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 , 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. … 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 edition , 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 sister who was deaf. When Sister Grow stood to speak, “it seemed as if the Spirit gave me utterance beyond my own abilities. I was filled with feelings of love for the people, and I especially noticed the smiling face of the young deaf woman looking up at me.”
Sister Grow learned later that when she began to speak, the deaf woman communicated that she no longer needed signing interpretation. She could understand Sister Grow’s message without it.
Another gift, related to the gift of tongues, is the ability to speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. “Angels,” Nephi wrote, “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, an 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. His companion was asked to speak at the meeting held to deal with the conflicts. After fasting and prayer, 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” (Ensign, April 1988, 17).
We may never experience the more dramatic expressions of the gift of tongues. But certainly, as we try to serve others, we can ask the Lord to help us speak with the tongue of angels.
How does the gift of tongues benefit the Church as an organization?
In what ways can the gift benefit individuals?