7 “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? 9So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.”
Even things without life,
Paul switches his thinking to an analogy. He turns to two analogies of things without a life or a soul, things inanimate.
whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?
The first illustration of tongues speaking without a translator is musical instruments. Even musical instruments, such as wind and stringed instruments, need to be intelligible for music to sound beautiful; they need structure, harmony, and rhythm. That makes music rather than mere sound.
For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?
The second illustration has to do with the trumpet of war, the bugle. Ancients used the trumpet as call to battle or as a signal for troop movement. It was the military corps signal to move troops of the ancient world. Giving clear signals is at the heart of any effective army. If the trumpeter sends an unclear sound, it will confuse the army about whether to attack or retreat. War needs definite meaning and communication. Sound is not enough; sound must communicate clearly.
So likewise you,
The word “you” is emphatic. Paul makes a direct application to the Corinthian church. If they spoke in tongues without a translator, then the whole exercise was pointless.
unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
A tongue speaking without a translator is like speaking into the air. The words “easy to understand” convey the idea of readily intelligible. If our speech is not readily intelligible, then our speech is pointless. Clear speech must be articulated clearly, in an orderly way, and conform to usage.
All ministries must communicate or they are worthless in edifying the church.
Any use of spiritual gifts must edify; they cannot edify if they do not communicate. Intelligibility is the key to edifying others.