Among the problems the congregation at Corinth had which the apostle Paul addressed was their tendency in the worship assembly to garner attention for themselves rather than giving the proper priority to the Lord and edifying one another. The Lord’s supper was turned into each one’s own supper to satisfy hunger and shame those who lacked the means to have a lavish meal (1 Cor. 11:21, 22). Their corruption of worship meant they were no longer really taking the Lord’s supper, as Paul wrote, “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20).
The worship assembly was also plagued by individuals interrupting one another with their showy gifts; as a response, Paul commanded, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). While assembled, each of them had a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation, but Paul said, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26). Nine gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10. The gift of tongues was the miraculous ability to speak actual human languages that the speaker had never previously learned or studied (Acts 2:4-12). This certainly would help arrest attention and spread the gospel to the world; however, the Corinthian assembly was troubled by individuals using this gift to speak to an audience who did not know the language and did not receive an interpretation in their own language where they could understand. With this situation, Paul asked about uninformed or unbelievers coming to the assembly, saying, “will they not say you are out of your mind?” (1 Cor. 14:23). Thus, the commandments of the Lord given through Paul (1 Cor. 14:37) are 1) don’t all of you speak at once, but two or three in turn (v. 27), 2) if there is no interpreter, then the tongue speaker should keep silent (v. 28), 3) Let two or three prophets speak and let others judge (v. 29), 4) If something is revealed to another, then the first speaker is to keep silent taking turns (which they can do since the spirit of the prophet does not override his will) (vv. 30-32), and 5) Instead of interrupting with questions or addressing the assembly, let the women keep silent in the assembly in accordance with God’s law (vv. 34, 35).
We do not have the miraculous gifts described in 1 Corinthians today because revelation is complete in the finalized New Testament; the miraculous means of delivering it in parts (such as prophecies, tongues, and miraculous knowledge before its completion) have ceased now that the complete revelation is here (1 Cor. 13:8-10). Nevertheless, we can learn from these principles today in regard to the worship assembly.
What we learn from 1 Corinthians 14 is the major portion of the first-century assembly was speaking God’s word. God desires His word to be understood; God’s word is able to build us up spiritually (Acts 20:32). If individuals in the assembly do not respect their roles, but rather seek out attention to build themselves up, then others will not understand nor be edified. For this reason, the worship assembly should not be confusion (1 Cor. 14:33), but rather should reflect decency and order with understandable words by which listeners can be convicted by the word of God. Modern worship gatherings that accentuate emotional highs while minimizing plain instruction from the word of God are against the commands of the Lord. The multitudes—especially young people—may flock to these events for the experience; however, we must remember to follow the narrow way revealed in the Bible traveled by the minority (Matt. 7:13, 14).
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