God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 14:6-9 Between the notes ♫
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 8, 2023
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I speak some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 Even lifeless things make sounds, such as the flute or harp, but if no distinction is made between the notes, how will anyone know what tune the flute is playing or the harp is strumming? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will only be speaking into the air.
Paul’s fifth caution about speaking in tongues comes with several examples.
5, If even Paul came speaking in tongues, it would do no good without some revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching. The stature or honor of the speaker makes no difference. There is no good to be had without words that make sense or have any meaning.
Luther applies this to more than speaking in tongues, but in everything the church does. He warns about men who “do not know the word of God, which they should be teaching. They don’t know what they’re saying, as Paul says, where they teach everything in reverse order. They teach faith where they should teach works, and works where they should teach faith. They are coarse jackasses who preach nothing certainly and distinguish neither Law nor Gospel.”
Three musical instruments are held out as examples: the flute, the harp, and the trumpet. These “lifeless things” make sounds on account of the human being who is playing them. But the musician who plays without distinguishing notes is using a flute as a drum or a harp as a gong. While such things might appeal to certain ears today, the interest would not last long, and the resulting noise would not be pleasing.
Then Paul picks up the military use of the trumpet. Perhaps “bugle” would be a better translation for our culture. This was an instrument used to give commands in a battle, when noise, dust and smoke might leave no opportunity for any other way of communicating. But the child who first picks up a horn can’t make a pleasant sound. His blasts (or blatts) would be meaningless to the soldiers on the field. The bugler must learn his camp tunes (revelee, taps, assembly, etc.) from his battlefield tunes (attack, retreat, etc.), or else nothing makes sense.
Verse 8, “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” has often been used in confessional Lutheran circles against imprecise language purposely chosen to cover up doctrinal differences. While this is a valid concern, other passages like Proverbs 4 (the whole chapter) and 1 Timothy 4 would serve better. There “the hypocrisy of liars” and “the doctrines of demons” are specifically condemned there. The “words of faith and the good doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6) are what truly nourishes our faith and builds up the church. It is always good advice to “watch your life and your doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). The preacher who doesn’t do this is in danger of feeding poison to his people and even to himself. His labor, which involves years preparing for the ministry and many more years in the ministry itself, can fall apart and be all for nothing if he stops seeing differences in doctrine. For if the shepherd of the church doesn’t see any difference between (a) Jesus, an example of how we get ourselves to heaven, and (b) Jesus, the only means by which we get to heaven, then how will his poor people see the difference? If their shepherd buys into option (a), then they will begin to go down the path that says, “We won’t bother with what the Bible says, but we will follow what the majority of the people say.” They will be bullied and harassed all the way to hell. And their pastor? His labor will be “speaking into the air,” which is a way of saying “a striving after the wind” that we see throughout Ecclesiastes. We would pray that some of his people would be saved through inattention to what he says, simply because they trust in the gospel and their baptism.
Better, better by far, to pursue love and to lovingly speak intelligible words, a “clear call” for each festival of the church (Psalm 81:3), a sure and distinct message from each and every passage of God’s holy word for God’s cherished and forgiven people. When they have sinned, let them hear the law and take it to heart. When they repent, let them hear the gospel and be carried like shipwrecked sailors into the lifeboat of the church, never spending days and nights in the open sea (2 Corinthians 11:25), but grasping at once the hand of Jesus, who loves us and who gave himself to save us from our sins (Galatians 1:4). Let that be the message we clearly speak.
Pastor Timothy Smith