What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (verse 26)
This short passage raises a number of controversial issues.
For instance, what limitations are put on women in worship? Did those limits apply only in the Corinthian church, or do they apply universally for all time? Similar limitations (“keep quiet”) are put on the tongues-speakers and prophets in specific contexts (e.g. “if there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet”). What, then, is the context for this instruction to women?
There are also specific instructions regarding the use of the gift of tongues and that of prophecy – who should speak, when they should do it, and for how long. What about today? How should we expect these gifts to function when we gather for worship?
All of this is instruction from our Lord. Each issue is worthy of consideration. But I leave it for your own further exploration.
What I want to explore instead is the responsibility of each to contribute to the gathered worship of the church. “When you come together, each of you …” That’s how Paul puts it. Some will lead out with a hymn, he says, some with teaching, and others with revelatory gifts, or tongues and interpretation.
Immediately we become aware that Paul is talking about a style of worship much different than what most of us experience today. Likely most of us gather in larger worship settings than did the Corinthians, with a more organized schedule and much less room for spontaneous participation. Preachers preach, worship leaders lead, musicians support, and the congregation follows. My own sense from reading the whole of scripture is that we actually have great freedom for creativity and style when it comes to gathered worship, so we haven’t necessarily gotten it “all wrong” if we gather differently than did the Corinthians. Nevertheless, it seems there are several important take-aways for each of us:
(1) When you come to worship, whatever the style, dispense with a “spectator” mentality. Each is called into active participation, regardless of whether our name is on the “Order of Service” or not. We are not the audience. We are the participants.
(2) Therefore, come prepared. Whether or not we have opportunity to verbally participate as the Corinthians did, we need to prepare our hearts in advance, rather than coming cold.
(3) In Corinth, there was a variety of participation. So, too, now. Some will sing exuberantly. Some will be more reflective. Some will speak out words of prayer. Others will do so silently. Some will be demonstrative – others not. Value the participation of each one. Revel in the variety.
(4) Be sensitive to one another. Paul expected the Corinthians to limit their own freedom to allow space for others. There are many opportunities for such forbearance, regardless of our context – it’s called “love.”
(5) If Sunday worship doesn’t provide opportunity for all the contributions Paul envisions, find an additional space to regularly experience the Spirit’s gifts. In a weekly Home Group, make space for giving and receiving, being sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. Or around a dinner table. Or in a prayer group. Or as you gather in a regular ministry team. Or after Sunday service with a circle of friends.
“Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” Make it so.
Lord, thank you for the gift of your Body. Use me in every way you choose. Make me an active blessing in your church. Guide me by your Spirit. For your glory.
Reflect: What step can you take this week to enter more fully into the instruction of 1 Cor 14:26? Make it so.