There are six purposes for speaking in tongues. These six purposes are divided into three categories: the initial evidence of Spirit baptism, personal edification, and corporate edification. It must be understood that the "tongues" being discussed in each case are the same tongues. It is their purpose in each situation which distinguishes them.
Let me use the English language to provide a very simple illustration of what I mean. Some people are professional singers and use the English language to make beautiful music with their voices. Others, who have no ability to sing, may use the same English language to preach moving sermons in churches, teach excellent lessons in the classroom, or make powerful, moving political speeches. Still others may not be able to do any of those things, but still use the English language to communicate on a routine daily basis. In each of these situations it is the same language, but used for different purposes.
INITIAL EVIDENCE OF SPIRIT BAPTISM
This is the broadest and most basic manifestation of the use of tongues. When Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit they are enabled by the Spirit to speak in tongues. This is a language either "angelic" or "human" (1 Cor 13:1) that the individual has never learned. The "tongue" in this instance is the initial evidence of having been filled with (or baptized with) the Holy Spirit. There may be other evidences as well, but EVERYONE who is baptized with the Holy Spirit will speak in other tongues!
There are three clear accounts in the Bible where people who were initially baptized in the Holy Spirit spoke in other tongues, and which provides the Scriptural basis for this being the pattern for everyone who is Spirit baptized:
"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place...All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."
"While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God."
"...Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, 'No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit'...When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied."
In each of these instances the disciples KNEW they had been "clothed with power from on high" according to Luke 24:49, or "filled with the Holy Spirit," (Acts 2:4) because they spoke with other tongues! It must be understood that this impartation by the Spirit to speak in tongues is NOT the "Gift of Tongues!" The Gift of tongues will be discussed later in this article.
The next four purposes for speaking in tongues are personal in nature and involve the individual edification (building up) of the believer.
As Christians all of us should want to grow and be built up in our faith. The word edification means "building up." One way of doing this is mentioned in:
1 Corinthians 14:4
"He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself..."
This personal edification is perfectly acceptable and necessary for a healthy Christian life. The four personal uses of tongues are:
The first of these personal purposes is a personal prayer language. According to the Bible there are two types of languages: human languages and angelic languages.
1 Corinthians 13:1
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."
So, the prayer language, or tongue, that a person receives at their Spirit baptism may be a human language or an angelic language. Human languages are relatively easy to recognize. However, angelic languages are not that familiar to us. Generally, they are what we refer to as Glossolalia. Some say that glossolalia sounds a lot like gibberish. But trust me, it is not! But I want to repeat here, whether the language a person receives from the Holy Spirit is a human language or an angelic language, it is NOT a language they have learned.
Often when we pray we run out of our own words and wish there were a better way to express our deepest concerns to God. It is at this point that praying in tongues or "praying in the Spirit" (synonymous expressions) becomes invaluable! The Apostle Paul explains in:
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will."
1 Corinthians 14:2, 14-15 says,
"For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God...For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful."
When a person prays in tongues they don't know exactly what they are saying, but the Spirit is praying in tune with God's will. And God knows what is being said. Paul asks the question in verse 15 "So what shall I do?" and then answers it by saying, "I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind..."
Being able to pray both in our known language, and in "tongues" (in the Spirit) is a distinct benefit of being filled with the Spirit! It is part of the power we receive when we are Spirit baptized.
We are instructed by both the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Jude to pray in the Spirit:
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests."
"But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit."
In our personal worship of God singing is one way we express our love for Him. When we are filled with the Spirit we can sing in our own language and we can sing in tongues too.
1 Corinthians 14:15
"So what shall I do?... I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind."
Again, in our expressions of love for God we can praise Him in our known language or we can praise Him in tongues.
1 Corinthians 14:16-17
"If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?"
Paul is here explaining why, in a public worship service, a person should not praise God audibly in tongues. Nevertheless, praising God quietly, or privately in tongues is perfectly acceptable!
And singing praises to God in the privacy of our own home in the Spirit, or in tongues, is to be encouraged! Do it often!
Giving Thanks to God
As with praising God, after we are filled with the Spirit, we can also give thanks to God in either our known language or in tongues. Paul continues his instruction of the Corinthians in the proper use of tongues in a public worship service when he says,
1 Corinthians 14:17
"You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified."
His primary concern is with everyone being built up in their faith when the whole church comes together. By giving thanks to God in tongues, an individual may be doing it well enough between himself and God, but because those around him don't understand what he is saying they are not built up. So, giving thanks to God in tongues privately is very appropriate, but without an interpretation, it should not be done out loud in a public worship service.
Finally, one purpose for the use of tongues is public and is intended to edify the corporate body of believers (the congregation as a whole).
The "Gift" of Tongues
Each of the personal purposes of speaking in tongues mentioned before (prayer, singing, praising God, giving thanks to God) can also be used in a public worship service. However in the public worship setting, though they are the same tongues, they have a different function and their use is restricted by very clear biblical guidelines for their exercise.
The tongues used in a public worship service are referred to as one of the "Spiritual Gifts."
1 Corinthians 12:8-10
"To one there is given through the Spirit...speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues."
These two gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in different kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues) are to function together when the corporate body of Christ is in worship. When these two gifts function together in a service it is God speaking to the church directly through a Christian who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
There are three primary differences between the personal and the public use of tongues.
First, whenever tongues are used audibly in a public worship service they are to be interpreted by someone so the entire congregation can be built up and not just the one doing the speaking. In private there is no interpretation of tongues.
Second, the number of times an utterance in tongues followed by an interpretation can be given in a corporate worship setting is limited to two or at the most three.
Third, though every Christian is to be baptized in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues, NOT everyone who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues, will be able to use their tongues in a public message, in a corporate worship setting, followed by an interpretation.
Only those who the Holy Spirit specifically selects, out of those who have been Spirit baptized, will be used in giving a message in tongues in a church service. They are the ones who have been given the "Gift of Tongues."