Friday, 2 January 2015
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1
After a short note of something special coming in the preceding verse, Paul seems to suddenly interrupt the flow of the letter concerning controversial issues and begins a discourse on the necessity and power of love in order to overcome all obstacles. There is nothing out of place with this insertion, but rather it is a necessary component which is given to remind his audience that there is an overarching point upon which all other matters of doctrine should be subjected.
That this is a certain truth is confirmed by the words of the Lord Himself when He said this to an inquisitive lawyer concerning matters of the law –
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37, 38
Love is the central tenet of true worship and it is the heart of true fellowship between God and man and between man and man. Paul will describe what it means to be lacking this most important principle by beginning with, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels.”
There are literally thousands of known languages in the world. These are “the tongues of men.” Understanding and speaking more than one or two of them is a rare and valuable commodity. In some cultures, knowing several languages is more common than others because of interaction between other cultures, but there is always a limit to that interaction. The more languages a person knows, the more important they become as an asset to others as they speak words of trade, help, and even diplomacy.
The tongues of angels is not speaking of some unknown language that is beyond the reach of human knowledge. Nor is it speaking of unintelligible gurglings which people then claim is a divine spark of inspiration which then proves they have some special connection with the Holy Spirit. Rather, Hebrews tells us that angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?”
Therefore, the tongues of angels is tied to their interaction with humans. They speak with authority because they are the messengers of God. They speak with care because they are ministering spirits for God’s people. They speak with eloquence because they speak the words which are given through them by the Creator. The tongues of angels are known languages which carry the power and authority of God.
Paul notes that even if he speaks with these tongues which are powerful in and of themselves for effecting various purposes, “but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” The utter futility of possessing the power of the tongue is evident in the lack of love in the use of that tongue. Paul equates it to “a sounding brass.” When a horn is blown, it makes a sound. It can even make a sound which is musical and pleasing to the ear. However, it is still an unintelligible sound. It is simply a tone of noise.
To speak without love is such a tone. In modern terms, we would call such noise “paying lip service.” If there is a spoken word to the Lord, but there is no love behind the word, there is no true devotion to the Lord. If a person says he cares about a matter, but he doesn’t follow up with actions which complement the words, then there is no true substance behind the words. In essence, he is like breath on a cold morning which simply fades out of sight.
Paul also calls this type of speech “a clanging cymbal.” A cymbal clangs by being struck to make sound resonate off of it. Without there being harmony between the one striking the cymbal and the cymbal being struck, the noise will be offensive, not melodious. If a child bangs on a cymbal, it is annoying. However, if one who is mature and understands the structure of music and how to obtain the proper sound for the brass to make that music, it is both pleasing to the ears and effective in its purpose, either by itself or in unison with others playing other instruments.
Without love, there is only noise without purpose. Without love, there is only disharmony and an unsettling din of noise. But with love, there is effective communication, edification, and peace between those who are communicating.
Life application: As Christians, we would do well to pay close attention to the words of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 and apply them to our lives. May God be pleased with hearts which act in love in agreement with the words spoken which profess that love.
Heavenly Father, time and again your word shows that religion without a heartfelt love for You is ineffective and useless. Those who go to church, do good things, and give money for various causes cannot be pleasing to You without love for You and obedience to Your word. And so I would pray that You would humble my heart and soften it to a true and right relationship with You. I know then that my deeds of charity will be acceptable to Your eyes. This I pray that we will have true and right fellowship. Amen.