What Happens When You Open Your Mouth?

by Spiros Zodhiates

What Happens When You Open Your Mouth

"I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge" (1 Cor. 1:4,5).

After telling the Corinthian Christians that they were enriched in everything in Christ, Paul proceeded to mention two areas of life in which they were particularly enriched. The King James Version has it: "in every thing . . . in all utterance, and in all knowledge." The Greek word translated "every" and "all" in this verse is pnti, the dative form of pn, and would literally read, "that in all [things: this word is understood; it is not in the Greek text] ye are enriched by Him, in all word, in all knowledge."

"All things" refers to Christ's adding the dimension of meaning and purpose to everything that makes up our lives, whether it be food, clothing, human relationships, morality, life, or death. Take death, for instance. All men die, whether in Christ or out of Christ. But what a difference there is in their attitudes toward death.

When Robert Owen, the notorious freethinker, visited Alexander Campbell to arrange the preliminaries for the great debate that was to follow, they walked about the farm until they came to the family burying ground. "There is one advantage I have over the Christian," boasted Owen. "I am not afraid to die. Most Christians have fear in death, but, if some few items of my business were settled, I should be perfectly willing to die at any moment." "Well," replied Campbell, "you say you have no fear in death; have you any hope in death?" "No," Owen answered after a thoughtful pause. "Then," said Campbell, pointing to an ox standing nearby, "you are on a level with that animal. He has fed till he is satisfied, and stands in the shade whisking off the flies, and has neither hope nor fear in death. How true is the saying, They that die without dying thoughts shall die without living comforts.'"

An officer came upon a severely-wounded soldier after a battle, and asked if there was anything he could do for the man. "There is one thing for which I would be much obliged," the soldier on the point of death answered. "In my pack is a New Testament. Will you open it at the 14th chapter of John and read the verse that begins with Peace'?" The officer did so and read: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). "Thank you, sir," said the dying man. "I have that peace-I am going to that Savior-God is with me-I want no more," and he was gone. Can you say that? If you are in Christ you should be able to.

In every kind of situation we are better off if we are in Christ. Paul, however, singles out two areas in particular in which Christ enriches our lives: in word and knowledge. What is the real meaning of this enrichment? Let us look at the Greek expressions. First, pnti, "all," in reference to these two areas of life, means that the Corinthians were enriched in every kind of word, their total realm of expression, and every kind of knowledge, all knowledge put together.

The word translated "utterance" here is lgo in Greek. I do not believe this translation does justice to what Paul meant. In Acts 2:4, "as the Spirit gave them utterance," the Greek word is apophthéggesthai , which is the same word found in its verbal form in 2 Peter 2:16, 18, and in its substantive form in Romans 10:18 and 1 Corinthians 14:7. The noun phthngos primarily refers to sound or the tone of a musical instrument. It does not necessarily refer to a thoughtful expression of the mind. (Lgos is the noun that refers to words that have meaning, those which express thought.)

The enrichment that Christ brings to His believers in their "utterance" is not merely a pleasing sound added to the sound produced by their lips but is an enrichment of every word. Everything a Christian says, when enriched in this way, is meaningful; there is thought behind it. Look at Matthew 12:36 to understand the distinction among three Greek words used of men's speech: "But I [Christ] say unto you, That every idle word [rema argn] that men shall speak [lalesousin], they shall give account [lgou] thereof in the day of judgment." In the expression "idle word" (rema argn), rema (word) is more equivalent to "saying," and this "saying" does not necessarily involve its being a product of one's own mind. "That men shall speak," lalesousin, comes from lali (2981), which is more equivalent to the sounds made by animals and persons who have no understanding of what they are saying. And "they shall give account," lgou, refers to a logical explanation for the words spoken idly.

It would be incorrect to assume that Paul was saying here that Christ had enriched the Corinthians by enabling them to speak in "unknown tongues." Throughout the 12th and 14th chapters of this epistle, these are never designated by the verb légo (the verb form of lgos) but always by the verb laléo (2980). In the 14th chapter, Paul makes two pronouncements: l) that those who spoke in "unknown tongues" did not understand what they were saying, and therefore, what came out of their mouths was not lgos but lali (2981); and 2) that others could not understand them either; so that speaking in an "unknown tongue" in the presence of others could only be tolerated if it were interpreted in an understandable language. Where God is concerned, of course, it would make no difference (v. 2) because He, being omniscient, does not need language to understand the dispositions of our hearts in prayer.

Lgo in 1 Corinthians 1:5 therefore, must mean speech that is the result of thought-purposeful, meaningful expression. This is what Christ enriches when He enters the human heart. Our words cease to be idle, unclean, or meaningless, but instead become "seasoned with salt." How different the world would be if, every time we opened our mouths, God was glorified and men were benefited by our speech. What Paul meant is well expressed by what was said of an aged minister: "The older he grew, the less he spoke, and the more he said." We better understand what is meant by being enriched in every word when we sit in the pew under such a man, in contrast to the preacher who talks to fill up time, giving us no lesson to take with us to change or enrich our lives.

Fellow ministers, a few words that are lgoi-not rambling, not just talking-are better than a whole flood of sounds that convey nothing to the hearer because there is no real thought behind them. The enrichment of our words is not in their quantity but in their quality. Wise is the man who knows what not to say and remembers not to say it.

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