In Acts 2, Jesus’ promise is fulfilled: the Holy Spirit descends on his disciples, readying them to go and proclaim the gospel to all nations. He does this by giving them the gift of tongues, a symbol of the fact that barriers of location and language have now been removed. What is this gift? Can every Christian get it? Is it for today? What happens when its private use goes public?
2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Howdy, Mars Hill. How many of you have attended, visited, participated in another church other than Mars Hill? So, many of you. For how many of you, Mars Hill’s it? You’re like, “This is where I started. Glad to be here.” Glad to have you. Love you. What tends to happen is whatever your first church experience is, that becomes normative for you. You assume that we’re doing it right, and if other churches are doing it different, then they must be doing it wrong.
And that’s not always the case, but that was at least my experience. I was raised—some of you know my story—Roman Catholic. I thought, OK, church is very formal. You kneel and sit and stand and genuflect, and an old—like, very old—person has to be the preacher. He’s this close to Jesus, so he knows the most, you know? And that church was supposed to be not very exciting, not very enthusiastic, not super passionate. I stopped going to church when I was in my teen years.
And then God saved me in college, and I became a Christian through the study of the Bible. And then I had to find a church, and I had no idea what to look for. And by God’s grace, I ended up in a good Bible-teaching, Jesus-loving evangelical church. But it was kind of a decaf church, you know, like, people would sing but not really, you know? There’s three kinds of churches: churches where you sing with your hands at your side, churches where you sing with one hand up, and churches where you sing with both hands up. And we were sort of a hands-down-at-your-side church.
I didn’t know that other churches were not like us until we had a joint get-together of a lot of churches in the area, and some churches showed up that were—they called themselves “charismatic” or “Pentecostal.” And they were different. Before worship, they’re stretching, you know, like, get the hams loosened up, Icy Hot. You know, like, Wow, this is going to get serious. You know, they’re like, “All right, we’re ready to sing; let’s do this.” It’s like, Oh, wow, OK, these guys are plugged in. I didn’t know that it was like aerobics for Jesus. This is amazing.
And so when it came time to sing, man, they sang. Like, we sang in our hearts; they sang with their mouths. They were in it to win it. And they were clapping and on beat. Just pray about that, Mars Hill—something for us to consider. They were very enthusiastic. They’d shout. They’d cheer. During the preacher’s sermon, they felt inclined to participate. “You bet ya!” “Go get ’em!” “Raise him up!” “Amen!” “Say it again!” I was like, Wow, this is like the Apollo. This is like BET. This is fantastic!
And then there was a point in the service where the band stopped playing. I don’t know if the lead guy broke a guitar string or what. There was downtime, and these folks thought, We’ll fill it. And they did: they just started talking out loud very enthusiastically in a language I had never heard, and I did not know what was going on. And everybody was nice, and I talked to them. They loved Jesus. They believed the Bible. I just didn’t know what was going on. I thought, Well, I wonder if we’re wrong or they’re wrong. And the answer is, what does the Bible say?
And so, some of you are going to come into Mars Hill like, “It’s not like my old church.” Maybe your old church was wrong, or maybe we’re wrong, or maybe it’s flexibility and God is approving of both. The only way we really discover how the church should be is not by taking our experience and making it normative but by going to the Word of God and seeing what the will of God is.
So, if you’ve got a Bible, go with me to Acts 2:1–13. We’re going to look at the fact of being empowered by the Spirit to follow Jesus, and we’re going to look at one of the most debated issues in church theology—and that is, should we speak in tongues? What should services look like? What happens when we come together? We’re going to get into all of this today. This will be a pretty thorough sermon that we can refer back to as this issue comes up again in the ensuing weeks, months, and years in the book of Acts.
Let me preface by saying that here’s where we find ourselves in the story: Jesus is God become a man, lived without sin, went to the cross, died in our place for our sins as our substitute Savior, was buried, and three days later on a Sunday he rose from death conquering Satan, sin, death, hell, the wrath of God. Acts 1 tells us that he appeared for forty days, evidencing his resurrection with many proofs.
He then told his disciples, “Do not go out and start your ministry yet. You need to wait.” Acts 1:8, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. He will come with power so that you can be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth”—your city, your state, your nation, your country, the nations of the earth. That’s what he’s talking about. He then ascended into heaven, and then it tells us at the end of Acts 1 that for ten days, they prayed, they studied the Bible, they prepared their leadership, and they prepared themselves.
And today, we see Jesus’ promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit being fulfilled in Acts 2. And this is important: just as the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism in Luke’s Gospel to anoint and appoint him for ministry, so here Jesus is going to send the Holy Spirit on his people so that we can follow in the ministry of Jesus by the power of Jesus.
Let’s read it together beginning in Acts 2:1–3, where we learn that the Holy Spirit empowers Christians for ministry: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place”—so it’s a church meeting of about 120 people—“And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like”—“like.”
This is important: The Bible here is telling us something that happened; it’s explaining a supernatural, miraculous event. But it’s unusual.
Have you been in a situation where you saw or experienced something that was altogether new for you? You’re trying to figure out how to explain it to somebody else, saying, “Well, it’s kind of like this and it’s kind of like that, but it’s not like this and it’s not like that.” When you hear that language, what you’re supposed to understand is that the Bible here is straining to explain the supernatural in the constraints of human language. So it was “like.”
It was “like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues, as of fire”—again, it’s “like” fire; it’s as of fire—“appeared to them and rested on each of them.”
So the timing is Pentecost—this is a Jewish holiday. Before this, there was a major holiday called Passover, and it was celebrating God’s deliverance of his people from slavery and bondage in Egypt through the shedding of the blood of a substitutionary lamb, which all prefigured the coming of Jesus, our Passover Lamb who has been slain, that through him, through his shed blood, we receive our redemption, our Exodus, our liberation from Satan, sin, and death. And they celebrated it and then fifty days later—fifty, or _pente_—it was Pentecost.
So this is fifty days after the Passover, and they’re meeting in Jerusalem around the temple, and the presence of God in the Holy of Holies and the people of God are together. The first believers in Jesus are gathered as the first church—about 120—and the Holy Spirit descends on them. He comes to empower them as he came to empower Jesus so that they might be on his mission—by his power. I want you to see that. And he comes “like” the wind and he comes “like” a fire. When he comes like this, you and I are supposed to see this as power.
For those of you who have spent any time in, where I live, Seattle, if you’ve gone to a beach during the winter, it’s different than Mars Hill Orange County. Mars Hill Orange County can go to the beach during the winter. “Oh, it’s what—you’re wearing a tank top and flip-flops.” In Seattle, no. Gale-force winds—your face is getting sandblasted off. If you don’t hold on to something, you will gown down the beach like a tumble weed. And you have to wear boots and a parka, and you can only be out for thirty seconds, no more, OK? It’s because of the gale-force winds, amen?
Some of you didn’t know that when you moved to Seattle. You’re like, “Oh, I’m going to go to the beach.” Just once, and then you’ll learn your lesson. And what you see is that the wind comes with power. It overwhelms; it overtakes. It’s this all-consuming unstoppable force. God the Holy Spirit is a person, but his power is like that.
I’ll give you an illustration. Some years ago, we had spring break and I thought, Oh, it will be fun. We’ll go down the coast toward Oregon, and we’ll take the family. And we’ll go stay in a place by the beach. And then I had, sort of, visions of building sandcastles and family time on the beach. Well, it didn’t work like that. We got there, and the rain was coming down sideways; the winds were like gale force, white caps. So we’re stuck indoors.
If you live in the Northwest, what you wait for is something called a sunbreak. It’s not really a sunbreak: it just stops raining for a second, and you run outside and pretend like it’s a sunbreak. And so, we did that on a few occasions with the kids. And finally, the kids were like, “Dad, this kind of isn’t awesome.” I noticed that. What could we do to make it awesome? What could we do?
Then I thought, Buy kites. Let’s just work with these gale-force winds on the beach. So I went and got these very serious kites, not like a Hello Kitty kite but a real kite—a couple of real kites. And I took my kids out to the beach, and it was honestly one of the most memorable moments of my life. My kids [mimics holding a kite]—and all of a sudden, these dead kites are alive. These dead kites are soaring, and they’re dancing. I look over, and my daughter Alexie, who’s now nine—this was a couple years ago—is dancing with a kite. [Mimics dancing with a kite.] I will not do anymore dancing, but you can—you’re welcome. You can envision it in your mind’s eye: a beautiful little girl dancing with a kite, and the kite is dancing in the wind. And I took photos, and I just thought, Oh, this is sort of a sacred moment. I walked up to Alexie and said, “What are you doing?” She said, “The kite is dancing, and I am dancing as well.”
The Holy Spirit is like that. He fills the believer. He lifts the believer. He brings life into the believer. And the believer’s life now is one that is dancing with the power of God. It’s like that. He comes like wind and fire. We know it’s like fire ’cause if their heads were on fire, this would not be good news, right? But it’s like tongues of fire resting upon their head.
Fire is most appreciated when it is cold and dark, amen? You and I love fires the most when it’s cold and dark. You’re out hiking, hunting, camping. It’s dark and it’s cold. You really appreciate a fire because it illuminates. You can see. It brings warmth and life and heat. The Holy Spirit is like that. Our lives and our world are cold and they are dark. And the Holy Spirit comes to illuminate Jesus and to warm our hearts to love him. I want you to think of this every time you enjoy a fire.
I’m one who particularly enjoys a good fire. I love to chop wood. I love to stack wood. I love to make a fire. I love to stoke a fire. I love to sit by a fire, and my seven-year-old son, Gideon, is like his Papa Daddy. So he has become my fire-starter helper. And we chop wood together. We stack wood together. We build fires together. We do this in the fireplace during the winter, and then all my kids hang out. We visit and play games ’cause there’s life and warmth around a fire. And a fire attracts a crowd: everybody wants to be there.
The last time Gideon and I made a fire was last night. It was warm and decent out, and so we built a fire outside, and we sat outside until it got dark, and we kept stoking the fire and chopping wood. And I got to enjoy my little buddy’s company because a fire brings illumination and warmth.
We particularly enjoy fires, don’t we, when it’s cold and it’s dark? And so these are the outward symbols—metaphors—that the Holy Spirit is using to reveal his internal working. He fills us like a kite. He warms us like a fire. He sets us ablaze for the truth of God, and he illuminates the world in which we live.
So all of this happens on this day of Pentecost. There’s a couple of things I want to share with you briefly as we examine this together.
Number one, Jesus’ mission is not to take us from the world but to join us in the world by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
Number two, Jesus’ mission does not send us to a holy place—a temple or Mecca—but instead Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to make us a holy place, individually and corporately, as God’s people.
Number three, Jesus’ mission requires that the Holy Spirit sometimes works loudly and publicly, but at other times, quietly and privately. Here, the Holy Spirit’s going to work loudly and publicly, but he’s not limited to working in that way.
I’ll give you another example from the Driscoll home last night. Alexie, my youngest daughter very, very, very rarely has a bad dream or a night terror or any trouble sleeping. Last night she did. She thought she saw something and she was scared, and so she was crying and she was struggling. Well, Grace went in and held her, kissed her, loved her, and prayed over her that the Holy Spirit would comfort her, guard her thoughts, guard her mind, and guard her dreams. And the Holy Spirit answered that prayer. And Grace and the Holy Spirit tucked Alexie in bed, and she slept soundly—no more problems. Sometimes he comes like a hurricane, and sometimes he tucks scared little girls into bed so they can get a good night’s sleep.
Number four, Jesus’ mission requires that you, individually, and we, corporately, be filled with the Holy Spirit. We can’t be who Jesus has made us to be, and we can’t do what Jesus has called us to do unless we are filled by the power and the presence of the person of the Holy Spirit.
And so, I want you to understand that the Bible talks about us being baptized in the Holy Spirit. You’re going to read this language. That happens once at conversion when you become a Christian. Ephesians 1 talks about being sealed with the Holy Spirit. All right, this is a one-time event when you become a Christian. And then you’re going to read it with me in Acts 2 and you’re going to read it repeatedly in the remainder of Acts and other places, like Ephesians 5, where the Bible talks about believers being filled with the Holy Spirit. Filled with the Holy Spirit. There is one baptism and there are multiple fillings, and this is empowering.
So, let’s say you’re a new Christian and you want to figure out what your gifts are to serve Jesus. You’re asking the Holy Spirit to fill you and to show you what your ministry is. Let’s say you’re going to get married. You’re asking the Holy Spirit to fill you so that now you can learn to be a loving and faithful spouse. You’re pregnant and now you want to be parents, and it’s a great season. You’re asking the Holy Spirit to fill you so you can have that God-given instinct to love and to lead your children to the glory of God. You’re struggling, you’re suffering, you’re sick, you’re hurting, you’re asking the Holy Spirit to fill you, that you might persevere and, through your sufferings, learn more about Jesus and become more like Jesus. There are multiple fillings, and there is one occasion in which the believer is baptized.
That being said, we’re now going to look at what happens as they are filled with the Holy Spirit to use the language of the Bible. And what we learn is, first off, that the Holy Spirit empowers Christian for ministry. And then secondly, we learn that the Holy Spirit overcomes gospel barriers. It’s long, but read with me, Acts 2:4–11: “And they were all”—what? “Filled with the Holy Spirit.” So here’s a filling. Here’s a moment of filling. “And began to speak in other tongues.”
You heard of tongues? Kind of controversial. Churches have divided over it. Denominations debate over it. We’re going to discuss it. “As the Spirit gave them utterance. Now, they were dwelling in Jerusalem”—they’re all together for this feast—“Jews devoted men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound, the multitude came together.” It’s like the wind was almost like a siren that summoned everyone together. “And they were bewildered”—this is something supernatural—“because each one was hearing him speak in his own language.” Circle that in your Bible—“language.” When the Bible talks of tongues, sometimes it talks about the physical organ in our mouth, and sometimes it talks about an angelic, heavenly language.
Sometimes it talks about a known earthly language, and here it’s talking about a known earthly language. “And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans?’” The Galileans were rural folk. They were country folk, fishermen, and farmers—not highly educated. Imagine someone who is not formally educated, from an area that is far away from a city, comes to a city and, all of a sudden, has this capacity to speak in another language with perfect pronunciation, no mistakes, and clear articulation. Say, “Well, that’s unexpected. I did not anticipate that Uncle Sy knew Portuguese. I did not see that coming.” All right, it was a miraculous moment. And then the story continues. “And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” And then it lists these groups of people—“Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes”—Gentiles who had converted to the Jewish faith—“Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues”—or languages—“the mighty works of God.” So, there are two barriers here: one is location, the other is language.
Here’s the big idea: the Holy Spirit absolutely loves Jesus. The third member of the Trinity loves the second member of the Trinity, and the Holy Spirit loves people, made in the image and likeness of God. And the Holy Spirit, because of his love, wants people to meet Jesus, amen? That’s what we believe, right, Mars Hill? What’s the Holy Spirit doing? Well, the primary thing he’s doing is introducing people to Jesus, people whom he loves—introducing them to Jesus, whom he’s always loved.
Now, there are barriers. There are barriers that need to be overcome for people to meet Jesus. One is location. So the Holy Spirit overcomes location by waiting until the day of Pentecost when people have come from multiple nations to one location. And if you looked at a modern-day map, they’re coming from Iran, Turkey, North Africa, Crete, Rome, Arabia, Egypt, Syria, across various smaller parts of the Middle East, and also Israel, parts that we would perhaps call the Holy Land. So, these people are all coming together, and he waits until they’re all in one place. And if they meet Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit and then return home, they return home as missionaries.
I want you to see, Mars Hill, that we do believe that churches should be planted everywhere, but we have a particular affinity for those crossroads where people groups and nations come together. Wherever there’s an airport, wherever there’s a college, wherever there’s a major city, wherever people, goods, and ideas flow to and from, we believe that’s a strategic place for the gospel to be preached and for a church to be planted, because from there, you can reach the nations.
So, for example, over by Mars Hill U-District, the nations have come to the University of Washington, and if they meet Jesus, they go home as missionaries back to their country of origin. Mars Hill Rainier Valley’s in one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the United States of America. People have come from all over the world and are living there, and if they meet Jesus, they still know the language, culture, and have the familial connections back to their native language and their native land. So there’s an opportunity for them to be witnesses and missionaries there as well. In Mars Hill Albuquerque, if people meet Jesus, there’s an opportunity to influence down into Mexico because many would find their history there. This is the kind of thing that the Holy Spirit has always done. He’s always liked to show up in places where there are diverse groups of people because his love is for all the nations. And he overcomes the location barrier in this way.
Secondly, there is the language barrier, and these people have different languages. They can’t communicate with one another. Perhaps you’ve had this frustration. How many of you have traveled internationally, and you don’t speak the language? And it’s just really frustrating ’cause it’s hard to get anything done. Or perhaps there’s someone who has come to your place of employment, your education, or your neighborhood and you really want to love them, serve them, and help them, but they don’t know English and you don’t know their language. And it’s really hard to figure out how to get that relationship sorted out because the communication barrier’s a very real one. That was the case here. They’ve come from different nations, and they speak different languages. So, how would the Holy Spirit overcome that barrier to connect people with Jesus, because he loves them both?
That leads us into the discussion of something called tongues. You heard of it? How many of you have heard of this debate? OK, it’s a big debate. It’s going to occur repeatedly in the book of Acts where people speak in tongues. So, let me do one big sermon that we can refer back to later, and as new people come, we can encourage them to listen to this sermon. You may want to take notes on this.
What I would say is, whatever your church experience is, for a moment, set it aside and let’s see what the Bible has to say and if that doesn’t bring us to a place of agreement. Let me make this as simple as I can.
And let me say this: when I first became a Christian, I was totally confused by this issue. I did not understand it. I read one book that said people who speak in tongues are basically demon-possessed. I was like, “Oh, then I’m against it.” Then I read another one that said, “No, they’re filled with the Holy Spirit and they love Jesus the most.” I was like, “Well, then I’m for it.” I was so confused. And I studied and read and studied and read. In the grace of God, I’ve come in to a position that I believe is biblical, practical, and helpful. And it’s a great honor to teach you today after a lot of years of intense study.
And if I could summarize it, I believe that when the Bible speaks of tongues, it does so in two primary ways: one that is private and one that is public. And I believe the confusion happens when the public goes private or the private goes public. I believe that’s where the confusion occurs.
And so, let me look with you in the Bible. What we’re going to do is we’re going to move from Acts, which is the historical record of what happened, to 1 Corinthians, where there’s some theological explanation of these things. 1 Corinthians 12–14 are primarily on what is called spiritual gifts, which includes this gift of tongues, or languages. And one more thing I will say: for those who have this gift of praying, singing, or speaking in tongues, in 1 Corinthians 14:15 it says it manifests itself with praying and singing. And singing. It says, “If I speak in tongues or if I sing in my spirit” (emphasis added).
OK, I want you to know that sometimes you’re going to experience God in ways that are supernatural, in ways that are unusual, in ways that are unique. And what this does is it humbles us. What this does is it shows us that, though God has called us to love him with all of our mind, our mind has certain limitations. We need some humility—God is not just an idea to be pondered. He’s a person to be enjoyed.
To that end, I want to talk about the first use of tongues biblically—and that is a private, unknown, heavenly language for prayer, OK? Private, meaning something you do with the Holy Spirit, not necessarily in public. Unknown—this is not a known language of the earth. It’s a heavenly language; it’s the language of the angels. And this is what some would call their prayer language. In 1 Corinthians 13:1, Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels.”
Here’s my question to you: what’s the official language of heaven? I have not been there. Apparently, it’s some angel language. See, we on earth have languages so that we can communicate. Angels are created beings who dwell in the presence of God, and they are ministers and messengers, and they communicate with one another. We see in places like Isaiah 6 that they actually sing out loud and they worship God—“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
So apparently the angels communicate with God and one another in a language that is a heavenly language. Apparently, God’s kingdom has a language. Just like the nations of the earth have primary languages, so the kingdom of God has a language.
Now, some of you say, “This is very supernatural.” Yes. OK, we’re dealing here in the miraculous. We’re dealing in the supernatural. We’re dealing with the presence of God. We’re getting a glimpse into how things work in God’s presence with the angels. I want you to have some sense of how majestic, wonderful, and amazing it is that we even get to know about these things.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I’m a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” What he’s saying is, it doesn’t matter how gifted you are, if you’re not loving. He also says, 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God.” If he were speaking to men, that would be public. Not speaking to men, speaking to God—that would be private. God knows what he’s saying. The Holy Spirit knows what he’s saying. If people listened in, they would not know what he or she was saying.
“For no one understands him”—all right, this is the language of the angels—“but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” He’s distinguishing here between public and private uses of what are called spiritual gifts. These are supernatural endowments and enablements by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are lists of them—1 Peter 4, Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12—that list these spiritual gifts. What he’s saying is, some edify us. They build us up personally. Others are to be used publicly for the building up of others.
Here’s what we want for you: we want you to have a private, personal, passionate relationship with Jesus. We want you to have a public congregational, corporate, passionate relationship with Jesus. We want you to worship Jesus all by yourself and with us. That’s what he’s talking about. And so there is this private, unknown, heavenly language for prayer, OK?
For those of you who feel comfortable, how many of you have this gift? You’re like, “I know what we’re talking about. I pray in tongues. This is my time with the Lord.” I asked this question of the senior leaders at Mars Hill Church recently on a training day—just threw it out there out of curiosity: “How many of you have a private, angelic, heavenly prayer language or singing language of tongues?” Maybe half or more of the senior leaders raised their hands. So for maybe the majority, or around the majority, of the senior leaders in Mars Hill Church, this is their private, personal, passionate worship connection with the Lord through the Holy Spirit.
You know what’s beautiful? It’s never been divisive at Mars Hill. We’ve never fought, argued. This has never been an issue because of spiritual maturity. There’s never a problem with spiritual gifts. Sometimes the problems are around spiritual maturity. If you’re not spiritually mature, then the gift becomes divisive. If you are spiritually mature, then the gift does not have to become divisive.
Now, what I would say is, we don’t believe that those who have this particular gift have more of the Holy Spirit than other people. Some would say, “Well, if you don’t speak in tongues, you don’t even have the Holy Spirit.” I actually experienced this not long ago. At a conference, I had a woman come up and say, “Do you speak in tongues?” I was like, “No, I have never spoken in tongues.” She said, “It’s amazing how much you’ve gotten done without the Holy Spirit.” I was like, really? Wow, all right? I said, “Well . . .” Here’s what I would say: everything good, the Holy Spirit did. Everything else, I did. OK, that’s my theology. All the mess-ups—that was me. Anybody got saved, the Bible got taught, the gospel moved forward—that was the Holy Spirit. We don’t believe that we can do ministry but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, for those of you who are at Mars Hill and you say, “You know what? This is my gift, or one of my gifts,” welcome, we love you, God bless you. We see it in the Bible, and we want to affirm that. For those of you who don’t have it, you’re like me. For so many reasons, I apologize for that—but that may not be how God has gifted you. And here’s what I have said: “Lord, you know, if you ever want to give the gift, give me the gift of speaking Spanish,” all right? ’Cause I would love to be bilingual.
OK, now that leads me to the next right use of tongues, the Rosetta Stone spiritual gift. The second right use of tongues is a publicly known earthly language for evangelism. And this is exactly what we just read in Acts 2. These people love Jesus. These people have not yet heard about Jesus, and they speak different languages. So, the Holy Spirit will allow the people who do know Jesus to talk the people who don’t yet know Jesus so that they can have an opportunity to come and meet Jesus, all right? This is a bilingual gift and when we say “tongues,” people get confused, so let’s just call it “languages” ’cause the word literally means languages. And again, with the growing number of people who speak Spanish, if the Holy Spirit wants to give me this gift, that would be amazing if I could also preach in Spanish.
But here’s how we read it, Acts 2:8: “And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own”—what? “Native language?” Do you see that that’s different than the language of angels? That’s an unknown heavenly language. Here are some known earthly languages: Portuguese, Chinese, English, Spanish. That’s what we’re talking about, a known earthly language.
What this is here is God overcoming something that happened earlier in the Bible and foreshadowing something that happens later in the Bible. In the first ten chapters of the Bible, everybody spoke the same language. And then in chapter 11, something happened called the Tower of Babel. You probably heard about it. It’s where everyone spoke one language and they decided, “We don’t need God or his kingdom. We can be God with our own kingdom, and, in fact, we’ll build ourselves a tower so we can sit on top of it like God and rule and reign from the heavens.” Their vision was a global government without God, in rebellion against God, where people were ruled over by leaders who thought they were God.
Can you fathom that world? You’re talking about absolute, total oppression of the earth. And it was made possible because they all spoke one language. And so what it says is that God judged them. But it was also an act of love: God scattered them and he confused their languages, and Genesis 11 says that’s when languages were born as we know them. It’s to protect people and to love people, because the only thing worst than conflict between two nations is one nation that thinks it’s the kingdom of God with a ruler, who thinks he’s God and has total control over everyone on the earth, without any opportunity to unseat him.
So, what happens then is we have the language barrier. Here in Acts 2, we see that the way we overcome the language barrier, the national barrier, the cultural barrier, is by coming around Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. The nations are not unified just around multiculturalism or some vague commitment to peace or to mutual understanding but around Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And this foreshadows Revelation 7:9–10 where it says, in the kingdom of God eternally we’ll be gathered around the throne of Jesus—people from every tribe, language, tongue—and that we’ll all be singing Jesus’ praises together. And he’s in the center, and he’s on the throne. And I believe that we’ll be singing that heavenly language, and that language barriers will be no more. And so, what’s happening in Acts 2 is, the Holy Spirit is showing Jesus has dealt with a sin problem, and this unity and reconciliation and supernatural love between people is ultimately going to be that way forever in the kingdom of God.
How many of you at this point have questions about tongues? You got a few questions? Every time we hit this issue, there’s always a lot of questions, as I said initially, oftentimes because of your church background and experience. So, let me take what I find to be the three most common questions about tongues and answer them in succession.
Number one, can every Christian have the gift of tongues? If you’re from what is called a more Pentecostal background—they take that from Pentecost, which we are studying—then they would say, everybody should speak in tongues, and if you want to know if you have the Holy Spirit, you have to speak in tongues. You say, well, where do I get tongues? Usually the answer is, come forward and then the pastor or leader up front will lay hands on you, and you’re going to get the Holy Ghost, and you’re going to speak in other tongues, and we’ll give it to ya right here.
Is that possible? Should everyone speak in tongues? Is it even possible for us all to have this ability? Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 12:8–11. He says, “For to one is given through the Spirit . . . various kinds of tongues”—or languages, heavenly or earthly—“to another, the interpretation of tongues”—the ability to articulate in the other language what has been said in the foreign language. “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
Here’s what he’s saying: somebody can do this and somebody can do that, but not everybody gets to do the same thing. And you don’t have to come forward for the leader in the church, for the pastor to give you the gift because we don’t do that. Who gives the gift? Look at this. It’s right here in this book I found: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each individually as he wills.” The Holy Spirit says, “You’re going to be an administrator.” “You’re going to be a leader.” “You’re going to be an encourager.” “You’re going to have the gift prayer language of tongues.” “You’re going to have the missionary gift of tongues to go out and help people whose languages you don’t even know meet Jesus.” “You have the gift of healing. You’re going to start praying for sick people, and God’s going to hear and answer that prayer.” “You have the gift of evangelism. You’re going to go talk to lost people. They’re going to meet Jesus.”
The whole context in 1 Corinthians 12–14 is that Paul uses his favorite analogy for the church, and that is, the church is like a body. And his point is, well, we need our fingers and our toes and our ears and our eyes and our nose. And a body’s not healthy if it has all of these parts and none of those parts.
And so it is with the church body. Everybody should accept the fact that Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to give them whatever ministry endowment—called a gift—that is best for the church and just be who you are and do what you are supposed to do, right? A football team doesn’t need ten quarterbacks. A plane doesn’t need twenty-seven pilots. It needs everybody to do their part and find their place and be part of the greater mission. So it is with Jesus’ mission to reach the nations of the earth.
And also, I would say, there is no evidence that the Lord Jesus Christ ever spoke in tongues. There’s no evidence. The Bible never tells us. It does say that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. I mean, Jesus was perfectly, continually filled, empowered by the Holy Spirit. But it never tells us that he spoke in tongues. It doesn’t mean he didn’t. He had private prayer time with the Father. We don’t have any record of exactly what happened there, but I think we go out to the very, very end of the limb to say, those who have the Holy Spirit all receive the same gift, even if we don’t see it in the Lord Jesus or we don’t see it in the teaching of the Bible.
So if you’re here and you say, “Well, I have this gift,” praise God. Not everyone does. Don’t judge them or look down on them or think that you’re more spiritual than they are because you’re not, all right? Everybody gets the gift that the Holy Spirit gives them, and we need to humbly use that for the building up of the whole church. Does that make sense? So, some of you here, are like, “I wish I could get the gift.” Well, you can ask. And the Holy Spirit may say yes; he may say no.
Second question: does Mars Hill Church believe that the gift of tongues is for today? OK, there are two positions on this. One is called cessationism. Cessationism teaches that certain supernatural, miraculous gifts ceased around the turn of the first century after the Bible was completed in its writing. The other is continuationism, and that is that all of the supernatural, spiritual gifts continue. Until this day, they have not yet ceased.
Let me say a few things about this, and then we’ll look at 1 Corinthians 13. We agree with cessationists that there will come a time when certain spiritual gifts cease, OK? For example, the gift of evangelism. Do you think we’re going to need that in heaven? How many of you are evangelists and you’re like, “I love non-Christians. When I talk to them, they give their life to Jesus. It’s amazing.” When we get to heaven, the gift of evangelism is not going to be as needed as it is now. You’re like, “I’m going to go out and find the lost people.” There aren’t any. This is the kingdom of God. Everybody here already loves Jesus. “Oh.” So, evangelism comes to an end. So, those with the gift of evangelism are going to need to find something else to do, all right? If you’re walking around on the street handing out tracts—“Do you know the Lord?” “Yes, I do.” “Do you know the Lord?” “Yes, I do.” “Do you know the Lord?” “Yes, I—” I need to find something else to do. Everyone here knows the Lord, OK?
So, we agree with the cessationists that certain gifts will come to an end like the gift of healing. You think in heaven you’re going to be like, “I’ll pray for the guy with cancer. Oh, that’s right—no more cancer.” You won’t need the gift of healing in the kingdom of God ’cause there won’t be any sickness. So, we agree with the cessationists that yes, certain gifts, at least, they’re going to cease. They’re going to cease.
Where we disagree with the cessationists and we agree with the continuationists is when they cease. We believe that all of the gifts continue until one very important transitionary moment in the history of the world.
We read about it here, 1 Corinthians 13:8–12. “Love never ends,” right? Certain spiritual gifts we’re not going to need them in heaven, but love continues forever. So, even when the gifts end, the love continues. “As for prophesies, they will pass away; as for tongues”—that could be the heavenly or the earthly, I suppose at the very least the earthly—"they will"—what?—"cease." And again that position is cessationism. When, when does it cease? When does tongues conclude? When is it over, right? What’s the expiration date on the box for tongues? When’s it over? Was it over in the first century, or is it not over yet? What’s the answer?
Well, let’s read the book that the Holy Spirit wrote: “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” The cessationists then say, “And the perfect is the perfect Word of God. Now that we have the perfect Word of God, we don’t need certain supernatural, miraculous, spiritual gifts.” OK, Mars Hill, do we believe that the Word of God is perfect? Absolutely. Absolutely. But the perfect being spoken of there is not the conclusion of the writing of the Bible.
Read with me. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Oh, so the perfect has a face. The perfect has a face. Well, who are we talking about now? OK, just so you know, one perfect guy, OK? Let’s all say it together. His name? [Congregation reponds “Jesus.”] Nailed it. Good job, Mars Hill. OK, so one perfect guy shows up, and we see him face to face—that’s the Bible’s language for friendship. So, when do these gifts cease? When? When Jesus comes back, when we see him face to face. So the cessationists are right: certain gifts will come to an end. But the cessationists are wrong: the end has not yet come. And the continuationists are right: all the gifts continue until we see him face to face, until Jesus comes again.
“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” What he says is between now and then, we’re going to have a lot of questions. But when Jesus comes back, it’s all going to get cleared up. It’s all going to make sense. So you struggling, suffering believers, be persevering believers, and when you see Jesus face to face, everything’s going to make sense. It’s all going to come together. You just got to hang in there and be patient and live by faith until your faith becomes sight and you see him face to face. So, we do believe that the gift of tongues and all of the gifts continue until this very day. It’s absolutely what we believe.
Now, what happens is some will come along and say, “But those gifts are very abused! They’re misused! Tongues and prophesy are misused and abused, therefore we should get rid of them.” My answer is, all spiritual gifts have been used, abused, and misused.
For example, the gift of teaching. There’s been a lot of false teaching, a lot of bad teaching, and the answer is not, “Well, there has been bad teaching, so let us get rid of teaching.” The answer is, “There’s been bad teaching, so let’s have Bible teaching.” If gifts have been misused, they should not be rejected: they should be used biblically to give God’s people a faithful alternative. Amen? So we don’t want to just have the gifts; we want to use them in the way that the Holy Spirit governs, according to the Scriptures that he has written.
Third question: what happens when the private use of tongues goes public? This is where all the confusion comes in. 1 Corinthians 14:27, “If any speak in a tongue or a language, let there be only two or at the most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.” So, let’s say you’ve got a private prayer language of tongues, and all of a sudden, we’re together. It’s a meeting, the church is together, and you say, “I feel like God wants me to speak, and he has something to say.” The answer is? “Two or three at the most, one at a time.” No, “Ready, set, go—crazy! Crazy! Woo-hoo!,” right? Holy Ghost time! Grab a flag, grab a tambourine, right? Go! No, OK? Two or three at the most, and an interpreter, because if you’re saying something and nobody knows what you’re saying, somebody needs to interpret and say, “Well, here’s what’s being said,” to make sure it’s not wrong. And if that’s not the case, then go home and enjoy that at home, OK?
Let me say it this way: how many of you have things you do in private that don’t work in public? OK, chuckle, chuckle, chuckle. What will Mark say now? Something not governed by the Holy Spirit, I’m sure. It’s going to be hilarious, and we’re going to get picketed again. So, here’s what I will do. I will submit to the Holy Spirit and just leave that ball on the tee, OK?
But I will tell you a story. OK, so I was at Starbucks. You may have heard of these. I know there are Mars Hill churches everywhere, not like Starbucks. I was sitting in a Starbucks, and in walks a young gal—maybe college, career, just seems like a normal, nice gal. Gets her drink. Sits down in one of those big, sort of oversized like plushy velour chairs. Takes her shoes off, takes her socks off, puts her feet up on the chair, pulls out a toenail clipper—plink, plink, plink, plink, OK? OK, is she sinning? No. But this is the wrong place, right? That’s what I told her. I said, “Excuse me, miss,” literally, as I saw her toenail go flying by. I was like, OK, oh, we’ve now find the line. There it is. We’ve crossed it, OK? “Excuse me, miss.” “Yes?” “This is a huge planet. This could be done elsewhere.” The Holy Spirit didn’t say that; I did. OK, true or false, there are certain things that privately, totally fine; publicly, not appropriate. So it is spiritually.
What he’s saying here is, if you want to take your private thing and make it public, well, here, OK, two or three at the most, with an interpreter under spiritual leadership. You can’t just do whatever you want when the church all gets together.
OK, give me some other examples. How many of you, while in your car, love to sing Christian music to Jesus, and you sing it, OK? And it should never leave your car. Like, no one else should be included, right? So, you’re home and you’re just rocking out to Jesus. And you show up in church and you’re like, “Oh, they got a mic. Yes, they have a mic!” Not for you. Not for you, OK? Not for you, because that’s private, not public. You’re saying, “But I am so edified.” Yes, but we are so horrified that you should just do that for—Jesus can take it, right? The rest of us, we just, we don’t have that pain threshold, OK?
I’ll use myself. I love to study. I nerd out. I love books. Right, if the Rapture comes, I’m grabbing all my books and taking bookshelves, woo-hoo! I love my books, but you don’t need to watch me study, OK? I’m personally privately edified by study. If you saw me, I smile, I’m happy. Sometimes I’ll even break out in song. I’ll pray. I got my Bible open, I got all my books open—love the smell of books. But see, that doesn’t need to happen in church on Sunday. You say, “Oh, Mark’s going to study for ten hours. We’re all going to sit there and watch him. Oh, he flipped another page. He grabbed another book. What a nerd.” You don’t need to—that’s me, not you. That’s me, not us. That’s private, not public. That’s personal, not public, right? You get that?
The problem occurs when you take your private and you go public. You’re like, “Woo-hoo!” No. Go home, OK? Now, what happens when that doesn’t happen? Well, Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 14:18–23: “I thank God that I speak in tongues.” Paul spoke in tongues, right? Paul spoke in tongues. Sometimes I hear this: “We don’t need things like tongues. We just need to study the word that Paul wrote.” But Paul spoke in tongues. Anyways, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in the church”—the public—“I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others”—to help them—“than ten thousand words in a tongue. If, therefore, the whole church comes together”—here’s the public meeting—“and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind?”
Welcome to Out-of-Mind Bible Church, right? Have you been to Out-of-Mind Bible Church, right? You thought, Oh, I’m going to go get my coworker, Johnny. “Johnny, come on, come to church with me. Come on, come on, Johnny, here it is!” [mimics seeing something shocking] “Oh, we’re going to go out to coffee. You know, we’re going to go out to coffee,” right? ’Cause Johnny’s like, “What? What? Is it happy hour?” Like, “What? This is great. You know, everybody’s drunk and crazy. This is not how I imagined church to be.”
The point here is, you may be personally connected to the Lord, but what if it pushes other people away from the Lord? What if non-Christians can’t hear about Jesus ’cause of all the noise we’re making? What if non-Christians can’t learn about Jesus ’cause of all the distractions we’re causing? We want you to sing, raise your hands, cheer, be enthusiastic and passionate ’cause the Bible talks about all of those things. But we want to always make sure that Mars Hill is a place that non-Christians and visitors are welcome and that the Holy Spirit will be able to teach them about Jesus, whether it’s our Community Groups or our Sunday services.
If you say, “But I have something I feel like I need to say,” then run it by an elder. Get permission from a spiritual leader. We don’t just believe in spiritual gifts; we believe in spiritual leadership as well.
And then he closes by telling us what happened when the Holy Spirit showed up. And that is that the Holy Spirit is received and rejected. Acts 2:12–13, “They were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” When the Holy Spirit comes and he teaches about Jesus and he reveals Jesus, some people receive it. And you’re going to see next week, three thousand people are saved. It’s an explosion of conversion. While some receive Jesus, others reject him. “These people are crazy. Christianity makes no sense. I’m not interested. Leave me alone.”
Friend, here’s my question to you: have you received or rejected Jesus? Have you received the Holy Spirit’s conviction and instruction, or have you rejected the Holy Spirit’s instruction and conviction? Don’t get distracted by the tongues. The big idea is this: the Holy Spirit is absolutely, unequivocally, fully, thoroughly, totally committed. Whatever means are required, the message of Jesus will get out with power. And if a language is in the way, he will work through the language. If geography is in the way, he will work through the geography. If people are in the way, he will move those people aside. He will literally move heaven and earth to get the news of Jesus to lost people so that they have an opportunity to turn from sin and to trust in him.
Mars Hill, hear me in this: it’s not about the tongues. It’s about people hearing about Jesus. Everybody needs to hear about Jesus, and the Holy Spirit sets a fire in the children of God, and he unleashes them on the earth so that people would hear that Jesus is God, that Jesus is good, that Jesus has lived, that Jesus has died, that Jesus is risen, that Jesus is saving, that Jesus is serving, that Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead. And this message absolutely has to get out, and the ministry of the church is to get this message out.
Mars Hill, I invite you to join me and to require the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to work through us. If there is any, any opportunity for us to speak, to share, to teach, to talk about Jesus, do it and overcome whatever barriers might get in the way so that people can receive him and join us forever as the glad family of God, amen? That’s what it’s about. Acts is the book of the acts of the Holy Spirit, and he wants to work through us as he has worked through people for thousands of years.
In a moment, we’re going to sing. Feel free to sing with great gladness and joy. We’re going to take Communion in remembering the broken body, shed blood of Jesus. First, we’re going to collect our tithes and offerings, and this is our way of saying we want to help the message of Jesus get out, more churches, if we have to use technology, if we have to buy a building, if we have to increase the staff, whatever we got to do, we got to get this message out, amen? The world needs to hear about Jesus. That’s why we give.
And as you are giving, I want to share with you some of what the Holy Spirit is doing in Ethiopia. A portion of our income is going to help church planting in Ethiopia and India. Jesus said to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. And here’s the good news: the Holy Spirit’s working among other nations and other people groups and other languages and other cultures to do the same thing that he always does—take people whom he loves and introduce them to Jesus, who loves them. So I get to share that with you now.
[Video begins with an Ethiopian woman speaking Amharic.]
Translator/narrator (female): When I was going to school, there was an evangelist named Samuel. He greeted me, and he asked me if I know the Lord. Because my background is the Coptic traditional church, I said, “Yeah, I know the Lord. Who is the Lord you’re talking about?” The evangelist Samuel told me, “The Lord Jesus Christ is not in you yet.” Then I just said, “Yes! If the Lord Jesus is coming into my heart, let me receive!”
[speaking foreign language] Hi, yeah. Hello? Yeah, this is Werku Golla from Wollega. How are you doing?
Pastor Sutton: “Pastor Werku, where are we going?”
Pastor Werku: “We are here now in the northwest half of the country, in Wollega, and now we are going to the other side—about a 120-kilometer drive. Our church planters have been sent to this area, and the Lord has brought many people to his kingdom.
Translator: I didn’t think that I would move from Kelafo, but the Lord spoke to my heart and told me I need to move to this area. After a while, I decided to rent a house, saying this would be the church.
Pastor Werku: This would be the church. And she rented the house to start the church without anybody, only by herself. Total faith.
Pastor Sutton: Praise God. Praise God. Praise God.
Translator: There was an evangelist in Yazo, and one day I invited him to just come and pray here.
Pastor Werku: [Translating] So, we’d go to the rented house and we’d pray there, “Lord, bring the . . .” [begins to weep]
Translator: When we’d go to the rented house, we’d pray, “Lord, bring the people here.”
Pastor Werku: So, that evangelist understood the desire of my heart and the burden that the Lord has laid in my life.
Translator: So, in that year, nobody was there but me, the evangelist and his wife. We did our best to share the testimony of Jesus Christ to over 1,000 people. In the same year, 30 people received the Lord.
Pastor Sutton: So, how many today, how many people call this church their home?
Pastor Werku: [Translating] We are about 120 people.
Translator: We’re becoming many in number, so I appealed to the local officials to give us a piece of land to have a place to build the church. The local officials gave us a piece of land that we will visit now.
Pastor Sutton: And you were telling me earlier how important it is for the husband and the wife to both be called by Jesus, and the husband leads, but the wife is supporting, and how important that is in these churches as you’ve blended them, right?
Pastor Werku: Oh, yes. That’s our general policy, you know? He has to—he’s here with his wife. People were just scoffing at us because we were few. She was only the person when we came here. But gradually the Lord has brought many people, and he’s not building a wooden house but the building of the living house of the Lord. People have to liberated from the bondage of sin and Satan.
If the Lord opens the door, it is a great privilege for the expansion of the good news about Jesus, about the fact that salvation is in Jesus Christ only—and only.
This is what I want to see. This is what I want to see all over Ethiopia! This is what I want to see all over Ethiopia—to be expanded like this.
[Video closes with singing] Let the praises come to you, Lord, with our both hands, with our both hands to you, Lord, with our both hands. Let the praises come to you, Lord, with our both hands, with our both hands.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.