Series: Spiritual Gifts
Message – In Decency & Order Pt. 1
In Decency & Order
Last week we studied the meaning of 1 Cor. 14:21-25 and had to be a little Berean to do it…and today will be no different.
Turn to Acts 17:10,
“10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
So, last week we learned that IN THE CHURCH – Prophecy & tongues are FOR the edification of the body, but that tongues can serve as a SIGN to those against faith and prophecy can expose their hearts, shaming them by removing their “hiding place” and in so doing will convince them that God is truly among us.
Paul asks a Rhetorical question…
Now, in 1 Cor. 14 from verse 26 to the end of the chapter…Paul gets a little snarky…
Now I say this because it is my belief that Paul starts off with a satirical question…
“How is it then brethren?” Meaning, “Do you really think it is likely brothers?”
Now, I believe this is Paul’s tone for two reasons.
First because he is pointing back to what began his last point, which was that these Corinthians were using tongues in an uncertain way – substituting the prayer language for the gift and therefore offering no interpretation and no edification…so Paul asks a question which may be a wee-bit sarcastic – Is it really possible?
Secondly, I believe it is a bit sarcastic because of where Paul IMMEDIATELY takes this discussion…by telling them they need to put a limit on how many in their congregation speak or exercise a gift in one meeting in order to maintain decency and order.
Let’s read verses 26-32 once through and then go back over it part-by-part….
1Cor. 14:26-32, “(26) How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (27) If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. (28) But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. (29) Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. (30) But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. (31) For you can all prophesy one by one, THAT ALL MAY LEARN AND ALL MAY BE ENCOURAGED. (32) And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. (33) For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
Ok, let’s look at verse 26,
“(26) How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together,
Some believe that this is saying the same thing as chapter 14 verse and verse 23 of this same chapter, and I’d have to LOOSELY agree with them.
In chapter 11 verse 20 it says, “Therefore, when you all come together IN ONE PLACE.” and a few verses back in the chapter we are in of 1Cor. 14, verse 23 it says, “Therefore, if the whole church comes together IN ONE PLACE…”
So I believe that here, even though it does not say IN ONE PLACE, it could be assumed that such is implied.
Now… Why does that make a difference?
Well, because, for sake of decency, order and edification he is about to place a limit on how many display gifts. So we have to ask ourselves, does Paul do this because:
- That’s always the way it should be or
- For more practical reasons?
Well, Paul gives us a clue when he says later in this verse – “Let all things be done for edification.” and he says this JUST BEFORE placing limit on how many may speak. So it seems to be more for practical reasons of decency and order as to what will edify and what will limit edification. If the whole church were gathered together in one place their numbers would be greater and everyone sharing would take considerably longer… so long in fact, that Paul believes they’d reach a point where people were no longer being edified but agitated.
Now it is NOT my intention to diverge into a lesson of church history but some information about the early church will undoubtedly help here so, let me explain a few things.
If Paul were to visit the 21 century, he would find himself face to face with what would undoubtedly be a nightmare to him. In any one city or township he would see, a fragmented church, divided into many separate and distinct gatherings based almost entirely upon the ways in which they DISAGREE with one another and he would see that each has a decidedly LARGE number of people who, if they were investigated in the light of the gospel – would prove to be unbelievers attending with regularity among the faithful. I tell you it would nearly drive Paul mad to see it!
You see, the early church was not divided. Divisions come from a lack of understanding – that is where we get all the various denominations we have today.
The original Apostles – those called by some, “The Apostles of the Lamb” were ones who were given special power from Christ to bind and loose doctrine (meaning to declare doctrinal beliefs either lawful or unlawful [See Matt. 16:19] – and we see an example of this in the letter from the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem to the Gentile church in Antioch). Now ALL of these Apostles of the Lamb had been with Christ from the beginning, like it is recorded of Peter in Acts 1:21-23, “(21) Of the men therefore that have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, (22) beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that He was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of His resurrection. (23) And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.” You see there was no division in the early church because those who would know the answers to all questions were among them. So, churches were CITY-WIDE – they were not broken up into cliquish cell groups (regardless of size) attended by people who believed the gospel a different way than other Christians in that same city. THEY ALL BELIEVED THE SAME Thing! That would impact the size of the church in a given area.
Notice in the book of Acts and in each of the letters, it addresses CITY churches. This letter to the Corinthian which we have been in recently is no different. In the 1st two verses of this letter to the Corinthians it begins with, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God… unto THE church of God which is at Corinth…”
Now by today’s standards this city church was not large. Most estimates place it at between 30 to as much as maybe a few hundred, but still this was too large of a group to always meet in one place. Also, that Rome was, at the time, not particularly kind to Christians is well known. In fact, this letter to the Corinthians was written in the twilight of Nero’s reign, so on this fact alone we can assume church buildings were scarese at best.
In fact, church buildings did not really catch on until about the 3rd century. Think about that… the church… the body of Christ did not meet in buildings but homes for the first 300 years of its existence… Which arguably was its most effective time period.
Why am I taking us on a tour of the early church and how they meet? Because I believe Paul’s statement to be largely influenced by the size of the group in the assembly.
In Acts 20 verses 8 & 9 we get an uncommon glimpse into what church meetings were actually like back then.
Let’s look at it, (This church is the assembly of Christians in Troas where Paul spent 7 days)
Acts 20:7-9, “(7) And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight. (8) And there were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered together. (9) And there sat in the window a certain young man named Eutychus, burdened down with deep sleep; and as Paul discoursed yet longer, being in deep sleep he fell down from the third story, and was taken up dead.”
Now, you can see it is said that they were meeting on the 3rd floor of a house.
It was typical in the 1st century to do like many used to do in New York City and have one’s personal home build on top of their business. Some would perhaps have a second story for storage and such and a third for a private dwelling. It is likely that this was the case here in Troas.
Now there were a few churches which had the luxury to meet in larger buildings like the church in Ephesus mentioned one chapter back in Acts 19. They evidently met in the School of Tyrannus. But in most cases both biblical and natural history reveal that the early church met in homes…and only after 300+ years did it begin to reluctantly meet in buildings.
In Romans 16:3-5 we see the church of Rome met in Aquila & Priscilla’s home; in Philemon it is said that the church met in his home, the Colossians met in Nympha’s home and in Acts 16 we see the fledgling church of Macedonia met in Lydia’s home.
Also, Paul…being a tent-maker by trade, remains suspiciously silent about how the church should build meeting places to accommodate their growing assembly.
One could search the entirety of the New Testament in vain to find any instructions concerning buildings, exhortations that places of worship should be distinct from homes or that a building somehow accommodates the work of God among His people in a more suitable way than homes ever could.
Now, why all this church history this morning…well, it helps us understand Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 14:26 in a few ways.
- It provides a back-drop for the instructions Paul is giving to this church.
- It limits one of the possible interpretation of these verses.
- While the church in Corinth was not large by today’s standards, if everyone were to be given time to share – either by a bonefide gift of the Spirit or just a natural edification, the time it would take would be prohibitive and so, Paul offered a Divine restriction on the amount that might take place in any one given meeting.
- If this is true in a relatively small church – how could Paul’s later encouragement and directive that “…you may ALL prophecy one by one….” even have any real expression in a modern churches which can have as many as several hundred or thousands of people in attendance every week? Paul WANTED participation BY ALL – this becomes a command which is IMPOSSIBLE to keep is a church gets too large.
- It reveals how intimate the church was intended to be – thus making arguments about the “over-familiarity” limiting the expression of gifts and causing problems in small churches difficult to support.
- It shifts the burden of proof in the modern assumption that church assemblies should meet in buildings rather than in homes.
- It draws into question the popular assumption that if a church is not growing in numbers it is not healthy.
- You show me a church that is growing in numbers but not in shepherds, I’ll show you a church that is NO LONGER a true sheepfold.
SO…back to verse 26…
“(26) How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
I don’t believe Paul was necessarily saying it was not Possible that each had something legitimate to contribute but I DO believe he was asking, “Does all of this participation add to or take away from edification?” Suffice it to say that Paul appears to be of the opinion that less is more and more is too much.
I am reminded of my early years around the table. Each in turn might say something that was either informative, or personal or kind or funny concerning their day… But there came an unspoken time when enough was enough and it was time for the grown ups to talk. I think this is no different. Verse 27
(27) If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. (28) But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. [In other words – if there is no interpretation it isn’t a gift – it is your prayer language…use it silently between you and God – but NOT out loud TO the CHURCH as if it were a gift for edification!]
(29) Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. (30) But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.
(31) For you can all prophesy one by one, THAT ALL MAY LEARN AND ALL MAY BE ENCOURAGED. (32) And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. (33) For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
So we need to see what Paul is saying and what he is NOT saying.
Paul is NOT saying that our church assemblies need to be a spectator sport ONLY.
Paul actually ENCOURAGES participation. The gifts are FOR the church, so when you come together – IF you truly have lived in fellowship with Christ since last we met, each SHOULD HAVE an encouraging word which may or may not manifest in the form of a gift.
Paul is encouraging this – but as a matter of practicality, Paul is setting a limit on how much congregational participation should take place. There needs to be a head and a sense of order to your gatherings.
Notice even with the limits in place of 2 or AT MOST 3, Paul says that over the course of time, each will have a chance to prophecy if so led by the Spirit, each in turn, but KNOW that just because you feel you have something, doesn’t mean you HAVE to give it.
Restrict your times of displaying the gifts to 2 or AT MOST 3….and then trust the rest to the Holy Spirit.
This also addresses something VERY important about the gifts. YOU are in control!
Paul is saying that though the gifts may be powerful – they do NOT control the person. The spirit of prophecy is subject to the prophet…and by extension, the gift of prophecy, or words of wisdom and knowledge, tongues or even natural things like psalms or encouragements NEVER overpower the will of the one with the gift. You do NOT HAVE to speak..it is a choice!
Again, this is NOT to say that a spiritual gift may not SEEM overpowering. Obviously it CAN seem this way or their would have been NO logical reason for Paul to address it!
This has happened to me several times…but I learned that you CAN in fact control it!
Spiros Zodhiates said,
“When one is in public worship, the paramount concern must be how all the believers should be built up and not how someone or a small group may selfishly benefit by the public experience. In Christian worship individuals ought to be concerned how they can spiritually benefit others by what they do or say.”
THAT should be the focus of our church gatherings. To build up each other. A fair amount might be said about this in that it requires several different attitudes and heart dispositions to be working in concert for the whole or it will fail utterly!
Not only do people need to come desiring to be used by the Holy Spirit enabling them to minister to and strengthen His body but they need to also come hungry and wanting to be edified. Recognizing their spiritual need and awakened to their inner spiritual hunger!
So often there is a lazy complacency a learned familiarity that settles church members into a comfortable routine involving and in fact invoking no change at all and therefore no spiritual growth!
People are either…
- Too touchy to be minister to because nothing can be said or done the right way for them to receive it without them getting defensive. or
- People come off too strong. While these people may be legitimately inspired initially in their thoughts by the Holy Spirit they often fail to be led in HOW they deliver His word.
The only thing that can keep the harmony and peace among the brethren is a devotion to, a consecration to… a sincere willingness to live and continue on in love love love.
So be wise and even accept the rebuke of a fool and be gentle enough to not make God’s words hard to digest!
As we read in the former chapter love suffers long and is kind, it smooth out all that would be harsh or austere and directs our hearts into agreement and peace with God first and each other second.
Without love the gifts will fail, the saints will not be equipped, and church will be reduced to little more than a social event.
MAINTAINING a sincere willingness to live and continue on in love love love cannot be done FOR you – it is 100% – with NO excuses or exceptions a choice YOU make and it affects EVERYONE!
Now the last part of these verses we just covered are a little subjective in their divisions. Some believe the words, “As in all the churches of the saints” was the ending of these verses..while others believe it is the beginning of what Paul is about to say. I suggest that it makes no difference because the entire LETTER began with words similar to these…“To God’s church at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called as saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord–theirs and ours.:”
You know, it is interesting that this is the ONLY letter in which Paul says this!
Consequently, this is the ONLY letter, in which people have been the MOST divided as to whether it’s contents were entirely directed at the church in Corinth due to special situations or if it was a letter which could equally apply to ANY church regardless of their situation.
This service had content that is NOT written out here, so I would encourage you to listen to it WHILE you read…Blessings!
I hope this teaching will challenge you and encourage you to place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
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