Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [agape love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
— 1 Corinthians 13:1
It seems that the apostle Paul encountered a group of people who were extremely “super-spiritual” in the city of Corinth. However, Paul was unimpressed with these people and their level of spirituality because they had an obvious lack of love. Their deficit of love bothered him so deeply that he alluded to it when he wrote First Corinthians 13:1: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
The words “sounding brass” are very important in this verse. Let’s begin our study today with the word “brass.” It comes from the Greek word chalkos, an old word that referred to metal. However, it wasn’t just any metal; it was bronze or copper to which a small amount of tin had been added. This tin caused the metal to have a hollow, empty sound when it was beaten. That is why Paul also used the word “sounding” — the Greek word echo, which described a noise that reverberates or echoes. When these two words were used together, they portrayed the endless beating of metal that produces a hollow, annoying, irritating echo that seems to eternally reverberate.
So when Paul wrote about a “sounding brass,” he borrowed an illustration from the pagan world of Corinth to make his point about super-spiritual people who demonstrate no love. The illustration he chose to use was the endless, nonstop, annoying, aggravating, irritating, frenzied beating and clanging of brass that was performed in pagan worship and that echoed ceaselessly throughout the city of Corinth. The citizens of Corinth could never escape the endless banging of this metal, so this was an illustration everyone in the Corinthian church could readily comprehend.
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
The unsaved citizens of Corinth were deeply devoted to pagan religions. In terms of paganism and idolatry, Corinth stands out as one of the most wicked, idolatrous cities in world history. The pagan temples of the city were filled with worshipers who danced wildly under the influence of wine and drugs. In order to drive the people over the edge and into an emotionally frenzied state of spiritual ecstasy, the pagan priests would wildly beat the metal drums faster and faster and louder and louder.
The citizens believed the piercing, deafening banging and clanging of the drums was essential for achieving a state of spiritual ecstasy. Nevertheless, it was a constant nuisance to them, for they could never escape the constant, rhythmic pounding of metal that produced this clamoring noise.
As time passed, this well-known and commonly loathed, nonstop clanging noise became the very word people used to describe a person who talked incessantly.
Have you ever been around a person who talked so much that you didn’t even listen to him anymore? After a while did you just look at the person without listening because words never seemed to stop pouring from his mouth? Did his words eventually just sound like noise to you? Well, that is exactly what Paul is talking about here in First Corinthians 13:1 — people who say a lot and claim a lot, but who don’t have a life to match their many words. Paul says people like this are just a lot of empty, shallow, clanging, banging noises that eventually become an irritant to all who are near enough to hear them.
But wait — Paul also likened these super-spiritual people who lacked love to “a tinkling cymbal.” The word “tinkling” is a very poor translation, for the Greek word alalazon means to clash or to crash loudly. The word “cymbal” comes from the Greek word kumbalon, which is the Greek word for cymbals. But when these two words are compounded together, it describes a constant, loud clashing of cymbals, much like the clashing cymbals played by the Jewish people just before they went to war! The clashing of those cymbals was a call to arms! It sounded the signal that it was time to fight!
I find it interesting that Paul would use the phrases “sounding brass” and a “tinkling cymbal” to describe these people. Just as a “sounding brass” was irritating and nerve-racking to all who heard it, and just as the “tinkling cymbal” aroused the mind and emotions for war — a person who claims great spirituality but doesn’t demonstrate love can be just that much of an irritant!
As this type of person goes on endlessly in a perpetual, nonstop, shallow, boastful, self-glorification of himself, he almost makes you want to stand up and fight. But don’t do it! You need to pray for patience when you’re dealing with a person like that. If he isn’t willing to listen and be changed, you need to ask God to show you a way to graciously remove yourself from the difficult encounter. But if a door opens and an opportunity arises for you to speak the truth in love, tell that person how he is coming across to others. If you were in that person’s shoes, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you the truth, even if you didn’t like what he was telling you?
You might as well learn how to deal with this situation, because people who fit this description are not going away. Instead of focusing all your prayers on how these selfish people need to change, maybe it’s time for you to start asking God to change you so you can deal with them in a spirit of love. Maybe they’ve never seen real spirituality, so they don’t know what it looks like or how it sounds. If so, this is your opportunity to show them the real thing!
Don’t wait until this person’s nonstop talking drives you to the point of wanting to rise up and slap him and tell him to shut up. Before that ever happens, go to the Lord and ask Him to give you His heart for that person. When you have God’s heart and mind about the situation, you’ll be able to deal with it in the spirit of Jesus.
But what should you do if you are the one who talks nonstop? You need to pay attention to what you’ve read today. Do your words act like a repellant that drives people away from you? If you’ve noticed that people are avoiding you, maybe you need to find out the reason why! Go to someone and ask, “Would you please tell me what I am doing that is driving people away from me?” However, if you’re going to ask this question, be prepared to receive the answer. You must be willing to make corrections in your character, your words, and your life.
The last thing you or I want to be is a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Therefore, it would be good for all of us to go to the Lord and ask Him to reveal anything in our words or actions that needs to be changed. And if the Holy Spirit does reveal something to us, we need to give all our effort to bringing correction to our lives!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, please help me be patient with people who are inconsiderate of others and won’t stop talking about themselves. When I am tempted to lose my patience and to become angry with them, give me the grace to moderate my emotions so that I can respond to them in the spirit of Jesus. I know that You have been patient with me so often, and now it is my turn to be patient with others. Help me to show them the same kindness You have shown me and to avoid falling into the trap of being judgmental and impatient.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I am loving, patient, and kind, and I do not quickly lose my temper with people who are self-consumed. These “motormouths” are not my enemies. I am their friend. As God enables me, I will speak the truth to them in the spirit of Jesus Christ. I believe that in their hearts, they want to change. Therefore, I overlook their weaknesses and am patient with them as God works on transforming them day by day!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Who is the motormouth you’ve been trying to deal with in your life? Has that person’s perpetual talking about himself revealed impatience in your own character?
2. If you encounter a person who boasts of great spirituality but demonstrates none of it in his or her personal behavior, how do you respond to this situation?
3. If you were the motormouth who negatively affected other people, would you want someone to speak the truth to you in love so you could bring correction to your life? If so, how would you want that person to approach you about the matter?