Worship: Order Out of Chaos
Topic: Spiritual Gifts Passage: 1 Corinthians 14:26–14:40
“WORSHIP: ORDER OUT OF CHAOS”
1 Corinthians 14:26-40
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
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.
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 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. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.
“Hoarders” is a reality television series that depicts the real-life struggles and treatment of people who suffer from what has been labeled by therapists as “compulsive hoarding disorder.” A person who is classified as a “hoarder” is one who has developed a pattern of excessive acquisition of items that have literally taken over the living space in one’s home, thus creating physical and psychological health issues. The accumulated items often include piles of junk mail, stacks of old newspapers and magazines, empty shopping bags and receipts, broken appliances, out-of-date clothing, garbage from partially eaten food, empty but unrinsed cans, animal feces, dead and living insects...and well, you get the idea.
For the uninvited who dare to enter such a dwelling, it is an apt description of “chaos.” But for persons suffering from CHD, there is a sense of “order” to their bizarre surroundings. That is why it is so threatening when someone confronts them about their living situation and presses upon them to seek help in getting their lives organized. As far as these persons are concerned, they already have things in order. It is “home” to them, and they are “comfortable.” Even amidst piles of rubbish, they can tell you where every item exists and why it is “much too valuable or necessary” to be discarded.
I share that illustration as a prelude to today’s message because it is possible for church services on Sunday to be more chaotic than worshipful. We may think that we are worshiping the Lord, when in reality we may be neglecting God’s prescribed formula for worship. That was certainly the case in the church at Corinth. Strangely enough
the Christians living in that city thought that they were “worshiping,” when in reality their “worship” services bordered on “chaos.” Specifically, there appeared to have been a high degree of “individualized worship”—if we dare call it that—in their corporate gatherings.
Throughout the epistle that the Apostle Paul wrote to them, he addressed a number of troubling issues that demonstrated their spiritual immaturity. Most recently, in chapters 12 through 14, the topic has been “spiritual gifts”...in particular, the Corinthians’ misunderstanding and misuse of the enablings with which God had equipped them for worship and service. Therefore, as we come to these final verses of chapter 14 today, we find Paul drawing the net around this subject.
What we see in verses 26 through 40 are directions for the proper use of the “spiritual gifts” for believers when they came together for worship. What we learn here specifically is that the gathering of the local church is to be conducted in an orderly manner so that all will be edified and God will be glorified. Although there is no established order for a church service prescribed in the Scriptures, it must be carried out in a way that accurately reflects the character of God.
When you came into this service today, you were handed a church bulletin. On the first inside page there is printed an “order of service.” Perhaps you have never realized that every item that is listed there has been carefully thought through and prayed over this past week in the planning of this service. From the opening “call to worship,” to the prayers, to the reading of the Scriptures, to the manner in which we collect the offering, through the message that is preached, to the gathering to observe the Lord’s Supper, and including even the benediction are all centered upon the united theme of the day. In other words, there is an “order” to what we do, and a purpose for that order.
We do that because we attempt to follow “the regulative principle” of worship as closely as we can, meaning that we believe the Scriptures themselves give specific guidelines for what is and what is not to be included in the corporate worship gatherings of God’s people. We want our services, first and foremost, to be honoring to God and edifying to God’s people.
The church at Corinth had not yet learned that principle, or at least they were not following it. Because the “gifts” of “prophecy” and “tongues” had been so abundantly bestowed and were prominent among these believers, they needed to be reminded once again of...
The governing principle regarding the “gifts” (verse 26)
...which is found in verse 26. So, Paul restates what he has already alluded to several times before: “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
One can almost hear the confusion which may have been emanating from the worship gatherings in Corinth. The rapid-fire listing of these five items suggests that everyone wanted to have their “say”—to make their presence at the service known, if you will—without considering what was best for everyone else. The writer had to remind them not to be so hasty, but to strive for the “building up” of others.
We seem to have the opposite problem in the contemporary church. Whereas “each one” in Corinth was eager to a fault in wanting to display his or her gift, comparatively few are those today who are earnestly desirous of participating in the ministry and making their contribution. One commentator has written,
Unfortunately, in most churches today the worship experience is structured in such a way that a very small group of people...does virtually all of the speaking and ministering to the rest of the congregation, which is often treated as an audience rather than as members of the body with gifts that should be used for the edification of the rest of the body.
Being a part of a smaller church affords all of us greater opportunity to serve. And that’s a good thing. The legendary football coach, Bud Wilkinson, was once asked to define a football game. His response was, “A football game is twenty two men running around on a field in desperate need of a rest, while fifty thousand people sit in the stands in desperate need of exercise.” May that not be said of Temple Hills Baptist Church. As Paul put it, “Let all things be done for building up.” This is the governing principle for the exercise of the “gifts” for whenever the saints gather.
Turning to the specific “gifts” that held prominence in the church at Corinth, the apostle next lays down some guidelines related to their usefulness. Here he explains...
The governing procedures regarding “tongues” and interpretation (verses 27-28).
Throughout 1 Corinthians 14, Paul has repeatedly taught the “spiritual gifts” are given for the strengthening of the local church. Verse 26 has served to reiterate that: “Let all things be done for building up.”
The gift of speaking in languages (or “tongues”) serves that purpose, but only if certain criteria are met. Those stipulations are mentioned in verses 27 and 28. In the first place, there should be “only two or at most three” speakers of languages sharing publicly in any church gathering. Secondly, “tongues”-speakers must take turns so that their words do not overlap and degenerate into meaningless chatter. And then third, someone must be present who is able to interpret what is said. If those criteria are not met, then those who speak in a “tongue” must remain “silent in church.”
All of us have probably been involved in conversations where a number of people are all trying to talk at the same time. We have to strain to hear with any clarity what any one of them might be saying. One can imagine a further scene in the church when people are all speaking at once and all in a different language. That would be totally chaotic.
Paul concedes that someone with the gift of “tongues” may have a viable message to share. But even so, without someone to interpret to the group, he or she is to “keep silent.” It has been well observed that the act of being silent is a demonstration of “self-control,” which, as Galatians 5:23 points out, is a “fruit of the Spirit.”
The apostle’s point is that order must prevail in the worship service. Without it, no real “act of worship” of God can take place. Such orderliness—two or three language-speakers taking turns, and none speaking without there being someone to interpret—is the proper environment for the Gospel to flourish.
The “prophesying gift” also strengthens the church, but as with “tongues” there are also proper stipulations that must be followed. So, in verses 29 through 33, we find...
The governing procedures regarding “prophecy” and discernment (verses 29-33).
First, again we notice that only two or three prophets should speak in a church gathering. Second, other prophets should “weigh (or evaluate) what is said” in order to discern its authenticity and orthodoxy. I remind you that Paul’s instructions were given when there was still no New Testament as we know it. At that time, God spoke His revelation to “prophets,” who in turn passed it along to the church when it assembled. Because “false prophets” were known to infiltrate the meetings of the saints (cf. 1 John 4:1), discernment was required in order to assess their validity. This is what Paul refers to in this passage.
Today we have a complete revelation from God—the Bible—which is our “touchstone” for evaluating every sermon or Bible lesson that we hear. Like the early Bereans, we too are charged to embrace “the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things (are) so” (Acts 17:11). You should do that with every message you hear from this pulpit or elsewhere.
No more than two or three prophets are to speak and their pronouncements are to be “weighed” according to their soundness. A third stipulation is seen in verse 30. If, while a prophet is speaking, another prophet sitting in the congregation receives a revelation, the first prophet is to “be silent.” This command is an appeal to both self-control and deference. Once again, it would be difficult to imagine both people prophesying simultaneously. The reason for this orderly sequence is given in verse 31, and again we se that it is “so that all may learn and be encouraged.”
Paul seems to anticipate objection to his instructions, which is why he adds in verse 32, “spirits of the prophets are subject to prophets.” “Prophetic utterances”—whether spoken in languages familiar or foreign—if they are truly of God, will not result in uncontrollable and unintelligible babblings. They will be completely under the control of the speaker. Many so-called “tongues-speakers” today seem to have missed that verse.
Therefore, the writer adds a significant theological justification for the guidelines he has just given, explaining, “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” “Disorder” and “disturbance,” which is what the word “confusion” (“ακαταστασια”) means, have no rightful place in the public worship gatherings of God’s people. But to be clear, the “peace” to which he refers, does not mean “quiet.” It implies that a sense of “harmony” will prevail, and that the sought-for “building up” of the body will occur.
Paul’s third example of strengthening the church and edifying the body deals with the role of women within the congregation, particularly the statement in verse 34 that they are to “keep silent.” There are several prominent evangelical scholars who believe verses 34 and 35 to be an interpolation of the biblical text. In other words, they argue with critical observation that Paul did not originally write them. Instead, they presume that an early scribe jotted them in the margin of his copy and that they inadvertently found their way into the biblical text. It’s an interesting theory, but one that seems to be more of a convenient way of getting the apostle “off the hook” with regard to a controversial topic. And while there are some interpretive difficulties, I’m convinced that Paul did write it.
What we see here are...
The governing procedures regarding the participation of women (verses 34-35)
...in the worship service. Let’s begin by reading the latter part of verse 33, because it actually seems to fit with verses 34 and 35:
“As in all the churches of the saints, 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. 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.”
At first glance, Paul’s reason for introducing this topic seems puzzling, especially since he had already taught in chapter 11(:5) that women may pray and prophesy. Whatever else Paul may be saying, he is not saying that women ought to remain silent in church at all times. One of our first interpretive observations is that the words and thoughts being conveyed here are in agreement with what he has been teaching throughout this section. Look back at how concepts like “keeping silent,” “speaking” and “submitting” appear under all three of the headings the apostle addresses in this passage. In other words, there is congruity of thought found here. The main point, remember, is that God is concerned with bringing order out of chaos so that His church may be edified and He may be glorified.
The transition from verse 33 and 34 further suggests that Paul is continuing his instruction regarding the evaluation of prophetic messages within the public assembly. The threefold reference to the “church” establishes the context of Paul’s exhortation. Nevertheless, Paul is quite clear elsewhere—namely from the subservient role of women found as far back as Genesis 3:16, as well as his later teaching in 1 Timothy 2(:11-15)—that women have not been granted the role of “instructional authorities” within the local church.
Women, of course, may and do participate in the teaching ministry of the church. What they are not permitted to participate in, according to the context that Paul is addressing, is in the “oral weighing” of the prophetic pronouncements being made. That responsibility is not granted to women in any of the churches. At the same time, Paul does want women to be “left in the dark” with regard to prophetic messages, so he encourages them to ask their questions in a more appropriate setting, namely of “their husbands at home.”
In that context, then, they are not permitted to speak. That being the case, the instruction that the apostle offers here is consistent with what he has written elsewhere. Pointing out once again the “keep silent” command—seen in verse 28 with reference to “tongues,” verse 29 in the context of “prophecy,” and here in verse 34 with regard to the participation of women—we can see what holds them together is the need for self-control within the local assembly if Gospel is to be clearly communicated and the glory of God is to be publicly displayed.
And that is, appropriately enough, where the apostle will land his lengthy discussion of the “spiritual gifts.” He will conclude with the ultimate reason for which the Lord has so equipped His church, namely...
The glorification of God through the exercise of the “gifts” (verses 36-40).
By way of summary of what he has said in these three chapters, Paul’s concluding paragraph emphasizes that all of the “gifts” are to be preferred according to their respective value for the church and are to be exercised in a proper and orderly way, according to the divine command.
The writer begins drawing his argument to a close by asking a pair of rhetorical questions intended to lead into his claim for his own apostolic authority and divine inspiration for the words he wrote and spoke. Apparently there were those in the Corinthian church who seemed to think that their claims to prophetic revelation were equal to or even surpassed those of the Apostle Paul. So deep was their spiritual pride. The litmus test both then and now is whether or not all teaching that takes place in the local church is measured by the revealed Word of God. Prophetic utterings were to be tested by the Scriptures and not vice versa.
The writer goes so far as to add, “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” Another way of saying that would be to ask, “If you disregard or even minimize the Scriptures, then upon what foundation are you able to presume that you are a Christian?” It is within those Scriptures that the Lord’s means of salvation is made known. It is within those Scriptures that Jesus Christ is revealed to us. I can’t help but think that Paul had in mind the words that Jesus spoke as he drew to an end of His Sermon on the Mount:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
When Jesus spoke those alarming words, I believe He did so with tears in His eyes, because as the Scriptures declare, “The Lord is...not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). There are many sitting in church congregations every week who are living according to the standard of their own thoughts and emotions, rather than on what the Lord has revealed to us through His Word. Unless they repent, there will be a fearful day of reckoning.
That Word tells us that we are all sinners and have fallen short of the infinitely righteous standard of a holy God. It further tells us that the only way for the gap to be bridged that separates us from God and condemns us is for Him to provide the remedy. And that is what He has done by coming to earth in the form of His Son, Jesus, living a perfectly sinless life, and bearing the wrath of God in our place when He hung upon the cross. Through His death we have access to life. While the debt of our sin is charged to His account, His righteousness is credited to ours. When we believe that from the heart and turn from our sin, God “recognizes” us and places us as sons and daughters in His family. And unless we come to God that way—His way—and not by any other, we will not be “recognized” by Him. It is a sobering thought, and not one to be trifled with.
Thus, Paul concludes this chapter in much the way that it began: “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” In other words, “Be zealous to receive every ‘gifting’ that the Lord has for His church. “But (and here is the caveat) all things should be done decently and in order.”
The word that is translated “decently” (“ευσχημονοs”) literally means “according to a good scheme or good pattern.” It refers to conduct that is fitting and proper. The Christian church is always to function in a “decent and orderly” manner. That is because several things are at stake, not the least of which are the glory of God, the reputation of Jesus Christ, and the clarity of the Gospel. And every Christian is responsible for his or her part in maintaining and preserving the “decency and orderliness” of the church.
“Let all things bed done for building up.” (verse 26)
“For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” (verse 33).
“All things should be done decently and in order.” (verse 40)
Sometimes, in their own ways, churches can become “hoarders.” Our worship experiences can at times be rather chaotic, having no common theme or sense of order. It is not uncommon for those who attend regularly to become familiar with the “status quo” and think that they are worshiping, when in reality they are merely going through the same disordered and self-prescribed motions week after week. There should be a unified purpose for everything we do in our church gatherings, and that purpose should always be to point us to the “preeminent” One (cf. Colossians 1:18), Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul’s instructions throughout chapters 12 through 14 of this epistle—and within this chapter in particular—have all been intended to guide the Corinthians to a more orderly and fitting approach to the use of spiritual gifts in worship so as to better foster God’s purposes and not their own.
Whenever we gather as God’s people, we must always be mindful that it is God’s glory which is to be our preoccupation in worship. And we are only able to honor Him when we maintain an atmosphere that does not distract others or ourselves from His glory. That is not meant to foster passivity in our worship...in fact, just the opposite. We are not here to edify ourselves, but to edify one another and to bring honor and glory to our great God, who has called the church into existence in the first place.
The greatest “gift” for the “building up” of the church is the presence of the living God. If people experience God’s presence in worship, they will be edified. There will be the conviction of sin and the discovery of need for repentance and trust. Jesus Christ has assured us that He “will build (His) church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). May those of us who are a part of His building project do nothing to obstruct the work He gave His life to found and even now, through us, labors to complete.