Q&A: Should all believers have the gift of tongues?

Question: I recently attended a service where the pastor said, "When was the last time you prayed or spoke in tongues?" I was always taught that speaking in tongues was a gift and not something that is "gifted" to just anyone. What does the Bible state about the topic?

Instructions concerning the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues appear in just one of Paul's New Testament letters. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes:

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. 1 Corinthians 12: 29-31 (ESV)

In these verses, the Apostle asked a series of rhetorical questions, each of which assumes a negative response. No, not everyone is called to be an apostle, no, not everyone has a prophetic gifting, no, not everyone is a teacher, and so on. The same is true with the gift of tongues — not everyone is so gifted.

However, there are certain groups within Christianity that have either decided to ignore what the Apostle writes here, or they believe he is saying something other than what appears obvious to the rest of us. Either way, some have linked the gift of tongues with salvation in such a way as to require it as proof that a person has been genuinely saved. This teaching is not only unbiblical, it is incredibly dangerous.

Having said that, let me be very quick to say that spiritual gifts are not dangerous. There is an unfortunate attitude of "guilty by association" in the minds of many believers that draws a line between the unbiblical use of spiritual gifts with the gifts themselves. That is incredibly sad on many levels. The fact is, the gifts come to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit, and to believe that He could ever bring us anything that is not for our good and building up of the kingdom of God is unthinkable.

I believe the Apostle Paul's exhortation that begins the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians is just as important today as it was when he wrote it:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:1 (ESV)

For more on spiritual gifts, check out the following teachings by Pastor Paul:

Q&A: What are some verses to help those dealing with anxiety?

Question: I have a friend who is struggling with her faith and overwhelmed with anxiety. What are some verses to send her way to help guide her?

Anxiety is a terrible thing, making us feel unprotected and vulnerable. It can also be a veritable minefield when attempting to understand the reason for its existence. There's no shortage of information available and opinions abound on how we should deal with it along with a host of therapies.

Fear and anxiety is usually the result of overthinking coupled with a diminished faith in God. In other words, we focus exclusively on our problems or challenges, and because our faith is weak we simply give in to fear and become overwhelmed by it. So the key to overcoming fear is to bring thoughts and concerns under control and to build up faith.

Engaging Self-control

Let's start with controlling thoughts. This is challenging, especially when we have a history of allowing our darker thoughts to run free. But thankfully God has given us the fruit of His Holy Spirit, one of which is self-control. (Galatians 5:23)

But the thing we need to realize about the Fruit of the Holy Spirit is that they don't just magically or automatically become active in our lives. There is a need on our part to allow these characteristics of God's Spirit to have a greater place of control in our lives. That means through prayer and meditation on the Word I have to invite the Spirit to help me master my thoughts and ponderings.

But we do this not just by controlling the negative thoughts. We must also fill our heart with thoughts that are uplifting and edifying. Remember the promise given to us in Isaiah 26:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)

Notice the requirement for this perfect peace: a mind stayed on God.

So what kinds of thoughts should an anxious person be thinking about? The Apostle Paul has a suggestion:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Your Own Worst Enemy

I said earlier that anxiety is, in part, the result of a diminished faith in God. But that doesn't mean worriers have no faith. They do! It's just misplaced.

I find that those who struggle with anxious thoughts actually have a lot of faith — it just in themselves. They trust their own fearful thoughts more than they trust the Word of God. In other words, they choose to trust their anxious thoughts above and beyond God. And that is precisely why God gave us this well-known passage in His Word:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)

The exhortation here is to reject the thoughts and understandings that originate from self — and trust the Lord instead. This requires a conscious effort to say to oneself, "My thoughts cannot be trusted. My fears are not reliable. My heart is deceitful and always thinks the worst. I choose to focus my thoughts on God's Word and believe His promises instead."

Don't Forget Repentance

There's one more element of breaking free from anxiety which must not be neglected, and that is repentance. People who struggle with anxiety are usually so familiar with this aspect of their lives that they don't see it as sin. But fearful and anxious thoughts are the opposite of faith, and when we give in to fear we are missing the mark.

I don't say that to generate feelings of guilt, but rather to highlight that God has given a means of dealing with our sin, and finding His wonderful forgiveness. This comes when we bring our fears to the cross of Christ and confess them for what they are — sin. So when fearful and anxious thoughts surface, bring them quickly to Jesus and confess them as wrong and contrary to His will.

Remember this glorious promise from God's Word:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Before you battle your inner fears, make sure you've brought those sins before the cross, and found God's faithful forgiveness. You will be in a much better place to get on the road to restoring your heart to a place of peace.

Q&A: Why would God send people to hell simply for not acknowledging him?

Question: Why would God send people to hell simply for not acknowledging him? How is that on the same level as murder and all the other sick evils out there? 

This is a perfect example of how easy it is to make God sound like a monster by wording a question in just the right way.

For starters, NO ONE winds up in hell simply for failing to acknowledge God. (Even Christians fail to acknowledge God sometimes.) Hell will be populated by people who vehemently reject God—who say, "I want nothing to do with God or His Son. I refuse to turn from my sin and I reject God and all that He stands for."

Secondly, you need to understand that hell is never God's intended destination for anyone! (In fact, we're told that originally hell was created for the devil—not for man.) The Scripture clearly says that God is "...not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)

People have to literally choose hell over God's offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

You see, Jesus laid down His life for sinners. He suffered terribly on the cross, bearing the condemnation that we deserved. He didn't have to do any of that. But once He did, He made forgiveness freely available to ANYONE who would humble themselves and ask. To reject that free gift of forgiveness is to throw away any chance of being saved! Why? Because, as Jesus said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6 (NIV)

It is only by REJECTING the work of Christ and what He accomplished for us on the cross that people put themselves in danger of hell. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of reject is:

: to refuse to believe, accept, or consider (something)

Hell will be made up of those who looked at God's free gift of life and said, "I'll pass."

How can God fairly judge us for our sin, since we are born sinners by no choice of our own?

Q: The Bible teaches that Adam sinned and passed along a sin nature to all who came after him. How then can God fairly judge us for our sin, since we are born sinners by no choice of our own? 

Basically what you're asking is this: "How is it fair that God holds us accountable for a sin nature that was imposed upon us by someone else??"

I'll admit at the outset that this is a very challenging question and one that I've grappled with over the years. Whatever I offer as a response probably won't be satisfying. We simply know that Adam represented all of mankind in the Garden and that his failure and the curse that attended it was passed along to all his descendants.

But obsessing over whether this was fair or not ignores any kind of acknowledgment of what God did to rectify the situation created by sin. He made a way — a free way, I might add — for us to avoid all judgment, by taking that judgment upon Himself in the Person of His Son. And now all He asks of us is that we turn from our sin and embrace His Son as Savior. And, I will repeat, this escape from judgment is entirely free. He does not require us to be "good people" in order to clear us from accusation and judgment.

So you see, when people object to being saddled with a sin nature they never chose, what they're really objecting to is humbling themselves and accepting God's solution. Because to do that they would have to admit that the following things are true: 1) they are sinners and separated from God. 2) They are helpless in and of themselves to solve the problem. 3) Accepting the death of Christ is the only way for them to be saved.

Those three things are so distasteful to some people that they will come up with all kinds of ways to justify their anger toward God for allowing them to be born into sin. But all the while, they are ignoring the incredible solution God offers to all mankind.

As the Apostle Paul wrote:

“For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19 

To summarize, I'll confess that I'm not totally certain about all the ins and outs of Adam's original sin and the fairness of it getting passed along to us. But here's what I do know: Even though we're born sinful and separated from God, He loved us SO MUCH that He made a way for our sins to be forgiven. And He bore the cost of that forgiveness entirely by Himself. Do we really want to allow our lack of understanding in one area keep us from accepting God's love and forgiveness?

Q&A: How do we store up treasures in heaven?

Question: How do we store up treasures in heaven?

Excellent question!

The phrase "treasure in heaven" comes from a conversation between Jesus and a rather wealthy young man who had approached Him with a question about eternal life.

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21 (ESV) His reaction to our Lord's challenge to sell all he had proved that the young man was more interested in earthly treasure than he was storing up treasure in heaven.*

There are other passages in the Bible that speak of storing up treasure which, like the passage in Matthew, are connected to the use earthly wealth. Check out this passage from Paul's letter to Timothy:

As for the rich in this present age...they are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (ESV) 

In his letter to the church in Philippi, the phrase "treasure in heaven" wasn't used, but I think you'll see that Paul had that same concept in mind when he wrote:

...even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. Philippians 4:16-17 (NIV) 

The "account" that Paul wanted to see "credited" existed is in heaven. In other words, Paul was saying he was looking to increase the Philippian's treasure in heaven.

Although there are other passages which do a good deal more than suggest that our financial generosity will be amply rewarded by the Lord, (see Proverbs 19:17), I don't believe giving one's money is the only means of storing up treasures in heaven. In fact, any good works on our part are more assuredly a way we can store up treasures. And God has made that kind of thing abundantly possible by actually providing good works for us to do in advance. (See Ephesians 2:10)

The Parable of the Talents was told by Jesus to underscore the fact that God has not only given us stewardship of all kinds of gifts, abilities, and resources to invest but also to make clear that He will ask us one day to account for how faithfully we have used those things on His behalf. (See Matthew 25:14-30) This is unquestionably a key to storing up treasure in heaven.

*Check out my teaching on the rich young ruler from Matthew 19 
using the following links: LISTEN | WATCH

Q&A: What does the Bible say about how to deal with unbelievers?

Question: I would like to know what the Bible says about how to deal with unbelievers. I find myself angry at their defiance but I know that's not what God wants.

I completely understand what you're saying. It's incredibly easy to let frustration and anger boil over when we see the blatant rebellion and defiance among unbelievers today. But we cannot forget that these are the very individuals whom God has called us to reach with the good news. And if we're angry, we will not reach them. As James wrote, "...the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." James 1:20 (ESV)

As much as our anger would like to be satisfied by seeing God rain judgment down on the defiant, we are reminded that "...God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:17 (ESV) And we, the Body of Christ, are are here to continue that ministry until our Lord returns. It is not a ministry of condemnation, but rather one of compassion. We're told that when Jesus saw the masses of people coming to Him He viewed them as "...harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matthew 9:36 (ESV) We must think of unbelievers in that same way.

Additionally, we must never forget that we were once in the same place. The Apostle Paul wrote down for the Corinthians a list of those who would not inherit the kingdom of God, and then he added these words: "And that is what some of you were." 1 Cor. 6:11 (NIV) And then he gently reminded them why they were no longer listed among the lost, saying, "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

We cannot afford to forget that we were once objects of God's wrath—cut off and without hope in this world. But Jesus saved us by His incredible mercy. Not because of our goodness or value, but simply because of His goodness—seen through the death of Jesus on our behalf.

Showing love to those who would see themselves as our enemies is never easy—but it is imperative. And that is why we must rely completely on the power and presence of God's Holy Spirit. And that begins with you and me setting aside our anger and surrendering ourselves as instruments of His amazing loving kindness.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Matthew 5:9 (ESV)

Q&A: What if a believer chooses NOT to forgive someone?

Q: In Mark 11.26 we are told that if we don't forgive, the Father won't forgive us either...this has always been a confusing part of Scripture for me since we are told after coming to Jesus ALL sins, past, present and future are forgiven. What if a believer chooses not to forgive someone?

There are really two parts to your question:

1. What is Jesus saying in Mark 11: 25-26 about forgiving others? And,
2. What if a believer chooses not to forgive someone?

First of all, the context of the passage in question from Mark 11 is PRAYER and the things that hinder it for us. Jesus cited unforgiveness as something that greatly hinders prayer because it breaks fellowship with God.

I understand that a lot of people read Mark 11:25-26 and immediately interpret it as saying that forgiving others seems to be listed here as a REQUIREMENT for salvation. They hear Jesus saying, "If you don't forgive others, God won't forgive you" and they assume that since a person isn't forgiven they are also not saved.

But that is NOT what Jesus is saying in that passage. The forgiveness that results in eternal life is, and always will be, a matter of GRACE through FAITH in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. In other words, it's bestowed as a FREE GIFT which Paul says is NOT OF WORKS. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

That means what Jesus is talking about in Mark 11 is something unrelated to salvation. He is speaking of God's parental dealings with His children and making us aware that an unforgiving spirit in a child of God causes a break in fellowship with the Lord that creates a hindrance for prayer.

What you were taught is true: when we come to Christ ALL our sins are forgiven — past, present and future. But that's referring to the forgiveness that results in salvation. There are other issues related to forgiveness that do NOT affect our salvation, but they DO affect our relationship with God. In other words, once a child of God is SAVED and trusting Jesus for forgiveness, their sin can no longer threaten their eternal salvation. But it CAN and DOES threaten their closeness to God. When you and I sin it STILL separates us from God relationally. It drives a wedge between us and we find it hard to pray and fellowship with God until we come to Him and confess our wrongdoing. Once we do, the relationship is mended and we can carry on in peace.

The sin that once threatened your eternal destiny has been dealt with at the cross. That is a done deal thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus. But the daily mess ups and mistakes that we make must still be brought to the Lord in repentance so that nothing stands in the way of our daily walk with Christ. That's why we were taught to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12) Jesus wasn't telling us to get saved all over again. He was making sure nothing gets in the way of our closeness to God.

So what if a believer chooses NOT to forgive? Well, for starters they will be miserable. You have to know that God's Holy Spirit will be working overtime to get their attention so that they will humble themselves and repent of their hard heart. God is fully able to communicate that unforgiveness is an attitude entirely contrary to His will, and I trust that He will bring all the conviction needed to eventually cause that person to repent. I believe that God will eventually have His way — even if He has to bring some kind of suffering to do it. One way or another, they will humble themselves before their God.