1 Corinthians 11 to 14 provides the lengthiest treatment of gathered worship in the New Testament.
- Chapter 11 begins with instructions to husbands and wives regarding public prayer and prophecy. Then Paul gives specific corrections to the Corinthian's abuse of the Lord's Supper.
- Chapter 12 teaches about spiritual gifts, but particularly addresses the inflated importance Corinthians gave to speaking in tongues. Again, the context is the gathering of the church.
- In chapter 13, Paul testifies to the truest indicator of being "spiritually gifted": love!
- Chapter 14 is a return to the specifics of gathered worship. What becomes clear is that the "building up" and the "edification" of the church is the primary purpose of gathered worship.
From chapter 14 ...
- vs. 3 - "the one who prophesies speaks to people for their UPBUILDING, encouragement and consolation"
- vs. 4 - "the one who prophesies BUILDS UP the church"
- vs. 5 - "The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be BUILT UP."
- vs. 6 - "how will I BENEFIT you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?
- vs. 12 - "since you are so eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in BUILDING UP the church"
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray WITH MY MIND ALSO; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing WITH MY MIND also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving WHEN HE DOES NOT KNOW what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person IS NOT BEING BUILT UP. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind IN ORDER TO INSTRUCT others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
The building up of the church IS the primary purpose of gathered worship. The "unbeliever or outsider" who enters the gathered worship of Christians, as verses 20-25 teach:
- is not "convicted" or "called to account" by all;
- the "secrets of his heart" are not disclosed because;
- his felt needs were targeted,
- his ears were tickled by funny stories,
- his pulse was quickened by throbbing music,
- his emotions were massaged by appeals to warmth and community.
He falls on his face and worships God and declares God is really among the Christians. The unbeliever felt his unbelief. Why? How? The outsider felt his alone-ness and his need for God. Why? How?
Because those gathered for worship were hungry and open for God to speak in His Word.
- God was going to make Himself known to them in what can be understood ... understood ... understood ... understood.
Paul said, "I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." (1 Co. 14.19) This alone is reason enough to avoid songs, testimonies and prayers which rely upon empty syllables, repetitive phrases and focus on the self. The "feeling" in worship, if it comes, comes because the mind has been engaged FIRST.
- Not feeling first, then thinking.
- Thinking first, then feeling.
Paul finishes by pressing a regular order to worship so that the church is built up: "Let all things be done for building up." (14.27) God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. Gathered worship needs to function with a sense of structure, where people are not talking over one another; where time is given for consideration of what is being said - "Let others weigh what is said ... so that all may learn and be encouraged." (14.29, 31)
In our day the common tactic is to activate feeling through image and emotion and then sell the message. This is the way of the world: activate feeling first, then insert message. It is much easier to bypass resistance to a threatening or controversial message IF the feeling of the receiver is emotionally primed for it. This is how politics works. This is how Disney works. This is how Jack Daniels works. This is how the NFL works. Activate feelings through powerful, carefully constructed images designed to elicit specific emotions. THEN sell the message. This is the way of the world.
The modern church has coopted the world's strategy for persuasion. Activate feelings first through emotional, sensual music, images and testimonies. THEN insert something resembling a gospel message. I say, "something resembling" because whatever that following message is going to be, it won't be the summons to repent of responsibility for the death of Jesus on the cross ... such as Peter gave in the very first gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Nor will it be the summons to repent Paul gives to the intellectuals in Athens. As Bonhoeffer succinctly describes it: "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." The early church was not persecuted because they were nice people who did kind things. The first Christians were chased into the tombs. They were left to scratch symbols on fences for one another about when and where they would meet. Why? Because they were exclusive in their allegiance to Jesus. Their fidelity to their Lord was not an emotional moment they sought to recapture over and over again. They were anchored to the conviction of who Jesus was and is!
The Bible teaches the message comes first, then comes the feeling. God and His Word come first. What God has to say comes first. Worship is a response to God because God comes first. We do not begin with who we are in the presence of God. We begin with Who God is and our need to conform to Him. God created the world by the power of His Word. God calls people first; people do not call God first: “We love Him because He first loved us”. God reveals Himself through His Word: “Thus says the Lord”. Scripture is the initiating revelation of God.
In response to God, we can be convicted of sin, comforted in distress, strengthened in hope, encouraged to endure, chastened to humility, cleansed of guilt. And so much more. It is not that our response to God is devoid of emotion. Not at all! God is emotional and we are made in His image. Of course our response to God will involve our emotions!
But our emotions do not come first. We are made in God’s image, but we are also fallen. How we feel is not a reliable standard by which to gauge ... well ... anything. I can feel guilty and bereft of God’s presence, but His Word tells me I am forgiven and God the Spirit dwells within me. I can feel strong and powerful, but the Word of God tells me to take heed when I stand because I can fall. I feel I can compartmentalize my sin, walling off awareness of indwelling sin even when I come to the gathered worship of God with my brethren. But God’s Word convicts me to joint and marrow, telling me to leave the altar of worship and make things right with my brother. God’s Word warns me about sharing the Lord’s Supper while being indifferent to my relationship with my brother. Our feelings can fool us into saying to ourselves, “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. Our feelings can also deceive us into saying to ourselves, “all is lost; there is no hope.” But God’s Word tells us to cast our cares upon the Lord; that hope comes in the morning.
Our feelings are not to be the engine driving the train of our worship. They are to be the cars following the engine of devotion and obedience to God in His Word as He makes Himself known.
Worship changed for me when I got out of the way. Truthfully, I didn’t know I had been in the way. But I had. I simply didn’t realize how much how I felt about worship determined how I worshipped.
For the last 20 years, or so, God has been releasing me from the chains of my self-centeredness, particularly regarding worship. I’ve got a long way to go. I still get hot and bothered about worship, but for reasons far different than when a younger man. I still judge … myself and other people … about the technicalities of how we worshipped on any given day … and often harshly. I’m still impatient. I still want to experience some kind of tangible result in worship NOW. The carnal part of me still longs for an immediate experience of God in worship through some mystical, sensory moment. Yet how often I ignore the immediate presence of God as He speaks to me in the moment in His living Word.
Yes, a very long way to go.
But I am glad for the journey of it. It is all of God’s grace, to be continually shaped for His glory by worship.