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1 Corinthians 14:26-40 Study Guide: Orderly Worship

Community Group Study Guide — Orderly Worship
1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Main idea:
Paul concludes his focus on Spiritual gifts by encouraging the whole church to come to worship ready to contribute, but to do so in an orderly way so that people can be edified and built up in the faith. 

Study Information:
Throughout 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul has been describing the use of spiritual gifts in the life of the church with a particular focus on corporate worship. Spiritual gifts are skills and abilities given by the Holy Spirit to manifest the grace of God as we love and serve one another. We’ve learned spiritual gifts are meant for the common good, each member is gifted, they’re to be used in love, and overall meant to edify the church in a way that is understandable. Paul turns his attention to the overall structure of corporate worship gatherings in this last part of chapter 14 and based on what we read in this section it appears that the Corinthian gatherings were pretty chaotic. 

It is important to understand that there are some parts of this passage that are controversial and can strike us as unsettling. However, this passage has a particularly context and setting, so let’s try and understand that as we work through this passage.

Come to worship ready to contribute:
1 Corinthians 14:26
Paul desires that we come to the worship gatherings ready to use our spiritual gifts, ready for worship, and ready to build up one another in the faith. Paul gives a sample of the gifts used in public worship like preparing a lesson, bringing a hymn and a revelation. Each week that we gather there are people who have come prepared to teach kids, some who are part of the set up teams like hospitality, others who’ve been planning music for worship and one of the pastors ready to preach the word. But even if you do not have an upfront place in the worship gathering you’re still encouraged here to come ready to contribute because as Paul says “each one has a _______.” We gather to sing, hear the word and receive communion but let’s not forget the aspects of worship before and after the formal gathering where we can be using spiritual gifts of encouragement, exhortation, administration, hospitality and generosity.

The more we gather, ready to contribute, and prayerfully think about how we can build up one another rather than gathering in order to receive the more we see the church become what it is described in scripture. A place where we exalt God and where we build each other up in faith. 

Orderly worship is not stifling:
1 Corinthians 14:27-33, 40
Most people live their day to day lives with some level of predictability and order. In many ways order leads to greater freedom. If you’ve ever driven in a major urban area of another country you know the feeling of how lack of order can lead to chaos. Try driving in the Philippines or Phnom Penh, Cambodia for example. The chaos of it all, everyone pursuing their individual paths and plans, leads to a lack of freedom. The same is true in the worship gathering. We’re to come ready to contribute and participate but not at the expense of one another or the planned structure for worship. Some of us think that the Holy Spirit’s job is to inspires spontaneity and interruptibility. However, when we dig into the Holy Spirit’s ministry we see that one of his major works is to bring order out of chaos. We first learn this in Genesis 1 as the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep, and we see this throughout the scripture as the Holy Spirit leads, guides and sanctifies followers of Jesus. Likewise, in this passage we see that the Spirit leads to order in worship. Having a plan is not unspiritual. Look at verse 33, God is not a God of confusion but of peace. We also learn, verse 40, that we should strive to do all things decently and in order. This is not a prohibition from showing emotion in worship, being exuberant or responding in praise. Rather this passage teaches us that the public gathering should be a place where God is exalted, we build up one another in the faith and do so in a way that is ordered. There will be times of spontaneity and interruptibility in worship gatherings but we should be cautious to think that following the Spirit and spontaneity are the same thing. 

The specific instructions Paul gives us here would be to have some limits on different aspects of the worship gathering. We get a sense that the Corinthian church was kind of a free for all with people speaking in tongues, asking questions and prophesying without reference to order or structure. Paul’s encouragement is to have two or three speak in a tongue, each in turn and not at the same time; and only when a translator is present. Two or three can prophesy but only when there is time for the prophesies to be weighed and discussed (1 Corinthians 14:27-28, 30-32). Prophesy in the Corinthian church was an opportunity in the worship gathering to publicly exhort the congregation and as we looked at in our last study guide, it was a Spirit given word. What would happen next in their gatherings is that they would “weigh” the prophesy and discuss what was said. Presumably the elders of the church or other people with the gift of prophesy and had been designated with the authority to do so.

People in the Corinthian church were speaking over one another and therefore people were not being built up. If everyone brings something to contribute and competes with one another in worship or insists on how they ought to “follow the Spirit” then we are left with a pretty chaotic event where there is not a lot of building up. Some of us are fearful of church feeling “dead” if it is too structured or planned, and yet Paul does not seem to share that concern. Having boundaries, and focus areas when we gather seem to create greater freedom for all to worship.

What about the verses on women in the worship gathering?
1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Whatever Paul is saying here, he is not saying that women should be silent at all times. He has already encouraged them to pray and prophesy, likewise in other letters we’re all commanded to sing and participate with our words (Colossians 3:16). 

So what does this mean? One prominent view is that Paul is prohibiting women from being part of weighing the prophecies since the immediate context revolves around the whole church not speaking over one another and the time of discerning the prophecies in particular. Another view is that the church in the ancient world likely could have had divided seating with men on one side and women and children on the other, which is a somewhat common fixture in the Middle East today. Naturally the side with children would be a bit more chaotic with the opportunity to miss something being said and the need to ask questions, hence the admonition to ask those questions at home (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Another interpretation is that there were a group of women who were challenging what was being said and that is why Paul brings up the need for submission since it became an authority issue. Another view on these verses is that they were not really written by the Apostle Paul, but every early manuscript has these verses in them so that is a highly unlikely scenario. 

To summarize, we know that Paul is not talking about an absolute prohibition against women speaking in church because he’d be contradicting himself in a number of other places. Likely these verses are referring to the weighing in of prophecies, but do be done in a way that honors husband and wife relations as detailed out in 1 Corinthians 11. Even though Paul is specifically discussing prophecy and tongues in this section this is a good admonition for us all, male and female, to be careful to not be distracting in worship through asking and answering questions or purposefully disrupting worship. 

As we conclude our mini-series on spiritual gifts, Paul would have us come to church ready to contribute in worship. We’re wired by our culture to come ready to receive, but each person has something to give to build up the body in Christ to be used in an orderly way.

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Do you think of the Holy Spirit’s work as being naturally more spontaneous or orderly? What are some reasons Paul desires for the worship service to be ordered?

Describe what a Corinthians worship service may have looked like based on our time in chapter 14.

What are some specific ways you can come to church in the spirit of verse 26?

What questions does this section of 1 Corinthians leave you with? How can you go about finding answers to them?