Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. There are many different languages in the world, and every language has meaning. But if I don’t understand a language, I will be a foreigner to someone who speaks it, and the one who speaks it will be a foreigner to me. So anyone who speaks in tongues should pray also for the ability to interpret what has been said.1 Corinthians 14:7-13
What Paul is on about here could have seen him join Wycliffe. He is arguing as a linguist. Communication must be clear. If communication is not clear then it is not communication. It needs to be in terms relevant to the recipient not the source. The recipient must receive the message with clarity, naturalness and accuracy. This takes place best in the language the recipient understands the best. To illustrate this point he uses instruments like the flute or the harp. The notes must be played clearly (and with the correct timing) in order that the hearer can pick up the melody line. If the melody line is not clear because there is too much other action going on then the tune maybe not even be recognised.
If a bugler gets up to play reveille but decides to jazz it up the hearer could be forgiven for not recognising the piece played as the call to get up. But perhaps the context will communicate the message to them. The fact that the bugler got up earlier and was playing something could likely make the hearers think “this is perhaps the call to get up even though I don’t recognise it”. But more importantly it is certainly true of the call to battle. This must be instantly recognisable in order to spark the troops into action. If the bugler were to improvise too much with this tune so that the troops did not recognise the underlying message then his trumpeting is in vain.
Paul says “It is the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space.” There are currently 7,361 living languages spoken on this earth, each one of them a different distinctive language, with its own grammatical structure and lexicon (dictionary). Some languages are cognate or related so that there are shared elements between them. But if the degree of sharing falls below a certain percentage then communication will not take place because understanding is not there. If I don’t understand the language being spoken I am not part of the communication process. Have you ever been in a situation where a language is being spoken but you don’t know one word of the language? Oh you can pick up little cures along the way which might communicate something to you. But you will never understand the depth or the nuances of the message because you don’t know the language code.
Paul says tongues are like that. For tongues to communicate it must be interpreted in the context of the body of Christ met together. If it is not you may as well be talking into empty space. Or talking gibberish or any language you know which the recipients don’t know. No one will be built up in that context. So if you speak in tongues in a church meeting or gathering pray that you or someone else will have the interpretation.
Occasionally I have the privilege of speaking the message in English for a group but with an interpreter who was translating into Indonesian. In that situation I know both languages. That is rare that the person speaking also knows the language of interpretation. I was constantly monitoring the interpretation to ensure the meaning was coming across clearly. If it wasn’t, I made comment which made the audience laugh. We don’t normally have that context. The interpretation is what carries the message and if the interpreter has the wrong idea and the speaker doesn’t know both languages then the communication process fails. The interpretation is the most important part of the process. A whole message can fall apart on the misunderstanding of one word, which then places all that is said in the wrong context and ruins the message. For example, I heard of a situation where the preacher was preaching his heart out on the 23rd Psalm. But the interpreter and the speaker had not got together to discuss the message or the intent. In the verses which says “He restores my soul” the interpreter used the word for soul which meant the soul of the departed relative which is believe to inhabit the altar set up in the house for the departed relative. The word used for restore meant also “to bring back again”. The meaning that was communicated through all of that sermon no matter what else was spoken was that God restores the spirit of the dead ancestor to the family altar. That all hinged on the word that was wrongly chosen.
Yes tongues needs interpretation in a group context. Next gem we will explore that other side of the coin in an effort to be balanced. Before we do, you do some thinking about it. How do you equate the fact that tongues are supposed to be “a prayer language” with the fact that it ought to be interpreted? This mere fact leads to misunderstandings which we will explore tomorrow.
What you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say. What do you communicate before you say a word?Ralph W Emerson
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.Mark Twain
Your behaviour is what you believe; all the rest is just talk.Anon