woman.

Many leaders came to receive a prophecy about themselves before entering into battle. One leader, Croesus, a 6th century B.C. king of Lydia, with his capital at Sardis in western Asia, asked the oracle if he should wage war with the Persian king Cyrus. Yes, that is the same Cyrus who overcame Babylon during Daniel's day, and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. Croesus was told by the oracle: "if he waged war against the Persians, he would destroy a great kingdom." Only after Croesus was soundly defeated by the Persians, did he realize the kingdom he would destroy was his own.

Before going on with the introduction, let me share a few pictures of this area. The first picture is of the Gymnasium. The next shows the gymnasium in the distance, and the temple of Apollo is nearby. One thing I want you to notice is the steep terrain of the Parnassus Mountains. The ruins of Delphi lie at various level of this mountain.

When I first started writing the notes for this lesson back in 2005, my intent was to show you a few pictures of Delphi and move on. My reasoning was that Delphi has no connection with the Bible, and I certainly did not want to glorify Greek Mythology.

But, when I recalled what our guide called the person giving the prophecies, I remembered something that might relate to the Bible. As I mentioned earlier, the one giving the oracle, or prophecy, was always a woman. And her name was "Pythia." She was said to receive her oracles directly from Apollo, during a drug-induced trance. In some writings, she was called the priestess of Apollo.

The reason I take you back to this trip is because the root word from which "pythia" is derived is found in the Bible one time.

In Acts 16:16 (NKJV), Paul was in Philippi, and we read these words.

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling.

The English word "divination," in this verse, comes from the Greek word "pythun". When transliterated directly into English, it is Python, a serpent. It is where we get the type of snake called the Python. The python, in Greek mythology was the name of the Pythian serpent, or dragon, dwelling at the foot of mount Parnassus, guarding the oracle of Delphi. According to Greek scholars, the phrase, "to have a spirit of divination" is a Greek idiom, literally meaning "to have the spirit of python."

Now, why would I bring up this trip and this story? When it comes to tongues, there are some who conjure up strange images in their minds. Images like the Python Oracle - in a trance. Images of uncontrolled speech or incoherent ecstasy. Weird gibberish emitted from a stiffened body besieged by a hypnotic trance.

It is compounded by the fact that some call speaking in tongues as "ecstatic speech." Let me correct this idea first of all. In the Bible, speaking in tongues is never associated with the term "ecstasy." There are some Christians who are opposed to speaking in tongues that refer to it as "ecstatic speech," or "being in a trance."

Ecstasy is defined as "a state of being beside oneself, of being beyond reason or control." All such statement are only made by those who are against, or question, speaking in tongues. No person who speaks in tongues would agree with that statement. Neither is it biblical.

Now, Webster has a secondary definition for "ecstasy." It is, "exalted, rapturous delight." Now, I will admit I have seen a lot of people very happy and even "excited" after they experience the Holy Spirit's rivers of living water overflowing their soul.

Psalms 16:11 NKJV

11 ...In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

1 Peter 1:8 NKJV

8 ...Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,

Romans 14:17 NKJV

17 For the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Moments of joyfulness are certainly present at times with most who humbly and openly enter the Savior's presence in worship. However, "uncontrollable" is far from the mark. One's exercise of spiritual language isn't a case of losing control.

When I started speaking in tongues, it wasn't like something beyond me came and took control. I voluntarily opened my mouth and began to speak. The Holy Spirit gave the words, but I opened my mouth and spoke of my own free will.

To speak in tongues is a conscious, rational choice. One who speaks in tongues can choose to speak in tongues at any time, or choose to remain silent.

On the Day of Pentecost, we are told in Acts 2, that the 120 began to speak. Each of them made the decision to allow the Holy Spirit to speak through them. But what they spoke was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. While there are times when you may feel "prompted" by the Spirit to exercise tongues, you always have the ability to choose.

1 Corinthians 14:32 NIV

32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.

Here is how the same verse reads in the Message Bible:

1 Corinthians 14:32 (Message)

32 If you choose to speak, you're also responsible for how and when you speak.

The speaker, themselves, can control the operation of the gift they have. The Holy Spirit never renders a person incapable of self-control. The person with a gift, no matter what that gift is, can and should control the use of that gift.

When the apostle Paul say, in 1 Corinthians 14:40, that all this should "be done decently and in order," it implies that the person exercising their spiritual gift has some control over making that happen. The person with the gift of Tongues controls if and when to speak.

In 1 Corinthians 14:15 (NIV) Paul says:

15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.

To "pray with my spirit" is to pray in tongues, which, he contrasts with "praying with my mind," which is praying in his normal language. When Paul says, "I will...," he asserts his decision to employ spiritual language in his personal praise, whether it is spoken or sung. And he compares that to praying with his normal language, which he certainly can control. Paul is firmly saying that he is fully submitted to the Holy Spirit in the exercise of tongues, but he is still the one who chooses when and where to speak or sing, and whether it will be in tongues or not.

That the tongues-speaker was in control of himself is evident from the fact that Paul instructed the Corinthians only to speak when an interpreter was present. And they were to limit the individual utterances to two or three. That is not possible if the speaker was not in control of themselves.

NO, the exercise of speaking in tongues is not an ecstatic out-of-body experience. Neither is it associated with being in a trance, where the person speaking cannot control themselves. The person decides when to start or stop.

With regard to that last statement - that the person decides when to start or stop, one person raised the question, "Do you claim to be able to pray in tongues anytime you want to? Isn't that like turning God on and off according to your whim and fancy?"

How would you answer such a question? What you are doing when you decide to pray in tongues is not deciding to turn God on. You are deciding to turn yourself on. God is always "on." It is me that needs to be turned on in faith. God's Spirit will always be ready to respond to my prayer.

Once people receive the prayer language of the Holy Spirit, they can speak anytime they want to in their native tongue (English for me), and anytime they want to in tongues. I don't have to wait until the Holy Spirit moves my tongue. In that regard, it is like speaking in my regular language.

To speak with tongues does not constitute a requirement to resign your senses any more than it requires trading in your brain to exercise faith in the existence of God. However, there is an aspect of this subject which deserves a fairer evaluation than is often granted. It is worth noting that some newly Spirit-filled Christians do appear to have suddenly changes in their emotional responses or their general outlook on life. And it is understandable that an unconverted friend, relative, or even a critic of the charismatic experience, may be disturbed by this profound change. In many of these cases, the problem isn't with the new speaker in tongues, but with those who are puzzled by the newfound freedom, the unrepressed joy, and the childlike openness of their friend.

I need to make one more statement before leaving this question. The fact that one can and should exercise control when they speak in tongues, is a rule that also applies to any other Spiritual Gift. There are no spiritual gifts that, when exercised, the person is in something like a trance and cannot control what is happening.

The baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues is not a happening in which the person is so possessed by God that they lose their own identity. At no point is there the setting aside of human activity.

Here is another things to consider. Earlier, we read from 1 Corinthians 14:32, that the spirit of the prophet (or tongues speaker) is under the control of the prophet. That means that even though one feels the Holy Spirit urging them to speak, they can control the timing of when they speak the words of the Holy Spirit.

If the pastor is in the middle of a point in his message to the congregation, to interrupt them with a prophecy or message in tongues would be out of order. The person being urged by the Holy Spirit can control the timing. They can wait until the appropriate time so that confusion doesn't occur.

This brings up another aspect of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5:22-23, we find a list of the fruit of the Spirit. One of those fruit is SELF-CONTROL.

   
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