According to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the purpose of the gift of tongues is to preach the gospel “among those whose language is not understood” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 148–49).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve explained: “In their more dramatic manifestations [the gift of tongues and their interpretation] consist in speaking or interpreting, by the power of the Spirit, a tongue which is completely unknown to the speaker or interpreter.” More frequently, “these gifts are manifest where the ordinary languages of the day are concerned in that the Lord’s missionaries learn to speak and interpret foreign languages with ease, thus furthering the spread of the message of the restoration” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 800).
Sister Rhonda Patten Grow experienced the gift of tongues in a way familiar to many missionaries. When her husband was called from the United States to be a mission president in Uruguay, she was afraid she couldn’t learn to speak Spanish. But gradually, with the help of members, she finally learned to bear her testimony in Spanish. She was amazed, however, at how much more she could say when under the influence of the Spirit. “In fact, the Spirit helped me so much when I spoke in meetings that the members usually assumed my Spanish was much better than it actually was.”
At one meeting, Sister Grow noticed a young woman signing for a hearing-impaired sister. When Sister Grow stood to speak, “It seemed as if the Spirit was lifting me up and giving me utterance beyond my own abilities. I was filled with tender feelings of love for the people, and I especially noticed the smiling face of the young hearing-impaired woman looking up at me.”
Sister Grow learned later that when she had begun to speak, the woman communicated she no longer needed signing interpretation. She could understand Sister Grow’s message without it.
Learning to speak or understand another language is the primary way the gift of tongues is manifested. A related gift is the ability to speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. Nephi wrote, “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost.” In this sense, those who speak by the power of the Spirit “speak with the tongue of angels” (2 Ne. 32:2–3).
Elder Carlos E. Asay, emeritus member of the Seventy, shares an experience he had as a missionary with this gift. He and his companion visited a branch torn by divisions and apostasy, and his companion was asked to speak at the meeting held to deal with the conflicts. After fasting and praying, his companion “stood with confidence and worked the miracle. He spoke with the tongue of an angel. That young, inexperienced elder’s words healed wounds festering in the hearts of men much older than he, prompted confessions, and literally saved a branch of the Church” (“The Companionship of the Holy Ghost,” Ensign, Apr. 1988, 17).
Individually we may not experience the more dramatic expressions of the gift of tongues. Such moments come as the Lord wills. But certainly, as we try to serve others, we can ask the Lord to help us speak by the power of his Spirit—the “tongue of angels.”
How does the gift of tongues benefit the Church?
In what ways can the Spirit benefit each of us in our communications?