GOD IN A PLURALIST WORLD
Lord, teach me how to conduct myself properly in the worship service.
Read 1 CORINTHIANS 14:1–25
Intelligibility in Worship
14 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.
13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written:
“With other tongues
and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
but even then they will not listen to me,
says the Lord.”
22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Is a religiously pluralistic society a barrier to Christian mission, or a fantastic opportunity?
The letter now returns to concrete, pastoral advice concerning public worship decorum, enlarging on the instruction given in 12:31. The basic thrust of the argument is clear from the advice to “excel in those [gifts] that build up the church” (12). The reference to “all sorts of languages” (10) indicates that a bewildering variety of tongues might be overheard on the crowded streets of Corinth. Encounters with migrants who had flooded into this cosmopolitan
city would have been a daily experience. In other words, the first urban Christians faced a situation not unlike that of contemporary people in cities such as London, Paris or New York.
Some in the Corinthian assemblies apparently believe that the unregulated public use of the gift of tongues by the whole congregation could assist the mission of the church. Paul challenges this view and argues that if non-Christians were to witness an outburst of mass tongues-speaking they would likely dismiss it as a form of madness (23). Tongues-speaking and other forms of religious ecstasy were familiar in Corinth, since the worshippers of Dionysius and Cybele were well-known for their ecstatic outbursts and irrational behavior.
Paul, who affirms the spiritual value of tongues in personal devotion, wants to regulate its use during the worship service, thereby distinguishing a Christian service from the rest. Enquirers will recognize the difference and conclude that “God is really among you!” (25). Paul, operating in a religiously plural, urban world, would be amazed at the manner in which Christians today, faced with similar challenges, are so easily defeated. Cultures in which Christianity has been dominant and powerful (i.e., Europe) represent only a passing era in the history of the west, unknown to Paul.
Do you detect any features of the worship service at your church that may be at odds with the biblical pattern?
Lord, keep us from allowing our worship service to deteriorate into something that would frighten the secular segment of our community.
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