Just for the fun of it, my wife and I recently watched the original Star Wars (Episode IV). It brought back memories of when it was first released back in 1977 — the year after I finished college, the year before I got married. I saw the movie with my best friend from high school. We had never seen anything like it. Hyped, driving back from the theater, we imagined ourselves zooming through traffic in an X-wing, blasting the other cars off the road with gleeful abandon.
One of my favorite lines from the movie comes when Luke Skywalker and Han Solo man the cannons of the Millennium Falcon. Luke dispatches his first Imperial fighter; jubilant, he turns to Han and shouts, “I got him!” Han retorts, “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky.”
This, from the swaggering, blaster-happy Space Smuggler himself.
When I read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:6-19, I can almost hear a little Han Solo in the background: “Don’t get cocky.” He doesn’t say it straight out. But it may be implied in the verses that bookend the passage:
…if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation, some knowledge, a prophecy, or a teaching? … I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I’d rather speak five words in my right mind than speak thousands of words in a tongue so that I can teach others. (vss. 6, 18-19, CEB)
Imagine this situation: the Corinthians have begun touting tongues as the foremost mark of spirituality in the church. Those who were critical of Paul noted that they had never seen him speak in tongues. They assumed, therefore, that he didn’t have the gift, and it confirmed their already low opinion.
If that’s the case, then Paul’s hypothetical, “if I come to you speaking in tongues,” is being given in answer to their judgmental gossip. It’s as if to say, “So, just for the sake of argument, let’s say I did what you expected and suddenly showed up speaking in tongues. What good would it do?” He makes his case (which we’ll look at in the next post), and then casually drops a live grenade into the conversation: “And oh, by the way, just for the record: I speak in tongues more than all of you.”
Say what? Paul speaks in tongues?
Unimpressed with Paul, some of the Corinthians probably turned their ignorance to arrogance, making unfounded assumptions about his spiritual life. But honestly, we know what that’s like, don’t we? Haven’t we ever been surprised to hear something positive about a person we dislike?
When that happens, we’re confronted with a choice. We can cling to our arrogance and rationalize away anything we don’t want to hear. Or we can admit we were wrong, that we were holding prejudices we didn’t know we had. And then we can listen.
Only one of those options is the way of love.
The other is, well, just plain cocky.