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The Necessity of Order in the Worship Service- I Corinthians 14:20-40

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: Reflecting God Through Our Order

A planter in Kentucky hired a very talented mule-driver to work on his farm. To test him he handed him a new whip, climbed into a seat behind a pair of mules, and asked the new driver if he could use the whip. To prove his skill, Sam, the mule driver, flicked a butterfly on a clover blossom, then killed a honeybee with another swing of the whip. Further along they came to a hornet's nest beside the highway, with two or three hornets at the entrance.

`Can you hit them?' asked the planter.

'Yes, sir, I can, but I ain't goin to do it. Cause they're organized,' replied Sam.

What the wise mule driver had done was to point out a truth about the hornets, which is the fact of their order and organization. And, as we look around, this is also true of all of God's creation. Our God is a God of order, and He has created a universe full of order. There are cycles of days and nights. There are the seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.

As we look out into space, we see the earth revolving around the Sun at just the right distance to keep it from either freezing over or becoming too hot for life.

As we observe our bodies, we see many organs which all work together to give us life and help us function.

And these are just a few things that we could name about the wonderful orderly universe in which we live, created by a God who makes it all run perfectly.

Not only is our Creator orderly, but he created us in His image to be the same way. And He wants the things done in His name to have order and not chaos. Paul, in I Corinthians 14:20-40, is continuing to address what should and shouldn't happen in the worship services of churches when we use our Spiritual gifts. Chapter 14 is concluding the study of the gifts of the Spirit begun in chapter 12.

In chapter 13 Paul declared that God-like love should be the thing that governs all spiritual gifts and that without love, these gifts are useless. And in the first part of 14 he just got finished telling the Corinthians that the gift of prophecy is superior to the gift of tongues, unless you have an interpreter. This is true because of the fact that the only person who would benefit from speaking in tongues is the speaker. On the other hand, prophecy involved revelation from God to an individual for the purpose of communicating that message to the church. When that gift was exercised, everyone in the room benefited from it. And the only gifts that should be exercised in the church service are the ones that build up the church. And they all should be done in an orderly way, reflecting the character of God.

In the last 20 verses of chapter 14, Paul is attempting to show several ways in which the worship service is to be conducted in order to demonstrate the order that it should. Since tongues were such an issue at Corinth and appear to have been a status symbol, he begins by, once again, talking about the need to have prophecy take precedence over speaking in another language.

In doing so, he points out the importance of having someone in a service that can give the people a word from the Lord. In our case today, it should be a message that comes from God's completed revelation, the Bible.

I. The Importance of Prophecy or Speaking God's Word (20-25)

As we look at verses 20-25 Paul points out why tongues aren't as central a gift in worship as some in Corinth were making it out to be. That doesn't mean that Paul was against tongues here. In fact, he just got finished, in verse 18 saying that:

"I thank my God I speak in tongues more than you all."

However, he goes on in verse 19 to say:

"Yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, then ten thousand words in a tongue."

The key phrase here is: "in the church." Speaking in other languages had its place but in a church service it wasn't the major deal because the church is composed of mostly believers. It was meant to be used to speak to unbelievers. Specifically unbelieving Israel. We see this by Paul's quote of Isaiah 11:12. Here is what he tells the Corinthians in verses 20,21. It says:

"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."

It must be added that, once tongues served its purpose, later after the writing of I Corinthians, so the gift was no longer necessary. It was ultimately to pronounce judgment or cursing on Israel because of their failure to believe the apostles and their teachings. So, the judgment fell, and the nation was set aside temporarily during this period of grace in which we are still living. Due to this, there was no more need for this sign gift. And that is why we don't practice it today.

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Prophecy, in some way appears to be another story. It is not around in the sense of predicting the future or foretelling it. But that isn't the main job of the prophet anyway. It is speaking on behalf of God to the people to whom he is sent to minister.

Today, there is no giving of new revelation that isn't already in the Bible. Gods' revelation is complete and anyone who adds to it is a false prophet. But there are still those who are given a special understanding of the truth of God's Word and are able to proclaim it to the congregation clearly and precisely. In that sense, it seems that this gift is still around today. Pastors and other teachers of God's Word can and should have this gift.

But, before we go on, it is imperative to let you know that good people disagree on this subject. Some would say that prophecy was completely taken away at the completion of the New Testament Canon. I have talked about this in previous writings on I Corinthians but won't go into it here. However, we need to allow for differing views on the gray areas of Scripture and remain adamant about that which is essential to the faith. Arguing won't accomplish anything but will bring division.

Paul goes on in this passage to show the problem with everyone speaking in tongues as opposed to everyone prophesying in verses 23-25. If all speak in tongues without an interpreter, then if an ungifted person in this area hears, or, even worse, an unbeliever then they will think that everyone is crazy. They will just hear the mutterings of other languages and won't be able to understand them and certainly won't be edified.

However, the opposite is true if everyone were to prophesy. This is how Paul puts it in verses 24-25. He says:

"But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he 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."

II. The Importance of Taking Your Turn With No One Dominating the Service (26-33).

Indeed, prophesying or speaking God's Word to the congregation, is important. But other gifts have a place as well. However, if everyone is practicing his gift all at once, then you could imagine what problems there will be in the service. This brings us to point number two. That it is important for each person to take turns with using their gift and allowing others to do the same. There should be no one person dominating the whole service and leaving out others who want to exercise their spiritual gift. Paul says in verses 26-33 these words:

"How is it then brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints."

We see from this that Paul not only said that a prophet was able to control himself. He wasn't compelled by the Spirit to speak in the sense of the Holy Spirit taking control of his mind and making him say something he didn't intend to say. That would be more likely to happen if someone was possessed by Satan or a demon. So, a prophet could control whether or not he was able to speak in turn and let another person finish what he was saying. That seems to be what is meant by:

"The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." (32).

All of this instruction on taking turns and not dominating the service by one person led Paul to his next point. That is the importance of not holding separate conversations and interrupting the service.

III. The Importance of Not Holding Separate Conversations and Interrupting the Service (34-39)

This next section of Scripture has been extremely controversial over the centuries since Paul wrote it. If taken out of context one could use it to teach that a woman should enter a church and not speak until she leaves the premises. But that has never been the case, either in the Jewish synagogue from which the early church got the way that they organized their services, or in the history of the church over 2000 years. The truth is that we have to remember the context, which is order in the church service, before we can fully comprehend Paul's meaning here.

Further, we have to remember that Paul just got finished talking about women in I Corinthians 11, saying that they needed to pray and prophesy with their head covered, whereas a man must have his head uncovered. So, Paul never required women to be completely silent in the church.

The Greek word used is Sigao which means:

1. To keep silence; hold one's peace.

2. To be kept in silence. Concealed.

And the word doesn't demand not uttering a word. The context determines the nature of the silence. And this word is used 3 times in this same chapter.

Firstly, one who has the gift of tongues is to keep silence if he has no interpreter to use with his alien audience (1 Cor. 14:28).

Secondly, if a brother is speaking and another receives an immediate revelation, the former is to keep silence (1 Cor. 14:30).

Finally, women are to keep silence (1 Cor. 14:34).

The first two prohibitions demand silence only in the matters being discussed. They do not forbid these men to otherwise speak consistent with their divine obligations.

So similarly, Paul’s direction to women does not demand that she be absolutely silent at church. Rather, in harmony with what the apostle taught elsewhere (1 Tim. 2:12), the woman is not to speak or teach in any way that violates her gender roll.

Paul taught Timothy that there should be male leadership in the churches. We find this in I Timothy 2:11,12 where he states:

"And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence" (sigao).

Once again, this cannot mean not talking, but means not preaching to and teaching men in the churches. And he bases that, not on culture but on the order of creation and the fall where Eve was deceived and fell into transgression in I Timothy 2:13-15.

However, getting back to the passage in I Corinthians, this seems to be based upon a problem that the Corinthian women were having of speaking out in the services and asking to have something explained that they didn't understand. They were having private conversations and interrupting the service.

Paul told them not to use the worship service to get their questions answered but to do it when they got home, learning from their own husbands.

The Apostle then talks to the church in general in verses 36-39 when he tells them that they weren't allowed to change the rules established in all of the churches. It wasn't Corinth from which the word of God originally came concerning church order. They should follow the order that was established at the beginning of the church. Then Paul ends with these words:

"If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues." (37-39).

His final words summarize this whole last section of the chapter. He states:

"Let all things be done decently and in order."


As we come to the end of this section, it must be noted that church order doesn't mean stoically sitting, never laughing or having any fun. While worship of our God is a serious undertaking, that doesn't mean that we spend the whole service not talking or interacting. It does mean that we need to make sure that what we say and what we do adds to the worship of the Lord and doesn't detract from it in any way.

It is a corporate undertaking, so we don't have our own private little worship service apart from everyone else there. And when we use our Spiritual gifts in the service, they should always be for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ and bringing more glory to our Lord.

It should be a time of rejoicing in what He has done for us and sharing our joy with our fellow believers in Christ. Every moment of our worship should make us think less of ourselves and more about God and the people whom we are called alongside to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

May we do all things decently and in an orderly fashion so that we might reflect the God who is not a God of confusion but of peace.

Let's come to the next worship service, seeking, not what is in it for us. But let us direct our attention to the only Being worthy of our praise and worship. And always remember that He is the audience and not us.

We are designed to worship and to serve the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. My prayer is that we do that, every day of our lives, but especially every time we gather as His family in public worship and honor Him. To God alone be the glory!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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