Archive for the ‘#tongues’ Tag

Providing Structure   Leave a comment

When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to co-housing. Fairbanks, Alaska had a housing shortage and my parents were renting a larger sized house, so for about a year, two of their friends shared the house with them. We had seven children under one roof. The husbands were all in and out working at remote camps. Two of the women worked outside of the home and one stayed home and cooked and cleaned and child-wrangled.

Image result for image of an orderly church serviceRaising seven children can’t be an easy job. The enormity of this task was compounded by Alaska’s cold climate. She couldn’t just send us outside. So, she had to institute some rules, some of which I remember:

Don’t throw things in anger, look the parents directly in the eye when they’re speaking to you, obey when sent to do something and don’t stomp, whine or argue, use your indoor voice, don’t make disgusting or obscene noises in public (that was the boys), don’t interrupt others when they’re speaking, take your shoes off at the door, don’t touch the walls (rented house), turn off the lights if you’re the last one to leave it, don’t flip light switches on and off, on and off.

I remember those rules because the adults took them serviously and there were consequences for disobedience. The rules were there to turn chaos into order.

Paul was the spiritual parent of the Corinthian congregation and in many ways he is our spiritual parent as well. Like any good parent, Paul communicated his “house rules”. He insisted there must be order in the church. If chaos and confusion reign supreme, worship will not build up the body of Christ. While worship can be creative and free, it still needs to be orderly. In our subject passage, Paul shared two directives that will help us maintain order in the church.

Pursue order in worship

What should you do thenbrothers and sisters? When you come togethereach one has a songhas a lessonhas a revelationhas a tonguehas an interpretationLet all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. 1 Corinthians 14:26

Speaking across the centuries, Paul tells us how to have an orderly worship service. Addressing the Corinthians, he began with a general principle. The first expression in this verse, “What is the outcome then?” is one of Paul’s typical methods of summing up a discussion before moving on to the next section. Before he concluded this topic of spiritual gifts, he wanted to give a general perspective on their use in the worship setting. His counsel was for all of God’s people to come prepared to participate. When the house churches in Corinth met for worship, it was normal for everyone to come ready to contribute. Some would bring a song they had written, some a teaching, some a revelation and some a tongue or an interpretation. These five gifts are not exhaustive list of all spiritual gifts. Paul was merely saying that he longed for God’s people to come to church ready to build up the body.

Paul concluded with a command: “Let all things be done for edification.” The gifts that manifest themselves during worship must be done for the strengthening of the church. The corporate worship service is not a time for self-edification, showing off, or entertainment. It is a time for edification or strengthening of the body. Congregational worship is not about the individual, it is about the body.

Individual Christian must come to receive and to give. There can be no passive listeners. Is that your mentality when you come to church? Do you come to participate or to spectate? Historically, the church has usually grown the fastest in small, informal fellowships. These may be fledgling “church plants” or small groups within larger more established congregations. The church grows in health and size when people recognize their spiritual gifts and get involved. Do you know your gift? How are you presently using your gift in the body?

If someone speaks in a tongueit should be twoor at the most threeone after the otherand someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreterhe should be silent in the churchLet him speak to himself and to God. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28

Having recognized that the Corinthian church members were particularly dense to God’s guidance, Paul provided regulations on how tongues should manifest themselves in the corporate worship service, and those regulations have come down to us. Paul had rules for speaking in tongues in the congregation:

  • No more than two or three should speak in tongues in a given service
  • Only one person should speak in tongues at a time
  • No one should speak unless an interpreter is present and identified. A tongue speaker can control his gift. The interpreter can be the tongue speaker, but the interpreter must be identified before one speaks in a tongue or the speaker should hold silence, not just hope there is one. Of course, if there is no interpreter present, the tongues speaker doesn’t have to stifle his or her gift, he or she simply must use it silently.
  • There will be no audible tongues in public church meetings. This goes back to the problem of uninterpreted tongues and their ability to build up worship.
  • In small groups or adult fellowships, ask permission and consider who is present. If there is no interpretation, then there is no legitimate word from the Lord by tongues at that moment. This is not meant to stifle the use of gifts, but to instill order within corporate worship.

Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. And if someone sitting down receives a revelationthe person who is speaking should conclude. For you can all prophesy one after anotherso all can learn and be encouraged. Indeedthe spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace. 1 Corinthians 14:29-33

After providing regulations on tongues, Paul offered some restrictions on prophecy:

  • Limit prophesying to two or three speakers. The mind can only absorb so much at any given time.
  • The church is to weigh carefully what is said. Certainly, when prophecy is taken to include Spirit-filled preaching, it seems clear that the ordinary “layperson” is often in a better position to determine how well or accurately the preacher has communicated than are fellow-preachers, who are absorbed in the fine points of the theology or technique of the message. The word used here is diakrino, meaning “to evaluate carefully.” Sometimes this could take days. A prophecy might be controversial, and the elders may need some time of prayer to determine its validity. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:211 John 4:1).
  • One prophecy at a time. Prophesying is to be done in turn. If one person desires to speak, he or she should be given the floor. Paul made clear that there was to be no speaking over another person’s words. If this control is lost, a prophecy is not of God. I suspect Corinth had a problem with certain people monopolizing “prophecy time.” Paul insisted all may prophesy one by one (not in the same worship service, of course), it is only fair that everyone who has this gift should receive the opportunity to exercise it at one time or another. Paul declared that people can control themselves. A sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence is order and courtesy. The entire purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the entire congregation.

Paul concluded by sharing a crucial principle worth bearing in mind: “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” The procedures in the worship service shouldn’t be disruptive but orderly. Paul had already stated one reason for this principle — unbelievers will be turned off to the church if there is pandemonium through a free-for-all exercise of tongues. More importantly, orderly worship reflects the character of God.

Respect God-ordained authority

As in all the churches of the saints, the women 13  should be silent in the churchesfor they are not permitted to speak. 14  Ratherlet them be in submissionas in fact the law says. 14:35 If they want to find out about somethingthey should ask their husbands at homebecause it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

Paul provided a number of thoughts on how we can respect the authority that God has put in place.

What is the role of women in ministry? I wrote a study on that a while ago, so I’m not going to address it in detail here. I don’t think 14:34-35 is a blanket denial to women of a public ministry in the church. I go to a church where the music leader is a woman. I can read in Acts where women were deacons. In chapter 11, Paul clearly acknowledged that under certain situations a woman may pray or prophesy in public. So, what’s up with him writing that women are to keep silent in the churches — that they aren’t permitted to speak, but must subject themselves to the rules of men? He said if women desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home for it’s improper for a woman to speak in church. Paul indicated that this was common practice in the churches of the 1st century.

So, what’s up with him writing that women are to keep silent in the churches — that they aren’t permitted to speak, but must subject themselves to the rules of men? He said if women desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home for it’s improper for a woman to speak in church. Paul indicated that this was common practice in the churches of the 1st century.

So which is true – women can be deacons and leaders as seen in Acts, but they are to be silent and only ask questions at home?

Sometimes you have to get deep in the details. The Greek verb translated “to be silent” (sigao) doesn’t mean they can’t speak at all in the local church. The word has contextual limits. The restriction may be temporal or topical. In the former, someone is to be silent while someone else is speaking. In the latter, the one who is silent doesn’t speak in a certain manner or on a certain topic, but he or she can speak in other ways and on other issues. Thus, Paul was restricting speech designed to critique prophetic utterances, but that didn’t other forms of verbal participation. Paul forbid women to speak in church only in regard to the judgment or evaluation of prophetic utterances. Evidently, he believed that this entailed an exercise of authority restricted to men only.

Why? Again, you have to look at the Greek. I am not a Greek scholar, but I own a bunch of books written by Greek scholars.

The word “subject” was a military term describing the chain of command. Scripture uses it in reference to Jesus and is a universal truth for the church. All of God’s people are to practice Biblical submission. That’s not just women, that’s men, children, elders, pastors. It applies to all Christians.

In that context, Paul commanded women to respect the God-ordained authority of their husbands. What sort of situation might produce a challenge between the views of husbands and wives? Since both men and women could prophesy (see 11:4-5), it is entirely possible that a husband and wife might say different or even contradictory things, and this could lead to an argument in front of the rest of the church body. Or if when one prophet spoke and the church evaluated what was said (14: 29), once again a husband and wife could end up in an open, public disagreement as to the content of that prophecy. Paul considered it disgraceful to damage the witness of the church in the eyes of the culture around them.

14:36 Did the word of God begin with you, 16  or did it come to you alone?

If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual personhe should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 1 Corinthians 14:37-38

The Old Testament does not teach that women are to remain silent at all times in worship, but it does endorse male headship in the home and in worship, consistent with Paul’s teaching here and elsewhere. Man was created first, then the woman was created to be a helpmate for him. It was in that order, not the other way around. In a matter of authority, the woman’s authority over creation involves her own voluntary submission under the authority of male leadership.

Paul sought to humble the arrogant Corinthians with a short and not entirely sweet point. An imperative appears in each verse. Paul gave a stern warning: anyone who ignores the advice/command he had just given will not be recognized as a leader, not by the congregation, but by God, Who will ignore these individuals and accomplish His work without them.

Paul turned to his summation for this section. Again, we should desire prophecy and refuse to forbid tongues. However, tongues operate best in a small group context where believers know one another. Ideally, each member of the group knows the other members’ spiritual gifts. Hence, if you know someone has the gift of interpretation, there is freedom for you to speak in tongues. We need balance on this matter of speaking in tongues. Many Christians error in extremes: everyone speaks in tongues or no one speaks in tongues. The whole focus of this chapter, I believe, was to discourage the public use of tongues, but for a higher reason than just to control people.

So thenbrothers and sisters, be eager to prophesyand do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues. And do everything in a decent and orderly manner.

1 Corinthians 14:39-40

Paul’s final words in this section sum up the overarching concern for congregational worship. The word translated “order” is a military term for falling in rank. Paul only used this word in one other context and it is translated “stability or firmness.” When the body of Christ functions the way it should, there will be a sense of stability that will encourage people to come back or more. We should strive for order within the churches, seeking to edify the whole congregation while not sliding into the “frozen chosen” stance where we seem not to allow God to work at all.

If people experience God’s presence in worship, they will come back, they will tell their friends, they will long for it. It’s all here—conviction of sin, a dissection of the heart, and awareness of God’s presence. God wants His church to come together and experience all that He has for her. Will you be a part of all that God wants to do?

 

Put Your Ministry Where Your Mouth Is   Leave a comment

It’s safe to say that email is the communication mode of choice in the 20-teens. It’s quick, you don’t have to spend time in idle chatter and you get a receipt that says whether it was delivered and opened. Yet, e-mail is not always the best form of communication. It’s sometimes misunderstood even by people we know pretty well. As the sender, we understand what we meant, but the recipient may not “get” our point or they might read into the e-mail something we never intended.

Image result for image of speaking in tonguesBack when I worked in social work, I appended a wry comment to a response to a coworker’s email. It was meant to be funny and I am known to be quippy. Imagine my surprise when I had to explain my email to the Human Resources officer because my coworker thought I was commenting on her sex life. For the record, I never discuss other people’s sex lives (unless they give me express permission to discuss it on this blog and then I change their names to protect their privacy. The HR officer was pretty sure that was what I meant and the coworker actually ended up apologizing to me, but it made me a lot more cautious of trying to make a joke over email. The inability to include body language and voice modulation in email should cause all of us to carefully read our e-mails and pause before we respond and hit the SEND button.

Likewise, reading a letter to a church that was written 2,000 years ago can be challenging. It’s easy to misunderstand the author’s intent because we may not be aware of what was taking place in the life of the church. Often, God’s people jump to conclusions before carefully studying a biblical passage. Have you been guilty of this? I know I have been. I think we all have. Then, there’s a whole lot of people fairly unfamiliar with the Bible who google Scripture passages and take them out of context to try to score some points in online haranguing sessions.

Christians, our aim must be to understand Scripture in the way God intended. We must try not to read our own traditions, preferences, or experiences into God’s Word. Scripture should inform our choices, not the other way around. This is especially important when it comes to the controversial areas of worship and spiritual gifts.

What does the Bible teaches about what a church worship service should look like? 1 Corinthians 14 gives us some insight into that question. It also calls some of us to task for how our churches currently conduct this important gathering.

If there’s an overriding message for today’s lesson it’s “Put your ministry where your mouth is.”

Clear communication is critical in the church

Paul highlighted prophecy and tongues as important spiritual gifts, but he gave prophesy the greater significance.

Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual giftsespecially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1

Image result for image of prophesyFirst and foremost, Paul commanded the churches to pursue, strive for, and seek after love. This command “pursue” (dioko) means “to pursue or persecute.” It is a strong word that serves to remind us that love can be an elusive thing. We do not find real love by wishful thinking or halfhearted effort. We must pursue it eagerly every day if we are going to find it operating in our lives as it should. As a church, if we make love our top pursuit we will discover that our capacity to minister to those around us grows with every passing year.

Paul then commanded the church to “desire earnestly” spiritual gifts, particularly prophecy. To prophesy is “to proclaim divine revelation” or “to speak on behalf of God.” Prophecy is not necessarily preaching or teaching, but it has elements of both. It can be both spontaneous and prepared. Paul suggests in this passage that all God’s people can exercise prophecy. When we gather for worship, we ought to pray that the Lord will give us a word for someone in the church (see 14:26). Hence, we all come to church to minister. It’s not just the pastor who does this.

Apparently, the Corinthian church had exalted the gift of tongues above the prophetic gift of the proclamation of truth. Paul wanted to restore a healthy balance to the public worship life of that congregation by comparing and contrasting speaking in tongues and prophesying, while explaining why he put prophecy above tongues in terms of importance.

For the one speaking in a tongue does not speak to people but to Godfor no one understandshe is speaking mysteries by the SpiritBut the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself upbut the one who prophesies builds up the church. I wish you all spoke in tonguesbut even more that you would prophesyThe one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tonguesunless he interprets so that the church may be strengthened. 1 Corinthians 14:2-5

Some observations:

  • Paul held a high view of speaking in tongues and considered it a viable spiritual gift. Some are critical of tongues because of its divisive nature, but my own belief (drawn from Paul’s words here) are that the only problem with tongues is when Christians abuse the gift and behave in an immature and prideful way. Tongues is a good gift that God has given His church for its edification. The problem doesn’t lie with the spiritual gift, but rather with those who misunderstand and misuse what God has graciously provided.
  • The gift of tongues that Paul referred to in this context is a private prayer language. Ooo, I feel the Southern Baptist Convention looking my way with displeasure. Sorry if that upsets some non-charismatics, but Paul wrote that he would like to see all the Corinthians inspired by the Spirit to speak in tongues, but presumably only in the privacy of their own homes and only if they had been given this gift (see 12:28-30).
  • The gift of prophecy is for today (see 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22). Not in the sense of authoritative, inerrant revelation from God, but as a word of “edification, exhortation, and consolation” (14:3). The words “prophet”, “prophecies”, “prophesy”, and “prophesying” are used over 200 times in the New Testament. The whole notion of prophecy and prophesying is a big part of the New Testament. It’s not a minor doctrine. It’s a major teaching of the New Testament.
  • Paul’s primary concern was the edification of the body of Christ (the church). A form of the word “edify” is used four times in this passage. This is the foremost reason why spiritual gifts were given to us (see 12:7). It is important to note that Paul was not being critical of tongues speakers edifying themselves. He was not opposed to edifying oneself. This is one reason we come to church on Sunday, to strengthen ourselves. When we exercise our spiritual gifts, we edify ourselves in a similar way. Nevertheless, there is a double meaning to the word “edify” in this context. Since arrogance was such a problem the Corinthian church, it seems that some were getting puffed up over their use of tongues. Paul’s wish that everyone would speak in tongues is still a genuine desire, but in public worship, we should only engage in what builds up the church. Edification is the benchmark by which we measure what goes on in public worship.

Nowbrothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongueshow will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation or with knowledge or prophesy or teachingIt is similar for lifeless things that make a soundlike a flute or harpUnless they make a distinction in the noteshow can what is played on the flute or harp be understood? Iffor example, the trumpet makes an unclear soundwho will get ready for battle? It is the same for you. If you do not speak clearly with your tonguehow will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the airThere are probably many kinds of languages in the worldand none is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of a languageI will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 1 Corinthians 14:6-11

Paul explained the problem with uninterpreted tongues is no one benefits from something that he or she can’t understand. Paul wanted to be sure that what occurs in the worship service is profitable for all attendees, so he emphasized gifts of clear communication. Paul wanted everything to be done for edification… strengthening … of the church body, not just select individuals who wanted to look good.

Paul gave three analogies or metaphors that expound on the necessity of intelligibility in congregational worship.

  1. In order to be understood or appreciated musical instruments must play a discernible melody. If the musicians playing the flute and harp don’t give a clear distinction between the notes, the audience will not understand the tune.
  2. On the field of battle, bugle calls must be clear enough for soldiers to distinguish “Advance!” from “Retreat!” Trumpets or bugles were often used to summon people to battle or to give a signal for when to charge the enemy or when to stop fighting because the battle was over. Presumably there were different note patterns for each command. But if the trumpeter sounded either an unclear note pattern or a muffled sound so that the soldiers could not clearly distinguish what was being played, they would become confused and not know what they were supposed to do.
  3. Foreign languages remain unintelligible to those who have not learned them. The one who speaks in tongues without interpreting is speaking into the air. It is important to understand that these verses merely serve as an illustration. Paul was not saying the gift of tongues in this context is a foreign language. He was simply trying to say that tongues must be interpreted or they are of no value to those who can’t interpret.

Applying all three of these illustrations, Paul said that it is not the mere sound of speaking that is important, but whether the sounds can be understood by the hearers.

It is the same with youSince you are eager for manifestations of the Spiritseek to abound in order to strengthen the church. 1 Corinthians 14:12

Paul again commanded the church to seek those gifts which would build up the body, particularly prophecy.

Look around your church on Sunday and ask yourself if the congregation you attend matches that instruction. If it doesn’t, that okay, because Paul provided the solution to the problem of uninterpreted tongues.

So thenone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. If I pray in a tonguemy spirit praysbut my mind is unproductive. What should I do? I will pray with my spiritbut I will also pray with my mindI will sing praises with my spiritbut I will also sing praises with my mindOtherwiseif you are praising God with your spirithow can someone without gift say “Amen” to your  thanksgivingsince he does not know what you are saying. For you are certainly giving thanks wellbut the other person is not strengthened. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you, but in the church I want to speak five words with my mind to instruct othersrather than ten thousand words in a tongue.  1 Corinthians 14:13-19

What must a person do if God has given him or her the gift of tongues? Paul exhorted those who speak in tongues to pray that they will be able to interpret their own tongues and those of others. He then explained that he prayed and sang in his native language(s) and his prayer language. He sought to experience the best of both worlds—the spirit and the mind. Yet, he was still sensitive to ensure that during the worship event, people understood what was happening. Turns out, my Baptist buddies, Paul was an avid tongues speaker, but out of consideration for others he left his prayer language at home.

Mature thinking is critical in the church

Paul sought maturity in public worship.

Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinkingInsteadbe infants in evilbut in your thinking be mature.  1 Corinthians 14:20

Paul wanted the Corinthians to stop thinking like selfish, prideful children with regards to the gifts. They should be naïve infants with regards to evil, but mature believers in the worship service.

Citing a prophecy from Isaiah 28:11-12 (see also Deuteronomy 28:49), Paul wrote:

It is written in the law: “By people with strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to thispeople, yet not even in this way will they listen to me,” says the Lord. 1 Corinthians 14:21

The point of this Old Testament quotation is that if Israel would not hear the Lord through the prophets, they would not hear even when He spoke in foreign languages to them through foreign people. Why then, Paul asked, the emphasis on tongues in the Corinthian congregation?

So thentongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelieversProphecyhoweveris not for unbelievers but for believers. 1 Corinthians 14:22

I suspect this is one of those Jewish rabbi rhetorical questions that Paul sometimes slipped into his writing. It would be confusing to read it any other way because it seems to say the very opposite of what we would expect Paul to say. In Paul’s mind, tongues are a sign for believers and prophecy is a sign for unbelievers. How do I know that? I read the next few verses. (Context is everything!)

So if the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and unbelievers or uninformed people enterwill they not say that you have lost your minds? But if all prophesyand an unbeliever or uninformed person entershe will be convicted by allhe will be called to account by all. The secrets of his heart are his heart are disclosedand in this way he will fall down with his face to the ground and worship Goddeclaring“God is really among you.” 1 Corinthians 14:23-25

The effect of Christian prophecy on the unbeliever is threefold:

  • He will be convicted of sin (see. John 16:8)
  • he will be called to take account of his sins and examine his sinful condition
  • and he will have his sinful heart and past laid open to inspection (see John 4:16-19)

The triple use of “all” in verse 24 emphasizes that all the church through its prophetic message plays a part in bringing the unbeliever to this place of conviction. For the unbeliever in the church service will recognize that God really is present and dealing with him.

In the modern churches there are two competing groups: evangelicals and charismatics. Both groups are similar, but they do have a different flavor and for many, many years, they were somewhat hostile to one another.

Brad and I are evangelicals. He prays in a spiritual language in his place of solitude (otherwise known as our basement). I do not. God has not given me that gift and I don’t feel deprived because I can’t exercise it. We sometimes worship with charismatic friends who are generally okay with Brad not praying in tongues in their prayer meetings, but some of them get a little pushy with me because they feel I am missing out on something or refusing God’s guidance. Meanwhile, our Baptist friends are concerned that Brad prays in tongues when he’s alone (or sometimes in my presence). Not so much younger Baptists, but a lot of the older ones.

I believe God wants us to move beyond segregation by spiritual gifts to tolerance and even acceptance of the gifts of others. God would have His churches reconciled on this subject. He is calling the two halves of the churches back together again, not just to endure one another, but to delight in one another’s uniqueness and profit from it. God is calling us to a higher level of unity than ever before. He is asking us to embrace the full diversity of the body of Christ.

Remember, in heaven, there won’t be any evangelicals or charismatics. There will only be Christians worshiping with Jesus. We should get used to it now, because we will be worshiping Him in our own ways in heaven.

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