Text for this reflection | 1 Corinthians 14:1–12
Pursue love, and use your ambition to try to get spiritual gifts but especially so that you might prophesy. This is because those who speak in a tongue don’t speak to people but to God; no one understands it—they speak mysteries by the Spirit. Those who prophesy speak to people, building them up, and giving them encouragement and comfort. People who speak in a tongue build up themselves; those who prophesy build up the church. I wish that all of you spoke in tongues, but I’d rather you could prophesy. Those who prophesy are more important than those who speak in tongues, unless they are able to interpret them so that the church might be built up. After all, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation, some knowledge, a prophecy, or a teaching? Likewise, things that aren’t alive like a harp or a lyre can make a sound, but if there aren’t different notes in the sounds they make, how will the tune from the harp or the lyre be recognized? And if a trumpet call is unrecognizable, then who will prepare for battle? It’s the same way with you: If you don’t use language that is easy to understand when you speak in a tongue, then how will anyone understand what is said? It will be as if you are speaking into the air! There are probably many language families in the world, and none of them are without meaning. So if I don’t know the meaning of the language, then I will be like a foreigner to those who speak it, and they will be like foreigners to me. The same holds true for you: since you are ambitious for spiritual gifts, use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at building up the church.
Having been raised in the Presbyterian church, I have never found speaking in tongues to be the deep and spiritually meaningful part of a worship service that I know it is to some people. But “speaking in tongues” also has the potential to be interpreted in different ways. For example, it could simply mean that the speaker is not being clear. Unclear speech can happen if the one speaking refers, for instance, to obscure theologians without context or uses vague terms that the audience does not understand and that are misunderstood and not defined. Unclear speech can also occur when the speaker does not make clear points or arguments and instead just prattles on and on.
I believe these instances of unclear speech would fall under the umbrella of “speaking in tongues” that Paul refers to in our reading for today from 1 Corinthians. This type of oratory does not build up the church, but instead only builds up the speaker. Instead of speaking in an unclear manner, we should try and actively work to communicate effectively to our audience using a clear language.
This challenge is not just for the pastors, ministers, and priests of the world. We, as Christians, have been challenged to be uplifting and supportive members of our congregations. However it is that you are involved, make an effort to use clear language and ideas. It is only by lifting up others in our words and deeds that we can hope to make a change in the world.
Lord, I want to accept the call to be an uplifting and supportive friend to those around me. Please bless my words and actions so that they are not just self-serving but also encourage and build up others. Amen.