Some members of the early church possessed the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). This gift allowed those who possessed it to speak by the Holy Spirit in other languages (Acts 2:6-11). The ones who spoke in tongues were to speak a portion of God's will- either a revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or doctrine (1 Corinthians 14:6). The gift of tongues was real, but it was not possessed by all believers, and it was not the vain babbling that some practice today.
While writing to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts, Paul called the gift of tongues "a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not" (1 Corinthians 14:22). For Christians to speak to unbelievers in the unbelievers' native tongues, never having learned it, as was done on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-14), attracted attention, convinced the people that the power of God was present, and provided a way for the unbelievers to hear the gospel. The gift of tongues was given mainly for the benefit of unbelievers.
In an assembly of believers, the ones who had the gift of tongues were to keep silent unless there was someone who could nterpret their languages. Even if there were interpreters present, only a few of those who had the gift of tongues were to speak in an assembly, and they were to take turns doing so. Everything was to be done decently and in order in the assembly and for the edification of the saints gathered together (1 Corinthians 14:27,28,40).
While the gift of tongues was indeed a gift that was possessed by some early Christians, the gift has ended; Christians do not receive the gift of tongues today. Paul informed the Corinthians, "whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away" (1Corinthians 13:8-10). The spiritual gifts- prophecies, miraculous tongue speaking, and miraculous knowledge- were for a time when there was partial knowledge of God's will. They would no longer be needed when God's will was completely revealed. Today, all truth (the perfect law of liberty, "that which is perfect") has been fully revealed. Therefore, spiritual gifts, including the gift of tongues, have ceased.
It is sometimes argued that the coming of "that which is perfect" is not the completed Word of God, but Christ at His second coming and that the gift of tongues will continue until Christ comes again. Not so! According to Paul, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge would cease while faith, hope, and love continued (1 Corinthians 13:8,13). However, when Christ comes again, our faith will turn to sight, and our hope will become reality (Romans 8:24); at Christ's second coming, faith and hope will no longer exist! Therefore, spiritual gifts, including the gift of tongues, must end before Christ comes again and while faith and hope still exist. The coming of "that which is perfect" cannot be Christ at His second coming. But the coming of "that which is perfect" could be the complete revelation of God's word to man. God has finished revealing the New Testament to man, and faith, hope, and love still exist.
Those who think that people still practice the gift of tongues today or who think they have received the gift of tongues themselves are duped by charlatans or are betrayed by their own misunderstandings of the scriptures and/or their own emotionalism. A comparison between the gift of tongues as taught in the Bible and things practiced today should convince us of the rampant error and deceit that prevails in religion about tongue speaking. In the New Testament, those who received the ability to speak in tongues received it directly from the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4; 10: 44-46) or by the laying on of hands by an apostle (Acts 8:17; 19:6). Today, many are taught the art of speaking in tongues and have to practice repeating phrases over and over before they "receive" the gift. In the New Testament, the gift of tongues was a language spoken and understood by men (Acts 2:6-11). Today, many who claim to speak in tongues claim an "ecstatic utterance" not known as a language. Their "tongue" is often unintelligible jabbering. In the New Testament, those who had the gift were admonished to speak one at a time (1 Corinthians 14:27) and to make sure the gift was used to edify the assembly. Today, several who claim the gift may speak at the same time. The gift is used to excite, not to edify. In the New Testament in an assembly of believers, one who possessed the gift was to remain silent if there was no interpreter. Today, many speak in assemblies without an interpreter, and if there is an interpretation given, it often goes beyond the things written in the New Testament and is often a message about an imminent return of the Lord. In the New Testament, the gift of tongues was not the supreme gift (1 Corinthians 14:1). Today, the gift of tongues is a "high badge of honor." How can one think such perversions come from the Lord?
The gift of tongues was needful in developing the infant church, but as the church matured and the word of the Lord was completed, the need for signs of confirmation (Hebrews 2:3,4) and the revelation that came through the gifts passed. Today, we no more need the gift of tongues, "a sign to the unbelievers," than we need Jesus to return and continue to work miracles on earth as a sign that He is the Christ. The signs given and recorded are sufficient (John 20:29-31). Today, we have things more excellent than the gift of tongues; we have love (1 Corinthians 12:31;13:1-8,13) and a completed New Testament.