By Douglas W. Hill
In so many ways in life, the need for a distinctive message is very evident to us. When a train whistle blows as it approaches a crossing, we know that it is a warning of danger. When the signal-light turns yellow and then red, we also know that we are to slow down and stop. When someone blows his car horn, we know we had better look where we are going. These clear signals help guide us away from certain particular perils.
Paul speaks of the principle of having distinctive, meaningful messages in 1 Corinthians 14:7-8. He lists here the examples of lifeless musical instruments. If one should give an unclear sound, how shall we know what was played or why? Also, if a trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will know whether to prepare for war, to retreat, or if it is time for “mess hall”? Indeed, unclear sounds only lead to confusion.
You may, rightly, ask, “What does this have to do with the gospel?” Actually, it has much to do with it. In the con- text of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul applies this same principle to that of teaching others. He says, “So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye will be speaking into the air” (1 Cor. 14:9). The problem at Corinth was that some were using the miraculous gift of speaking in tongues to glorify self and not to edify others. They would stand forth and speak in a foreign language which no one else there knew. Also, they did not use an interpreter so that others would be edified. This made their use of the gift a self-glorifying and pointless sound. Paul here tells the Corinthians not to act this way.
In applying the principle to our day, we should first apply it to ourselves. Since we are to edify ourselves and teach others the gospel, we should be sure to do so in an understandable manner. Sometimes (by lack of sufficient study, or through lack of interest) we are not prepared to sound forth “the power of God unto salvation” in a clear way (Rom. 1:16; 2 Tim. 2:15). At other times, fear may hinder us in “confessing Christ” as we ought (Matt. 10:32-33). Whatever the reason, we need to make some corrections and faithfully declare the word of God.
In our day, some of our own preaching brethren are be- ginning give forth uncertain doctrinal sounds. Some have correctly said that sin is wrong, but then justify maintaining fellowship with those in error. Others have turned from preaching the simple gospel of Christ to more dramatic and sensational sermons. For example, some swell up to the verge of tears or give lengthy biographical histories that glorify men, others tell moving stories that tug at your heart and emotions. Some have cute sayings that make our ears tingle, like “Let’s have a love affair with the Lord!” Are such things fitting for the distinctive message of God’s Son? Are these an indication of sound judgment and glorifying Christ? Or are these things which the denominations have practiced and found pleasing? Is this not a shift in emphasis to glorying in fleshly things, in emotions and seeing what reactions we can provoke in others?
Now some may say that this is an unfair judgement of men. And I will certainly admit that I am not above making mistakes in judgment. Yet, what are we to emphasize in our preaching? Does faith come from seeing an emotional display or from the word of God (Rom. 10:17)? Are we to be careful with our words (Matt. 12:36-37) or shall we speak things which send mixed and unclear messages (Eph. 4:29)?
Sure, these may well respond, “But that is only your mind thinking that, I didn’t mean what you thought . . .” But are we ignorant of what such phrases suggest? Surely not. We are not to be of the world, but we certainly are not ignorant of what goes on in the world. Let us rather be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16).
Another area that we can apply the principle of needing a distinctive sound is when we talk to those among the denominations. How many of them teach the clear, unadulterated message of God which leads to salvation? I dare say none. All denominations make some alteration and raise some point (usually many) that contradicts the Scriptures. And so, they sound forth a diluted and polluted message.
Often times, the cry is that there are saved in every de-