Sunday, March 4, 2012

1 Corinthians 14:26-40 Worship : Decently and with Order

TEXT : 1 Corinthians  14: 26-40
TITLE:   Worship  : Decently and with 
Date :  Lord's Day 04/03/2012
A great  tendency  in the church of the 20th century , particularly  within  Pentecostal and charismatic  churches ,  has been  to focus on the exercise  of    spiritual gifts . It was argued that these gifts  of the Holy Spirit  had been forgotten by the church and therefore , it was argued  that the church had  become  powerless  and dead .  What was needed    was a  return to  the exercise of the  spiritual gifts , primarily the  mystical gifts such as tongue speaking and prophesying .  Well , history judges  its children and its movements . The 20th century shall go down in church history as the  century of the greatest divisions and church splits  - many of them  on account of  the matter of the charismatic gifts .
What shall we say about this ?  Only this : The Holy Spirit  is the Spirit of unity ; He is not the author of confusion.  He is  the Spirit of truth ( Jn 14:17)  given to lead the church into the truth.  The Holy Spirit   has  inspired the sacred text  which we hold in our hands ( 1 Peter  1:19-21).  He  is committed  to unity , because Jesus prayed  for the unity of His church  “… that they  may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me  and loved them even as  you have loved me.” (Jn  17:23)

I am convinced , more than ever ,  that the  Scriptures    which are inspired  by the Holy  Spirit do not allow us to organize  and  work as we  please in the church.  The work  of the church  must be done with a spiritual mindset .  The spiritual  gifts  must be used  spiritually , and not selfishly. Love, as defined in  13:4-7  is  the key  to   the attitudes that undergird the use of  spiritual gifts  for  our ministry.  
The “building up of the church”  is the   desired  end  product ( 14:4,5,12,26) . 
Unity  of the faith and of the knowledge of the son of God to mature manhood, to the measure  of the stature of the fullness of Christ”( Eph 4:13 ) is the goal . 
Speaking  in  tongues  as an end in itself , or prophesying  as  a reason to boast  as if this gift   had its origin in ourselves  is  childish and immature . The Bible reminds us  that the Holy Spirit is the Sovereign Dispenser of  spiritual gifts  ( 1 Cor 12 :6,11) . He  is the One  who decides which spiritual gifts  are needed for the church at any given time . He decides which gifts  are  to  be  withheld from  the church at any time .  The matter  whether all the  spiritual gifts mentioned in the  NT  must be  in operation  today is  not the issue . The issue  is  : What  does the church need to  be built up  ? How can the church  see  and cherish the Lord  Jesus Christ better ? Paul argues in 1 Corinthian s 14 that what the church needs most is clarity  - clear speech  ! What  can be clearer in our day than  reading the Word and  hearing it expounded?
As Paul begins to  wrap  up his thoughts concerning  spiritual gifts  he reminds the church  that  all  things  be done  for the building up of the church ( 14:26) ; “All things should be done decently and in order…”  ( 14:40) . This includes  the favourite gifts in the Corinthian church – tongue speaking and prophecy .  Concerning these Paul  has some specific instructions in terms of what should happen in  public worship :

1.      He recognizes  them as beneficial gifts  for  the church of  that time , and he therefore  encourages them in v 39My brothers , earnestly  prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues…” . Nothing that benefits the church must  be withheld.  We need to pray for grace  to know which gifts  presently  best up-build the church .

2.      He limits  the  tongue speaking in public worship  - two , at most three  and not without interpretation (14: :27,28)  to keep the clarity principle intact- (cf  14 : 6- 24  )

3.      He also limits  the prophesying in public worship   -  two or three prophets  ( 14: 29-32) , and he  encourages  them to weigh  or judge (Gr diakrinō)  what is being said .   Such prophecies  must not be received uncritically ; they must be  limited  and  those who prophesy must not ‘ hog’ the  meeting . When somebody else wants to prophesy , they must  keep silent and allow the  next person to speak .

4.     An important  observation is that  the worship meeting  of the church ought not be a ‘ free for all’  . It must be orderly and regulated  without quenching the Spirit . It may be right at times  for those with prophetic urges to restrain themselves . This is the way  in which  Charles Hodge interprets  the phrase  “ the spirit of the prophets  are  subject to prophets .”  (Hodge :p.303) . The great principle  of order  becomes  apparent again when  Paul says  in v. 33   “ For God is  not a God of confusion but of peace.”  How about the modern church ?   Why do we not  have a time  when  we allow  those with  prophetic  urges  to speak ?  I have  much sympathy  for such a need . I could see for instance  that at the end of  an exposition  of Scripture , when our hearts and minds have been  settled under the word of God  , a number of  spiritually minded  and accountable church members   might be given  the opportunity  to speak into our lives , to  warn us concerning a matter,  or  to exhort us  to love God and  one another more .

5.      Next , and in  this same context of the use of spiritual gifts ,  Paul addresses a controversial matter :“As in all the churches of the saints, [34] the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. [35] If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. This may come as a surprise  to us , since  in the OT it had been predicted that   at the time of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit  ( referring to Pentecost)  “ Your sons and daughters  shall prophesy!” ( Joel 2:28ff) . Peter the apostle quoted this  text on the day of Pentecost ( Acts 2:17) and Acts  21:9 makes mention of the fact  that Philip had four daughters that prophesied . Furthermore in 1 Cor 11:5 , Paul seemed to take it for granted that women would prophesy .  There is certainly no reason to believe that women  cannot be equally gifted in all areas of ministry ; there  is no reason  to believe  that women  cannot  contribute equally to the up-building to the church .  So what is the matter here ? The matter here  concerns order in public worship . Creation order  determines that  men must lead .  Men in this instance  are called to lead in public worship . That is the pattern from the beginning .   OT temple worship  knew of no  female priests , and it had nothing to do with OT male chauvinism or Hebrew culture . It was by God’s careful design  . This was apparently  the practice also in all the NT churches  ( 14:33)  . Jesus chose no female apostles  for the public ministry  which   was needed following His ascension.  Elders  and  diaconal leaders in the churches  were always  men , although it is clear that women  also  have   pastoral  gifts (e.g.  Priscilla the wife of Aquila – Acts 18 ) and diaconal  gifts ( e.g. Phoebe-  Rom 16:1 )  that build up the church.  God’s plan  for a woman   is  that she   should influence  mankind  “from  the bottom up “ , and not “from the top down “.  Ignoring God’s will  on this matter  has severe consequences .    In 1 Tim   2:14  Paul reminds  us  that  Eve’s fall  occurred when she ignored  her divinely ordained position  (i.e. when she began to ‘ desire’ her husband’s position) . Instead of following , she chose to lead . Instead of being  submissive  to God  she wanted to be like God . Paul reminds us  that it   was Eve  (not Adam) in this  aspect  who was first deceived . She listened to Satan. She sinned before Adam did. In this aspect she was the leader and he was the follower.  The reversal  of roles in this case led to the fall.

6.     Let no church think that she is an exception to the rule : ( 14: 36  ) . The Corinthians might have thought  that  they were superior  in the matter of  unrestrained tongue speaking, prophesying and giving little  attention  to  male leadership in the church , and so  Paul  rebukes and challenges  them : “[36] Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? [37] If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. [38] If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.  Paul engages in  some sarcasm here! Are you the mother church ?  Are you the only church ?  Did the Word of God ( i.e . the gospel ) originate in Corinth ?   Did the Gospel  stop here with you ?  In so doing  Paul appeals  that the practice of the other churches  is significant , and must be noted by the Corinthians . 

7.     But furthermore , the authority that Paul carries as an apostle , is of a higher order because it carries the direct  calling and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ  ( 14:37-38) . He bears the direct authority or  command of the Lord . So when Paul speaks on these matters to them , they ought to listen , and if not  - well , that meant  that  they were not recognized by God  in the authority that they claimed to bear . They would simply be men driven by their own impulses , and unfortunately there are far too many church like that ! Likewise , for us  the Scriptures ought to  have a higher authority  than the opinions of men.

8.      All things  should be done decently and in order. The  final exhortation is  that  all  worship should be marked  by  beautiful and peaceful order, and not by chaotic disorder , which inevitably happens  when men  and their ego’s  are big and God is small  and peripheral  to our worship .

God, in His Word has  given us  general principles    in terms of how the church ought to be organized  and led  in terms   of  spiritual  gifts and in terms  of   leadership [1]  .
The Corinthian church  had experienced a crisis of  fractured relationships  and chaotic  meetings   which were   induced  by  a lack of  proper respect to God and  His word  through the apostle Paul  , so that Paul  now had to  teach them  and remind them  that in the church  “… all things should be done decently and in order.”  ( 1 Cor 14:40) .  In verse 33  he  also has reminded them that God is  not  a God of confusion but of peace . In the immediate context he was speaking about  the use of tongues and prophecies , but  the principle surely   applies to  everything  done in the church !

The place   of  Worship  is not a place  for  self- expression . It is a place of adoration and for mutual up-building .  You must leave here  encouraged and thoughtful and resolved to serve God and His kingdom.

The place of worship  must be respected  . It is  for  this  reason  also  that  the first epistle to Timothy , the  pastor of the church at Ephesus  ( 1 Tim 1:3),   was written  . The   purpose for writing is explicitly  stated in  1 Timothy 3:14-15 :  “  Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that,  if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

When a large group of people get together  for a public worship meeting there  is even more  need  for self- restraint and control !   We cannot do as we please . We cannot  organize the church as we please  . The question as to  whether women  should occupy   eldership  positions in the church   is unfortunately no longer  an issue for many churches. It has , in fact  become  an entrenched  practice . Female pastors and elders  occupy the pulpit  and  leadership of many churches in Namibia  and in the world at large .  This is not helping the church .  We are not free  to  depart from the  divine design !  We need to be  faithful to the teaching of the Scriptures . We must not go with the times  , as if modern  times   were  more spiritual than the scriptures . As for us and our household we  will continue to hold on to   the  firm belief   that the Bible  is  not controversial  in these  matters ; neither is its teaching  ambiguous on this matter  ,  so that  it can be interpreted this way or that. 

[1] This principle  is   expounded by Paul in Ephesians 4:1-16

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