The Purpose of Speaking in Tongues

What's the purpose of speaking in tongues? In a word… EDIFICATION. Paul explains that whenever you speak in an unknown tongue you edify yourself, but when you interpret the spoken message in tongues, you edify the church (1 Corinthians 14:4-5).

Therefore, when used properly, speaking in tongues can build up faith and strengthen yourself and others in private and public settings. Let's dive deeper into how this wonderful gift strengthens individual believers and the church.

The Purpose of Speaking in Tongues for the Spirit-Filled Believer

By Don Bell | Reading Time: 11 min.

Concept Photo of a Cloud-Filled SkyGod Has a Purpose for Us Speaking or Praying in Tongues
(Source: ©shyrokowa/

Edification: Its Meaning

The Greek word οἰκοδομή (oikodomē) translated as "edification" means building up and promoting growth in oneself and others.

Paul says, "For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries" (1 Corinthians 14:2).

So, why speak in an unknown tongue when we cannot understand its meaning? And, why would Paul later declare, "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all" (1 Corinthians 14:18)?

Paul offers insight by saying, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself …" (1 Corinthians 14:4).

Do you know that the gift of tongues is the ONLY gift of the Holy Spirit that's specifically given to edify ourselves? Other gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of Interpretation of tongues, are designed to edify and bless others.

Jude offers us further insight into the purpose of speaking in tongues by saying, "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God …" (Jude 1:20-21).

The gift of tongues plays a significant role in strengthening faith and keeping us grounded in Christ. We must be full of faith to accomplish God's plan for our lives and to manifest God's Kingdom to a waiting world.

If Paul found it so necessary to speak in tongues, shouldn't we explore its significance and uncover all its potential?

Therefor, the gift of tongues can be considered the GREATEST GIFT for the individual. That's because the Holy Spirit has given it so we can edify ourselves, building ourselves up in faith.

The Spiritual Power of Tongues

Speaking in tongues has spiritual significance beyond our human understanding. It connects us to God's will, as the Holy Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27). Through praying in the Spirit, aligning our lives with God's perfect will becomes possible.

Tongues can open doors to spiritual growth, supernatural guidance, and divine encounters. When believers pray in tongues, the Holy Spirit leads and empowers them, enabling them to fulfill their calling and impact the world around them with the Gospel of the Kingdom.

If you want more excitement in your life, start praying in the Spirit, and He will lead you to places you would never have thought about and meet people you could never have imagined.

My wife and I travelled to Russia twice on mission trips while bringing medications, supplies, and children's toys to needy orphanages. It's noteworthy that we had never prayed about going to Russia or had any connections with Russian people prior to these trips. Russia wasn't a country we had ever considered visiting.

Nevertheless, God orchestrated this opportunity for us, presenting His plan to each of us independent of the other, and I'm certain that our speaking in tongues played a significant role in preparing us to be receptive to His will and guidance. —Don

When you pray in the Spirit and build up your faith, people in need will be drawn to you, attracted by the anointing of the Spirit inside you. You will find yourself praying effectively with signs following.

You can begin to say with Paul, "I … did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God … but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Our Need for Strong Faith

How often have you found yourself thinking, "If only I had more faith?" Jude emphasizes the importance of building ourselves up in faith by praying supernaturally in the Holy Spirit.

Remember this spiritual principle: "The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things" (2 Timothy 2:6-7).

What does it mean? Imagine shopping at a farmer's market and asking a peach grower what his peaches tasted like. Suppose he replied, "Oh, I've no idea. I'm afraid to taste them!" Why would you commit to buying any?

Similarly, how can we hope to encourage and build up the faith of others, if we don't "partake of the gifts" ourselves? We must first walk in the gifts of the Spirit before we can impart their encouraging effects and blessings to other believers.

While we can learn and improve upon our natural abilities, our supernatural abilities can only be manifested and strengthened through stepping out in faith.

How to Build Faith Through Tongues

Speaking in tongues requires an act of faith each time it's practiced. By exercising our faith in this way, we can increase and strengthen the measure we have.

Therefore, to excel in the gifts of the Spirit for effective ministry to others, it's crucial that we build up our faith through praying in the Holy Spirit.

This might help to explain why tongues is so often the first gift to manifest after receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit. As we actively exercise our supernatural prayer ability, our faith increases thereby enabling us to exercise other gifts of the Spirit and minister to others.

Edify Yourself First

False humility would say, "Oh, MY main desire is to build up others!" However, it's not realistic to focus on building up others while neglecting to build up yourself in faith!

Jesus teaches, "'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:39). Therefor, you must first love and edify yourself; otherwise, you will find yourself having limited ability to love and edify your neighbor.

God's desire is for each believer to be strong in faith. Your measure of faith helps to set the benchmark for how effectively you can love and edify your neighbor! A believer having little faith has few signs following.

Faith Is a Substance

The writer of Hebrews states, "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise; … Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony" (Hebrews 10:36, 11:1-2).

Strong faith enabled the elders to step out in obedience to God's will and they obtained remarkable results. Before we can step out in faith and obtain remarkable results, we must first build up substantial faith.

Since faith is the "substance" of things hoped for, when you're prompted by the Holy Spirit to minister to the needs of others, you must have "substance" to impart or there will be no "evidence of things not seen." You won't see the hoped for results!

Understand Your Measure of Faith

Luke says, "The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith.' So the Lord said, 'If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, "Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea," and it would obey you'" (Luke 17:5-6).

The comparison of faith to a mustard seed is often misread to imply minimal faith is enough, but the meaning lies not in the seed's size but in its potential for growth.

Earlier Jesus had said to them, "'What is the Kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches'" (Luke 13:18-19).

While the apostles had asked Jesus to increase their faith, He instead encouraged them to increase it themselves. As Jesus explains, faith is meant to be cultivated and increased; that's our responsibility.

The Apostle Paul cautions, "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).

The Greek word μέτρον (metron) translated as measure implies a small portion; hence, a seed. Each of us has been given a seed of faith, a seed having a God-given capacity for growth.

Paul warns us not to have an exaggerated opinion of our faith capabilities, but to be aware of the portion of faith that God has entrusted us with, knowing it must be cultivated and increased to see optimum results.

How to Nurture and Grow Faith

Building strong faith is a process and a necessity: "For in [the gospel of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:17, emphasis added).

Since strong faith is so important in our lives, God has provided us with practical ways to nurture and grow it.

Paul reminds, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). So, when can we hear God?

  • When studying the Scriptures.
  • When praying and interceding.
  • When receiving words of revelation.
  • When fellowshipping with other believers.
  • When we obey God and witness the positive results.
  • When our spiritual eyes and ears open to the Holy Spirit.

AND, our faith in God is increased each time we exercise the gift of tongues or ANY gift of the Holy Spirit. Isn't that amazing?

Consider this: Exercising a gift of the Spirit entails functioning within the Kingdom realm of the supernatural. Receiving a word of knowledge or prophecy involves mere minutes whereas speaking in tongues can involve more time, up to an hour, or more.

Could time spent in the supernatural activity of speaking in tongues be a factor in the gift's ability to edify and build ourselves up in our most holy faith (Jude 1:20)? I believe so.

Paul's instruction to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) backed by his example of a faith-filled victorious life should be enough to convince us to make serious use of the Holy Spirit's gift!

The Vital Importance of Faith

The writer of Hebrews says, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Faith is essential for pleasing God. As believers, we believe in God's reality, but we also must have strong faith and confidence in His role as a "rewarder" when we make our prayer requests, and when we obey his promptings to minister to the needs of others.

Tongues Is Your Faith-Building Tool

We must grow our faith to mature in Christ and excel in the gifts of the Spirit so we can effectively minister to others in love. Strong faith enables us to be an open conduit for God's blessings!

Therefore, it's not surprising that among the various ways to increase faith, exercising the gift of tongues is the most practical and efficient.

As Jude urges, "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God" (Jude 1:20-21).

The Purpose of Speaking in Tongues for the Church

As earlier mentioned, the gift of tongues is the only gift of the Spirit supplied for self-edification; however, the same gift is also supplied for group edification.

Paul explains, "Brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by [gift of] knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? …Therefore let HIM who speaks in a tongue pray THAT HE MAY INTERPRET" (1 Corinthians 14:6, 13, emphasis added).

When the Holy Spirit prompts a believer to speak a message in tongues to the Body of Christ, followed by its interpretation, believers present can understand its meaning and be strengthened spiritually.

It is clear there are two gifts of the Spirit involved, each requiring a step of faith to activate: the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation of tongues. It's only when the message spoken in an unknown tongue is interpreted that the church is edified.

Paul explains, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, UNLESS INDEED HE INTERPRETS, that the church may receive edification" (1 Corinthians 14:4-5, emphasis added).

Every believer has been given supernatural abilities to minister to the needs of others, including the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues. When we're filled with the Holy Spirit, we're filled; He comes with ALL His gifts.

It's when we take responsibility for building ourselves up in faith and exercising our spiritual gifts that edification of the church can take place. (1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 12).

Essentials for Edifying the Church

The Edification of the church through the gifts of the Holy Spirit requires two essentials:

  1. Believers having their faith built up to exercise their spiritual gifts.
  2. Leadership encouraging believers to exercise their spiritual gifts when members of the Body of Christ gather (1 Corinthians 14:26).

The Three Manifestations of Tongues

The Scriptures reveal three manifestations or expressions of God's remarkable gift of tongues, each serving a specific purpose to edify ourselves and other believers in the church.

Additional articles will help us continue our deep dive into the purpose of speaking in tongues:

Tongues Are for Edifying the Individual

When believers spend time praying in tongues privately, they commune with God and receive His inner healing, strength, and blessings.

Tongues Are for Edifying the Body of Christ

When believers are prompted by the Holy Spirit to speak a message in tongues in church, followed by its interpretation, the Body of Christ is edified and encouraged to worship.

Tongues Are for a Sign to Unbelievers

Paul says, "Tongues are for a SIGN, not to those who believe but to unbelievers …" (1 Corinthians 14:22).

Tongues can be spoken by believers to serve as divine evidence, leading nonbelievers to God's Truth.

Don Bell of Kingdom Anointing

By Don Bell, follower of the Christ.

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