St Theodore's

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  Gifts and Worship 1 Cor 14


  Corinth must really have been a "happening" place. we sometimes have people complaining that St Theodore's is too noisy on a Sunday morning at 10 before the service begins or after it's over for them to be able to pray. Some people complain about the noise the kids make during the service. But by comparison to the church at Corinth our services are about as peaceful and quiet as you could imagine.
  From what we see here in ch14, when you went to church at Corinth you had people jumping up to speak in tongues, others would be trying to pass on a prophecy, the women, who probably sat in a balcony around the edge of the meeting area, or at least in a separate section of the room, would call out to their husbands every now and then to ask them a question or to get them to ask whoever was up the front. And the picture you get is a general hubbub of noise and confusion.
  So Paul says, hang on a second. This isn't how worship should be. Worship needs to be uplifting. It needs to be orderly. It needs to speak to all who are present, whether it's believers or unbelievers. So he gives a set of guidelines for conducting Christian worship.
   Tongues vs prophecy (1-25)
   The first issue he turns to, or in fact returns to, is the issue of tongues. Clearly the emphasis on the exercise of that particular gift was affecting the way their worship was conducted in a fairly unhelpful way.
   So he says, pursue love, as the foundation of all you do, and then strive for the spiritual gifts, but seek out prophecy before you seek tongues.
   There's nothing wrong with tongues as such, but that particular gift is a gift that benefits the one who has it, rather than the one who hears it. People who speak in tongues are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. What they say is between them and God.
   But in congregational worship what we need is people who will speak to others in the congregation. Those who prophesy do so for the sake of others, to build them up, to encourage them, or console them. Those who stand up and start spouting forth tongues are just building themselves up. There's perhaps a bit of irony in play here. These people are building themselves up by their experience of God, but maybe they're also puffing themselves up in their display of so-called spirituality. And as far as the congregation is concerned it's wasted because no-one knows what's being said. It's like a musical instrument that's got a rag stuck in it. Like when I pick up my guitar sometimes and accidentally forget to remove the pick from the strings. And when I start to play it you couldn't tell what I was playing. The effort is totally wasted. So too, if someone starts to speak in tongues, it's an interesting phenomenon, but it doesn't actually mean anything to me.
   Notice though that there's nothing wrong with speaking in tongues. He says he wishes that everyone could do it, because of the way it helps them experience their relationship with God. But how much better if they could all prophesy. That is, if every one of them was bringing God's word to bear on the lives of the congregation; if they were all speaking God's word into the situations that people found themselves in, so as to build up, encourage rebuke and console. The only way that can happen with tongues is if there's someone there to interpret. Notice, then, that immediately we see the limitation of tongues as a useful gift for the congregation. The issue isn't the validity or genuineness of the gift, it's the purpose for which it's given. Tongues is a gift that's given to the believer for his or her own edification, not for the edification of the church.
   So if you're going to speak in tongues ask for the ability to interpret what you're saying. Try to engage your mind as well as your spirit so that both can be productive and so that others can benefit.
   In fact when you put it into the context of the Church, of a congregation gathered together, you discover that it's even worse. The gift of tongues then becomes not just an encouragement to the one who exercises it, but it also shows up the outsider. First it shows up those in the church who are outsiders because they don't have your gift of tongues. But second it shows up those unbelievers who when they hear this hubbub of tongues going on conclude that you're all nuts, out of your mind.
   On the other hand if an unbeliever enters and hears someone prophesying, speaking the words of God, they can understand what's being said and respond appropriately, with repentance and worship. And rather than thinking "you're all nuts", they'll realise that God is at work amongst us.
   So here's the first lesson as far as worship is concerned. Make sure that what happens in worship will build up the church and help those who come in as visitors.
   But overarching that is the need for orderly worship.
   Orderly Worship (26-40)
   He assumes that when the church meets there will be a range of ministries or gifts being exercised. I think we Anglicans find this a bit difficult to understand. Despite the benefits of the Anglican liturgy it does have the drawback that it can limit our ability to improvise or even inhibit us in our willingness to be spontaneous and to offer the use of our gifts.
   But we need to do what we can to allow the Spirit to work in our midst. But in doing that, we need to do it in a way that helps those who are here.
   So he mentions 3 areas where worship can get out of hand.
   First he says "27If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. 28But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God." He limits the use of tongues to 2 or 3 people at the most and only then when there's an interpretation. Now presumably this means that if someone speaks in tongues we need to wait and if there's no interpretation then those with that gift should remain silent. Not even mumbling under their breath, even if they continue to pray in tongues, silently.
   On the other hand, when those with the gift of prophecy begin to offer their ministry, again he limits it to 2 or 3, but this time they're all to speak, then the others will weigh what's been said. Now I can't help but think that what he's talking about here is what happens in our Bible studies. One person comments on a passage or answers a question and the others in the group weigh what's been said. Similarly when someone else gets a new revelation the person speaking is to be silent and let the second person speak. I guess the rules here for orderly worship are equally relevant to orderly small groups and in fact in the early church the meetings would most probably have been mostly in small house churches.
   So our small groups function in lots of ways like the early church groups. So it's natural that we see some similarities. Maybe too, that's how we resolve that issue about the liturgy limiting our ability to be spontaneous. Maybe in the context of a larger church the main meeting is too large for spontaneity as well as orderliness, so small groups are the place where some of these gifts can be exercised more appropriately.
   But having said that we mustn't gloss over this instruction that the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets. This is an important corrective to those people who will say, "Well, I have a word from the Lord and you'd just better listen to it!" No, the person who has a word from the Lord needs to first check that word with others who also have the gift of prophecy. They might also need someone with a gift of discernment, or knowledge or wisdom, to work out what to do with such a word.
   Finally, he addresses the apparent issue of chatter that was going on during the assembly. It isn't exactly clear what's going on here, but certainly there's an issue of the disruption of worship by a group of women who are making what some people might call an unholy row.
   Now first I need to say that this isn't meant to be a prohibition on women speaking. [This is not why I'm leading the service today instead of Di.] In fact in 1 Cor 11, Paul makes it quite clear that it's OK for women to speak, to offer their particular gifts, of prophecy or prayer, providing they have their heads covered as a sign of their respect and humility.
   No, here the problem appears to be that women are calling out in the middle of the service to ask their husband a question, or perhaps to get him to ask the leader a question. Perhaps they're even trying to direct proceedings. Not that any women I know would want to do that! Perhaps too, in a context where the women were probably segregated, there was a tendency for them to chat amongst themselves while the men did their thing down the front. It could be that Paul, with a degree of irony, is suggesting that the women should take more seriously the gathering of the congregation, by remaining silent, just as those with the gift of tongues might need to, so that the church as a whole, men and women together, might be built up.
   Finally, Paul summarises what he's been saying first with a warning or is it an ultimatum? What I've said comes from God so if you don't recognise it, you're not recognised. If you claim the gift of prophecy then you should realise that what I'm saying is God's word.
   Secondly he says, "be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; 40but all things should be done decently and in order." There's no sense of prohibition or limiting the work of the Spirit in the congregation. Rather if the Spirit is to be enabled to work, then decency and order are needed to allow that work to happen.

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