Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit to empower us to accomplish the Great Commission. This enablement includes the discipline of mind and heart to learn language sufficiently well to explain Christ where He leads us to go (Luke 24:49). Once we learn a language, that language and the culture embodied in it become part of us. It is no small thing to be enabled long-term for ministry to another people group through language!
From Creation until the Tower of Babel incident recorded in Genesis 11 (around 2200 B.C.), mankind had one language and culture. When God confused mankind’s language, it meant that He created the beginnings of the major language families. Some studies list 14 major language families.1 Others identify between 75 and 150 language families as the criteria get more specific.2 The bottom line is that in order to obey the Great Commission, God’s people must often master communication tools in tongues that are not originally their own.
Language and Culture Are Intertwined
Differing languages tend to separate people groups according to their own habits, ideas, and worldviews. To know a language is usually associated with a general knowledge of the people who speak that language. To know that language is to be acquainted with the culture.3
The division of mankind into people groups that multiplied over time was both an act of judgment and an act of mercy. It was an act of judgment in that God kept mankind from a unified total rebellion, forcing them to accept the opposite of their sinful ambitions and thus fulfilling His plan.
It was an act of mercy because individual groups and cultures would now place checks upon one another. Satan could no longer incite sinful mankind to unite against God as one body. Of course, Satan will go all-out in the last days to accomplish his goals through the Antichrist but will ultimately fail (see Revelation 6-20).
Jesus Commands Us to Overcome the Limitations of Babel
Until the tribulation begins, the Church of Jesus Christ is given a clear command which we call the Great Commission:
“As the Father has sent Me, so I send you. Go therefore into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature so that they repent and know forgiveness of sins. Make disciples of all nations in Christ’s name, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (see Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:25; Luke 24:47; and John 17:18; 20:21).