13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):
Many people are against the gift of tongues because they do not understand it. Others are opposed to the gift because they do not have it, and they have been made to feel somehow diminished as a Christian as a result. If anybody thought Paul had a problem with the gift of tongues he just blew that theory out of the water.
I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.
The governing question with respect to the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is whether it builds up the church. A gift from the Holy Spirit is an exceedingly good thing; however, if exercised to the detriment of other people it can be a bad thing. It comes down to loving other people. Paul brought his point to crystal clarity when he said in the prior chapter, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1.
When is the last time you were standing near a pair of cymbals being relentlessly banged together? Get in touch with that experience and you have the approximate value of speaking in tongues in the midst of public worship where what you are saying cannot be understood by others.
In the public worship of the church, the primary concern is whether those gathered can understand what is being said. Again, Paul is crystal clear:
But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
I wonder if there is an even more expanded application of this principle in our worship gatherings. I’ll be honest, for most of my going to church life, the focus has pretty much been on what’s happening up front. Sure, there was always the “Passing of the Peace” which pretty much got reduced to a “greet your neighbor” time (who you already greeted at Sunday School), but we weren’t too much even aware of each other in your typical worship service down at Dumas First United Methodist Church.
What if our worship gatherings became as much about each other as they were about God? Something in us resists that notion as it offends our sense of what worship is. Here’s my question: Why wouldn’t God want us to be about each other when we are gathered together to worship him? Reasoning a bit from below, imagine a group of a dozen siblings all coming home to visit their mother and father, yet all the conversation and interaction only happens between the siblings and the parents. Imagine how the parents would feel with their kids politely ignoring each other. It’s like they weren’t even there together. Or imagine a Division One Football game between the top rated teams in the country and the fans were all focused on the field with no interaction among each other. That gets close to many worship gatherings we see today.
Worship is a golden opportunity for the expression of the love of God. On that we all agree. But isn’t worship also a golden opportunity for the expression of the love of one another? The last time I checked, the most significant experience Jesus wants not-yet-believers to have with the church is that of exclaiming, “My how they love one another.” Imagine how it would bless the heart of God to see gatherings of worship where his people were irresistibly drawn into blessing one another in all kinds of ways.
What would need to change in our weekly gatherings for this to be realized?
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. In these days when we are not able to gather together for worship, teach us the deep things we are missing. Prepare us to come together with a deep and renewed love for you and for one another. Let our worship gatherings become places of concentrated love; love that combusts into power that lead to impossible things becoming possible. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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