Here Paul concludes this whole section on public worship and ties all the things together that he has already spoken about since chapter 11. He speaks about male and female roles in worship where he started in chapter 11, he talks about order, which was a problem in the Corinthians’ church regarding the Lord’s supper and their worship in chapter 12, and he talks about the gifts which was the topic of chapter 14. And what is his conclusion? That all things should be done decently and in good order.
Orderly worship allows for: 1) edification of the saints, 2) a proper reflection of the nature of God – that He is the God of order, and not of chaos, and 3) thirdly, a proper witness to the unsaved in our midst. Disorderly worship, on the other hand, makes proper edification difficult, reflects poorly on who God is, and causes the unsaved to think Christians are out of their minds.
Church of God, all things should be done decently and in order:
1. Edification of the saints
2. How to do that with our relationships
3. Because it’s not about us but God
Edification of the saints
“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.” Here Paul explains how to do things decently and in good order when using our gifts.
Notice the “each one”. All of us have gifts, and that is beautiful – but those gifts are not for us, but for other, so that all of us share each other’s gifts. As one author writes, the triune God loves diversity – so much so, as someone has remarked, that when he sends a snowstorm, he makes each flake different. We manufacture ice cubes. Doubtless the church is in some sense like a mighty army, but that does not mean we should think of ourselves in undifferentiated uniforms. We should be more like an orchestra: each part making its own unique contribution to the symphonic harmony.
Bellville, we are a symphonic harmony playing to the glory of God! In the world diversity leads to chaos, as everyone is competing to be heard, but in the church, it should lead to order, and beauty, as all the diversity comes together in the bond of love to bring glory to God.
The problem is not that each one comes with a hymn, lesson, revelation, tongue, or interpretation. The problem is that they all wanted to be first. It was not done for the building up of the church, but for their own building up. It was done to be noticed, not to highlight the manifold wisdom of God.
It is like one of those family meals when you were younger, or maybe still is that way when everyone is speaking at the same time, and everyone just gets louder and louder, until finally one of the parents almost have to shout to be heard, and say, “Stop it! One at a time!” because no one is hearing anyone anymore, and everyone just wants to be heard. When the church is more about getting your voice heard, rather than patiently listening to others, there is a problem.
So how do we build up? Three lessons we take from the passage.
A few times in these verses he makes that point. Verse 27 says, “If any speak in a tongue, Let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn.” Verse 30, “If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.” Verse 31, “For can all prophecy one by one so that all may learn and be encouraged.” The end goal of the prophecy is not to highlight the one who gave it, but to encourage, and teach those to whom it is given. So, it is not about being heard, the question is, “Is anyone listening?!” And they can’t listen when it’s a mess. We want to point together to Christ, we want to be a symphony proclaiming Gods glory, not tooting our own horn.
It’s like a Bible study when everyone just shows up to make their point that they learned that week. To show how smart they are. They quit listening to each other, and can’t wait till it’s their turn to hear their own voice. And no one leaves encouraged and built up. Some people leave puffed up, and others feel like they know nothing. If we were doing it for the sake of love, listening would be our primary objective.
This also means that there is no such thing as an uncontrollable gift. Sometimes that is what is claimed about the gifts of tongues or prophecy. And others can act that way with their tongue.
Make sure it’s understandable
The second thing that the apostle makes clear is that it ought to be understandable. With tongues he says in verse 27, “If any speak in a tongue, let them be only two or three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.” And with prophesy he says, “for you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” If it is to build up, and be orderly, the church needs to know what is being said. You can speak to me about the beauty of the gospel in French, or Xhosa, or Chinese, but it will not benefit me at all. The point is that all should be as verse 31 says, “learn and be encouraged.” Notice again the “all”. This is about the whole body. The gifts are given for the upbuilding of the body first and foremost. We want no one in this church missing out on growth. That is why the preacher must also take care to prepare his sermon in a way that is understandable. That it builds up.
Think about it!
And finally, we must weigh what is said. Verse 29 says, “Let two or three prophets speak and let the others weigh what is said.” And then again in verse 32, “And the Spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”
No one in the church should take anything simply because the minster or elder says so. The fact that they say so, ought to carry weight, but the church should eagerly examine the Scriptures to see if it really is the Word of God they are dealing with.
And he concludes this section and introduces the next section with the fact that “God is not a God of confusion and of peace.” He is a God not of confusion but of peace, when it comes to how we use our gifts, but also relationally.
As a proper reflection of the nature of God he says in verse 33-34, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.” As in all the churches, this is not something that is confined or limited to the Corinthian church. This is a principle to be followed in all churches. “For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission as the law also says.”
Just a few notes here: 1. In other sections where Paul talks about the role of men and women, he goes back to the creation account which was part of the law. He could be doing the same here, when he says, “as the law also says.” And secondly he is most likely thinking, the church just read 1 Corinthians 11, so I don’t need to repeat everything I have said there. I think he is referring back to 1 Corinthians 11 because the word ‘shameful’ appears only here and there in verse 11:6, where Paul once again is talking about submission. Therefore, if you have questions here, I encourage you to again listen to that sermon. I think it’s important to say here, that the way we interact as men and women, in the roles God has given in church and home reflects Gods beauty, his structure in creation, it is upbuilding the church and is a witness to the world.
He goes on, “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.” Now before you get me in trouble, this is what the Bible says. It’s very non-21st century language. What is going on in these verses? Is he contradicting himself in 1 Corinthians 11:5, which says that women were “praying and prophesying” in the church? Paul doesn’t rebuke their praying and prophesying in church there.
Now there is one commentator that gives ten different interpretations for this passage. Most of them quite far out. But nonetheless, there is disagreement. I think we need to read this in context. Paul is restricting silence when it comes to the public interpretation of the Word of God. Or as Paul says in the previous verse, “Let them weigh what is said.” This fits well with the other Biblical evidence on this passage.
And again, he is not against them learning! That would have been the case in that time. No, he encourages them to take it up with their husbands. To speak about it and ask about it. May that be happening in our homes!
And why all this order and structure? This is about God glorifying, church building, world witnessing order.
God is a God of Order. So let’s glorify Him in orderly worship
We need an orderly worship service for the glory of God for the edification of saints and for the witness to the watching world.
Now, there are people who Paul expects to oppose what he has just said, so in the last few verses, he says, "Or was it from you that the Word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?" (1 Cor 14:36). Basically, he knows that like today, back then there would be those who say, "Who says you are right, Paul? We believe there's a better way to conduct our worship services." Paul then says, "Are you the one who has been given the Word of God?“
"If anyone thinks that he's a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I'm writing to you are a command of the Lord." (1 Cor. 14:37). So he's saying, "Don't challenge me, I know that these are commands from God." It is a not-so-subtle way of saying that those who reject his word are false prophets and unspiritual.
As he says in verse 38, "If anyone does not recognize this, he's not recognized." He's really not part of the kingdom. If you reject the Word of God as given through Paul – then you do not belong to the kingdom.
"So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues." (1 Cor. 14:39) Again, Paul is not against these spiritual gifts. He's only saying, use them in the right way.
"But all things should be done decently and in order." (1 Cor. 14:40). This is the conclusion for the whole section. So, what should that look like for us, Bellville? What should orderly, decent worship be like? I think, we have objective principles to discern if a worship service is pleasing to God or not. It's not based on feelings, it's based on revelation. It’s Biblically informed and culturally relevant in the sense that it’s understandable. Its creates an environment where we can all grow and it’s not about one person’s gifts.
We can go all traditional and it looks orderly, but there is no encouragement taking place. A graveyard is orderly. But that is not what the church is, the church is the church of the Resurrected.
No, we don't pursue order for the sake of order alone. What we do in an orderly fashion should aim towards edification not puffing up. I think this is a great danger, whether it's a preacher or the member in the pew or at Bible study. It’s true especially for these men you see. They are here to serve. They are called to humble service.
The attention should be on Jesus and Jesus alone – that is what Paul is getting at. You see we like to sneak into the frame. Oh, we want Jesus to be in the picture, but we also want ourselves to be in the limelight! We want to photobomb the gospel and make ourselves part of the good news. We want people to think God is awesome and that I am too. But that is not a church. That is a personality cult!
One theologian said, "There is a fine line between wanting God to use you for His glory and wanting everyone to know it. It's a fine line between pure worship and idolatry." And I think this is particularly relevant for those who may feel that their gifts are strong. For elders, deacons, pastors, leaders. For those who grew up Christian. We don’t grow in humility, but in pride. Your gifts can be used powerfully to serve God's people, but it can also be twisted wickedly to bring glory to yourself. A gift is a good thing, but a good thing when it is turned for selfish purposes becomes a terrible thing.
So today, it's a question for us. Why do you do what you do? Why do you teach in Sunday School? Why do you lead Bible Group? Why do you make a meal? Why would you serve as ushers? Why are you an elder, or deacon?
Do you fish for affirmation? Are you discouraged when no one applauds you or worse still, are you devastated when there is criticism coming your way? Are you frustrated when you see others do well? Do you share your weakness and sin? Are you happy to serve unnoticed? I hope by the grace of God, we can all pray like John the Baptist, "May Christ increase and may I decrease." Then all things will be done for the building up of the body of Christ the church, to the glory of the Father, as a witness to a watching world.