A Universal Language
Men have spoken a variety of languages since the Tower of Babel. On that day, God confused the languages of men 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) This variety of languages accomplished God’s purpose through the creation of a certain amount of division and confusion.
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). Where sin and rebellion had created division, the message of Christ would bring healing.
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. The need to communicate the gospel to others, in particular, creates a need for Christians to be able to cross the language barrier. It is no wonder, considering the great diversity of tongues, men sometimes dream of a universal language: a single language breaking down all linguistic and cultural barriers between men.
In pursuit of this goal, 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. It would be difficult to hold a conversation when every nuance and word required you to sit down with pen and paper and work out the equations.
Others, likewise, have proposed music as a common language. But, while music does indeed cross cultural barriers, again it is not without its shortcomings. If you don’t believe this, try ordering a ham sandwich at a diner using nothing but a guitar to communicate. The waitress might be moved to tears by the beauty of the sound, but you’ll probably leave hungry. Everybody interprets the sound of music slightly differently, and notes themselves don’t convey concrete information, which makes it less than ideal as an actual language.
Rather than looking to math or music, let us consider another thing which crosses linguistic and cultural barriers, and which conveys our innermost 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 concepts.
Our Lord Jesus showcased the ability of love to cross cultural boundaries 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, being kind and joyful,… these thing communicates effectively to everyone something about the 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 another’s tongue in order to appreciate 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 actions which communicate effectively 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 the love of Christ.
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.