“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.” 1 Corinthians 13:1
We typically attribute the 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as the “wedding chapter.” Many couples choose this chapter to be read at their weddings. Yet Paul isn’t talking about weddings in his discourse to the strained and struggling church in Corinth.
This early Christian community had all the marks of what we would call a dysfunctional family. Remember, they didn’t yet have the Bible as we know it today to guide them. They barely had any unified understanding of who Jesus was and what he came to do. Because of the wide diversity of the congregation, some being Jews and some being Gentiles, there were deep, longstanding wounds between cultures that separated them from one another. You couldn’t imagine a more divided congregation.
Yet Paul speaks of love as the foundation for all behavior. Nothing is worth doing if it’s not done in love.
We all know people who sound like resounding gongs or clanging cymbals. Sometimes, we are clanging cymbals ourselves. Every time their mouth opens, nothing but negative noise comes out. If you’ve ever heard a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal, it can get old after a while. Even, like Paul says, if what they are saying sounds like “tongues of men and of angels,” unless it’s tempered by love, then it’s just noise. There are places in the orchestra for gongs and cymbals, but if prolonged and not surrounded by other instruments, then it can be distracting and can dominate the entire musical piece being played.
When you open your mouth to speak, what comes out? Do you find that everything you say has a tinge of criticism and negativity? Certainly, if we are in an unhappy place in our lives, this can happen more often. But even in the regular times of life, do you sound like a gong? Are people pulling away from you because of the things you say?
Or, are we using our mouths like the beautiful instruments they are? Are our words infused with love? Are the things we say to folks gracious, encouraging, hopeful, and joyful? Instead of sounding like a gong or cymbal, we can craft our language to sound like a concerto!
Even when we have difficult things to say to people, there are ways to say them so that love is being shared. Are we taking the time to think of positive ways to get our point across?
The beauty of 1 Corinthians 13 is that it applies in all circumstances – to a church community like in Corinth, to an arguing couple, to an estranged brother or sister, to friends who are at odds, to an individual who meets a stranger on the street. Let love rule your tongue, and be the beautiful instrument God has called you to be.