They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them…
There were any number of forms that the fire from heaven could have assumed, but in the wisdom of the Almighty, tongues was the symbolic form chosen. The tongue is the instrument of the body by which we taste and speak. It is appropriate that the tongue does both, for someone who has an impure taste for worldly things (I am speaking figuratively, of course) will not have much to say of real value. The taste for spiritual things must be refined before we are able to speak heavenly words, which is why the Bible repeatedly emphasizes hungering and thirsting for the things of God. From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
In common language of the time, anything that was shaped like a tongue, that narrowed from its base to its tip, could be called a tongue-like or tongue. These tongues of fire first appeared united, signifying the unity in the work of God, and then separated, moved around the room before they came to rest above the heads of each of the disciples. Fire was frequently used as a symbol for God – the burning bush, the flashing and displays of Mount Sinai, and the promise of the Spirit’s baptism of fire – and it depicted the holiness of God’s character and the purifying nature of His work – “for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).
The power of the Spirit is shown in His ability to purify the hearts of Christ’s people and then purify our witness as well. Our taste must be refined before our speech will be empowered. Speech remains the main way we communicate with others. Speech, more so than any other form of communication, reveals our emotions, our attitudes, our interest in the subject itself, and our sincerity. We can write the truth, of course, and use other art forms to communicate the love of God, but nothing has completely replaced common speech for persuasion and power.
The tongues also separated and came to rest above each disciple. Peter, separate from the other “Eleven,” stood up and addressed the crowd, delivering a powerful Spirit-filled message, yet His experience with the Spirit was no different from others’. Here we see the emphasis on the new community of believers filled and empowered by the Spirit.
In our lives today, as followers of Jesus Christ, the Spirit is at work to purify and refine our taste and to empower our speech. An empowered speech does not mean that we speak like a radio announcer, with a booming voice, but that our words are sincere and from our heart, words that the Spirit can use to touch others. Far beyond our best efforts, even Spirit-filled efforts, the Spirit also works in the hearts of the listeners to convict and convince and lead them to Christ.
Are your tastes refined by God? Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness?
Is your speech empowered by God? Do you speak sincerely and truthfully?
Lord, purify our hearts and empower our speech, that we might love and worship You within our souls and serve You effectively in the world. Amen.