Friday, 23 January 2015
So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 1 Corinthians 14:9
Paul continues to argue against the use of tongues in church, and instead for the use of a logical, sensible set of utterances which will edify others. With this entire chapter almost exclusively being devoted to the issue of tongues, it is appropriate to contemplate why it is so. It is apparent that the use of tongues was abused in the church at Corinth, this is certain. But if we can put ourselves into that church, it may help us to understand why such meticulous care is being given to this subject.
Corinth was a large and notable city and there were certainly a variety of languages spoken there. The more languages a person spoke, the more valuable they would be in trading, marketing, and maybe even in politics. Such power is normally an intoxicant, and so to speak in other languages in front of others would be like flashing a wallet full of money or pulling up in a new Corvette.
With the church now established, knowing Hebrew would be an even greater source of pride. If one could read the Scriptures in Hebrew as well as Greek, he would have a leg up on others. It is no different today. Pastors and teachers who know the biblical languages are always held in a sort of special esteem, even if they are really crummy at proper biblical interpretation. The flash of knowing the language immediately places them in the spotlights, whether they are handling the use of that language properly or not. Understanding this, we can continue with the evaluation of this chapter from a reasonable perspective of what Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians (and thus us!) about the gift of tongues.
In the past couple of verses, he has shown that instruments are only effective if they are played properly. If they aren’t, then only noise will result. Further, actual harm can come about from an improperly played instrument. The war-trumpet can cause chaos on the battlefield if the wrong signal is played. Because of this, there must be intelligible sounds which emanate from those instruments or there will only be worthless noise. In comparison to that is the use of tongues. In this verse, Paul begins with, “So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken?”
If someone comes into a church and starts speaking in a language that nobody else understands, the result will be chaos. The air will be filled with nonsensical noise, even if it is a known language (which the term “words easy to understand” implies; a known but not understood language). Why would anyone walk into a Greek-speaking church and start speaking in French? It makes no sense. This is what Paul is trying to tell them.
The congregants probably thought they were being impressive, maybe even cool, by speaking in other languages. But in reality, they were only making unintelligible noises. Remember from the fifth verse of this chapter Paul said, “he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.”
Paul is tying to get the Corinthians to wake up and be mature in their conduct. For those who thought they were doing something nifty by speaking in another language, they weren’t. He next tells them that by doing so, they were merely “speaking into the air.” Sounds were floating around the church, but they were only unintelligible noise.
Life application: Don’t speak meaningless words into the air just to look cool.
Lord, I wish every day was a day filled with fun and prosperity, but then I wouldn’t learn from such days, would I? After a while I’d take them for granted and it would all seem mundane. But when I wake up with a really bad cold, I can know that I want my health once again. And when I get over that cold, I can say, “Gee, it sure is swell to feel well.” If I have to struggle to pay my bills, then I will certainly be more satisfied when the bills are paid. Thank you for the trials and the down-times. They help keep the good times in proper perspective. And they also make me realize how wonderful it will be when I spent eternity in Your presence. Thank You. Amen.