Ten Thousand Words: Five Words Preferred

1 Corinthians 14:19  •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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It is often very wonderful to mark the way in which the words of Scripture seize upon the heart. They are indeed "as goads, and as nails fastened by the master of assemblies" (Eccles. 12:1111The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. (Ecclesiastes 12:11)). At times, some brief sentence or clause of a sentence will lay hold upon the heart, penetrate the conscience, or occupy the mind in such a way as to prove beyond all question the divinity of the Book in which it stands. What force of reasoning, what fullness of meaning, what power of application, what an unfolding of the springs of nature, what an unveiling of the heart, what point and pungency, what condensing energy we meet with up and down throughout the sacred pages! One delights to dwell upon these things at all times, but more especially at a moment like the present, when the enemy of God and man is seeking in such varied ways to cast a slur upon the inspired volume.
The foregoing train of thought has frequently been suggested to the mind by the expression which forms the title of this article. "I had rather," says the self-emptied and devoted Apostle, "speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." 1 Cor. 14:1919Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:19). How important for all speakers to remember this! Of course we know that tongues had their value. They were for a sign to the unbelieving. But they were useless in the assembly unless there was an interpreter.
The grand end of speaking in the assembly is edification; and we know this end can only be reached by persons understanding what is said. It is utterly impossible that a man can edify me if I cannot understand what he says. He must speak in an intelligible language and in an audible voice, else I cannot receive any edification. This surely is plain, and well worthy of the serious attention of all who speak in public.
But further, we would do well to bear in mind that our only warrant for standing up to speak in the assembly is that the Lord Himself has given us something to say. If it be but "five words," let us utter the five and sit down. Nothing can be more unintelligent than for a man to attempt to speak "ten thousand words" when God has only given him "five." Alas! that something like this should so often occur! What a mercy it would be if we could only keep within our measure! That measure may be small. It matters not; let us be simple, earnest, and real. An earnest heart is better than a clever head, and a fervent spirit better than an eloquent tongue. Where there is a genuine, hearty desire to promote the real good of souls, it will prove more effectual with men, and more acceptable to God, than the most brilliant gifts without it. No doubt we should covet earnestly the best gifts; but we should also remember the "more excellent way," even the way of charity that ever hides itself and seeks only the profit of others. It is not that we value gifts less, but we value charity more.
Finally, it would greatly tend to raise the tone of public teaching and preaching to remember the following very homely rule: "Do not set about looking for something to say because you have got to speak, but speak because you have got something that ought to be said." This is very simple. It is a poor thing for a man to be merely collecting as much matter as will fill up a certain space of time. This should never be. Let the preacher or teacher attend diligently upon his ministry- let him cultivate his gift—let him wait on God for guidance, power, and blessing—let him live in the spirit of prayer, and breathe the atmosphere of Scripture; then he will be always ready for the Master's use, and his words, whether "five" or "ten thousand," will assuredly glorify Christ and do good to men. But clearly, in no case should a man rise to address his fellows, without the conviction that God has given him something to say, and the desire to say it to edification.