1 Corinthians 14: Summary (except for the role-of-women passage)

spiritual gifts

We’re about to hit Paul’s instructions on the role of women, and so, before we get entirely away from spiritual gifts, we need to reflect just a bit on Paul’s teaching on that topic.

First, to me, of critical importance is Paul’s teaching that the assembly is about edifying the members — helping them become more like Jesus — rather than seeking to convert the lost.

The Restoration Movement was born in the Second Great Awakening, a time of great revival meetings when thousands were converted at “camp” meetings, that is, meetings held out in the woods because the church buildings in town were too small to hold the crowds.

But as important as evangelistic preaching is, it’s not the central purpose of the Christian assembly. The assembly is for the members. It’s perfectly permissible to conduct “meetings” for the sake of the lost, but many churches have forgotten that the point of the assembly is to edify the members, not the visitors.

In fact, the “invitation” that traditionally concludes our sermons is an innovation that goes back no earlier than the First Great Awakening of the 18th Century, in the years prior to the American Revolution.

Second, even though the assembly is for the members, Paul instructs us to be sensitive to the impression we make on unbelievers who are present. Obviously, he expects that unbelievers will be present on a typical Sunday, and so the recent criticism of seeking to save others by inviting them to church is not biblical. Yes, we should also be out in the community serving and lifting up the cross, but, no, that hardly means that attractional evangelism — inviting visitors to the assembly — is bad or second rate. Why not do both? Paul did.

Third, “edification” means helping our members become more like Jesus, which is about encouraging them to love and good works, to be humble and submissive, to be active in God’s mission to redeem the lost and the creation, to live sacrificial lives, and to be servant-hearted. Hence, pounding the pulpit about our denominational distinctives, such as weekly communion and believer baptism, is not at the heart of the purpose of the assembly. Yes, teaching healthy doctrine is good, but the teaching should be targeted much more toward how we live — orthopraxy — rather than having the right positions on the issues — orthodoxy.

Fourth, the assembly should be thoughtfully organized toward edification and its other purposes. The chaos and loss of purpose that Paul wants to avoid can arise not only from rude prophets and tongue speakers but also from slapdash planning that fulfills no real purpose other than to fill the hour with spiritual-seeming activities.

Fifth, those things that spur us on to love and good works should be respected as proper and necessary. And in the modern church, we often find more encouragement to love and good works in our conversations in the aisles and in the announcements than in the sermons. We really need to learn to respect and appreciate announcements — enough to do them well. They don’t suit our self-indulgent culture and so church leaders tend to minimize them — as though news about the sick, the mourning, and opportunities to serve should somehow be avoided so we have time to fill the hour with lessons on why we don’t believe in transubstantiation.

Sixth, God is present in our assemblies even when we handle them very poorly. But we can make it hard for a visitor to perceive the presence of God. I mean, would we act differently if Jesus himself were sitting in a pew during the service? If we were truly seeker-sensitive, how might our prayers change? How might our singing change? How might the sermon change?

Seventh, there’s a bit of a controversy within the Churches of Christ about whether the assembly is for “worship” or for edification. And by “worship” we largely mean singing praise hymns. And Paul mentions singing praise to God three times in chapter 14 (v. 15, 16 and 26 (NIV)).

So how do we reconcile “singing praise” with “edification”? Well, I think the answer is found in this insight from N. T. Wright in his excellent book Simply Christian —

You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.

And so, if our praise is focused on the right God, then it’s also edifying and spiritually forming.  But if we praise a misunderstood God, perceiving him to be someone other than who he really is, our praise will not be edifying because it won’t build us up to become like Jesus — who is the very image of God.

In short, worship and praise only achieve the purpose of the assembly if God is rightly understood through Jesus. Getting to know the character and nature of Jesus therefore becomes central to our praise and to our assemblies.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in 1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to 1 Corinthians 14: Summary (except for the role-of-women passage)

  1. Excellent post! The more we lift up Jesus – and through him glorify God – in our assemblies, the better we will become.

    However, if we create a different image of God for ourselves (whether it is a metal or mental image), Psalm 115:8 will describe us as it describes those who made and worshiped idols: “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust them.” (ESV).

  2. Ray Downen says:

    I was interested in Jay’s pointing to three verses in 1 Corinthians 14 which he says refer to “singing praise.” (verses 15,16 and 26):

    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[a] say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?

    26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

    l’m unsure that the apostle is speaking about singing praise in all three verses. In particular, verse 26 is about mutual edification OF OTHER BELIEVERS rather than praise directed to God. The earlier admonition surely does refer to thanking God in song (thanks giving), and is calling for such acknowledgement to be in words understandable by outsiders as well as saints.

    Any time we get to 1 Corinthians 14:26, I’m eager to hear the speaker or writer echo the apostolic admonition for MUTUAL EDIFICATION in our assemblies. The apostle clearly does NOT urge us to assemble in order to praise God together. Let ALL THINGS be done for edification. That’s all things in our assemblies.

  3. Dwight says:

    Jay, We often forget that assembly is of the members by the members and for the members who are in Christ. It is a brief moment in time when the saints get together to do something that unites them on a one-on-one basis towards God. This is what the Lord’s Supper is all about, coming together to remember Jesus. But it shouldn’t be the only time or place we worship God.
    Instead we want to divide the assembly to make the assembly about us (the saved) and them (the lost) and then try to divide the time between the two groups with mixed messages. You are the saved (main body of the sermon) and you need to be saved (invitation/song). Or sometimes the whole message is to the alien sinners, when it is clear that they are not in attendance. It is clear that we don’t know our given audience and don’t know how to reach outside to the lost.
    I never give an invitatation on Wednesday night, but rather a message of exhoration and edification. We are to be “a living sacrifice”, thus our lives are instruments of worship in all that we do. We must bow to God and lift Him up in our lives of which assembly is but a short part of.

  4. Ray, the word hymn comes from the Greek hymnos, which means “a song of praise to a god or hero.” It is used in the LXX as the translation of several Hebrew words, and is used by Paul elsewhere as one of a triad of words describing various songs: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

    Its use in 1 Corinthians 14:26, with this definition, fits well with the thrust of Jay’s post. We edify one another by exalting and praising God, as well as by encouraging and inspiring one another to love and good works.

    However, Titus 3:8 suggests that one way to make people eager to do good works is by speaking of God’s grace and gifts to us! So I fail to see the point of your objection.

  5. Dwight says:

    Ray, if we are to praise God in our lives and assembly is a part of our life, then when assemble with others, we will or should praise God as well when we edifiy each other. I in some way agree that we often make assembly soleley about worship and often leave the the togetherness out of it. In many ways when we come together we interact very little compared with the time we are actually amongst each other. And much of our time is spent listening to another speak about God, when we should be doing that very thing towards each other. But I would argue that all things we do or should do should have an element of worship and praise. When we are to pray and communicate with God, Jesus said pray in this way, “Our Father, who are it heaven, hallowed be they name…they Kingdom and thy glory forever”, which is praise. We might sing to one another in encouragment, but we sing about our relationship in Jesus…praising God. Our lives, within the assembly and without in the world, should all be with respect to God with praise in our hearts and on our tongue. We are not a Christian Partitioned.

  6. David W. says:

    One of the problems with Protestant worship in general and CoC worship in particular is, in my opinion, a loss of ceremonial focus, that loss of focus is then reflected in the architecture of many church buildings.

    In the Anglican worship service (the tradition I am most familiar with outside the CoC) the focus of the entire service is the LS, and consequently the focus of the architecture of the building is the altar, because that is where the LS is prepared. (Anglicans hold to various versions of the “genuine presence” position for the LS.) For Anglicans (and others) it is the LS, not the preaching nor the singing, (not even the announcements) that is the central focus of Sunday morning assembly. They divide their service into two liturgies, with a small seemingly insignificant connecting ceremony. The service begins with the “Liturgy of the Word”, this includes readings from the Psalms, another reading from the Old Testament, the Epistles and the Gospels, singing, the message, and prayers. The readings are done from the Lectern (in a building where where the altar is elevated the lectern is usually positioned lower and to the left of the altar) except for the Gospel reading, where the Gospel Book is actually right down into the congregation to be read. The pulpit is to the right of the altar and also physically lower. The symbolism in both cases is that as important as the bible and the preaching are, neither are as important as Jesus Himself. The second liturgy is the “Liturgy of the Table” which involves prayer, communal confession and the LS. The linking ceremony is “The Peace”, which in the CoC has been replaced by shaking hands and introducing yourself to those sitting around you, instead of wishing the “Peace of the Lord” on your fellow worshipers.

    During the Reformation, in many formerly Catholic European churches the pulpit was moved from the side of the church to the center for two reasons. 1) To emphasize the centrality of preaching in the Protestant order of worship, and 2) to hide the altar, or at least the space the altar used to occupy.

    But Sunday morning for too many CoC’s can suffer from a lack of focus because the sermon has lost much of its importance due to the value placed on individual Bible study, and LS loses much of ceremony importance in worship because of the adoption of the symbolic understanding. This lack of ceremonial focus is reflected in out architecture, where the building often looks like a theater. But in a theater the stage only really becomes the focus when it has scenery to tell a story, and we have no scenery.

  7. Dwight says:

    David, If you look at the scriptures the Lord’s Supper and the Passover from which it came had no ceremony involved as opposed to say Temple worship. The Lord’s Supper was familial and a supper. There was no altar, but there was a table. I would arguably say that the Lord’s Supper table in most churches is really an altar, but of course we are in a Temple or building dedicated to a God.
    Now I would not agree that the focus of assembly was the Lord’s Supper, but rather it was a point of focus, but I would agree that we place undue emphasise on many other things. It was communion not just in the taking of, but in the sharing of. People across from other people passing to other people. So I would suggest that the coC and the Anglican churches both miss the intent of the Lord’s Supper.
    When you read I Cor.11 you read where they lost focus, but the focus was on waiting for one another and eating to the exclusion of others. It was on unity in Christ and giving, not ceremony..

Comments are closed.