How to behave at Congregational worship.
1 Corinthians 14v26-40.
In the first half of chapter 14 Paul has dealt with two Spiritual gifts viz. tongues and prophecy. [John B gave an excellent exposition of that text last Sunday] Paul argues for intelligibility and for the supremacy of prophecy over tongues. He is not saying that prophecy is good and tongues are bad but that prophecy is more beneficial because it is more intelligible.
V.26 “What then shall we say, brothers?” – “What is the up-shot of all this?” or “Where do we go from here?”
I think it would be fair to say that the Corinthians worship services were anything but dull. There was a tendency towards disorder if not chaos. Bordering on a free-for-all. But dull they were not.
Things had obviously got out of hand. Paul has already addressed this in ch.11 where he deals with the abuses at the communion – they were guilty of turning it into a drunken party. Here his concerns are similar; he is reminding them that their worship is not selfish or private – the focus of worship is not “me” but God and “me” is not the only one there. The whole body is what is important – not just the individual or a select few with certain gifts.
There seems little doubt that some of the Corinthian Christians exercised their gifts purely for self-development and display rather than for the good of the body – this is contrary to the law of love that Paul was at pains to point out in ch.13.
– he is not trying to stop their participation in the worship, this is clear from v26.
When you come together, everyone has a hymn or
a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue
or an interpretation. All of these must be done
for the strengthening of the church. [v26]
He is encouraging participation.
He does not mean that everyone must have a hymn, word of instruction etc. but this is an example of what was practised in the churches. It seem that they all came to church expecting to participate and contribute.
What about us?? Do you come to church in passive mode? Like a sponge simply ready to receive! How do you prepare for coming to Sunday morning service? Have you spent time praying about our gathering this morning?
If I were to say that I believe God doesn’t want me to preach but for us to have a time of open sharing together would you have anything to share? What has God been teaching you in your private Bible study and devotions this week?
You expect the preacher to be prepared – what about you??
Think about our services – besides singing there isn’t much room for participation, is there?
But aren’t home Groups and meeting with and helping friends Body life? YES But Paul is talking here about when the Church gathers together.
Paul envisages that every member brings a distinctive contribution to the worshipping life of the church – not all at nor necessarily all in the same service.
The controlling factor is not personal enjoyment but mutual edification.
Having restated this principle of “for the common good” [12v7] Paul goes on to deal with :- Principles governing speaking in tongues in congregational worship [v27-28]
Principles governing prophetic speech in congregational worship
Participation of women in congregational worship [v34-35]
Concluding remarks regarding spiritual gifts [v36-40]
1.Principles governing speaking in tongues in congregational worship [v27-28]
The guidelines for the use of tongues in public worship are fairly straightforward. – The number of speakers is limited to 2 or 3;
– They must speak in turn [not all at the same time]
– There must be an interpretation. This final principle is the over-riding one.
If no interpreter is present then the one who has the gift of tongues must keep silent. The implication of this verse  is that the person with the gift has control over whether or not to speak. He /she can choose to keep it private and silent even in public.
It is not an ecstatic, out of control phenomenon. It was exactly this kind of ecstatic, out of control speaking that was evident amongst pagan worshippers. It is this that Paul wants them to avoid so that outsiders will not be put off or misled by unintelligible speech. Paul lifts Christian inspired speech out of the category of “ecstasy” as such – it is an entirely different thing to the pagan frenzy and mania that is out of control.
By saying this Paul is not degrading the gift of tongues nor is he forbidding its use – that is clear from v39 “do not forbid speaking in tongues” But there must be order and control by the leaders and self-control by the speaker/s.
2. Principles governing prophetic speech in congregational worship [v29-33]
Again as with tongues – 2 or 3.
Those who do speak are not infallible – their words need to be tested. Just because a person claims prophetic speech and speaks in an authoritative way does not put them above criticism. The body of Christ needs to constantly be assessing what is being taught. The testing is done by means of comparison to scripture. In Paul’s day before the NT was completed it was compared to the teaching of the Apostles.
It is tempting to think that you can leave it to those who have teaching / prophetic gifts BUT that is a cop-out – Certainly those in leadership have a greater responsibility but that doesn’t let everyone else off the hook. We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17v11:-
… they received the message with great eagerness
and examined the scriptures every day to see
if what Paul said was true.
There must always be checks and balances so that no one person becomes the authority –
ILLUST: that is always dangerous and at its extreme can lead to the kind of events we have seen in Switzerland and Canada recently with the mass suicides and murders.
We therefore have a responsibility to assess the messages that we receive. Ask questions like:-
Does it glorify God?
Is it in accord with scripture?
Does it build up the body of Christ?
Does the speaker submit to the judgement of others?
Are the speakers demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in their own lives?
Is it spoken in love? …….
Any message through prophecy, teaching or tongues and interpretation must be put through the same test!!!
The purpose of prophecy, as with all the gifts, is not to elevate the person [speaker] but rather that everyone be instructed and encouraged.
Paul is not addressing just the prophets as if they were an elite group – his concern throughout this whole passage [ indeed the whole letter] is for all the church.
In fact he says in v31 that they can all prophesy – the all is emphatic in this verse “ALL may prophesy so that ALL may be instructed and ALL may be encouraged”
The ALL does not mean that everyone has this gift but the implication is that it is potentially available to everyone. Not restricted to an elite, super-spiritual class of Christian.
Having a message to share with the Church is not dependent on intellectual ability or oratory.
ILLUST: Andrew Murray a DRC Dominee in the Cape – his father had prayed for 40 years for an out pouring of God’s Spirit – it began through a coloured servant girl – initially Murray tried to stop it until one of the elders pointed out that maybe this is what they had been praying for – and it was!!
We have no right to dictate how we think God should work! He will never go against His Word but we must remember that our understanding of His Word in always limited!!
God may sometimes work in strange ways but never contrary to his character. And God is a God of order and not chaos.
Does that mean he will he will follow our patterns of worship?? NO!! God is not bound by Western Conservative Evangelicalism.
ILLUST: Go to Africa or Asia or South America – the style of worship and their Church practice is very different and we might think it chaotic but there is control by the leaders. Often more that in our individualistic western society. There is an order in their worship but also a spontaneity.
Are we possibly guilty of being too structured and ordered leaving no room for spontaneity – I don’t mean out-of-control emotional frenzy, that seems to have been the problem in Corinth. But maybe more opportunity for sharing and participation in worship.
BUT again Paul does reinforce self-control and order – A person prophesying in the Corinthian Church could not plead as some were doing, that they MUST continue speaking because the Spirit compels them to do so, IF there is a reason for them to be silent then they can be silent.
“The spirits of the prophets are subject
to the control of the prophets”
There is no excuse for disorderly, hysterical behaviour within the Church.
– it is a bad witness to outsiders.
– it doesn’t edify the body .
– it does not reflect the character of God which the Church should do.
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace [v33a]
3. Participation of women in congregational worship [v33b-35]
These are very difficult verses to interpret and we must, as with all texts, interpret them in the context of all scripture. This is always true but esp. so with texts like this.
THE BIBLE’S TEACHING ON MALE AND FEMALE
M and F are created in God’s image }
God created male & female – different } Gen.1v26-28
given joined responsibility for the earth}
Man was created before woman and given the position of Headship [come to in a moment] but they are equal and complimentary. When sin entered through their disobedience that changed “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you” Loving headship became domination and loving submission became reluctant, even rebellious subjection.
Paul has already talked about the distinctive roles of male and female in ch. 11 Male headship is not because Male is superior but because in the creation order that is how God ordained it to be. While there is a distinctiveness there is also an equality and a mutual dependence upon each other.
Whenever Paul writes about the roles of male and female it is always against the background of the creation order. [Eph. 5; 1 Co.11; 1 Tim.2]
So what about the role of women in the Church?
There were many prominent women in OT & NT.
It is clear from 1 Co.11 that women can pray and prophesy in Church and in I Co. 12 that ALL [incl. women] receive spiritual gifts, including the gift of teaching.
In 14v26 ‘Everyone’ includes women participate and contribute in the meeting together.
1 Peter 2v9 talks about the priesthood of all believers – Are women part of the ALL? of course!!!
Eph. 4v12 – equipping the saints for works of service – ministry. [incl. women] – we are ALL ministers.
Eph. 5v12 wives submitting to husbands is in the context of submitting to one another – sense being “understand and support”
Husband as Head is to love as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her
SO > there is a creation order – male headship – not domineering but responsible, caring and cherishing.
there is equality but distinctiveness
the gifts are for all.
So what does Paul mean in these verses? Is he contradicting what he said in ch.11 that women could pray and prophesy? That is highly unlikely!! And in ch. 12 they can have the gift of teaching.
There were many problems in the Corinthian Church as we have seen and it is highly probable that Paul is addressing a particular situation in the Corinthian Church.
In secular assemblies at that time women were forbidden to speak – but in the Church they were allowed to do so – Paul, far from being a Male Chauvinist, did far more for the freedom of women that any other NT writers. In both Greek and Jewish culture women were greatly oppressed. It is possible that some of the women were abusing their new found freedom and speaking unnecessarily and out of turn – this is a possible explanation!!
Also these verses come immediately after his instruction about weighing / testing the prophecies given and so it is also possible that the public testing should be the responsibility of the leadership which was male. This does not mean that women can’t have an opinion but in the testing of prophecy they are not to do that in public – this is a possibility.
Whatever the particular problem was in Corinth there seems to have been a lack of discipline among some of the women which was causing confusion and disorder in the worship of the church. And on this issue Paul wants them to keep quiet. It is not a blanket command but one for particular circumstances.
Women have a vital role to play in the life of the Church and are recipients of all the spiritual gifts to be exercised in an orderly way [ as are the men] And the leaders [elders] who are men exercising their God given role of headship are to keep order and control of the exercise of the gifts by both men and women. That is one of the reason why we have Elders here at Binscombe.
4. Concluding remarks regarding spiritual gifts [v36-40]
Paul now ends this section [ch12-14] with some general remarks about spiritual gifts. One of the problems in Corinth was their claim to be “super-spiritual” and Paul is pointing out that true spirituality is not arrogant or self-assertive but it accepts the authority of those set over them in the Lord.
The Corinthians had a tendency to think they were right and everyone else was wrong – that is why is always healthy to have contact and fellowship with other Christians and other Church so that we do not become isolationist and exclusive.
READ v40 Paul seems to be taking the gift the Corinthians desired [tongues] and the one he favoured [prophesy] and saying desire and don’t hinder – all gifts are God given and are useful for the building up of the body of Christ. Don’t elevate one gifts to the exclusion of another – don’t forbid the use of any gift – all are useful and God-given.
Some in our days consign miracles and “spectacular gifts” to a past age and explain them away. Others focus SO on the “spectacular gifts” that they exclude the so called ordinary manifestations of God’s grace for everyday Christian living.
We need to accept that God is sovereign and transcendent and that He is always at work.
God transcends our world , the Church, our minds and our experience – we should expect him to manifest himself according to his own nature and NOT in terms of our finite limitations.
We can’t put God in a box and expect him to always act in accordance with our understanding. We need to focus our attention on the ascended Lord Jesus Christ who longs to see his Church grow in maturity in regard to the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. We should have the expectation that there is always more to know and more to share.
We want God to work with us – We don’t want to mimick what is happening in other Churches – we don’t want to be childishly gullible chasing every new teaching and experience BUT we also don’t want to be guilty of skeptical rationalism, unwilling to move or be moved thus resisting the movement of God’s Spirit.
The Corinthians concentrated too much on the dramatic gifts and Paul rebuked them for disorder, division and heresy.
Let us not be guilty of over reaction by boxing God in – a God who transcends our puny, finite minds and often works in ways we least expect and sometimes find difficult to understand and accept.
We believe in the supreme miracles of salvation – the same sovereign God who saved us is the one who wants to continue his work in us – individually and corporately.
” Lord work in us according to you sovereign will. Change us, use us, give to us everything we need to live holy and godly lives, using our gifts to the good of others and for the glory of your great name. Amen.”