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 Does speaking in tongues mean a person has reached a Christian Utopia?

John Hoole February 22, 2009


There are many things in the Old Testament that were types and shadows of things to come later. Colossians 2:17 tells us they were "shadows of things to come, but the substance is Christ." Hebrews 10:1 informs us that the Old Testament Law was a "shadow of the good things to come."

A type is a divinely purposed illustration of some truth to later be fulfilled. It may be: a person - an event - a thing - an institution - or a ceremony. Types and shadows are more frequent in the books of Moses - the Torah - the Pentateuch. They are found elsewhere in the Old Testament, but more sparingly. And the fulfillment of the "type" is generally found in the New Testament.

I want to take you back to the father of the Jews. I am talking about Abraham. Keep in mind that when Abraham erroneously tried to help God fulfill a promise, he also became the father of much of the Arabs today. Abraham is a type of God the Father. And his son Isaac was the promised child, and is a type of the promised Son, Jesus Christ.

Genesis 24:1-4 NKJV

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, "go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac."

In this verse we are not told the name of this servant. All we are told is that he managed all that Abraham had. You have to go back to Genesis 15 to find his name. In this chapter you find Abraham and God having a conversation. In the conversation, God is making his famous covenant from Abraham. Abraham says this:

Genesis 15:2 NKJV

2 But Abram said, "Lord GOD , what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"

Here, the head of his estate is a man named Eliezer, from Damascus. I believe this is the same servant of Abraham mentioned in Genesis 24. Eliezer is being told by Abraham to go to a far country. Genesis 24:10 tells us Eliezer goes to the city of Nahor.

Genesis 24:10 NIV

10 Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and left, taking with him all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the city of Nahor.

Let me point out a couple of things related to this verse. First, we know Abraham had two brothers: Haran and Nahor. There is a city named Haran, mentioned 22 times in the Bible. That city is named after Abraham's brother, Haran. It was there that the father of these 3 brothers, Terah, died. We also are told that when Abraham and Lot headed south to the Promised Land, his two brothers stayed in Haran.

Secondly, notice this verse mentions the city of Nahor. The Hebrew wording here can be taken two ways:

o It is speaking of a city with the name Nahor.

o It is speaking of a city where Nahor lived.

And for centuries, theologians believed this was talking about Haran, the city where Nahor lived. If there is a city by that name, this is the only place it is mentioned in the Bible. But, in 1933, the Mari Tablets were found in eastern Syria, on the Euphrates River. And these tablets mention a town by the name of Nahur, located near Haran. Also, more recently, in 1975, 15,000 tablets in cuneiform writing, called the Ebla Tablets, were found also in the Mesopotamia area, a little south of the Mari Tablets. They also mention a city named Nahur.

Whether the city of Nahur has connections with Nahor, Abraham's brother, we don't know for sure. But in any case, we are still talking about the region near Haran. We also know from historical records that Haran is in the region known as Aram Naharaim. That name is in the verse we just read, and it occurs 5 times in the Old Testament. And many Bible scholars believe another name for the same area is Padan-Aram. Both Aram-Naharaim and Padan-Aram have the name Aram in them. Aram was the grandson of Nahor, and is where we get the name of the Aramaic language.

Eliezer is instructed to find and prepare a bride for the son, Isaac. If Abraham is a type of God, the Father, and Isaac is a type of Christ, the Son, who is Eliezer a type of? Sure, he is a type of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the Holy Spirit right now is to find and prepare a bride for the Son. Eliezer goes out and chose Rebekah, who became the wife of Isaac.

WHO IS REBEKAH A TYPE OF?

She is a type of the Church, who is the Bride of Christ. The Holy Spirit has gone into a far country - the earth, to find and prepare a bride for Christ.

This is the same Holy Spirit who came on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus and 10 days after his ascension back to the Father. He is the third Person of the Godhead, coequal with God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. When the Spirit filled the 120 believers at Pentecost, they began to speak in other tongues.

I cannot help but believe that after Rebekah was chosen, Eliezer wanted to communicate with her and tell her all about the bridegroom - Isaac - What the bridegroom was like, what he desired for her to have, and how he wanted her to conduct herself.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit wants to reveal the qualities and characteristics of the divine Bridegroom. For example, all the covenant names of God rest in Jesus Christ. Names like Jehovah Rapha speaks of a galaxy of healing wonders. Then I go to the galaxy called Jehovah Jireh, the Lord our provider.

How can I, at this very moment, describe the multitude of wonders my spirit beholds? It is beyond the ability of my human language, even if I had the ability of Shakespeare. Jesus is fully beyond description. I can truly understand what Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn, "O for a Thousand Tongues!" Wesley was saying that he felt unable to express his praise adequately. He wished for more way to express it. This is one of the purposes of tongues.

The question we are addressing today asks if those betrothed to Jesus, our Bridegroom, have reached some sort of Christian utopia if they speak in tongues. There is a generally unspoken but present myth that, "If you get all God has for you, you will become a member of a super-race of Christians.

Of course there are reasons for expecting the supernatural as a natural part of a believer's life. Jesus did say, "These signs shall follow those who believe, in My Name they shall lay hands of the sick and they shall recover." Jesus did say, "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out devils." We are instructed to not only welcome, but to anticipate supernatural things happening when we pray or minister in Jesus' Name.

But such expectations have never been given in the Word of God as requiring anything more than people who are:

o Newborn in Christ

o Spirit-filled by His hand.

Those being used by God in these ways need not become a super-race of Christians.

HAS THE BELIEVER WHO SPEAKS IN TONGUES REACH SOME SORT OF CHRISTIAN UTOPIA?

The apostle Paul has something to say about this question of reaching some sort of utopia.

Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV

13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul recognized he was still growing - having much more to learn and do. The same is ever true for each of us as believers. A growing person is never satisfied with the status quo. That is because, for the Christian, there is still the "onward and upward call," for plateaus that are still higher. Like Paul, we are still growing and learning. Jesus, our Great Shepherd, stands and calls us to higher ground.

Johnson Oatman Jr. wrote these familiar words:

I'm pressing on the upward way,
New heights I'm gaining every day,
Still praying as I onward bound,
Lord plant my feet on higher ground.

Is that your desire? That should be our continual pursuit, whether we speak in tongues or not. Though I speak with tongues, I realize I have not "arrived" at anything. I will always be a growing Christian.

It is possible that nothing more thwarts Christian growth than the pretentiousness of any pattern of supposed "attainment." Such a state of imagined accomplishment hinders the dynamic growth the Lord intends for us. Jesus described our relationship with Him as a vine-to-branch relationship. And in doing so, we are not only promised growth but also continual fruitfulness. But, for growth and fruitfulness to continue throughout our lives, there are going to be times of pruning to ensure greater fruitfulness. Throughout our Spirit-filled lives, we may at times gather excess baggage, which, during the pruning process of God, will be removed. The test of my growth will ultimately be measured by the regularity of my having been pruned, where my habits are scrutinized under the fiery gaze of God.

DOES A PERSON WHO SPEAKS IN TONGUES EVER SIN?

1 John 1:8 NKJV

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

This verse applies to all believers, not specifically to those who speak in tongues.

Just because all Christian sin, including those who speak in tongues, this fact should not be used for allowing a casual indifference towards our ongoing sinfulness. No spiritual experience renders any of us above the touch of sin or beyond its reach. The Holy Spirit has been given to make us holy. But His cleansing power, as powerful as it is to assist me in resisting sin, is only as purifying as my will is to let Him have full sway.

The Apostle Paul writes to believers in the ancient province of Galatia. In Galatians 3:2, Paul acknowledges that they are filled with the Spirit. But He still points them to the way they can live lives of holiness in contrast to being carnal.

Galatians 5:16-17 NKJV

16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

Look again at that last phrase - "the things that you wish." That is quite an indictment - not only for the Galatians, but for us. We all have an inclination towards sinning, regardless of how Spirit-filled we may have become.

In my teens and later years, there were a number of influential Pentecostals. One of them was David DuPlessis. David was born in South Africa, and came to the United States in 1949. In the years that followed, he became known as "Mr. Pentecost."

Shortly before his death in 1987, a young Christian approached him and said:

"Dr. DuPlessis, as a young Christian I'm committed to serving Jesus Christ with my whole heart and to living in purity - body, soul and mind. Still, I sometimes have struggles with my thought life. Could you tell me, sir, about how old I'll be when improper thoughts - especially about women - won't tempt my mind any longer?"

David, whose purity of life and fidelity to the truth was legendary, looked squarely into the eyes of the young man, and there, in the eightieth year of his life, said, "Son, when I get that old I'll let you know!"

In this response, we are not hearing a man who is being dragged down by temptation, but one who frankly acknowledged its continuing presence throughout our lifetime. Only in heaven, and ultimately in our resurrected bodies, will there be no potential grip for sin to manipulate us. Though I speak with tongues, the man who stands before you today is continually a potentially sinful person. A person who speaks in tongues will still sins from time to time. And they have not reached some Christian utopia, where further growth is not needed.

I cannot measure the place speaking in tongues has in aiding me in offloading my burdens. Neither can I measure what speaking in tongues does in getting to the core of my needs. But I do know these two things:

1. That Spirit-fullness is no guarantee of infallibility;

2. That speaking in tongues is a mighty resource when in warfare against sin.

Although I speak in tongues, I am not rendered less than a fallible person.

ARE THOSE WHO SPEAK IN TONGUES BETTER CHRISTIANS THAN THOSE WHO DO NOT?

There is no arguing with the force of these Scriptures unless one is committed to theologizing all miracles away, both in the Bible and currently. We are appointed to not only welcome, but to anticipate supernatural things happening when we pray or minister in the name of Jesus. But none of this requires anything more than people who are newborn in Christ and the Holy Spirit living within them. They need not be a super-race.

I have related some of my experience before receiving the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. All through my teenage years, I wanted God to fill me with the Holy Spirit. I asked God for it dozens of times. But, for whatever reason, I did not receive it until I was almost 20. Unfortunately, there came a time when I felt I was less than other Christians. Neither God nor other Christians made me feel that way. I imposed it on myself.

It took a long time before I learned that this preoccupation with being somehow less, because I did not speak with tongues, was a lie of the Devil. I am sure I knew, but did not fully acknowledge, that who I am in Christ is not related to my baptism in the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is related to our experience in the saving work of Jesus on the cross. I don't believe I have ever met or heard any believer who speaks in tongues who thought less of another Christian because they did not speak in tongues. Some such person might exist, but I have never known one.

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit did not make Peter better than the other brothers and sisters in Christ. But it did make Peter a better Peter. I am reminded of a man who had experience the Holy Spirit baptism, with speaking in tongues. He is speaking to a gather of 2,000 or more fellow Lutherans, who had invited his testimony. He said:

"To those who say my expanded joy in Christ is an innuendo suggesting myself "better" than they, I want to fully deny it. However, along with many of you - my friends who have come to share this experience - we would add that we do not see ourselves as better than anyone. But since our receiving the fuller workings of the holy Spirit - and to His credit - we do testify of ourselves that we are better Christians than we each were before."

A genuine work of the Holy Spirit at any level of the human soul will inevitably accomplish at least these two things.

1. He will deepen our perspective of Christ's character and Christian purity.

2. He will expand our freedom in worship and heighten our joy in living.

The first work, when accomplished, brings a progressive humility with a heightened awareness of sin and greater readiness to confess and renounce it.

The second, I believe, is seen in this verse from the Bible:

Romans 14:17 NKJV

17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

There will be a heightened level of joy for living every day.

No, God did not give the spiritual language as a badge of achievement. He gave it as an ability for prayer and praise beyond ourselves. Any fruit God has given - any glory He pours forth among those who welcome the Spirit's gifts is the product of His hand, and His hand alone.

Having said that, there are a couple of statements that need to be said. I have heard words like, "Since I opened to this dimension of the Holy Spirit's work in my life, Jesus has become so much more precious to me." Or I have heard, "Worshiping God has become so much more vital to me." Or, "I don't know how to explain it, but since I received my spiritual language, the Bible has opened up with a new clarity and depth to my understanding. I can't get enough of it." I know that this was the case in my own life. And, over the years, I have heard like statements by many Spirit-filled believers.

Though I speak with tongues, I realize I have not "arrived" at anything. I am not a better Christian than anyone else. I have not reach a mythical Christian Utopia beyond which growth is not needed. I am still fallible and sin. I am still a growing Christian. I am still a mortal human being.

That, however, does not mean that in being a Christian, I don't have some advantages over a person who is not a believer. I have a friend that is closer than any human friend - as dear as those may be. I have a Savior that, when I fall, picks me up, both on the outside and the inside. I do have access to the supernatural.

To live in this holy tension between two worlds requires a rare balance, where we desire God's supernatural grace to flow through a frail vessel. For in speaking in tongues, I have tasted the supernatural, but must realize I have not yet arrived. Like the apostle Paul, "I press towards the goal for the prize...".

   
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