Question: "What is the gift of speaking in tongues?"
The first occurrence of speaking in tongues occurred on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. The apostles went out and shared the Gospel with the crowds, speaking to them in their own languages, “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" (Acts 2:11). The Greek word translated "tongues" literally means "languages." Therefore, the gift of tongues is speaking in a language a person does not know in order to minister to someone who does speak that language. In 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14, where Paul discusses miraculous gifts, he comments that, “Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?" (1 Corinthians 14:6). According to the Apostle Paul, and in agreement with the tongues described in Acts, speaking in tongues is valuable to the one hearing God’s message in his/her own language, but it is useless to everyone else – unless it is interpreted / translated.
A person with the gift of interpreting tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30) could understand what a tongues-speaker was saying even though he/she did not know the language that was being spoken. The tongues-interpreter would then communicate the message of the tongues-speaker to everyone else, so all could understand. “For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says” (1 Corinthians 14:13). Paul’s conclusion regarding un-interpreted tongues is powerful, “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue" (1 Corinthians 14:19).
Is the gift of tongues for today? 1 Corinthians 13:8 mentions the gift of tongues ceasing, although it connects the ceasing with the arrival of the "perfect" in 1 Corinthians 13:10. Some point to a difference in the language in prophecy and knowledge "ceasing" with tongues "being ceased" as evidence for tongues ceasing before the arrival of the "perfect." While possible, this is not explicitly clear from the text. Some also point to passages such as Isaiah 28:11 and Joel 2:28-29 as evidence that speaking in tongues was a sign of God's oncoming judgment. 1 Corinthians 14:22 describes tongues as a "sign to unbelievers." According to this argument, the gift of tongues was a warning to the Jews that God was going to judge Israel for rejecting Jesus Christ as Messiah. Therefore, when God did in fact judge Israel (with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70), the gift of tongues would no longer serve its intended purpose. While this view is possible, the primary purpose of tongues being fulfilled does not necessarily demand its cessation. Scripture does not conclusively assert that the gift of speaking in tongues has ceased.
At the same time, if the gift of speaking in tongues were active in the church today, it would be performed in agreement with Scripture. It would be a real and intelligible language (1 Corinthians 14:10). It would be for the purpose of communicating God's Word with a person of another language (Acts 2:6-12). It would be in agreement with the command that God gave through the Apostle Paul, "If anyone speaks in a tongue, two — or at the most three — should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God" (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). It would also be in submission to 1 Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”
God most definitely can give a person the gift of speaking in tongues to enable him/her to communicate with a person who speaks another language. The Holy Spirit is sovereign in the dispersion of the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:11). Just imagine how much more productive missionaries could be if they didn’t have to go to language school, and were instantly able to speak to people in their own language. However, God does not seem to be doing this. Tongues does not seem to occur today in the form it did in the New Testament despite the fact that it would be immensely useful. The vast majority of believers who claim to practice the gift of speaking in tongues do not do so in agreement with the Scriptures mentioned above. These facts lead to the conclusion that the gift of tongues has ceased, or is at least a rarity in God's plan for the church today.
Question: "How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?"
A key verse that discusses the filling of the Holy Spirit in this age is John 14:16, where Jesus promised the Spirit would indwell believers and that the indwelling would be permanent. It is important to distinguish the indwelling and filling of the Spirit. The permanent indwelling of the Spirit is not for a select few believers, but rather for all believers. There are a number of references in Scripture that supports this conclusion. The first is that the Holy Spirit is a gift given to all believers in Jesus without exception, and no conditions are placed upon this gift except faith in Christ (John 7:37-39). The second is that the Holy Spirit is given at salvation. Ephesians 1:13 indicates that the Holy Spirit is given at the moment of salvation. Galatians 3:2 also emphasizes this same truth, saying that the sealing and indwelling with the Spirit took place at the time of believing. Third, the Holy Spirit indwells believers permanently. The Holy Spirit is given to believers as a down payment, or verification of their future glorification in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).
This is in contrast to the filling of the Spirit command found in Ephesians 5:18. We should be so completely yielded to the Holy Spirit that He can possess us fully, and in that sense, fill us. Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13-14 state that He dwells within every believer, but He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), and His activity within us can be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19). When we allow this to happen, we do not experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit's working and power in and through us. To be filled with the Spirit implies freedom for Him to occupy every part of our lives, guiding and controlling us. His power then can be exerted through us so that what we do is fruitful to God. The filling of the Spirit does not apply to outward acts alone; it also applies to the innermost thoughts and motives of our actions. Psalm 19:14 says, "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you, O Lord my strength, and my redeemer."
Sin is what separates us from the filling of the Holy Spirit, and obedience to God is how the filling of the Spirit is maintained. Although our focus should be to be filled as Ephesians 5:18 commands, praying for the filling of the Holy Spirit is not what accomplishes the filling of the Spirit. Only our obedience to God's commands allows the Spirit freedom to work within us. Because we are sinful creatures, it is impossible to be filled with the Spirit all of the time. We should immediately deal with sin in our lives, and renew our commitment to being Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.