Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
As the birthday of the Church, the events of this day have certainly been examined up one side and down the other. This verse in particular has been something of a bedrock for the various Pentecostal denominations. Even so, there are some things really worth considering about this verse. In the first place, God was fulfilling His promise. Jesus spoke of it enough times that some people think of it as His promise, but Jesus Himself called it “the promise of the Father.” (Acts 1:4) John the Baptist made it clear that Jesus would be the Baptizer, (Luke 3:16) and it is the Holy Spirit Himself in whom believers are baptized, so the whole Trinity is involved. In any case, God keeps His promises. The whole Bible is actually a record of this, so we would do well so see which promises have yet to be fulfilled and anticipate their fulfillment, rather than getting distracted by all sorts of secondary issues. The other major point of this verse is the vocal gift that was given and expressed. The point is not that what was said was unintelligible, but rather that it was in languages that had not been learned by the speakers. That is the supernatural element, and not the words themselves. The following verses make it very clear that this was not babbling, but recognizable language. In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul references “tongues of men and of angels,” and various other passages make it clear that this gift may be expressed when there is no one present who speaks that language, but in such cases the gift of interpretation is called for. (1 Corinthians 14:13) This gift is significant because language is one of the key elements of being human, and it requires great faith and trust to speak out whatever the Lord gives you, even when you don’t understand it at all yourself. (Actually, the same thing may be said for some kinds of prophecy.) It’s not that God forces anyone to speak, but rather that He supplies the words when we choose to speak. I’ve had someone refuse the gift of tongues because they wanted God to move their mouth! These people on the day of Pentecost chose to praise God out of the joy in their hearts, and God gave them unexpected words with which to do so.
My family has a long and interesting history with the gift of tongues, starting with my father around 1935 or so. As a new missionary in Japan, he was studying Japanese but was hungry for more of God. At a special meeting in Yokohama he had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. He was already gifted in languages, having gotten his Masters degree in Hebrew and his PhD in Greek, so it was no surprise that he did very well in his Japanese studies, particularly since he chose to live with a Japanese family so as to further immerse himself in the language. However, he interpreted his facility in Japanese as the gift of tongues, and when other missionaries struggled with the language, he just thought they needed to be more spiritual! I learned about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1973 and started seeking it, but because all the books I read stressed the gift of tongues, I ended up seeking that gift more than the baptism itself. It was over a year later, after I had brought my wife and children to Japan for the first time, that I was baptized in the Spirit, but God specifically divorced it from the gift of tongues so that I wouldn’t keep confusing the two. I did receive that gift, and various others over time, several months later. My wife Cathy had a fascinating experience of the gift of tongues after we were in Omura. We were ministering to a group of Filipina trainees at a company in Omura, and she had gone to their dormitory for a prayer meeting. As they were all praying, she started praying in tongues, and the girls got very excited. It turned out she was praying in Tagalog, which she neither speaks nor understands! The point is, we need to surrender our mouths – our whole bodies, actually – to God for Him to use however He chooses. If we will do that in active obedience, He will act.
Father, thank You for this reminder. I do pray that You would pour Your Spirit, and any gifts You feel we need, out on this church, that we would be equipped and emboldened to be and do all that You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!