6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):
Why do we place such importance on gathering as a body and worshipping together? We could just worship at home couldn’t we? Why do we need to be together? For most of my life, I have just accepted it as a non-negotiable commandment of God. You know, “the Bible says it—I believe it—that settles it,” kind of thinking. I think I have mostly assumed God wants us there so we can worship him, but then I ask myself, “Does God really care about all this singing?” Then someone will say something like, “Worship is the central act of the people of God,” as though that’s supposed to clench it, but it leaves me asking, “Why is worship the central act of the people of God?”
Paul continues in today’s text with his argument about the gift and place of tongues in the gathered worship of the church. In the process he gives a key insight as to why gathered worship may be so essential.
So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.
Be reminded, Paul writes the Corinthian church in order to speak into their particular problems. In the process we can glean some broad general principles about worship gatherings. First, worship is for God, therefore, worship must be clearly ordered by the Word of God. Second, worship is for the church, therefore it must be spontaneously alive by the Spirit of God. Herein lives the rule of worship: Word and Spirit; divine order and divine spontaneity. And the rule of worship, it should be pointed out, is the rule of life. (Not “rules” mind you, but “rule.”)
God, by his Word, orders the world into which, God, by his Spirit, breathes life and love and creative power. You see, the Church is the New World, the “New Creation” of God’s making. Worship, by Word and Spirit; by gathering and then scattering, is the way God does it.
The Church has gone wrong when it has over emphasized one or another of these two prime elements: Word and Spirit. On the one hand we have mistakenly thought the Word was about order and the Spirit about spontaneity. The truth is they are inseparably fused realities.
In another way, we have made the mistake of substituting “sermon” and “music” for Word and Spirit as though those were interchangeable terms. We have assumed worship was primarily about great preaching and great singing; hence we’ve brought worship down to the level of our own preferences. In the process we have often abandoned “the Tradition,” the living faith of the dead, while thinking we were getting rid of “traditionalism,” the dead faith of the living.
Paul is not here talking about the “order of worship.” He speaks of order “in” worship. For Paul, order “in” worship means creating space for the work of Word and Spirit to create, strengthen and build up the church. Worship is for the sake of the re-creative work of God in our midst so we might be the re-creative “works” of God in the midst of the broken world.
So what if we thought about our worship gatherings exclusively according to Word and Spirit? What would it mean to open ourselves up to the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the Word centered gathering of worship? It would mean more tongues-confessing, “Jesus is Lord,” on bended knees, and more invitations of “Come Holy Spirit” from surrendered hearts. It would mean eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit such that we might excel in building up the Church.
So where do we begin?
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Thank you for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thank you even more for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Increase our understanding of the gifts through expanding our practice of the gifts. We cannot be the Church without the gifts of the Spirit. Come Holy Spirit and infuse us with more of you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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