Decently and in Order
1 Corinthians 14:20-40
November 15, 2020
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order. 
The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
When I first moved to Boston, I had a hard time getting around. Boston is an older city; it’s one of the oldest cities in the country. And because it is an older city the streets are windy. They are old horse paths that have been paved, so they wind throughout the city and the neighboring communities. If there is a straight street, it is a mistake.
One of the challenges that older cities face is where do they put street signs. A lot of the buildings in Boston are very close to the sidewalk; there’s not a lot of space between the front door of buildings and the end of the sidewalk. So there’s not a lot of space to hang street signs. As a result, it’s easy to not know what street it is that you are actually driving on. A second problem is that Bostonians aren’t known for obeying the rules of road. Speed limits are suggestions. Stoplights are optional. Turn signals are never used. All of these things make driving in Boston a little difficult
The purpose of street signs is order. The speed limit tells us how fast the city’s civil engineering department says we are to go. Street signs tell us what street we are on. Stop lights and stop signs help regulate traffic at intersections so that we don’t have collisions. They bring order to the road.
Without street signs, driving would be chaos. Without lane markings, people would drive into one another. Without speed limits, people would drive too quickly in congested areas endangering pedestrians. Without stoplights and stop signs, intersections would become incredibly dangerous as people would collide into one another. The rules of the road order driving.
The Apostle Paul has been dealing with various issues in the Corinthian Church. Since chapter 11, he has been addressing issues in corporate worship. He has addressed people dressing immodestly and causing a scandal. He has addressed people coming to the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. He has addressed issues caused by people misusing and abusing the gifts that God has given the Church. Here in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Paul addresses issues concerning disruptions in corporate worship and he calls us to do all things in the worship service decently and in order.
The Problem: Disordered Worship
Worship services in the church at Corinth were chaotic. Paul tells us that there were people randomly speaking in tongues, sometimes over top of one another without interpreters. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.” That is rather chaotic. In addition to multiple people speaking in tongues at once, there were also multiple teachers trying to talk over one another. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.” It seems as though that people were interrupting one another so that they could offer a teaching.
And if that wasn’t enough, women were interrupting the teaching asking questions. That’s the impression verses 34 and 35 give. Paul is not making some snide comment about how women constantly are talking and interrupting. In the ancient world, pagans didn’t educate women. Greeks and Romans didn’t think women were worthy of education. So they didn’t teach women at all. Many of these women were simply asking to have certain things explained to them – things that many of the men would have known. But in any case, they were interrupting the service. So the services at the church in Corinth were chaotic and disordered.
Why were their services so disordered? Part of it was many were still influenced by pagan thinking. Pagan worship services were very chaotic. They were filled with people speaking in un-interpreted tongues. They were filled with people shouting over one another trying to get their particular message across. Those were common parts of most pagan worship services. And the Corinthians were still influenced by pagan ways of thinking and allowed their worship services to be disordered.
So often, we find order formal and boring. We have become more and more informal over the last two or three generations as a culture. We see that in how people my age dress even at work. Now, I’m not implying it is a bad thing that as a culture we have a less formal sense of dress. It simply is. But it shows that as a culture we have become less formal and more informal. And part of that shift in becoming more informal is ordering worship services to be more informal as well. As a culture we want less order and structure in things, including worship, and more informality.
Some of it is that we find order and structure boring. As a culture, we think order and structure is predictable and therefore boring. If the order and structure of a worship service is the same week in and week out, we can predict what is coming. And that for many people is incredibly boring.
So in the last few years we have seen churches move away from set orders of worship. And they have introduced more spontaneous elements. Certain churches have even gone so far as to do away with a specified order of service and allow people to speak when they so desire.
What are the effects of a disordered worship service?
The Effects of Disordered Worship
The effects of a disordered worship service are an appearance that the gospel isn’t true and a lack of edification. In verses 20-25, the Apostle Paul says that if an unbeliever or an outsider were to enter worship and hear multiple tongues spoken without interpretation they wouldn’t find the gospel to be to true. They would hear all of the tongues and think that the Corinthians were out of their mind. The unbeliever would hear a cacophony of noise, see disorder and chaos, and assume that the gospel of Jesus Christ wasn’t true.
Growing up, one of my friends didn’t come from a Christian home. He had a date with a girl and she took him to a church service after dinner. During the service, people would randomly yell out in tongues; people would interrupt the preacher and begin giving their own message. My friend who had only gone to a Christian worship service at Christmas and Easter was completely and utterly dismayed. He left thinking Christians were all a bunch of nuts and that the gospel of Christ Jesus wasn’t true.
A disordered worship service gives off an appearance that the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t true. When people speak in un-interpreted tongues it makes the gospel unintelligible to outsiders. When people interrupt the service so that they can give their own message, it makes Christianity seem to be a religion of competing personalities and not the good news of Jesus who redeems humanity from their sin and death.
A second effect of a disordered worship is a lack of edification. Throughout chapters 12-14, the Apostle Paul talks constantly about building up. Seven times in chapter 14 he talks about building up or encouraging. In verse 26 he says, “Let all things be done for building up.” If the Corinthians are speaking in tongues without interpretation, that wouldn’t build up anyone other than the person speaking in the tongue. If people are clamoring over one another so they are the loudest voice, that doesn’t build up anyone. A disordered worship service doesn’t build up anyone.
The point of corporate worship is to build believers up in Christ and make the gospel ring true. If the language is unintelligible and people do not understand what is said, how does that build up anyone? If people are speaking over others so that it is all noise, how does that build anyone up?
One of the major issues facing the church in America today is the issue of making worship only an emotional experience so that there is no edification. As we have made worship services less and less formal, we have taught less and less of the historic Christian faith. And in failing to teach the historic Christian faith, we fail to edify believers. We have made worship less about edifying believers and more about entertaining people.
One of the books that has been foundational to my understanding of worship is John Jefferson Davis’ “Worship and the Reality of God”. In the introduction, he talks about how he has worshiped at many churches over the years. One of the services that stood out to him was a church in Colorado. As he and his wife entered, there was a concession stand selling snacks and beverages. They asked where the service was held and someone pointed them in the direction of a large auditorium. When they found a place to sit, they saw that the seats were set up more like a movie theater than a church. The seats reclined and had cup holders.
Why would a church arrange their facilities like that? A church would arrange their facilities like that because they think that the worship service is about entertaining people and not edifying believers. No. The worship service is designed to glorify God and edify believers.
So what is the solution?
The Solution: Ordered Worship
The solution to the problem of a disordered worship service that makes the gospel unintelligible to outsiders and fails to edify believers is to provide a basic order of worship. Beginning in verse 26, Paul writes, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”
He gives them basic instructions on how to order their service so that the gospel is made intelligible to outsiders and believers are edified. He tells them that if someone speaks in a tongue, there must be someone to interpret what is said. With an interpreter, the tongue is able to be understood by all, the gospel is proclaimed. The very simple act of interpreting the tongue brought order to the service and showed that the gospel of God brings order.
Our worship service has an order. We begin every service with adoration for who God is and what he has done. We usually read a psalm of praise, like Psalm 136, and we sing a hymn of praise, like “Holy, Holy, Holy”. We begin our worship by praising God for who he is and what he has done. And like Isaiah as we see who God is and what he has done in creation and redemption, our eyes are opened to how we have not kept his ways and rebelled again him. So we confess our sin and remind ourselves that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived the perfect life we could never live; that he died the death believers deserve to die; that on the cross he bore God’s just wrath and judgment against sin; and that he rose on the third day from the dead giving all who believe new life. Each and every week we remind ourselves of the good news of Christ Jesus. It is then that we hear God’s word read to us and explained for us. Once a month we celebrate the Lord’s Supper after we hear God’s word. The Supper helps fortify us; it strengthens believers in him. And after all of that, God sends us out into our communities as his servants to share his good news with friends and family.
This simple order of worship makes the gospel intelligible to outsiders. Someone comes in who isn’t a Christian and they hear the gospel throughout the service. They are made aware of their sin and damnation and they hear the good news that in Christ God is reconciling himself to them. Our order of worship makes the gospel intelligible to unbelievers; it confirms the truth of the gospel to them.
Our order isn’t just for outsiders and unbelievers. It’s also for us. Our order of service edifies us as believers. Throughout these last couple of chapters, Paul has repeatedly used the phrase “build up”. In chapter 12 he told us that we are to use our gifts so that others are built up. In chapter 13 Paul tells us that love ultimately builds others up. Seven times in chapter 14 Paul speaks of building up. He wants the Corinthians to order their service not just so that unbelievers can hear the gospel but so that believers are built up in the faith; he wants the Corinthians to order their service so that believers are edified.
Our order of service is designed to edify and build up believers. Each and every week we remind ourselves of the good news of Christ Jesus. We hear the gospel proclaimed throughout our service. The more we understand the gospel, the more we are built up into the image and likeness of Christ. Each and every week we hear God’s word read, explained, and applied to us. That builds us up as we learn God’s word and see how we are to live in light of the cross.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Its fine and all that we edify and build up believers but if our culture wants entertainment, shouldn’t we give them entertainment in hopes of bringing them in?” The sentiment behind that is praiseworthy. We should want to make sure that the gospel is intelligible to outsiders. However, worship is not about attracting nonbelievers in hopes of making them believers. Worship is first and foremost to God, for God, and about God. Secondly it is to edify and build up Christians. Thirdly it is to make known the gospel to outsiders.
Let’s think of it like this, many of us love UGA football. The Bulldogs are our team. We go to their games – when they permit attendance – and we are there for them. And if we want to make someone a fan of the Bulldogs, we don’t change the team or how we support the team in hopes of converting a Vol into a Bulldog. No. We take them to Sanford Stadium, help them to join in the excitement of supporting the Bulldogs by singing our songs and chanting our chants, and we share with them how great UGA is. We don’t try to change who UGA is or change how we support the Bulldogs in hopes of converting someone. We don’t stop singing the UGA alma mater or the Bulldog Marching Song in hopes of making a fan.
If we are unwilling to change the order at a sporting event to make a fan, which has far less eternal significance than the gospel, then why are we willing to change the order of a worship service? If we hold fast to the fight songs of our sports teams even though it might upset someone from another team, why would we give up Christian worship because it might offend someone? The gospel has far great significance than sports. If we do not change our songs at sporting events to make a fan, we should not change our order of service in hopes of making a believer.
We are to do all things decently and in order. When we gather for worship, we should have an order so that the gospel is intelligible to outsiders and edifies believers.