Men have spoken a variety of languages since the Tower of Babel. On that day, God confused the languages because of the sins of men, so as to cause men to do that which He had previously commanded: multiply and cover the earth. (cf. Genesis 11:5-9)
It is interesting to note, as a counter-event, that on the day in which God established the church through the preaching of the apostles, God gave those same apostles the gift of speaking in other languages, so as to allow them the ability to preach to all and sundry. (cf. Acts 2:4-11)
However, the presence of many languages remains a constant, and, lacking the miraculous gifts of the apostolic age, the only way in which men speak multiple languages today is through time and study. Because of this diversity of tongues, men sometimes dream of a universal language: a single language breaking down barriers between men.
Some have suggested math as a universal language, and, in a manner of speaking, numbers operate the same regardless of what language you speak; however, the ability of numbers to convey information to the common man leaves a little something to be desired. Likewise, others have proposed music as a common language, but, while music does indeed cross cultural barriers, again, try ordering a ham sandwich at a diner using nothing but a guitar to communicate. Everybody interprets the sound of music slightly differently, which makes it less than ideal as a language.
Let us offer another thought about a thing which crosses linguistic barriers, and which conveys thoughts and ideas far loftier than any symphony or sonata: the language of love. There is a universality to love which, when employed correctly, conveys some rather important ideas.
Our Lord Jesus made a point very similar to this when He taught the parable of the good Samaritan. The Samaritans were of a different nationality than the Jews, and the two nations hated each other very much; which is why Jesus chose a Samaritan for the parable. One of the Jews had asked Jesus: who is my neighbor? To which Jesus told the parable, using the actions of the Samaritan to highlight an important truth: rather than ask, “who is my neighbor,” it is better to ask one’s self, “how can I be neighborly.” Kindness, goodness and charity are appreciated no matter the language spoken, or the culture to which one belongs. (cf Luke 10:25-37)
In a like manner, Jesus told His apostles upon another occasion, “by this will all men know you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another.” (John 13:35) Loving others with genuine love and affection, doing good as Christ did good, and being kind and joyful, communicates effectively to anyone, what kind of person you are.
You don’t have to speak the same language to share a cup of cold water on a hot day. You don’t have to know the same language to understand what is meant by a smile and a kindly offer of food. You don’t need to be a polylinguist to understand the affection and gentleness behind a mother’s kiss or a grandmother’s hug. These are things that communicate across all linguistic barriers, and when done in the name of Christ, they, and countless like examples are an effective witness to the presence of love.
Even when a language is shared, love is still a vital part of Christian communication. We read in God’s word: “though I can speak with the tongues of men and of angels, without love I am just a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) Jesus most assuredly wanted love to be a large part of our vocabulary.
It’s still necessary, in the end, if we wish to fully communicate, to be able to understand the actual words that others are speaking. Without this, there will always be some amount of confusion. (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:9) But love, as an aid to language, is indeed universal, and if we had a bit more of it in our communications, we would all be a lot better off.
It is in the fullness of love that the church of Christ invites you to worship and study God’s word with us. We meet at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.