1Co 14:9-12 “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.”
Over the years, it has been a common practice for armies to use trumpets or bugles to signal their soldiers. There was one sound for “charge,” a different sound for “retreat,” and so on. In verse eight, Paul mentioned the necessity of the trumpet being precise (certain) in the sound made. Otherwise, the soldiers would be in confusion over what they were supposed to be doing.
He used this illustration to continue his teaching concerning speaking in tongues. Again, let me stress that Paul in no way prohibited speaking in tongues. However, he did continue to stress the importance of confirmation (edifying) to the church over the more personal use of speaking in tongues. He continues that analogy by telling the saints at Corinth that their speaking in tongues was to the church what an uncertain sound on the trumpet was to the army.
We sometimes forget that it is good to speak words easy to be understood. If those we speak to cannot understand what we say how are they going to benefit? Most of us have had the experience of being around people who are speaking a language we do not understand. Even though it may be apparent that they are speaking of something very important to them and their excitement shows in their manner of speaking, we have no comprehension of what is being said.
We cannot tell if we are being talked to or being talked about. We do not know if they are excited about something beneficial or something detrimental. For all their multitude of words, they are just speaking to the air as far as we are concerned. Unless there is an interpreter, we have no idea how to react to them or them to us.
There are many types of language in the world. All of them mean something to someone, even if it is just the speaker. Because we cannot understand what is being said does not indicate that it does not have meaning (signification). However, Paul points out that if we do not understand the language, then we are foreigners (barbarians) to one another. As God’s children, we do not want to seem like foreigners to one another.
There was no question that the Corinthians were zealous of spiritual gifts. Many in the world today are also zealous of spiritual gifts. Having a great desire for spiritual gifts is a wonderful quality to have, but it needs to have a focus, and we should seek to excel at it.
The focus, according to Paul, for spiritual gifts is the edifying of the church. Our zeal should not simply be built around how spiritual we are, but how that spirituality is being used to glorify God and confirm the called out assembly of His people. We need to speak plainly of His love, grace, mercy, and judgement. We need to speak plainly about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
May we, by His grace, excel to the edifying of the church!