Be A Worshipful Church !
1 Corinthians 14:1-25
By Paul Robison

Listen to this observation: "Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship" (Dahl). Someone else gets a little more specific with an interesting comparison. "The airport was filled with people who had many things in common.  We all shared a common belief: flying was the best way to travel.  We shared a common goal: try to arrive at a distant destination [on a reasonable airfare].  We shared a common facility: a nice airport.  [We have common traditions: baggage check-in, certain waiting areas, security checks.]  Yet, each one of us is all alone in this airport.  The Church of the Airport was complete with rituals, traditions, goals, and a building.  Sadly enough, this church has about the same level of relationship building as many congregations.  How many people are part of a group that calls itself a church and have much in common, yet are alone in the church building?  If this happens to be any group claiming to follow the New Testament, they have not only missed the boat, the have missed the ocean it sails on.  Being alone in the church will always result when people assemble to reinforce worship rituals and to fulfill legal requirements. ... Sometimes the only 'joyful noise' heard in many assemblies is the final 'Amen.'  That statement was not made to be unkind, but rather to point out how completely different our assemblies are from what the New Testament churches were.  Our assemblies often resemble the Jewish temple worship more than the informal people-oriented house assemblies of the early Christians" (Root).  Now the Corinthian church had really messed up in their worship services.  We saw in chapter 12 how members were boasting about their spiritual gifts, so Paul then corrects them in chapter 13 admonishing them to put love for other members above their boasting.  Now Paul in chapter 14 gives more instruction regarding miraculous gifts and worship.  So what else was going wrong in the Corinthian worship?  A brother gives this answer: "Compromising Christian worship with idolatrous rituals and the experiential practices of the mystery religions brought disorder and confusion into the Christian assemblies.  Paul rejected this cultural compromise ... The Corinthian assemblies must be been something to witness.  Some people would be speaking in foreign languages, and some would be prophesying 'in the spirit.'  Women would be vocal and aggressive in leadership roles [just as they had been in both Grecian and Roman pagan religions].  No one really cared or understood what was going on.  The church had excitement [and noise], [but it also had] confusion and disorder. ... Neither the tongue speakers nor the listeners understood what was being said. ... An unbeliever entering the assembly could not rationally understand what was going on and would be prompted to think, 'These people must be mad.' ... The speakers got so caught up in their actions that they did not care if they were edifying others. ... [These] activities were not authorized by God" (Jividen).  Paul wants this church and us to be a worshipful church.  Today, we are not in the age of miracles, so much of what Paul says about miraculous gifts doesn't apply today.  But there are some principles about worship that are applicable to us today.  Let's focus on four ways that Paul wants to help us to be a worshipful church.
 
First of all, make your messages edify, exhort, and comfort (14:1-5)! Let's read the first five verses (the underlining highlights from where the principle came): "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.  For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.  But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.  He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.  I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification."  Paul's desire for the church in Corinth is that they be strong spiritually.  Those members who have the gift of speaking in tongues, or speaking in another language, are only a limited help to the congregation because if the language isn't interpreted, then those listening don't understand what is being communicated.  Those who have the gift of prophesy are more useful since they explain what God desire and do so in a language that everybody can understand, so other members are edified, exhorted, and comforted.  Those who prophesy help to make the congregation stronger than those who have the gift of tongues.  We don't have either of these gifts today since we learned in our study of chapter 13 that they were of a limited duration: “Love never fails, but whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.  But we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when that which is perfect has come [when members in congregations are living mature lives in Christ], then that which is in part will be done away.”  You nourish a baby on milk, but when it becomes mature, you then give it solid food.  In a similar way, infant congregations of young Christians enjoyed the help of miraculous gifts, but when they matured, those gifts ceased and were done away.  Despite that truth, Paul presents a principle here that is applicable for us today. During worship services, make your messages edify, exhort, and comfort. All members should leave our assemblies strengthened, and challenged, and made to feel secure that God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are near them and will provide for them.  It is true that there is a vertical dimension to worship as we human beings seek to adore, to commune with, and to reach out to the divine Trinity.  But it is also true that worship has a horizontal dimension that we must not overlook.  Another brother states the same idea in this way: "Neither bribery or fear produces worship, but it is the natural response of the body of Christ to its head. It should not be overlooked that the worship of the body not only flows upward to the Lord but also outward to the members.  Worship is not a one way tunnel to the divine but a sharing among brothers" (Willis).  Make your messages edify, exhort, and comfort.  Messages aren't just limited to sermons either, but this idea covers all aspects of our worship together.  When the early Christians met, as we saw earlier, there was a wonderful informality and simplicity about their services. They did not meet in fancy buildings with religious furnishings.  Someone gave this good advice: "Every member should be able to understand the words of hymns, prayers, readings, and sermons. ... All should avoid showiness and flashiness in words, as much as in architecture" (Willis). The worship service in Corinth was creating confusion and bewilderment, rivalry and put downs, chaos and division.  But Paul says in 14:33 that God is not the author of confusion but of peace.  This kind of worship service is not God's will.  God wants people to be built up, and fired up, and inspired up by what God has done and is doing for them.  Let's work hard to make our message edify, exhort, and comfort.  You may not know this, but we have a “Suggestion Box” out in our foyer.  If you can think of ways that we can improve our worship services so that are more helpful to others, why don't you share that constructive idea with us in that way or by talking with any of our elders.  Let's practice Paul's principle: Make your messages edify, exhort, and comfort.  Be a worshipful church!
 
Next, make your words understandable (14:6-12)!  Let's read verses 6-12: "But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?  Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?  For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?  So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken?  For you will be speaking into the air.  There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.  Therefore, if you do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreign to me.  Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for edification of the church that you seek to excel."  Paul's point here is about the same as the previous paragraph.  Speaking in tongues offers little profit to the listeners.  If musical instruments don't have distinct notes, a melody can't be recognized.  If a trumpet is not blown properly, the soldiers will be confused.  Some of the Corinthians thought that they were “tough stuff” since they could speak in foreign languages under the Spirit's guidance, but Paul says that if others don't understand it, then it's just as useless as speaking into the air.  Make your words understandable.  A foreign language won't build up the congregation unless there is if an interpretation.  It will just sound like a bunch of gibberish.  Several members here experienced this when they heard me preach in Italian!  Excel in those gifts that will build up the congregation.  Paul keeps coming back to this thought.  The building up of other members, and not yourself, is what really matters.  Make your words understandable.  It is easy for members in the church to sometimes use terms that mean little to those who are our visitors; words like “justification, redemption, sanctification, and mortification” can almost sound like a foreign language if those words aren't explained and clarified.  If you use words that are hard to understand, people won't know what is spoken.  A preacher once told about a sermon he had worked hard on because he tried to explain truths using the simplest words possible.  A ten-year-old boy came to him after the sermon and said something like this: “Preacher, that was really a good sermon; I understood every word of it!”  The preacher felt complimented that his efforts had paid off, and his message had been understandable to that young listener.  Confession time: I don't purposefully try to preach messages that are over your heads.  When that does happen, you have every right to come to me and say: “Now preacher, you said that our words in worship should be understandable.  I think you might need to work on that some more.”  Now, that's fair enough, but be ready to explain where I got too complicated when I ask you to help me understand.  Where there is understanding, people can act with confidence.  This is what God desires.  Make your words understandable. Be a worshipful church!
 
Next, make your activities rational (14:13-21)!  Now let's read verses 13-21: "Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.  For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.  What is the conclusion then?  I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding.  I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.  Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uniformed say, 'Amen' at your giving thanks, since he does not understand what you say?  For you indeed gave thanks well, but the other is not edified.  I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church, I would rather speak five words with my understanding that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.  Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.  In the law, it is written: 'With men of other tongues and other lips, I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,' says the Lord."  Paul continues to stress edification.  If you have the gift of tongues, then pray that you can interpret what you said so that others can understand and be strengthened.  We should sing and pray with enthusiasm, but we should also sing and pray using our minds.  We live in times that stress emotions, and feelings, and experiences, and Paul says that there should be some spirit in our worship.  But notice that he doesn't stop here. The rational, knowledge, and understanding are also stressed.  If others don't understand what we teach, they can't add an “Amen” because they haven't really comprehended what we wanted to communicate.  They were not built up, but confused.  And there's “edify” being used again. Paul himself has the gift of tongues as well, but Paul says when the church is assembled, he would rather speak five words that are intelligible, understandable, and rational than 10,000 words in a tongue that nobody understands!  Make your activities rational.  "Brethren," shows Paul's affection for these members, even though they have often acted selfishly.  Don't be childish in your understanding, but be mature or perfect (that's the same word we saw in 13:10).  Children often prefer the amusing over the useful and the glittering over the solid (Morris).  Why?  They lack understanding, don't they?  Then Paul quotes a passage to show that God Himself used tongues, but it did the Israelites little good since they failed to understand His efforts.  Make your activities rational.  Lynn told about a youth meeting where they did something different.  Now that's not always unexpected at a youth meeting, but what was more disturbing was that after the activity, nothing was explained about why it was done and what its purpose was.  This happened three or four times, and do you know what it created?  It created confusion, bewilderment, and tension.  There was the novel, but the novel without the rational, creates confusion, and not edification. Make your activities rational.  Be a worshipful church!
 
Next, make your services convincing and convicting (14:22-25)!  Let's read verses 22-25: "Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.  Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?  But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, and is convicted by all.  And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you."  Paul is again contrasting the effectiveness of the gift of tongues and the gift of prophesying.  If all members were speaking in foreign languages and there was no interpretation, the unbeliever would hear all the gibberish and think that these people are crazy!  But prophesy would be more effective because the messages would be understood, and they would create inspiration (because the secret things are revealed), certainty (because more than one person would be giving the same message), and conviction (because only a powerful God could cause His followers to be united in their messages).  Again, we are NOT living in the age of such miracles, but isn't there another principle that can be applied in our worship services?  Make your services convincing and convicting!  Paul has stressed building up believers throughout this passage, but here he specifically notes that our worship services should also have an evangelistic purpose towards those who are not believers.  By all that we say and do, they should be convinced that we worship the true and living God, who is also the Eternal and Holy One!  They should be convicted that Christ and the Holy Spirit are alive, and they rule in and over our lives!  Make your services convincing and convicting!  Have we become an airport church?  Are we focused more on our facility than on our fellowship, more on our keeping on schedule than on saving souls, more on our rituals than on the Righteous One?  We may have a wonderful airport, but is anybody flying and getting closer to God?  Make your services convincing and convicting!  How can we better do this?  That's a good discussion topic; let’s talk about how this could be done.  Be a worshipful church!
 
The early Christians had very different assemblies: no church buildings, no pews, no parking lots, no pulpits, no songbooks, no clocks, and no bulletins with a worship order.  Now, nothing is wrong with any of these, but do we let them have our focus?  What did the early Christians have?  They had: members' homes, large rooms, and schools in which to assemble, singing from memory, Scriptures from the Old Testament and maybe a few letters now found in our New Testament, a worship order that may have changed frequently since the Holy Spirit sometimes directly intervened and changed up things, a joyful enthusiasm, a wonder at what Christ might do next, a deep love for people and closeness to one another with heartfelt concern, a devotion to Christ that was willing to face physical persecution from the government.  Are we really being the church of the New Testament?  Let's be a worshipful church!
 
Let’s pray: “Our Heavenly Father, to You be praise as the true and living God!  Thank You for the principles that Paul has given us.  Help us to be a worshipful church!  In Jesus’ name, Amen!”  
 
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).  Let's quit playing at our worship.  Let's put God first and adore Him with all our hearts, our minds, our souls, our strength! Obey Jesus His Son by repenting of your sins and clothing yourself with Christ in the waters of baptism!  If you're stuck in the Airport Church, why not remember the Head of the church and ask Him for His help. Christ wants each one of us to soar!