Paul, Clanging Cymbal, and Listening to Others (by Joshua Breland)

Joshua Breland is a seminary student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and blogs at
 The Apostle Paul’s teaching about love and a clanging cymbal is on the tip of the tongues of many Christians today. That can be good or not so good.

Let’s look at the chapter and verse.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1

Paul is beginning a section on how love is a necessity for godly and helpful behavior. Even though Paul might have powerful truth and knowledge, even speaking in someone’s own language or dialect, if he does not communicate that truth in love he will hardly be well received. This is a much needed reminder for all of us on blogs and social media. I know I need to camp out here for a while.

But this is not how I have recently seen Paul’s helpful words applied. I have repeatedly seen Christians quote 1 Corinthians 13:1 as a biblical warrant to not listen to another Christian just because he or she is loud or saying truth without table manners. This is unfortunate.

Not everyone is spiritually mature or in a great spiritual place in their Christian walk. Many people are going through great challenges which have stretched their faith, emotions, and Christian behavior. These people need to be listened to, not shunned because they have become a clanging cymbal to your ears.

Now, hear me out. I am not saying some people need not be ignored or written off as unhelpful. But doing so would need to come with great thought and consideration, not on a whim because you dislike whatever is being said or how it is being said. Our dislike of how something is said does not necessarily mean it was not said in love. Discernment is always needed in dealing or not dealing with certain individuals.

What I am saying, and hoping, is that we can grow in listening to one another and stop the, “I don’t like that you are loud and abrasive so I am just going to ignore you.” The church is not helped by that kind of approach and Paul’s teaching is certainly not properly applied by such an application. Paul says just a few verses later, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). Let us bear and endure our loud brothers and sisters for as long as we can. They may just have truth to help us on our way.


  1. Dave Miller says

    I will plead guilty here. I tend to tune out the clanging cymbals – especially in social media. It’s tough to dig through the e-doodoo to get to the gem hidden within.

  2. Max says

    In Galatians 2, we find Paul confronting Peter over an issue of faith vs. law which called into question the teachings and traditions of men. Paul opposed Peter publicly; he conveyed truth in love for all to hear. Peter did not respond with a counterpoint of debate; he said nothing. Discernment is given to us to guide our words and actions … there are times to speak and times to be silent.

  3. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    A most excellent rebuttal to those over zealous

    Tone Police
    Civility Cops
    Christian Correctness (deviant mutation of Political Correctness)

    Basically Unteachable Pharisees

    • Dave Miller says

      Why would anyone think that a gracious attitude would be desirable, right? Better to be belligerent and insulting, right “Truth.”

      We ought to ignore all those silly Scripture verses about honoring one another, showing love to one another, treating one another with gentleness.

      Forget all that “politically correct” nonsense. If someone disagrees with me, I can just blast them at will, right?

      • says

        I would suggest that we ought to be gracious, but not automatically discard another’s opinion simply because we don’t like the attitude we perceive.

        Especially since attitude is a bit tough through type-written only media.

        Eventually, though, someone who is consistently strident is going to marginalize himself. Not unlike the Little Boy Who Cried “Are you stupid villagers really concerned about wolves?”

  4. says

    Josh: I had the experience of having begun a research project on I Cors.13 (actually, 12:31b-14:1a, the agape pericope) in ’71 and continuing it until the Spring of ’74, when I wrote a paper on the Greek text of that passage in an honors course under Dean Brown. It was, for the development of my spiritual life and nature, one of the best things that I could have ever done. In addition, the paper would serve as a basis for preparing the 10 sermons on that passage that I would preach as a part of my Project for the Doctor of Ministry (the other part being 10 lectures in Black History. The subject was, “Christian Love & Race Relations.”).

    While Christian Correctness can be as noisome as a pill of a problem church member that everyone would like to eject, agape love can go a long way (a lot farther than anything else in this world) to resolving the bitter issue. Consider how Boyce replied to one student who evidently rejected the former’s presentation of Sovereign Grace, saying something to this effect, “I wish I could persuade everyone of you.” And then there is Boyce speaking to Toy as they came to see him off at the Train station in Louisville (the latter was on his way to Harvard and the complete repudiation of the Christian Faith), “I could give my arm, if you were still of the same views.”(my quote is not entirely accurate, but the idea was that Boyce was wishing for Toy to be of the original position of the Abstract of Principles). Love does not mean that we have to buy into heresy, especially, when that view really rejects the Bible.

  5. Nick Horton says


    Thanks for posting that. In our denomination we have practiced this to varying degrees.

    However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that 1 Corinthians was written to a specific local church. Love, as Paul was writing, has to be practiced in the context of the local church, doesn’t it?

    Certainly today we have many discussions and disagreements. Arguments from the fringes about why everyone else is a heretic. A multitude of clanging symbols. I’d love to say I can speak with Apostolic authority and infallibly denounce the heretics. But I can’t. Given that I can be reasonably sure of my convictions, rooted in the Bible, I can speak strongly. However, I have NO warranty to do so without a Spirit of Love.

    I can, so much as I muzzle my pride, learn from anyone and any situation whether I am right or wrong. But I don’t have to subject myself to bigotry or bullying simply because the other person is a Christian.

    Now, if they are a member of my church, I have different responsibilities to them. Our unity in the church is more important than whether I agree with someone outside my church. We must work out our differences, and with utmost care, do so in the unity of the Spirit by the bond of peace.

  6. says

    Good words, Joshua. Many people perceive strong rebuke as being unloving when strong rebuke is precisely unloving. Was Jesus unloving in Matthew 23? Yet when we write similar words today, we would be accused of such. Just because we perceive someone as being unloving because we think they accuse us unfairly or inaccurately doesn’t mean that they don’t have a point.