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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 14:26-33


How Is It Then, Brethren?  1st Corinthians 14:26-33

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.

Paul has been teaching the Corinthians about respect for the Doctrine of Headship in the church, he has been laying out the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper; he has dealt with the nature and purpose of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church, and the gift of speaking with other tongues in particular.  Now he makes some practical recommendations to the Corinthian Christians.  He begins by asking, How is it then, brethren?  What should your worship really be like?  You will see that his ultimate conclusion is that all our worship should be reflect decency, and be orderly and be peaceful.  He gives instruction to the church in three respects:-

The Congregation at Worship

a)      Worship must be PLENARY! when ye come together Paul simply assumes here that we will meet together for corporate worship.  It is the most natural thing in the world for a Christian!  A Christian will have an ingrained urge to meet with other believers!  I cannot understand why Christians do not attend prayer meetings these days!  An evangelist was taking a series of services in a Presbyterian Church in Scotland.  The minister of the church told him, “Preach the Word and invite men and women to come to Christ, but don’t make any appeals, or ask people to stay behind, or issue any decision cards.”  “How will we know if someone has been converted?” enquired the evangelist.  “That’s easy,” said the minister.  “They’ll be at the prayer meeting!”  Just as birds of a feather flock together, so true Christians will seek out fellowship with other believers.  There is no such thing as a solitary Christian, for coming to faith in Christ means coming into a relationship with the other members of the family of God.  All but the most dysfunctional families meet together, and enjoy each other’s company!

b)      Worship must be PUBLIC!  Paul has already implied this in verse 23, where he has allowed for the possibility that unbelievers and people who are unlearned about Christianity may make their way into the church assembly.  We must always make sure that our services are welcoming to unbelievers and visitors.  A number of years ago I met a gentleman who belonged to a very strict, exclusive Brethren sect.  One Sabbath morning at around 5-30am I was making my way through a County Down town when I noticed this man and his wife and family making their way into a small meeting hall!  There was no notice of service times on the hall, and I was amazed that someone should be meeting at such an early hour.  Later I mentioned this to him, pointing out that his hall had no schedule of services outside the hall.  “Oh,” he replied, “It’s not so strange really.  We have our services at unusual times, and make no public announcements of meeting times, to keep people like you out!”  I don’t know if he was being serious, or facetious!  The worship of the church MUST be available to others!

c)      Worship must be PARTICIPATORY! every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.  Now we must notice that in Corinth, worship was a participatory affair.  Some people would sing a song (psalm), some would come with some teaching, and some others would have had some spiritual insight to impart.  Paul’s point is that if everyone tried simultaneously to gain control of the service chaos would ensue and the church would not be built up, sinners would not be convinced of their sin and the whole episode would bring no glory to God.  Now our services in the church today, (at least as far as reformed worship is concerned) would not have that kind of disordered confusion, although it may be seen in charismatic churches.  But still, our services must be participatory.  We must make clear that in worshiping the Lord, no believer is a bystander or a spectator, for we are all involved!  We must all offer our praise, we must all pray, we must all consider the Word of God.

d)      Worship must be PREPARED FOR!  Notice too that Paul says that everyone in the Corinthian meeting has something to contribute.  They had come with a song to sing, with a doctrine to impart.  Let us take singing as an example.  In the early church there were no hymnbooks!  These Gentile Corinthians would not have had the in-depth instruction in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jewish Christians would have had, and they would not have known the psalms by heart.  To sing a psalm, preparation was involved!  The Corinthian Christians would have had to learn the psalm before they could sing it, and yet, interestingly, this prepared song was considered here by Paul as part of the spiritual gifting of the church!  Is that not interesting, and does it not show us that spiritual gifts are more than just extempore outbursts as the Charismatics believe?    A beautiful choir piece can be a wonderful spiritual gift!  Again, such preparation for worship would enhance the whole worship of the church.  How often do we prepare for worship?  Can’t we picture the scene in some homes on the Sabbath morning, as Christians struggle to get up out of bed after a late night on Saturday, as they try to get organised for breakfast and get the kids ready and the husband and the wife berate each other over the time taken in the bathroom…  And then of course they arrive at the Lord’s House, and they miss the Prayer Meeting and they smile benignly at their fellow ‘worshippers’ and they politely whisper ‘Good Morning.’  Only the Lord knows what has gone on beforehand!  And we expect to worship the Lord and be blessed in our worship!  What a great difference to our worship we would notice if we would just spend a short time in prayer, and read the Word before we make our way to church.  But then that might mean getting up just a bit earlier…

e)      Worship must be PURPOSEFUL! Let all things be done unto edifying.  And as we have already seen, this is the point of this whole chapter.  Our worship must build up the Christians in their faith, it must not only be glorifying to God but it must be educational for the Christians.

The Individual at Worship

This is a specific situation at Corinth, this business of people dominating the worship with their ability to speak in a language they had not learned, thus abusing a gift that God had given them.  But again there are some basic underlying principles we can derive from Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians…

The individual must:-

a)      Interact with the rest of the congregationIf any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret   Paul is referring to these people who had a spiritual gift of speaking in languages that they had never learned.  They were to be aware of the other people in the service.  No more than two or three of them were to speak, and they were to do so by ‘course’, one after the other, and if there was not someone in the service who could translate what they were saying, then they were not to speak in an unknown language at all.  They were to be aware of who was in the service, and to interact with them!  The great lesson here is that in a service of worship we cannot afford to act purely as individuals!  A man in a Pentecostal church where I had been the pastor completely failed to understand this principle.  He could not see why he should do what others were doing in a meeting.  When the convenor of the service asked the congregation to stand to sing a hymn , he invariably remained seated.  When everyone else was seated, he stood up.  He claimed that he was simply ‘moving in the spirit,’ but in reality all that he was achieving was to distract others from worshipping the Lord by his actions.  He was drawing so much attention to himself that the Lord was being robbed of the attention and focus of the people.  Remember the words of John the Baptist, who said John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.   In worship we must see Jesus, not a man, so no individual must take our eyes off Him!

b)      Interact with his own spirit! But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself.  The tongue speaker who could not speak in the church, could always speak to himself, and do so outside the confines of the church service!  Inside the church, he could content himself with his own inward thoughts.  Indeed he must do so!  Worship should be contemplative and thoughtful!

c)      Interact with God! and to God  The now-restricted but spiritually gifted person must understand that he speaks to God!  Surely that is the whole object of worship, that we should approach the throne of grace and worship the Lord, that our souls would commune with Him, and that our spirit would communicate with the Holy Spirit.  This form of interaction with Deity is beautifully expressed by Paul in Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: Romans 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

The Preacher at Worship

In this passage we get a picture, a little vignette of a service of worship in the early church. It was far more informal than the type of service that we would recognise today.  Can you see in this picture that there appears to be no single pastor in place in the local church at Corinth?  Instead there seems to have been, at Corinth a plurality of elders who managed the affairs of the local church.   Around AD95 Clement of Rome, (Clement was the pastor or bishop of the Roman Church at that time) wrote to the Corinthians addressing his letter to the elders and deacons in the CorinthianChurch. It presupposes that Corinth was governed, not by a single bishop or minister, but by a committee of sorts.   Other churches had a single elder, such as Jerusalem, where James, the Lord’s brother was the pastor. No doubt, being Corinthians, these elders and deacons had been ‘puffed up’ as they each considered themselves, and their ministries, as being of supreme importance! That attitude must have carried over into their conduct of the public worship of the church!  Paul helps them by giving some guidelines for preachers and leaders of meetings at Corinth:-

a)      There must be an order of service! Let the prophets speak two or three.  William Barclay refers to these ‘prophets’ as ‘forthtellers of the truth.’[i]   They are the preachers, and they should preach one after the other, as many as two or three!

b)      There should be an evaluation of the message!  and let the other judge.  Preachers should never be given the luxury of an unexamined and uncriticised hearing!  One of the great blessings of the Protestant Reformation was that the Bible was placed in the hands of every believer.  The Protestant minister is not a priest.  He cannot speak ‘ex cathedra’ and he cannot expect that his hearers will listen to what he says and simply accept that his word is law!  It is the responsibility of others in the congregation to listen to the preacher’s words, and to weigh them against the Bible and to see whether what he has said is truth!  We must be like the Christians of Berea, who in Acts 17:11-12 received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed.

c)      There ought to be a respect for the plurality of leadership! If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one that all may learn, and all may be comforted.    The Amplified Bible reads, “If an inspired revelation comes to another who is sitting by, then let the first one be silent.”  We see here:-

  1. Respect for church authority.  No two people could occupy the pulpit at once.  It is doubtful if one could interrupt the other, for that in itself would contradict the principle of order that Paul is advocating here.  Probably the Amplified is closer to the true meaning, that the first speaker must be silent (have stopped speaking) BEFORE the new revelation is given.  But notice also that this allows for:-
  2. Opportunities for lay-preachers!  I dislike the use of the terms ‘clergy’ and ‘laity.’  There is no such distinction in Scripture.  Ministers are distinguished only by their function in the church.  But for want of a better word, let us notice here that Corinth had no ‘clergy!’  No-one at Corinth was a ‘professional minister’ and opportunity was given for ‘competent proclaimers’ to speak.  Of course today, we live such busy lives that we cannot expect ‘lay’ people to continually provide weekly ministry for the church.  The demands of pastoral ministry, spiritual exercise and sermon preparation on a minister’s time are great!  But we must never believe that the pulpit is restricted to a handful of ‘qualified’ men.

d)      There needs to be a self-control demonstrated!  These ‘forthtellers of truth,’ these preachers must never be out of control!  You can see what might happen.  I have mentioned before a group of fanatics in the early church called the Montanists.  They whipped themselves up into a frenzy, and spoke in ecstatic gibberish and utter wild prophecies.  They claimed that the Holy Spirit took control of them and that they were not responsible for what they said.  Paul would have disagreed!  He said,  And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.  There is no irresistible influence working on these prophets, forcing them to speak, they could and should exercise self control!

I have said that this passage is the practical outworking of Paul’s previous teaching on Spiritual Gifts.  Paul’s next sentence makes this plain.  For God is not the author of confusion!  It is as simple as it is emphatic.   Confusion in worship is not of the Lord, and all churches, which permit such confusion, stand rebuked by Paul’s words.  But Paul tells us here, not just what God is not, but what He is, He IS the AUTHOR OF PEACE, and that is what should characterise the churches of the saints.

[i]               Barclay, William,                  1st Corinthians, DSB,                                          St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1986 Pg 133

From → Sermon Notes

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