Pastoral Perspectives

Praying in the Holy Spirit

In my sermon on Jude, I mentioned that we can keep ourselves in the love of God by building up in the most holy faith that is the Word of God, praying in the Holy Spirit and waiting for the Lord’s return. I also asked what it means by praying in the Holy Spirit and said that I doubt the author could have meant praying in tongues. Some of you might not have taken my comment well and wonder why your pastor seems to dislike the gift of tongues and is all too eager to grab whatever opportunities to discredit it as a gift. So allow me to clarify what I had said and not said.

First of all, why talk about tongues when it is not mentioned in the letter at all? Well, it is not uncommon for some people to associate Holy Spirit with tongues, i.e. they are almost like synonyms. Such an idea is supported by accounts like Acts 2:4; 10:44-46, 19:6. So it is not surprising for them to interpret praying in the Holy Spirit as praying in tongues and to think that Jude is thus calling on believers to pray in tongues. Some might even use this verse as proof text to insist that praying in tongues is not so much a spiritual gift for some but an imperative for all and so wonder why the pastors are not pushing for it. Therefore my purpose was to clarify what the text is saying and not to discredit the gift of tongues.

Now I know I didn’t stop there but went on to suggest that the scoffers back then were the ones more likely to pray in tongues in order to set themselves apart. I suppose this is where my comment might hurt, especially if you pray in tongues. But why did I say so? Speaking or praying in tongues is found mainly in Acts and 1 Corinthians. In Acts, the occurrences were few and once-off but the impact on the work of the kingdom was colossal as the gospel crossed racial barriers and geographical boundaries. Speaking in tongues during those momentous periods out in the mission fields helped the apostles to affirm that it was in accordance to God’s will. Yet these were tribal tongues and not spiritual tongue that we are more familiar with today. In 1 Corinthians, the occurrences happened in the church and seemed more regular and frequent. But the fact that Paul had to admonish them in the proper place and use of tongues while extoling the gift of love suggests to us that the impact and consequences were undesirable, unlike the occurrences in Acts. Whether these were the spiritual tongue that we know today remains questionable.

It was with 1 Corinthians in mind and not Acts that I said the scoffers who crept into the church were more likely the ones praying in tongues if tongues were indeed an issue with the church back then. But I did not say that those who pray in tongues today are therefore scoffers. So do not feel that I was picking on you because you pray in tongues. I am not discrediting the gift of spiritual tongue even though my personal conviction is that the Bible is talking about tribal tongues. I have known godly Christians who came to tell me that they have this gift. I did not scoff at them or insist that they should renounce it and neither do I see them exalting with it in public or encouraging others to seek it as if it is the gift to possess, i.e. they understand the place and use of their gift and do not allow themselves to become the cause for disorderliness, conflicts and divisions in the church as with the Corinthian church. On the contrary, I have seen them demonstrating Christian love to one another in ways that honour God and glorify his name.

When we love one another with the love of God and pray humbly and truthfully in the Holy Spirit, whether in plain human language or otherwise, we do not need to fear how others might scoff at us. Take love and humility away and chances are that we may begin to exalt ourselves with whatever gifts we have, tongues or otherwise, i.e. the crux of the matter lies not with our gifts but in our character.

Rev Ronnie Ang

November 13, 2016