Sometimes when we divide a book up for a sermon series, we must make tough calls between what we don’t want to miss teaching for certain and what we would love to teach but don’t want to drag on the series for too long. In this case we had a blizzard a couple weeks ago that shoved our schedule around a bit. That being said, the purpose of this post today is to cover a topic that we had planned to cover in our series on 1 Corinthians but had to remove from the schedule so we could preach Jesus resurrected on Easter in chapter 15! So today I want to briefly touch on the topic of prophecy and what Paul describes as orderly worship for the church that we find in chapter 14.
There are a lot of things in the Bible that cause division when it comes to interpretation in the church, and two of those things happen to be found in this chapter: speaking in tongues and women’s roles. I feel like it needs to be said right out the gate that I am not attempting to cover those topics in depth here because what this passage is about at its core is orderly worship. More specifically, how the church should gather for worship in a way that seeks the edification of everyone in the community. So, let’s jump in.
When you examine 1 Corinthians 14 it is hard not to see speaking in tongues as a repetitive theme, but if you can look through some of the fog, even baggage, of that phrase what is just as common and more of the point Paul is trying to make here is the gift of prophecy. Multiple times Paul makes the point to say that prophecy is more valuable than speaking in tongues. In verse 1 he says, “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy.” Not so subtly in verse 5 he tells us that, “the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues”.
So why prophecy? I think when a lot of us hear the word prophecy we turn to the picture of someone predicting the future, preaching doom and gloom. To be fair, a decent amount of prophecy in the Old Testament involves predicting the future. In truth, Jesus began to fulfill all those future oriented prophecies predicting his arrival as our Messiah. But that is only a part of the picture when it comes to prophecy in the Bible, and not a full picture of what Paul is describing here.
In verse 3 he tells us what he means. He says, “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” John Calvin would describe it as “to speak edification” or “to speak what contains doctrine fitted to edify”. Maybe in Emmaus language according to these definitions we would say that it means “to speak the gospel over each other”. And Paul gives us a good reason to care more about prophesying than being able to speak in tongues. In verse 4 he says that speaking in tongues builds up yourself. It is a common theme so far in this letter that the Corinthians were pretty into building themselves up over the whole community. Paul even goes as far to say in in verses 23-25 that if you spend too much time speaking in tongues that outsiders will think you are crazy, but if you are all speaking the gospel to one another, prophesying, The Spirit can use that to convict and convert outsiders to faith! They will know God is among us when we use the gifts of the Spirit to care more about each other than ourselves.
What strikes me about that is that Paul is very clearly telling the church that what is more miraculous and edifying to the church and the city you are trying to reach isn't miraculously speaking in other foreign languages but being in tune with the Spirit in a way that comes out as encouragement, and exhortation, and consolation as we are taught by the Spirit. So how does all that play into orderly worship?
How does prophecy contribute to orderly worship and why is worship being orderly so important to God? In verse 26 Paul says, “Let all things be done for building up.” According to Paul, orderly worship contributes to the effectiveness of our gatherings being able to build up the body of Christ. Even prophesying has an order to it. It shouldn’t just happen however or whenever. In verse 31 he says, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may be encouraged”. Why so much order to the different elements of the gathering? Verse 33, “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” Our gatherings having order to them, even to the extent of what practices should carry the most weight, because the God we worship is the God of peace not confusion.
This isn't the only place we receive instruction on how the church should operate in scripture. Whether it is here, or in chapter 11 on instruction for Communion, or Ephesians when Paul encourages us to sing when we gather, or even instructions on how we structure our leadership, we take seriously the order we receive from scripture because those are the things God has given us for our peace and ultimately contribute to building us up. Yes, at first glance seeing Paul say that women should remain silent feels offensive and confusing, but the word silent here is the same word used to describe how all Christians should lead a “peaceful and quiet life” (1 Tim 2:2). Or when Peter says that women have an “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”. In other words, the silence of women here is not total silence, it is God’s instructive purposes for women not to seek authority in teaching or speaking in the gathering reserved for elders, who have been given that authority by God. If you want to hear more about that, you can check out our first post, but the point here is that nothing should be done in the gathering by man or woman that takes away from the purpose of building each other up and honoring what God has instructed to us for our peace.
As I said, I know this chapter has some odd, maybe even controversial things to say to us, but what I have taken away from 1 Corinthians 14 more than anything else is our clear calling to build one another up. You see this charge all over Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth and it is no different when we are talking about what we prioritize in our gathering. If we truly want to have orderly worship, we need to be for each other. We need to practice prophesy in our Gospel Communities, building each other up by speaking gospel truths over each other’s lives. We need to submit to the order in which our Prince of Peace has given us if the way we gather to worship is going to honor him. I hope this post finds you desiring more opportunities to earnestly desire to speak edification over those at Emmaus and beyond as we seek to show Inward and Outward Love in this city!