FROM SELFISH INTEREST TO EDIFICATION
The Journey to Deep – Part 7
1 Corinthians 14

For a number of decades there has been a lot of discussion concerning topics of the supernatural like healing, speaking in tongues, and prophesying.  It can create a lot of confusion.

Recently I heard about a church that has time set aside in its worship services for people to come and to be prayed for.  On one occasion recently a gentleman came forward and happened to end up with the pastor who asked him what he desired prayer for.  The man replied, “I need prayer for my hearing,” and before he knew it the pastor had his hand on the man’s ears and was boldly praying for his hearing.  At the end of the prayer and with the worship music playing in the background the pastor asked the man, “How’s your hearing?” to which the man replied, “I don’t know, it’s not until next Wednesday at the courthouse.”

Confusion over these topics isn’t just limited to churches in our culture; there was confusion in the First Century as well.  And as we continue our study of the book of 1 Corinthians in our “Journey to Deep,” in this 14th chapter we will encounter some true frustration from the Apostle Paul.  If you haven’t already done so, turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 14.

Paul was upset because when the Corinthians came together for worship, the services had gotten out of control.  People were interrupting each other, shouting out that they had words of prophecy to give, or launching into speaking in tongues.  And those visitors who were in attendance and investigating Christianity didn’t understand what was going on, and everyone seemed more concerned with showing others how spiritual they were rather than the church being a setting where people are encouraged and instructed from God’s Word.

So let’s look at the two primary issues that were causing confusion in Paul’s day, and then apply these principles of worship to our congregation.

Let’s begin with a definition of the Gift of Speaking in Tongues.  It means to speak in a foreign language that one has never studied.

Now this miraculous ability to speak in foreign languages was first given to the apostles in Acts 2 when people from all over the world were gathered in Jerusalem and were able to hear the Gospel in their own language.  And in this chapter Paul says that some speak in a tongue that only God can understand.  And Paul says this should only be used in the worship service if someone is there who has been gifted with the ability to interpret so that everybody can be encouraged by it.

Paul says here in our text in 1 Corinthians 14:4: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.”  

Our goal as Christians isn’t self-gratification; it is to build up the Body of Christ, the Church.  The reason that Paul spends so much time on this topic is that the church of Corinth within their worship assembly was losing their structure and taking on more of a carnival or talent show feel rather than a time of worship and glorifying God.  So, Paul has to hit it head on, and say, “This is a good gift, but keep it in perspective.”

Basically, this is a summary of what Paul is teaching.  Fill in these blanks on your note page: The edification of the body of Christ is more important than showing off your gift, so do things in an orderly way.  

Hopefully that gives you an explanation of speaking in tongues along with the context in which Paul shared his advice with the early church. 

Now let me define another gift…

Here’s a definition of the gift of prophecy: To speak forth by divine inspiration.

When we hear the word “prophecy” we think of predicting or telling the future.  But that’s just one meaning of the word.  It means simply speaking the words of God. 

In New Testament times, the Holy Spirit gave people the miraculous gift of prophecy, which meant they could speak God’s specific words about the present and the future.  That’s what is being talked about here in this setting in 1 Corinthians 14.  But today we now have the Bible as our guide, so we don’t need people foretelling the future and predicting the future.  When we speak nowadays in this church of someone having the gift of prophecy, we are referring to the non-miraculous ability to proclaim boldly the truth of God’s Word. 

Today the Holy Spirit gives some a special ability to be able to preach or to teach or to prophesy or to share scripture with others.  But today we have the benefit of having a New Testament—they didn’t have that in the early church.  Their sharing was more miraculous, while ours is the result of sharing the words of the Bible as we are prompted by the Holy Spirit.  So for us, it might be in a neighborhood Bible Study, it could be referring to something said from this pulpit, it might be a Scripture or a spiritual challenge that you share with someone over lunch.  It may be talking to a coworker and keeping him from writing an angry email back to the boss and instead saying, “Hey be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.”  “Well, where did that come from?”  “That’s from God’s word, the Bible in the book of James.”  And so we share that…that’s what we mean when we talk about the gift of prophecy today.

In fact, did you notice this—Paul said in I Corinthians 14:31: “For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.”

Any time we read Scripture we’re being “prophetic” in the sense that we’re declaring the revealed word of the Lord.  It’s when a teacher or preacher hears someone say, “Man alive, you were speaking straight to me today—that’s just what we’ve been wrestling with.”  Or “Do you have our home bugged?”  Well, it wasn’t that teacher; it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit that caused the speaker to say that…and then it touched your heart.

Chris Seidman, a preacher in Texas points out that, back in this time, there were two reasons why God gave the gift of prophecy.

First, the gift of prophecy is given for the strengthening of believers

In I Corinthians 14:1 and 3 Paul says: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.  …[For] everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.”

So, it’s not about you, it’s about building up others and the church.  Perhaps the reason we’re to especially desire this gift is because of its capacity to strengthen, encourage, and comfort people.

A second purpose of prophecy is that the gift of prophecy is given as a signpost for unbelievers.

There can be an evangelistic dimension to the gift of prophecy.  Lost people can be brought face to face with the truth of Scripture. 

Paul explains in I Corinthians 14:24-25: “But if an unbeliever… comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.  So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’”

You see, God can use the spoken word to pierce to the depths of a seeker’s soul.  And when the church community came together Paul expected this gift to be present.  That’s why he spends so much time giving instructions about the exercise of it in I Corinthians 14.  

We could summarize 1 Corinthians 14 into one main theme, I think: When you worship the Lord together, do so in a fitting and orderly way.”  

 I. DISTRACTIONS TO WORSHIP.

Well, let’s divide the rest of our time in half and let’s see, first of all, the distractions to worship.

Every culture has had some things to contend with when it comes to worship.  Each can lead to disorder.  We will look at two of the issues that were hot buttons for the first century church. 

The first was this: that numerous people were “speaking in tongues” in the early church.

Now don’t misunderstand this…by itself in that setting, it would not have been a problem, but the Corinthians were misusing the gift.  And so Paul writes a letter to that church because they were misusing it.  Paul suggests limiting the number of people who spoke in tongues in that setting to just a couple or three at the most, provided there was someone there who had the supernatural gift of interpretation so people would know what was being said.

In 1 Corinthians 14, look at verses 6, 9, and 12.  It says: Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?”  Verse 9: “…So it is with you.  Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?  You will just be speaking into the air.  Verse 12: “…Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.”

In other words, the message has to be meaningful to the listener.  If the Corinthians used this gift with no one there to interpret then it just drew attention to self but did nothing to strengthen the church.  It would be like having a beautiful big sanctuary that seated 10,000 people, but if you didn’t put a sound system in it, where you could understand what was being said, then why have the big room?

Some churches teach that if you haven’t spoken in tongues, you’re not really Spirit-filled.  But such a concept or teaching is not found anywhere in the Bible.  If that were the case, in this chapter Paul would be encouraging everyone to speak in tongues.  But he doesn’t do that.  Instead, he encourages everyone to prophesy—to speak forth by divine inspiration what God prompts you to say in certain settings. 

At this church, neither your preacher nor your Elders have the gift of speaking in tongues.  As a church body we don’t practice it in the worship service.  But neither do we make this issue a test of fellowship.  

When someone says, “Well this is what I do, or have done, in previous churches.  Can I still feel welcome here at First Church?” we say, “We think that’s great.  We simply ask two things of you: First, don’t come to First Church and try to persuade others that they should have that same gift; and secondly, if you think you have such a gift then please don’t interrupt the worship service by speaking in tongues.  In this church it would cause more confusion than it would unity.  And if you are willing to abide by those two requests, you are more than welcome to be a member of this congregation.”  Those are the two expectations that we’ve had as a church for years and God has blessed that, and you have respected that.  That’s one of the reasons we’ve been a united church because we don’t allow secondary issues to divide us.

Now, why the need for speaking in tongues anyway? 

Well, when the church began, I think its purpose was to validate God’s plan prior to the completion of the New Testament.

You see, not everyone spoke in tongues; it was not proof of having the Holy Spirit.  And Paul demanded that those with the gift control themselves.  He felt strongly that prophecy or preaching was more important, and Paul recommended that we be sensitive to unbelievers’ negative reaction to speaking in tongues. 

Look at 1 Corinthians 14, verses 18 and 19.  Paul says, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.  (So, he has that gift.)  But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

The Corinthians were being drawn offsides by their desire to exercise such a dramatic gift in a public setting. 

But there was another distraction and that was…  Women speaking out in the worship service. 

Fasten your seat belts for this passage.  In 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 it says: For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.  As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.”  (Now when it says the law here, it’s a reference to an Oral Law that the Jews had added.  It’s not to be confused with the Old Testament law from the Bible.)  He says, ”They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Have I got your attention?!  Now some would read that, and they would say that Paul was just a male chauvinist pig—how dare he say such a thing!  Well, hold on a second.  You have to remember this is the same man who said some very revolutionary and radical things about women that were affirming of them in the midst of a society that demeaned them.

He says in Galatians 3:26-28: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  

The common thread was baptism.  In God’s eyes all had equal rights, so while their roles may have been different, they shared the same rights regardless of their gender. 

In Ephesians 5 Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). 

Wow.  You talk about a radical thought back in that culture.  Generally speaking, the status of women in that culture was just a little bit above property or animals.  And Paul says to a husband, “You love your wife, and you sacrifice for her, even if it costs you your life.”

So, how does one reconcile words which honor women with these words in 1 Corinthians 14 which seem to demean women?  That a woman should remain silent in church?!  I mean, we have women who sing, who give testimonies, who pray, who talk in the worship setting.  Are we doing something wrong?

Well, any time you are trying to get at the real meaning of the text, you have to look at the setting.  And at this time these Christians, particularly these Jewish men, had spent all their lives to this point in Judaism and had grown up in the synagogue.  They were accustomed to having an interchange with a Rabbi who would be teaching there.  But women weren’t allowed to do that.  One commentator explained it by saying that, for a woman to have spoken in that public worship setting would have looked as if she were being rebellious to her husband.  So at that time, in that setting, Paul states what needed to be said so that the worship service would have order instead of disorder.

His words seem to reflect more of a cultural barrier than a Biblical prohibition.  In fact, in today’s worship setting, if Paul were covering this topic, I think he would say that it wouldn’t be appropriate for a woman OR a man to speak out during worship.  Regardless of gender it would be distracting in this worship setting for anyone to speak out.  Remember you have to look at the context of the entire section.

Everything Paul is saying is leading up to the last line of the chapter, verse 40, which says, “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

And in that culture for a woman to begin speaking out in a worship setting would have been such a deviation from the norm that the disruption would have detracted from the gospel message.  So Paul is trying to remove the chance of any interruptions so that the message can come through unimpeded.

Again, remember the theme of this message: When you worship the Lord together, do so in a fitting and orderly way.

Now the worship principle is that we should not allow things in worship that in our culture would be considered disruptive, rebellious, or detracting from our main mission.  

And the takeaway for us has got to be, when you come in to worship make certain that your personal worship doesn’t detract from the worship experience of others, but that instead you enhance it.  When you come in here you lean forward in anticipation, not back…so you’re not apathetic, you are engaged.  And don’t leave early at the end; instead, you pray for those people that are making decisions.  You’re not flamboyantly calling attention to the way you sing or worship—but you celebrate with reverence for God and respect for those around you.

Somebody asked me recently how I felt about people raising their hands in worship, and I said I’ve got to be honest and tell you that when it comes to worship, I believe that God is much more concerned with where your heart is than He is with where your hands are.  In fact, we’re told in the Bible to raise holy hands to Him.  So as long as you are sincerely worshipping and not attracting attention to yourself then you are worshipping in a fitting and orderly way.  

II. PRINCIPLES of WORSHIP.

Well what principles for corporate worship can we learn from this passage?

To begin with, worship should include Biblical teaching

When the church community came together Paul expected this to be present.  When we think of prophecy nowadays, it is akin to Biblical preaching and teaching.

God uses us based on our availability.  We can all be used by the Spirit of God to speak a message to someone else—that’s what Scripture says.  In fact, of all the spiritual gifts mentioned in Paul’s letters, the gift of prophecy is the one he talks about most often…not so much in some supernatural, miraculous way, but now, since you’ve been exposed to the Bible, you can pour it out to others.  Or if your friend asks your advice on their marriage, you try to speak God’s truth and not man’s opinions.  Prophecy is proclaiming God’s Word to all people—to share Biblical teaching regardless of the setting.

Secondly, worship should edify the entire body. 

We read in 1 Corinthians 14: 5: “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.  He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.”

You see, the goal is edification.  You might go out for lunch today and you might have an awesome meal, your favorite meal, everything you are crazy about.  Or it may be nothing special, no bells and whistles, just normal stuff.  But hopefully the result is that everyone is fed and nourished.  Different foods that you eat may not be your favorite, but you are still strengthened and edified. 

Due to our personal preferences, there will be a sermon or a song which really resonates with you.  Or it may be that the sermon or the song is just okay, but the intent is still for all of us to benefit and be strengthened.  Either way, the result should be the same…it might not have been as exciting for you, but you were still edified by it.

So as leaders we try to edify a wide variety of age groups and spiritual backgrounds and appetites.  But hopefully the result is that everyone is fed and nourished and edified.  So the worship points to Christ rather than the talent of the singer, the flow of the service, or the creativity of the speaker.

Thirdly, worship should attract unbelievers to Jesus

Let’s read 1 Corinthians 14: 22 and 23: Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.  So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (vv. 22-23).

This passage reminds us that churches need to be aware of how the unchurched feel when they come to a worship service.  Some churches don’t consider what the experience is like for the unbeliever.  They speak “churchy” language and use insider terms, and so the guests who are investigating Christianity leave confused rather than inspired.

Other churches sway to the opposite side of the pendulum and they plan everything to cater to the unbelievers.  They are called “seeker driven churches.”  They would never go through a series on 1 Corinthians because, in their opinion, too much Bible at first will turn people off.

But Paul mentions that the goal is “conviction” of the unbeliever.  We’re not here to entertain unbelievers, throw in a little dose of Jesus, and hope they get it eventually.  While churches may differ on how to go about it, the ultimate desire is that the truth is preached so that the Spirit can convict them of their need for a Savior and then we can explain to them how to be saved.  So we do not apologize for sharing Scriptures and opening up the Bible because it is powerful. 

Finally, worship should be orderly, not impromptu

At the root of Paul’s phrase, “fitting and orderly way,” (v. 40) is the idea of preparation.  This wasn’t just thrown together, it was well thought out, so that the Spirit of God would want to show up.  There’s been planning, prayer, and preparation for that hour.

So we try to put in our preparation in every facet of worship and we seek to be organized and orderly so that it paves the way for the message of Christ to come through in a distraction free environment.  Because of that we strive to hold the standard high for volunteers and staff alike. 

I try to invest about 20 hours of study and preparation in putting together every sermon that I preach, so that in those hours the Holy Spirit can kind of nudge and direct my decisions.  And each ministry must be prudent and wise in their choices.  If everyone wanted to sing a solo here, in time you would stop inviting people to come with you, because each week would be a roll of the dice on what would happen.

But it’s not just with music; it’s in every arena that we want to put our best foot forward for the Lord.  We want ushers to be orderly, greeters to be friendly and reassuring, (our communion servers to be in sync).  We have competent, loving, and caring childcare volunteers and we have a nursery for you to take your baby to because even the happiest baby can be distracting to others!  And we do our best to assure that it is a secure setting.  We have greeters, worship technicians, children’s workers, and on and on.

But here’s my fear.  My concern is that after you hear this message, you will begin to see worship as a setting where distractions are minimized and the unusual is ostracized, where worship is an elaborate, event-planning extravaganza that is simply all about organization.  But while these things are true, they are a secondary application of this message.  They certainly aren’t the focus nor the intent. 

Here is my heartbeat on this…I believe that if you are doing it for the Lord then it deserves your very best effort, whatever it is.  And I want to remove any distractions of unfriendliness, confusion, undue noise, or long, boring sermons so that the gospel message is simple and clear, as compelling and attractive as it can be—so that you will respond to Christ.

And can I tell you something?  We want the very same thing for your kids and for your grandkids.  And when they are in a class, when they are in the nursey, when they are in Children’s Church, or when they’re in Bible Buddies and they’re learning all about Jesus, we want them to come to know Christ as their Savior.

And when you come through those doors and take your seat, I want you to sense that something special is about to happen—that in the next hour and fifteen minutes you will have the opportunity in a fitting and orderly way to worship the God of the Universe through singing, through praying, through giving, through listening, through learning, and through responding.  There should be this incredible sense of expectancy as God speaks personally and directly to you and your life through a variety of mouthpieces.  And you leave this place having seen Jesus and experienced His love in a fresh way and you are a different person than when you came in.

Several years ago, the executives at Disneyworld® were surprised to find from their exit surveys that some families were actually leaving the theme park disappointed.  You say, “Impossible, how could that be?  How could anyone go to Disneyworld and leave disappointed?”  Well, their exit surveys pointed to one common flaw: the guests had traveled hundreds of miles to come and to see one person, but during their visit they never crossed paths with him.  Any guesses on who it was?   His name was Mickey Mouse.

But think about it for a moment.  How could everyone possibly see Mickey Mouse?  After all, this is a huge place and you can’t have a bunch of Mickey Mouse’s walking around because if a kid is riding a tram with his family and sees a Mickey over here and at the same time a Mickey in another spot, it would blow their mind, and Disneyworld® would become less magical.

So here’s what the Disney® executives came up with…they created a way that everyone who wanted to see Mickey Mouse would be able to see him.  And now, on every day of the week at 3 p.m. a parade comes down Main Street, and guess who is leading the way as the Grand Marshal? 

The Disney® discovery applies to worship as well.  You may have come here to church for a myriad of reasons.  Perhaps you’re lonely, you are feeling guilty, or maybe you are searching.  Whether you realize it or not, people come to church in hopes of seeing one person.  It’s not a singer, it’s not the greeter, and it’s sure not the preacher.  His name is Jesus and when you come here to worship it is our responsibility to make certain that you see Him up close and personal.

And it is my prayer that you never leave here disappointed because, in my selfish interest, I have focused your attention on the preacher instead of on Christ.  Let me tell you something, I guarantee you I will let you down; the teachers, the volunteers and the staff of this church will also disappoint you and fail you.  But Jesus never fails, and He can meet your needs and He can save your soul.

 

 

David Hall
First Church of Christ
October 31, 2021