1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
It is interesting that the Japanese translation of this verse uses the term for the spiritual gift of tongues both places (the tongues of men and the tongues of angels) in this verse. I don’t think that’s wrong necessarily, but I think it applies to far more than that, actually to all verbal communication. We are awash in a sea of words, from advertising to data transmission to everything in between. And frankly, much if not most of that has nothing to do with love. We need to have accurate filters for our intake, distinguishing not only what is true and accurate but also what is expressed in love and what is not. We can’t control the words that come at us, but we certainly can control the words that come from us, and we had better do it. Everyone longs for relevance, for meaning, for our existence to make a difference. This verse gives us a strong clue as to how to make that happen. Noisy gongs and clanging cymbals aren’t things to remember, but to try to forget!
This whole chapter is of course very familiar, Verse 13 is one of the first I ever memorized, and I use from verse four to the first part of verse eight in my standard wedding message. In recent years verse 12 has resonated with me, particularly because we live in the Information Age. That said, this verse speaks to me personally because I am a man of words. As I comment fairly frequently, I make my living with words. That makes it vital that I keep this verse in focus. To be honest, I talk a lot. There are times when I am sure my hearers perceive me as essentially a noise maker, just as Paul says here. That’s a bad thing any way you look at it (or hear it). The love that Paul speaks of here is agape, which means it isn’t emotional as such, and it certainly isn’t self-serving, as he specifies from verse four on. God’s love, which is consistently agape, is sometimes severe, bringing the discipline we need, so this verse isn’t saying that my words are always to be sugarcoated. Speaking with God’s love is the opposite of the “careless words” Jesus warned us about. (Matthew 12:36) I am to interact with people on the basis of God’s love always, and not just on the basis of my intellect. My mind has been known to use words as weapons, putting people down to make me feel big. That’s certainly no good! I have experienced God speaking His words through me, and that is marvelous. I am in awe that He would do that, but it’s not something for which I can take personal pride. I can’t make it happen, exactly, but the way to be available for any time God wants to do it is to focus on love, His for me and for all mankind, and mine for Him in response. If I will do that, then I will speak His words with consistency, and that is the opposite of a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the gift of words that You have given me. Help me always express that gift as You intend, speaking Your words in Your love to produce Your results for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!