Spiritual Gifts: Worship is for Edification

Tongues and prophecy in the worship service (I Corinthians 14:23-25)

Paul transitions from comparing the use of tongues and prophecy in general to their use in the worship service. Worship doesn’t happen all the time or by accident. Paul speaks of times when all Christians in an area are called out to gather at a specific place. It is something purposefully done.

In times of worship, there will be people in the assembly who are not yet Christians, either because they haven’t yet learned the truth or haven’t accepted the truth. Paul asks the Corinthians to consider what impression they would make on these people if everyone gathered spoke in different languages. Imagine a service where prayer is offered in Latin, while a song is sung in German, and the preacher gets up and speaks in Malaysian. No one would be able to follow what is going on. It would appear to be a madhouse of babbling sounds because no information is getting across.

But this would not happen if everyone prophesied. Each would be speaking the words of God but in their own language. Those words would have meaning to the non-Christian and could reach his heart, convicting him of his sins and his need for salvation (John 16:18). Each and everyone gathered would contribute to the conversion of a lost soul. The things each person keeps buried deep within would be seen by the unbeliever in a new light changing the way he sees himself, his motives, and the world around him. As a result, glory will be given to God. It is not necessary to assume that the prophets would reveal some secret fact from a person’s life. Paul is talking about the more general process of how God’s teachings work on the heart of sinners (Hebrews 4:12).

The purpose of worship (I Corinthians 14:26)

The conclusion then is that worship service is a time to benefit those gathered. It is not a time for people to show off gifts to no particular end. Everything done in worship should be geared toward building up and strengthening those gathered (Ephesians 4:11-16). Notice from the list, Paul is not saying that just the spiritual gifts should be used for edification. Every aspect of worship is to be geared toward the same common goal of edifying those gathered.

Using tongues with edification in mind (I Corinthians 14:27-28)

Paul then gives some specific examples of who the principle of edification in worship is to be applied.

When speaking in another language, and the assumption is that it is in a language that many of those gathered do not understand, there should only be two or three uses of the foreign language. There is no benefit if the whole service is given over to speaking in different languages. Because communication is the primary need, each speaker is to take his turn in addressing the assembly. Speaking at the same time, even if in a different language, would naturally divide the assembly.

If everyone gathered does not understand the language being used and there is no interpreter for that language, then the use of tongues during the worship service is to be skipped. The word for “silent” means not to speak. Not that the individual does not speak in any way during the entire worship assembly, but that he doesn’t speak in a foreign language when it can’t benefit all who are gathered. He can commune privately with God (I Corinthians 14:2,4), but he is not to disturb the worship when it cannot benefit all those who are gathered.

Class Discussion:

  1. In a congregation where members speak different languages, how should these rules be applied?
  2. If two brethren stand up to give a prayer, say one in English and another in Spanish, would it be proper for two different prayers to be offered without interpretation?
  3. How would these verses be applied to the Roman Catholic practice of conducting portions of their services in Latin?

Using prophecy with edification in mind (I Corinthians 14:29-33)

Though prophecy is more beneficial to a congregation than speaking in tongues, still prophecy is not to dominate a worship service. Only two or three prophets are to be selected to speak during service and each speaks in turn.

Others are to judge whether the prophet is speaking the truth or not (I Corinthians 14:37). Whether “others” refers to the other prophets or the rest of the congregation is debated. The point we should note is that it is assumed that there would be people claiming to receive a message from God while speaking their own words. False prophets have always been a problem for God’s people (II Peter 2:1-2).

If a prophet, who is not speaking, receives a message from God, the current speaker is to yield the floor. You would think that the polite thing to do is to wait until the current speaker finishes, but you must remember that the messages are supposedly coming from God. If God gives another a message, then that is who God wants to speak. This doesn’t necessarily mean the second prophet rudely interrupts the first. Most likely there were some means of indicating a desire to speak. The point is that each person is to have a turn. No one dominates the service and only one speaks at a time. There is no need for people to talk over each other and thus prevent others from learning.

The rule does not command absolute silence at all times. It is not speaking while another is speaking. When it is the prophet’s turn, he can still speak. If a judgment is needed, that still can be presented. Other parts of the worship, such as singing, can still be done.

Paul points out that prophets have control over when they speak. Having a gift from the Holy Spirit does not mean the individual loses his free-will (Jeremiah 20:9). It is possible for the messenger of God to choose when to deliver the message he receives. It is possible that not all the messages presented during service actually came at the time of the service. Prophets could be speaking messages received at earlier times.

God does not create confusion and worship services should reflect the nature of the God we are serving.

Class Discussion:

  1. Is questioning teachings claimed to be from God wrong?
  2. How would people be able to tell if a teaching actually came from God or not? Are there tests suggested by God in the Bible?
  3. How can we, who live centuries later, be able to test whether something comes from God or not?
  4. How are the gifts of the Spirit different from demon possession?
  5. Pentecostal revival services are noted for the wild events that happen, such as being “slain in the Spirit,” which contributed to the nickname “holy rollers.” How would I Corinthians 14:33 apply?

Women asking questions in worship (I Corinthians 14:34-35)

The same word for silence, sigao, is used to tell women they are to be silent in the churches as used to tell those speaking in tongues and the prophets to be silent. It is defined for us when Paul states that women are not permitted to speak. As before, we should not conclude that it means never speaking at all, but to refrain from speaking in certain situations. Women are not allowed to address the congregation during the worship service. This command would not contradict Ephesians 5:19 or Colossians 3:16 in which Christians (men and women) are commanded to speak to one another in song during worship. And in this same context, Paul does tell women that they could ask questions at home (I Corinthians 14:35).

The reason is a matter of authority. By not speaking during the worship, women are subjecting themselves both to God and to men (I Corinthians 11:3). Paul notes that this rule is like what was required under the Old Testament. In that law, men were used to conduct the worship services, and women, though participating, were silent in the leading of worship.

Though silent in the worship (I Corinthians 14:26), I Corinthians 11:5 indicates that in other situations women could pray and prophesy, just as we see women doing in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:22; Judges 4:4; II Chronicles 34:22).

The origin of the command likely comes from Genesis 3:16, just as related commands allude to this same situation (I Corinthians 11:8, 11-12; I Timothy 2:11-14).

Recall that in I Corinthians 14:29 others were to judge what the prophets spoke. Paul is making it very clear that women did not have the authority to participate in this judgment. If they had questions about what was presented, they were to ask at home (outside of the worship service). For a woman to speak in the church was a matter of shame.

Class Discussion:

  1. Would it be wrong for a woman to say “amen” at the end of a prayer?
  2. Would this command apply to a Bible study?

These rules are not suggestions (I Corinthians 14:36-39)

Notice in I Corinthians 14:36 there is a shift in pronouns. Paul is not addressing just the women but the Corinthian church. The church in Corinth did not have the right to set up its own rules for worship. The gospel message did not originate in Corinth nor was it only taught to the Corinthians. The gospel is for the world and, thus, the rules of God are universal.

Paul invites the members at Corinth to do what he just told them to do with the prophets’ messages in the service – examine what he just commanded and realize that it is the command of God (I John 4:6). If someone wishes to pretend ignorance of Paul’s authority, then he will face the consequence of his ignorance. He isn’t worth wasting words to convince him otherwise (I Timothy 6:3-5).

Summing up all his arguments, Paul states that prophecy should be eagerly desired and, while speaking in tongues is not the best gift, it should not be forbidden. All gifts of the Spirit have their use in their proper place. Everything should be done with proper decorum and in proper order.

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