10 “There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.”
There are, it may be,
The phrase “it may be” makes the point that Paul had no idea how many languages there are in the world (fourth-class condition in the Greek); the exact number is immaterial. Paul spoke as if a number of languages were to exist in the Corinthian assembly.
so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.
Paul gave a third illustration of speaking a foreign language without a translator – the nature of how human language functions. The word “languages” means faculty of speech with the metaphorical meaning of language. Although different languages sound different, they all convey meaning. All true languages convey meaning, not gibberish. A language without meaning is senseless. The point of a language is to communicate ideas or content.
Since no language is without meaning, the meaning is the point of a language.
if I do not know the meaning (literally force) of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.
The word “foreigner” (barbaros) carries the idea of barbarian or alien. A barbarian uttered babble of unintelligent sounds or harsh accents. The word “barbarian” consists of two elements – bar, bar. This is similar to our “blah-blah-blah.” All words sound alike. Aristophanes called the birds barbarians because they sang inarticulately. A tongues speaker without a translator was like a barbarian – he had no meaning in his speech. Someone speaking in tongues without a translator was like someone speaking to us in a foreign language – it is just a lot of babble to us.
Even so you,
As in verse nine, Paul made another direct application to the Corinthian church: You, the Corinthian church, are in this bizarre situation of communicating like barbarians when you speak in foreign languages without a translator present.
since you are zealous for spiritual gifts,
Note that the word “gifts” is italicized. That means there is no equivalent Greek word for the term. The Corinthians had a zeal for the “spiritual” or manifestation of the Spirit. The Corinthian church had a passion for manifesting their spiritual gifts, but sometimes they wanted to use their gifts for their own sake rather than for others. Personal satisfaction is not the purpose of gifts; God designed gifts to bless others.
let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.
Intelligible speech or language is foundational to the edification of the church. A church can excel only when it is edified. Edification is central to the entire 14th chapter. The purpose of the gift of tongues was to communicate in a language other than the native language of the speaker, so that the meaning and content would build up (edify) those who listen.
The purpose of all communication is to edify, not to impress.
Rivalry is a problem in local churches. Some people excel in their gifts to demonstrate how great they are rather than to build up the church. There is no intrinsic problem with excellence; in fact, the last phrase in our study is a command to “seek to excel.” The problem is not with excellence but with the reason we want to excel. The reason should be to build up or edify the church (14:4,5).
An edifice is a building, so the purpose of all gifts should be to make the church a strong structure like a building. When people fellowship for any length of time in a local church, they should be stronger for having been there. There is a personal responsibility for building ourselves (Jude 20), but there is also a responsibility of the whole church doing it as well. All purposes of gifts are church-oriented rather than self-oriented.