Famous passages of Scripture are often taken out of context. First Corinthians 13, Paul’s “love chapter,” is such a passage. Why did Paul write his beautiful words about love to the church at Corinth? The answer is simple: They were a carnal, unloving community of Christians! They had an abundance of spiritual gifts, but they used them in unloving ways.
Paul was especially concerned about their abuse of the gift of tongues—a gift of speech used to praise God (1 Corinthians 14:2). When speech—whether “tongues of men [or] of angels”—is used in non-edifying ways, it is carnal, not loving. Paul said speech not couched in a context of love is as irritating and meaningless as “sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” That is, it’s just noise. On the other hand, “pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
When you open your mouth to speak, what comes out? Brass and cymbals or the sweetness and health of a honeycomb? “Let your speech always be with grace . . .” (Colossians 4:6). The fruit of the Spirit is love—especially when we speak.
A man may have the tongue of an angel and the heart of a devil.