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1 Corinthians 14:26-40: The Gifts and the Gathering Print E-mail
1 Corinthians
Sunday, 03 January 2016

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I would like for you to look at your bulletin again with me this morning and notice some of the details. We print our vision for ministry here at Trinity on the front each week. As we looked at earlier, we put announcements on the back along with some general information about our Church. On the inside we print the order of service and give you some space to take notes during the sermon, complete with an outline to follow. Nothing super inventive, but hopefully effective. I would assume that most of us, even if you are visiting for the first time, expect some sort of bulletin. Very rarely have I attended a Church service that did not have one. Yet, have you ever wondered where this tradition came from? When did we start having an ‘order of service’ that we printed out for people to follow? How did it become so commonplace that we expect it when we attend a service? Where do we come up with certain traditions for corporate worship?

Truth is, I couldn’t find an answer for the bulletin question. I do know that there are many who believe that we should not follow a bulletin because it stifles the Spirit. My goal in bringing them up is not to really make an argument for or against them, but just to point out that we do things in corporate worship that we never really think that much about it because we are so used to doing them. This morning is the first Sunday in 2016, but I figure most of us don’t expect our time together to be much different than what we did last year (and that is true for the most part). All of this begs the question: how do we decide what to do in our corporate gatherings? Of course, I hope the obvious answer is to look to the Scriptures. How did the first followers of Christ spend their time when they came together for worship? Although there are indications of things that they did from certain passages. They prayed. They studied the Bible. They sang. They ate the supper and baptized new believers. And they exercised their spiritual gifts.

It is this last activity that Paul has been talking about in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Although we are tempted to draw hard and fast conclusions about what they did from these chapters, particularly our passage this morning, we must remember that Paul is primarily correcting errors and not giving us an ‘order of service’ for the early Church. Yet, in considering his corrections and teaching, we can draw some conclusions about our own corporate gatherings. He begins in our passage by continuing to emphasize the importance of edification. Look at verse 26. Paul teaches in chapters 12-14 that all believers have gifts that they are to use in love for the building up of the body of Christ. This has been his emphasis throughout and it will be his emphasis as he brings the argument to a conclusion. So what specific instructions/corrections does he give the Corinthians about their corporate worship? Let’s consider three from this text:

Instructions for tongues (v. 27-28)

As we have seen in the first part of chapter 14, the Corinthians had seemingly elevated the importance of the gift of tongues in their corporate worship. Paul has argued that prophecy is better than uninterpreted tongues because it is understandable and therefore leads to edification (14:1-25). But Paul does not forbid the use of the gift of tongues. He goes on in verses 27-28 to give instructions for how they can build up the body. Look at those verses with me. Essentially, his instructions can be broken down into three parts. First, only two to three should speak. It could mean only two to three before the interpretation is offered or only two to three per service. I favor the latter due to the way in which Paul is arguing here. It seems he is talking about what should happen in one particular service. So then, only two or three should speak in a tongue in a service.

Second, they should speak one by one and not at the same time. Again, we have to note that Paul is seemingly correcting an error that was taking place in Corinth, namely ecstatic tongues speaking at the same time. Paul writes to correct this.

Third, the tongue must be interpreted. Others can only understand if an interpretation is offered. And they can only be edified if they understand. Thus, Paul requires interpretation. If no one is able to give an interpretation then the person with that gift should use the gift in silence (and I don’t think that includes ‘under their breath’ in the service which is how some take this). We should note that Paul implies that the person with the gift of tongues is in control of when that gift is used. They can stop or start depending on the presence of an interpreter. It is a gift of the Spirit but that does not mean that the person is out of control when they exercise it (the same is true of prophecy as we will see in verses 29-32). These instructions concerning tongues maximizes understanding which will lead to the edification of the saints.

Instructions for prophecy (v. 29-33)

Although prophecy has been viewed positively throughout Paul’s argument, he does give instructions for the proper use of this gift as well. Again, the focus is on edification. So what does he say? Look at verses 29-33. First, as with tongues, Paul limits the number of prophets who can speak to two or three. It is hard to know exactly why he gives this limitation, but perhaps it is for the sake of time or just for the sake of understanding (too much prophecy could lead to confusion). Either way, he limits to just two or three.

Second, each prophecy must be weighed. Paul does not give any criteria for how that would be done, but an obvious criteria would be that it needs to be in line with Scripture. Paul will say as much in verses 36-38 and it stands to reason that the Spirit would not give prophecies that contradict the Word that He inspired. There could be other criteria, but it seems that Paul trusts that the other prophets and the rest of the congregation would be able to correctly weigh what is said.

Third, each person, or prophet, is to listen and learn from others. One prophet is not to monopolize this part of corporate worship. If another is given a prophecy then they should be allowed to speak while the first is quiet. Again, Paul could be correcting an error here, but it is hard to know. What we do know is that such instruction will again maximize understanding. When they are followed all may learn and all be encouraged. Again, Paul notes that these instructions can be obeyed because each prophet is is in control of the prophecies offered. He undergirds this truth with God’s character. He is a God of peace and not confusion. He is a God of understanding that leads to edification. Our corporate worship should be a true reflection of His character.

Instructions for women (v. 34-35)

I should note before commenting on these next couple of verses that one of my commentators views these as not authentic to Paul. He believes that they were added later. Although I am not convinced by his arguments (almost all of the earliest manuscripts include these verses), I do want to at least recognize this possibility. At this point, I believe they are from Paul.

Although it may seem out of place for Paul to bring up the issue of women in this context, it is not the first time in the letter that he has addressed the ‘Corinthian woman’ problem. In chapter 7 and chapter 11 Paul implied that there were women in Corinth who were following the culture and being ‘liberated’ in their beliefs and practices within the faith community. Some were possibly separating from their husbands (ch.7), while others were ignoring modesty and submission (ch. 11). Apparently, some were speaking in corporate worship in a way that reflected these issues as well. Paul corrects them in verses 34-35. Look at those verses with me. Needless to say, many struggle with what Paul is saying here (as I noted, some don’t even believe that these verses belong to the original). But I think we can make some sense of what Paul is saying here without resorting to extreme conclusions.

So what is Paul forbidding? Although the language is strong, I don’t think Paul is saying that a woman can never open her mouth in the public gathering of the Church. Such a statement would be a contradiction of what he says in 11:5, where he clearly implies that women pray and prophesy in corporate worship. Rather, it seems that Paul is forbidding them from the ‘weighing in’ part of public prophecy. Since this task would be more authoritative, Paul seems to be reserving it for the men of the Church and encouraging the women to speak with their husbands at home. The issue is submission and authority in corporate worship. Paul sees the men as the leaders in the Church and the home (1 Timothy 2-3, Ephesians 5) and so he forbids the women from taking an authoritative role in the corporate gathering. Although some want to view this as just cultural, I think the principle still stands today.

Men are still called to be the leaders in the Church and women (and other men at times) are still called to submit. Practically, this does not mean that a woman cannot participate in various ways in corporate worship, it simply limits their involvement in authoritative roles. It is an area where we must stand against our culture, but not because we want to devalue women and their role. Actually just the opposite. We want to hold up their God-given roles as critical in the Church and in the home. They are distinct from the roles of men, but not less important or less valuable.

After considering Paul’s instructions/corrections for corporate worship in Corinth, what principles can we identify for our own worship? Let me close by mentioning three.

First, we seek to follow the authoritative teaching of the New Testament. Although we have great freedom in worship, we are not free to just do whatever we want. We must follow the text. Paul says as much in verses 36-38. Paul knew that some in Corinth would want to dismiss what he says so he reminds them that what he is saying is from the Lord. Our corporate worship must be guided by the Spirit and the Spirit has spoken to us (and still speaks!) through His Word.

Second, we seek and encourage participation. Over and over again Paul has encouraged the Corinthians to use their gifts. He could have just said, ‘Stop speaking in tongues.’ But he never does that. He wants them to use their gifts. He just wants them to use them in a way that leads to edification and not confusion. He says this again in verse 39. Look at that with me. We should be seeking to use our gifts in corporate worship. We should be participating. We have to get away from the ‘stage’ mentality, namely whoever is on stage uses their gifts while the rest of us watch. No, we have all gathered to worship the One who sent His Son to pay for our sins at the cross. We are all to use our gifts to encourage one another in exalting King Jesus, who conquered the grave to bring us into His Kingdom.

Third, we seek order and understanding for the edification of one another. Our participation should never result in confusion and chaos. We should use our gifts in a way that maximizes the building up of believers. Look at verse 40. We need both participation and order, which is why Paul gives the instructions that he gives. We need involvement in a way encourages all to lift up the name of our Savior. He is worthy of participation. He is worthy of us ordering our services in a way that leads to understanding and edification. May we use our gifts in our gatherings to build up the Church and to glorify our King. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 11 January 2016 )

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