1 Corinthians 14:6-13
Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation…
Greater is the teacher than the speaker in a tongue not interpreted, was the statement of the apostle in the fifth verse. Suppose, then, that even he were to address these Corinthians "with tongues;" would not the edification be confined to himself? There would be no exception in his case, none in his favour as the apostle of the Gentiles, and hence his usefulness, no matter what he might say, would be at an end, for lack of interpretation. "What shall I profit you?" The profit is only possible by means of doctrine and knowledge. Tongues unexplained convey no doctrine and knowledge, and hence, as relative to the hearers, are nugatory. For instance, there are musical instruments, "pipe or harp," that have a language in the broad sense of the word, and convey their meanings if skilfully used. The instrument in the hands of an intelligent performer, though in itself "without life," yet receives life as it were from him who knows how to handle it. A dead thing, yet his breath or his touch imparts a representative vitality to its sounds, and you hear in those sounds the sentiments and emotions of the soul. What a range they have, rising and falling by turns, exulting, sorrowing, shouting, wailing! To effect this, there must be "a distinction in the sounds;" the instrument must obey its laws, and the laws are dictated by the art of music. And he argues further, that a trumpet in battle can give such discriminating sounds as to direct the movements of soldiers. The commanding officer, though distant, speaks to the trumpeter, and the trumpeter conveys the order through the trumpet. A thing "without life," and yet it outreaches the compass of the living voice and is fully understood, for it gives no "uncertain sound." Musical instruments are interpreters. Their utility exists in their intelligible modulations. If it were otherwise, they would but confuse and bewilder. The comparison is promptly applied. "So likewise ye," with all your admiration for "tongues" and your disposition to give them pre-eminence among the gifts, are indulging in a wild and incoherent display, unless you "utter by the tongue words easy to be understood." Words are not sufficient; they must be words easy to be understood. The capacity of the hearer, the humblest in the congregation, must be thoughtfully regarded, otherwise they are to him idle rhapsodies; "ye shall speak into the air." If neither "pipe," nor "harp," nor "trumpet" give an "uncertain sound," still less could it be said of human voices (languages) that they are unintelligible. "Many kinds are in the world, and none of them without signification." Varieties exist. The surface of the globe is not more diversified than language, and yet, as the globe is one, so are these languages one, although very unequal as to capacity for the conveyance of ideas. But is the "tongue" like these voices? If not, then he that speaketh in this way is a barbarian; and would you barbarians in your Christian relations, outside foreigners, you and your fellow citizens in the commonwealth of Christ shut out from intelligible communication with one another? We can see, while reading St. Paul's argument, what force it contains. Pentecost had restored what Babel had destroyed; the ambitious tower that was to reach so high had been arrested by confusion of tongues; men had scattered from one great centre, and human centralization had been stopped in the evil form threatened. Pentecost had enabled men to cooperate; all languages could now be used as vehicles of making known the gospel, and the builders could work together on the temple of the Church. Pentecost, however, was here annulled, and Corinth was making ready to scatter her Christian population, to alienate them from community of impulse and aim, and changing the members of the Church in this respect into barbarians to one another. "Even so ye," declares the apostle, who are "zealous of spiritual gifts," should esteem it your first concern to edify the Church. "Wherefore," he adds in application, let the speaker in an unknown tongue "pray that he may interpret." Whatever construction may be given this difficult passage, it is certain that St. Paul intended to teach the Corinthians the absolute insulation of this sort of speech, its essential characteristic as opposed to the true function of language, and the complete exclusion of its possessor from the fellowship of the outward world. - L.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?