The Proper Pursuit of Worship
Tim Temple

Introduction

Turn, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 14, verses 26-33:

I Corinthians 14

26How 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, as in all churches of the saints.

This section of Paul's letter to the Corinthians deals with the problems in the public worship services in the church at Corinth. We have been looking at those problems for a number of weeks now. After laying the groundwork for the solutions to those problems by explaining the concept of the Body of Christ and by explaining the essential matter of spiritual gifts, Paul now comes to the major point of the passage, and that is the worship service in the local church.

If we think of the overall outline of Paul's letter, we realize that before we can really understand what is supposed to go on in the worship service, we have to understand the overall view of the Church outside of Sunday. It is as if Paul has been writing in these previous chapters and verses about the Church Monday through Saturday so we can understand what the Church is supposed to be like on Sunday, and I would hope that by now you would realize that Sunday is not all there is. Sunday worship is just the tip of the iceberg in Christianity.

The large majority of Christianity and the large majority of unbelievers really have it exactly backwards, because the concept that most people have is that Christianity is something that you do on Sunday morning and if you are really religious, maybe on Sunday night. They think that Christianity is something to do on the weekend, on Sunday particularly. If you go to a church that is convenient enough, you may be able to do it on Saturday afternoon or evening, but that is all there is to it. The Biblical concept is that when we come together on Sunday,it is just the tip of the iceberg; it is that which challenges us to go back into the phase of Christianity that takes place Monday through Saturday.

To that end we exercise our spiritual gifts and we understand that we are all part of a Body. We are literally Christ's hands and feet on the earth. It is as though He is physically present here in our bodies. But by no means do the activities of the Church take place in the church building. This is just the terminology that we have used before; it's just the filling station where we come in to get our batteries recharged and to get our minds filled and be reminded of the things of God so that we can go out from this place and do the work of the ministry.

Multiplicity of Spiritual Gifts

The third section of this chapter we have titled, “The Proper Pursuit of Worship.” One of the factors to be remembered in conducting a public worship service is the fact of the multiplicity of spiritual gifts. If you will look again at verse 26:

I Corinthians 14

26How 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.

Let's think about the practice that Paul is describing here. The practice that was taking place at Corinth was a multiple use of spiritual gifts, but actually a simultaneous use of the gifts, or at least a very disorganized use of the gifts. Now there are some who say that verse 26 is a recommended order of service and that if we are going to be like the New Testament Church this is the order of service we ought to have. There is one whole group of believers–I refer to the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies–who are very godly people, very Biblically oriented people. If you know someone who is a member of the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies, you know that they are true to the Word of God. They are great expositors of the Word of God. They are, as far as I know, very fundamental in their beliefs. But the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies say that verse 26 outlines what the church service ought to be like, and that is that anybody who wants to should have a Psalm or anybody who wants to should be able to have a teaching, a revelation. They would say that in this dispensation that would be a teaching of the Word of God and if someone else wants to comment on it, they can. They say that is the way a church ought to be operated.

I have already expressed my great respect for the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies, but I want to also say they are wrong about this verse, because the context of this chapter, the context of this whole letter, is correcting things that were wrong in Corinth. The problem there in Corinth was that they were doing all these things, but there was no order to it. We will see that as we go along through the chapter. The things that he corrects were the things they were doing wrong. The overall subject of public worship, when Paul introduced it in chapter 11, was that their meetings left much to be desired, so we assume that the things he touches on after chapter 11 are corrections of things they were doing wrong. The tone of this whole book actually is the problems at Corinth, but the specific wording of the verse is also important. Notice what He says there: “Each of you has a Psalm, has a tongue, has a revelation,” so the focus in that verse is on the confusion and disorder there. Everybody was trying to get in on the act. Everybody was saying whatever they wanted to say.

Order of Church Services

I suppose there would be nothing wrong with taking this as an example of the early church services, if we remember the principles that he is going to lay down later on in the chapter; and it could be that services could be conducted where many participate if the rules that he is about to lay down are followed. But the point is that this is a correction of what they were doing wrong at Corinth.

We do not follow this order of service, and we don't believe that the Bible is saying that it is the order of service that ought to be followed, but the principles that he is going to outline that we want to look at would apply to any order of service. Various groups of Christians order their services in various ways. We need to be careful to say that when we choose an order of service, it needs to follow the careful guidelines that the Word of God lays down in the next few verses.

The principle that the church service should be built around is in the last part of verse 26. Notice down there in the end of the verse: “Let all things be done unto edifying.” You see, it doesn't matter whether we have the offering first or whether we have two offerings or whether we have the Lord's Supper first or whether we have the sermon first. The important thing is not the order of service. The important thing is, does this service edify the believers? The word “edify” means “to build up,” “to feed,” and that's what we have come to do–to be fed, to be filled up, to be built up, so that we can go out to do the work of the ministry Monday through Saturday.

The real basis of any service is this: Does it edify those who are present? That's always been the aim of the services at Abilene Bible Church, and by God's grace it will continue to be the aim of our services. Let all things be done unto edifying. Really that needs to be the test of any area of the ministry of the church, not just the services, but any area of the church. For any decision that needs to be made about what's going to take place in the church, this is the principle: Will it edify believers? Of course if it is edifying the Body, it is going to glorify Jesus Christ. Those two go hand in hand. So that is the principle: “Let all things be done unto edifying.”

Now we have been talking about the fact that the multiplicity of spiritual gifts is important. Keep in mind, in planning the service, a second factor is the minimizing of disorder; and that is what Paul talks about beginning in verse 27.

Practice for the Gift of Tongues

First of all, the practice to minimize disorder is described in verses 27-3l, and first he specifies the exercise of the gift of tongues. The first area of practice in which disorder should be minimized is in the exercise of the gift of tongues. Look at verses 27 and 28:

I Corinthians 14

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.

Now, before we analyze those verses, let me explain something. We have discussed in previous weeks the place that the gift of tongues has in the Body of Christ in this day and age in which we live. I have explained what I understand to be the correct interpretation of the Word of God. You are at liberty to disagree with that, but the position of this church and the teaching of this pulpit is that the gift of tongues is given in very specific, limited situations, if at all, in this dispensation. We're not going to take the time to go into all of that, because it is all on tape, and if you missed that you can review that by means of tape.

Our purpose this morning is not to discuss whether the gift of tongues is being given in this dispensation. There are, I believe and I teach, certain circumstances, very limited circumstances, in which that gift could still be given in this dispensation. Obviously there are many who draw a much wider circle than I do about the gift of tongues. The purpose of these verses is to explain how that gift is to be used in public worship services, whether it is only being given to a very few or whether it is available to everybody. Regardless of how wide you believe God's gift of that ability is, it must follow this principle when it is exercised. Look very carefully the first part of verse 27:

I Corinthians 14

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.

No more than three in a service. If the gift of tongues is going to be exercised in a public service, there are to be no more than three speaking in tongues. Secondly those three are to speak one at a time, not simultaneously, but one at a time. And third, if there is no one to interpret the gift of tongues given by those speakers, then they are to keep silent. That is a summary of verses 27 and 28, which we just read together. That is not just the position of Abilene Bible Church. It is not just the order of service that we've chosen. That is the scriptural teaching. I think you will realize, without any disparagement to any person or any group, if those principles were followed in those churches where the gift of tongues is included as part of the public worship, if just those two verses were taken literally, it would drastically alter the format of most of the churches where tongues-speaking is part of the worship. My purpose is not to set out on a crusade to drastically alter the worship service of those churches. My purpose is to teach the Word of God, and so this is the order of service. This is the practice that is to be followed for the gift of tongues if the gift of tongues is to be exercised in a public worship service.

Practice for the Gift of Prophecy

Likewise in verses 29 through 31 he gives the practice for the gift of prophecy. Verse 29:

I Corinthians 14

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.

Again, these verses tell us that in the gift of prophecy, by way of application at least, this would apply to the gift of teaching in our dispensation. The gift of prophecy, as we have pointed out, is the gift of revealing previously unrevealed truth. Now that we have the Scripture written down, God is no longer giving the gift of prophecy, I believe, but He is giving the gift of explaining the Scripture, of teaching. In principle that would parallel the gift of prophecy. In verse 29, there are to be no more than two or three prophets or teachers in a service. This does not mean that there have to be two or three, either speaking in tongues or teaching or prophesying, but no more than that, and they are to speak one by one.

Verse 30 says if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the other two keep silent. I think that would imply that the first speaker yield the floor to the second speaker. The point is that they are not to all stand up and speak and babble at one time. It is to be done in order. Verse 31 clarifies that. You can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. But notice also he says in verse 29 that they are to be judged by the others.

Judging the Teachers

What does that mean? In the day when the gift of prophecy was being given, before the text of Scripture was completed, obviously anybody could stand up and claim to be a prophet. Anybody could say, “I have a prophecy from the Lord.” God had also given, because that was true, the gift of understanding, the gift of knowledge, the ability to discern spirits. When the prophets were active, God had also given certain other people the gift of being able to ascertain if this was a true teaching. But beyond that it would not only include those people who had that gift in that particular day, but if we apply this to the principle of teaching the Word of God, there is an example in the Scripture of how that judging is to be done. Turn with me to the book of Acts, chapter 17, which tells about an incident that took place after the New Testament Scriptures were very near completion, if not completed. In Acts, chapter 17, is a kind of a travelogue of Paul's second missionary journey. It is an interesting chapter, and it tells us several different things that he did and several place that he went and experiences that he had there.

In verses 8-10, it says that he came to the area of Berea. He had been in Thessalonica, and in Thessalonica he was run out of town. In fact, I love one of those verses in the first section of Acts, chapter 17, where it says that there were many believers among whom were the chief women. I always wondered who those chief women were, what it takes to be called a chief woman. Anyway, the other unbelievers gathered a mob together and chased Paul out of Thessalonica. He went next to Berea and interestingly enough, if you read the chapter carefully, the Thessalonicans sent their mob over to Berea. It wasn't enough to chase him out of their town; they had to chase him out of the next town too. But in verse 11 of Acts, chapter 17, it says:

Acts 17

11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Notice the phrase, “searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” They were called noble by God. Would you like to be considered noble by God? Well, here is a way that you can have God's approval. What is that? They received the Word with all readiness of mind. Specifically, they searched the Scriptures, whether these things were so.

Searching the Scriptures

As we go back to I Corinthians, chapter 14, that is how we judge the prophets or teachers now that we have the completed canon of Scripture. We don't need a special spiritual gift to be able to tell whether a man is a true teacher or not, whether a true prophet or not. Now we have the completed, written Word of God and–listen to me carefully–God holds me and other teachers responsible to teach His Word clearly. By the same token he holds you responsible to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. You have the responsibility not only to hear the teaching of the Word of God, but to search the Scriptures to make sure that teaching that you are hearing is lining up with the Word of God. That's how you judge the teacher and the Scripture clearly tells us here in I Corinthians, chapter 14, verse 29, that those that are not speaking are to be judging. They are to be searching the Scripture.

That has some very important implications. The first implication is that you should bring your Bible to church, and that's why we ask you to open your Bible to a certain portion. That's why we encourage you to read along. And why is that? It is partly for your convenience, but it is also to help you fulfill your responsibility that God gives you to check out what the teacher is saying.

Another implication that comes from that is that those cults, those groups that are built around the false teaching of one man, have themselves to blame for that. We heard about Jim Jones several years ago and the other Christian dictators who sway the minds of their congregation. I was just hearing last week about a pastor who even tells his congregation specific details of their lives in his supposed teaching of the Word of God. People shouldn't put up with that. It's my responsibility to show you where I'm coming from in the Scripture, but it is your responsibility to search that out, even if I don't tell you where I'm coming from. Those groups who are led astray by false teachers are largely themselves to blame for that because God said, “Let the one speak, and let the others judge;” and God said, “You are noble when you search the Scriptures whether those things are so.”

Authority of the Word of God

If you follow Acts, chapter 17, through that chapter, you will find that at Berea there was a tremendous response to the Word of God. In Thessalonica, there were just a few who responded. There were a few, but in Berea, there was a tremendous response to the Word of God, many people say. And that went on to be a great center for the Gospel and for the teaching of the Word of God. And why was that? It was because they didn't take the word even of the great Apostle Paul. They searched the Scriptures even when this was an apostle preaching to them.

It is incumbent upon us that we base our teaching on not the charismatic personality of the pastor. Just because a man has a powerful personality, and some do, and just because a man seems to have a big wealth of knowledge about a great many things, it does not mean that he automatically is correct about everything he says. Just because he may have a tremendous education, just because he may have gone to all the right schools, just because he may have pastored some huge church before he came to this church or just because this church may have quadrupled under his ministry, all of those things that we tend to equate with good teaching and authority on the part of the pastor are not the standard. The standard is, is he teaching the Word of God?

You have to be the judge of that. God has given you the Word of God in written form and He has given you the Holy Spirit to understand the Word of God, and any good teacher is going to make it as easy as possible for you to search the Scriptures. He's going to give you an outline and he is going to tell you where he is coming from, and that kind of thing. That's another very important part of the gift of prophecy. The prophet, the teacher, is not the final authority just because he has the floor or even because he claims to be coming from the Word of God. The Word of God is the final authority, and the teaching should be demonstrated to you from the Scripture, at least from the consensus of Scripture. There are many things that I teach and that other teachers teach which may not have a specific chapter and verse, but at least there is a consensus, there's a web, there's a matrix of Scripture that together can help us draw that conclusion; and I or any other teacher ought to be able to show you where we are coming from because it's the Word of God that's the final authority. Those are the principles that go along with the gift of prophecy.

Importance of Order In Worship

Verse 32 goes along with this. Notice in verse 32:

I Corinthians 14

32And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

There is no revelation that is so important that it can not wait while all things are done decently and in order. If a teacher is teaching, or as in that century a prophet was prophesying and another prophet had a message, or if you have a comment about the message, no matter how important that is, the essential thing is that things be done decently and in order. The essential thing is that things be done unto edifying, and so he says, “Speak one at a time.” Wait until the sermon is over before you get up and debate with the preacher. Wait until the sermon is over before you get up and give your interpretation of that same passage, or if the order of service is arranged in such a way that there is opportunity for various ones to give input, even then you should wait till you have permission from the first speaker. You do not just break in to what he is saying.

There is something else about verse 32 that I want to point out, and that is that that verse shows that spiritual gifts can be exercised or withheld at will. There are those, particularly in the Pentecostal groups and the Charismatic groups, who say, “I just had to exercise my gift. I had no control over it. God just started speaking through me.” That's unscriptural! Verse 32 very clearly says the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. God may give you a message to give, but He's also said, “You wait until the next guy is through before you give your message.” You can control that. It is a gift from God, but it's under your control. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. God has given you that. He'll give you the opportunity in the proper setting and the proper time in which to give that message. So don't think that the fact that you have a tongue or a prophecy or whatever it may be offsets these standards which he is laying down here in this passage.

Peace Instead of Confusion

Finally in verse 33, the principle on which all this is based is found. Verse 33:

I Corinthians 14

33For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

God is not the author of confusion. Here is a very helpful standard for any area, not just the worship services. That's the immediate context, but it is for any area of the Christian life. God is not the author of confusion. If there is something going on that lends to confusion, that lends to misunderstanding, that lends to strife in the Body of Christ, then you can be pretty sure that's not from God, because God is not the author of confusion but of peace in all the churches of the saints. This applies to any meeting or activity of the Body of Christ. It is to be done decently and in order, not in a confusing way. Whether we follow the Corinthians' order of service, where several people are allowed to speak, or whether we follow the more standard, the more common practice of having one speaker, one preacher, whatever, regardless of the order of service, the principle is that it should not be confusing. It should be an orderly order of service, regardless of what the order of service is, and so this should apply to home Bible studies and home meetings.

I mention that because there was a time a few years ago where groups were meeting, and they were violating the principles that are laid down in these verses and in the next few verses, which incidentally deal with women in the Church. Muster all your grace, Ladies, and come back two lessons from now, because like it or not, we're going to have to deal with those verses.

There were a few years ago people who were meeting, and maybe they are still doing it this way, who were saying, “We're meeting in a home; we're not in a church, therefore we don't really have to go by those standards in I Corinthians, chapter 14.” That's another example of the doctrine of baloney. This applies to all the churches of the saints. This is the standard for the Church, the Body of Christ, whether it's gathered in a home meeting, or whether it's gathered in a worship service. So this is God's basic principle. God is not the author of confusion, but of peace as in all the churches of the saints. God has very definite instructions about the way He wants the worship service organized and conducted. We're not just left to our own devices. We're not just supposed to say, “You know that church over there has had good luck with this; let's try it.” “This church over here is doing it this way; that sounds neat; let's do that.” God has given us very clear principles to follow in deciding what we're going to do in our worship services, and I believe that much of the excess and many of the confusing practices that take place in some churches would be eliminated if we would carefully go by the standards that are laid down in this very simple and straightforward passage. Much of what is confusing to unbelievers and leaves a bad taste in the mouths of people who haven't been exposed to some orders of service would be taken care of if we would be careful to follow the principles and practices of this passage.

Church activities, church worship services, are designed by God to be both practical and meaningful. It's not to be just some religious mumbo-jumbo. It's not to be just some ritual that we go through. God's intent is that our worship services be meaningful and practical and that they stimulate us to think and that they stimulate us to more love for the Lord. We should thank God that He cares enough about our worship to instruct us specifically about how to conduct it.

Conclusion

As we conclude our thinking, let me ask you something. Is the worship service meaningful to you? Do you come to church and sit through it because that's what Christians are supposed to do, or do you come and find some real joy, satisfaction, and edification? Now if you were to answer that question. “No,” then we who are responsible for the order of the service should probably give you the opportunity to tell us why that is true, but on the other hand it could be that it is just your own fault. It may be that you are not taking your role in judging the speaker, in following the Word of God. God intends the worship service to be something that not only is pleasing to Himself, and that's the most important purpose, but that is also very meaningful and edifying to us. The purpose of the worship is to be edification for believers. That takes place when all things are done decently and in order.


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