Have you ever been around somebody who was having a conversation in a language you didn’t understand? As they talked, laughed and enjoyed one another’s company, did it make you feel uncomfortable? Did you wish you could understand what they were saying, especially to know whether or not they were talking about you? Most of us have been in that situation from time to time and, perhaps, you’ve found it frustrating not being able to understand what was going on.
Now compare that scenario with something that happened long ago in Acts 2. On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God filled all of the disciples who were gathered together. As they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, others who were there for the feast began to take notice.
And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?” (Acts 2:5-8)
The Bible states clearly that the disciples were not speaking in an unknown tongue that would cause people to wonder what they were saying. They were speaking in recognizable languages spoken by all the people who were represented there. The Bible even lists the languages that were being spoken by the disciples:
“Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” (Acts 2:9-11)
What did all these people of other nations hear? In their own language, they heard the wonderful works of God. Here’s is why this is important to us: It demonstrates just how committed the Creator is to reaching people all over the world. Beyond sending His Son to pay the penalty for our sins, He moved upon a group of Galileans to declare, in languages they didn’t ordinarily speak, the wonderful works of God. Obviously this demonstration was to call attention to their message of the resurrected Messiah. I find it particularly interesting that one of the languages spoken that day was the language of Mesopotamia, or Babylonia. In other words, the Spirit of God working through these Galileans, spoke in languages associated with pagan, idolatrous lands.
My point is this: I appreciate and encourage gaining better understanding of Scripture by looking at the Hebrew text. And while I believe the restoration of the Hebrew language is critical to the restoration of all things, I also believe that it is important for us to speak in a way that others can understand. By that I don’t necessarily mean a foreign language but we must communicate in a way that everyone can understand. If God was so committed to reaching people that He was willing to speak to them in their language, shouldn’t we be willing to speak in a way that people can understand? If we are committed to communicating clearly, we shouldn’t converse with others in terms and phrases that the other person doesn’t understand. The goal is for them to hear and understand in order that they might know the resurrected Messiah.
In Acts 2, God didn’t require all the Jews gathered in Jerusalem to learn Hebrew in order to understand what He was saying. God met them where they were, and why? Because He’s committed to reaching the world. So then, how committed should we be? The answer should be obvious. That being said, we are not to look like the world, talk like the world, think like the world or act like the world. We are supposed to reach the world by being a light to those in darkness. Paul reached the Athenians, speaking a language that they could understand (Acts 17:23). Likewise, we must speak to people in a way that it makes sense to them, and meets them where they are. Frankly, most people are not going to be impressed with how much Hebrew or Greek you know or how well versed you are in theology and doctrine. They will be more impressed with your personal knowledge and understanding of the One True God, and your commitment and ability to share Him in a language they can understand.