Having taught and preached through a translator sixteen times in the past two weeks, I am reminded of how uncomfortable it is to stand there while someone repeats what you just said. It breaks your train of thought and makes it hard to continue. It is a very difficult way to teach or preach.
I am also reminded that the biblical gift of tongues is nothing like what is being practiced in modern charismatic circles.
I have ministered through translators in Lithuanian, Portuguese, Chinese, and now Malayalam. The closest I ever came to understanding any of it was Portuguese (mostly because I spent three months in Brazil and was actually studying the language a little … but don’t tell anyone that). Even there, my understanding was so limited (as in short conversations that involved a lot of pointing) that communication was well nigh impossible (unless you like trying to communicate with two year olds).
However, the biblical gift of tongues required no pointing. It did require a translator. Why? Because it was actually a language that needed to be translated for intelligibility to those who did not know the language. (Those who knew the language needed no translation [cf. Acts 2:5-11]). It was not a collection of nonsensical syllables rambled at random.
I wish I had the gift of tongues. I don’t, so my teaching time was cut in half (actually less than half since Malayalam takes more words to say the same thing).
And you don’t have the gift of tongues either.
While I am here, let me say that since tongues is such a miraculous and astounding gift (as was miracles), why do some think that the gift of prophecy is the equivalent of “God gave me an impression that may or may not be accurate”? That seems strange to me. The modern gift of “prophecy” as espoused by some conservative charismatics seems little more than “Hey, I have a feeling about this that you need to hear.”
Of course they say we should judge it by Scripture. But what makes that prophecy? I don’t know. If I give you my wisdom (however little it may be) about a topic, and remind you to judge it by Scripture, it is not miraculous.
I think gifts like tongues, prophecy, and miracles are similar. If two of the three have clearly passed (which I think is undeniable, at least in the biblical teaching of the two), why is the third any different?
So if you want to speak in tongues, I have a prophecy for you: Go to language school. (Test it by the Bible of course, but I think this is pretty solid advice.)