Reasons for Words
Basket of Figs, July, 1990
“If I come unto you speaking with tongues [“languages” CWP), what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying or by doctrine?' --I Cor. 14:6.
What is the purpose for language? This matter had led the Corinthians astray, and Paul writes to clear up the matter. God has given us language, he says, to edify one another, not to please ourselves. Making sense is the key, and it is better to say five words in the church that people could understand than ten thousand words that people could not understand (I Cor. 14:19). It is possible and necessary to speak sense.
God has given us the gift of language to talk to other humans. He Himself does not need our speech, for He knows our hearts. The word translated “tongue” in I Corinthians means a language and is for the purpose of communicating to others. It is required of us, then, to learn to use words effectively.
Often overlooked in this passage about the problem of spiritual gift in the Corinthian church is a biblical philosophy of language given by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul.
L. Four Proper Uses of Words: Revelation, Knowledge. Prophesying and Doctrine. These are the four uses of words that edify, or build up people (I Cor. 14:6). This text fleshes out Ephesians 4:29 “Le no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which i good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
A. Revelation. This word means “an uncovering,” or a “unveiling.” This means to set forth something from the mind of Go that was not known previously. Paul did this in such places as Corinthians 15:51: “Behold I show you a mystery...,” and then took the veil off what would take place at the resurrection when Chris returns. The whole Bible itself is a revelation of the character of God, the history of redemption, the standards of morality and law, the structure of the church, and so forth. The words of the Bible are this revelation, and do reveal God's standards.
B. Knowledge. This word means “understanding,” “perception,” or “science.” By knowledge we address the perception or mind of man. A man who makes a scientific discovery is able to impart that knowledge to others by means of words. God has given us the gift of language so that what one man discovers to be true may be imparted to others. Words can impart knowledge.
C. Prophesying. Paul tells us exactly what this word means in I Corinthians 14:3. “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” Edification means to promote spiritual growth. Christ and the Apostles always spoke for the edification of the Church. Exhortation means to call for help to get the job done. It has the idea of beseeching, imploring, entreating. Thus, Christ and the Apostles called men to repent, to believe, to obey God. Comfort is closely related to exhoration and means to “call to one's side,” to console and strengthen. Prophesying is speaking words to the soul of man, to encourage, to stir up to obedience.
D. Doctrine. This word means to teach the right way. Jesus sent His disciples to “teach (indoctrinate) all nations... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20). Words can teach ethics and right behavior.
II. The Proper Use of Words Will Accomplish All These Things. God has always used language to express His will to men since the time He forbade Adam to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Proverbs 10:11). “The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.”
Just as the proper use of words can accomplish all of the above, the wrong use of words can be destructive. Men pretend revelations and imagine that they speak mysteries, when God has not spoken (Jeremiah 23). They tell lies and obscure knowledge. They tear down, hurt, and discourage people. People are even set in wrong ways because of lying words.
True Christianity has a high regard for the proper use of language. Paul told Timothy, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:35-37) .
Many years ago this writer was with an elderly minister, known for his godliness and learning. A young man was having a difficult time trying to explain something and finally said, “I know what I mean. I just can't explain it.” To this the godly old minister replied, “If you understood it, you could explain it.”
This writer has never forgotten the words of that kindly old minister. They have stirred me to labor to verbalize, to value and love words, in order to understand.
“Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.” (Acts 11:14) If you understand, you can explain.