Biblical Worship

Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD (or ADHD adding hyperactivity to the acronym) is a condition that describes one who has trouble concentrating for long periods of time.  Such people are easily distracted.  This causes them to sometimes have trouble learning, solving problems, keeping a job, and at times even keeping a marriage intact.  Being able to focus is an important life skill.

In athletics we see the importance of focus.  A pitcher in baseball can get rattled by a hit by a batter, an error in a teammate, or a bad call from an umpire.  Once they lose their focus they are in trouble; and so is the team. The successful pitcher is the one who keeps focused on his job of throwing the ball well.

In 1 Corinthians 14:25-40 we need this same kind of focus.  It is easy for us to get distracted by a debate about speaking in tongues, or the statement that women should remain silent in the church (v. 34).  I encourage you to focus this morning so we don’t get distracted from the real issue.

The Apostle Paul was addressing the selfish worship that was taking place in the church.  The people of the church were getting together only to meet “their needs” and they were missing the real purpose and focus of worship which was to honor God and encourage each other in the area of discipleship.  In our text Paul helps us see three important truths about worship.

Biblical Worship is Participatory rather than Passive 

Paul gives us a little insight into the worship service of the church in Corinth,

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (v. 26)

In the early church the believers didn’t have church buildings so they met in homes.  They didn’t have experienced Pastors (other than the apostles and their “staff”) so they helped each other and all took a part in sharing in the worship time.  People contributed various things: they would sing, share their testimonies, their insights, and any “word from the Lord” which they had.  Undoubtedly this is not all they did.  There is no mention of reading of the Scriptures or of prayer. Paul isn’t trying to give us an order for worship.  However, he reminds us that God meant worship to be participatory.

One of the problems we face in the church today is the passivity that invades our worship. It has become too much of a spectator activity. Obviously, the structure of pews, pulpit and a platform lends itself to a performance mentality.  Biblical worship is not simply a service that is attended, it is something personal. For worship to be vital it must be participatory.

How do we do this?  First, we must stop evaluating the time of worship by the quality of the “performance” of others. Worship should not be evaluated the same way we evaluate a concert, play or movie.  We do not evaluate our worship based on how much we “enjoyed” the experience.  True worship is about meeting with God.

Second, we need to work at being involved.  Personally, I would love to have people give personal testimonies of what God is doing/has done in their lives. We would love to have more people involved in the music and other service areas of our worship. We are eager for ideas to get people more involved in the time of worship.

Strange as it seems you can participate by doing things a little less bold.  You could

Read the Scripture text ahead of time

Come early or stay late and find a place to pray for our worship time as it is happening

Take time to read and digest song lyrics ahead of time so you are singing to the Lord rather than just a melody.

Follow along in your Bible as we read and teach

Use the prayer time for your personal prayer

Present an offering not only of your substance but also of your heart, during the time of the offering.

Worship that makes the biggest impact is worship where people are involved.  There is one guideline: whatever is done should be done for the strengthening of the church.  A song should not be sung simply because “we like the song”, the song should be one that will minister to or inspire those who are listening. A story should be told not simply because it is a good story…it should bring honor to the King. Our service should not be about being in the spotlight – it should be about shining the spotlight on the Lord.  We must keep our focus.

Biblical Worship is Orderly Rather than Chaotic 

We have observed that there appeared to be a problem in the church at Corinth. It is likely that people were all speaking in tongues at the same time, people were giving prophetic messages while others were talking, and there may even have been discussions going on as others were trying to teach.  Worship had become chaotic. 

Paul gave some simple guidelines.  First when it came to speaking in tongues Paul said,

If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God  (27-28) 

Five simple rules for tongues in worship.

  1. Those who speak should be limited in number.  Paul said two or at the most three people should speak in tongues.
  2. This speaking should be orderly.  They should not speak at the same time.
  3. There should always be an interpreter.  If no interpreter is present the person should not speak in tongues.  The principle is simple: If others cannot benefit the tongue should not be spoken.
  4. The speaker should be controlled.  There is no place for a person who gets caught up in an ecstatic state and lose control. I think this would apply to some of the other crazy things that sometimes happen in churches such as people making animal sounds or laying on the floor laughing.  I believe Paul rebukes such behavior.
  5. If these requirements are not met, the person should use their gift of tongues in their private devotional time. 

When it comes to prophecy Paul again puts a limit on the number of people who get up to share God’s counsel with the people.  We are told,

And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (30-33) 

This admittedly seems a little strange to us.  However, I believe there are some simple principles: One person should not be rude to another by talking over another and we should not talk “on and on”.  It is easy to get caught up in the spotlight and continue to speak even though you have stopped communicating and have started irritating!

Evangelist D.L. Moody was leading a service and asked a man to pray. Taking advantage of his opportunity, the man prayed on and on. Sensing that the prayer was killing the meeting instead of blessing it, Moody spoke up and said, “While our brother finishes his prayer, let us sing a hymn!”

Again, Paul says the prophet should always be able to control himself.  If he has lost control it is not something that has come from the Lord.

Don’t miss what Paul says in verse 29: “the others should weigh carefully what is said.”  There is a positive and negative dimension to this.  Negatively, we should listen carefully to determine if the person speaking is accurately communicating the Word of God.  People sometimes (even unintentionally) present their opinions under the guise of a prophetic message.  Our job is to weigh everything that is said by the standard of God’s Word.

There is also a positive side to this evaluation.  We should evaluate what a person is saying because if we do not apply what is being said personally, it is of no value to you.  As we listen to speakers and teachers we should be asking, “Is this accurate?” and also asking, “How does this impact the way I live my life?”

A number of years ago you may remember a simple litany that we practiced to drive home this point.  I said, “And all God’s people said . . . “ and you responded not with the traditional “Amen” but with “So What?”  It was a simple activity that was designed to remind us that we should always be responding to the preaching of God’s Word with the question: “So What?”  What affect should these truths have on the way I live my life?

The guideline is very clear in verse 33: “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”  Worship should not be haphazard or out of control.  Don’t misunderstand what is being said. Paul isn’t telling us that we need to follow a particular order of worship, or dress a certain way.  He is not saying worship should be boring.  What Paul is telling us is that our worship should show our respect and honor for God and for each other.  The Bible does not forbid creativity in our worship.  It does forbid chaos.

Biblical Worship Is Considerate Rather Than Offensive 

In verses34-35 Paul says some things that raise some eyebrows,

women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

This is a difficult passage because it is certainly politically incorrect in our society.  We must be cautious that we do not interpret the text to get it to conform with our prejudices.  We are to conform to Scripture, not the other way around.

This text is difficult for other reasons. One scholar listed 10 major interpretations of the passage.  These extend from those who dismiss the passage saying, “Paul didn’t write it” (which is a very slippery slope and an all too convenient way of handling anything you don’t like); there are those who see Paul prohibiting something that which was socially offensive at that time; and those who say this passage indicates that women should not have any leadership role in worship.

I’m not going to bury you in interpretations but I do want to make you aware of the interpretive difficulties.  There are several problems.

  • Where does verse 33 fit? Is the second part of verse 33 the conclusion to the discussion on prophetic speaking or is it the introduction of the new paragraph (punctuation and paragraphs are not in the Greek manuscript).  The question is, Was Paul saying women of Corinth were to be silent as they were in all the other congregations. Or was he saying the rule that “God is not a God of disorder or peace” is something that is embraced in all congregations?
  • What does  “silent” mean? In chapter 11:5 he gave regulations for when a woman prays or prophesies (presumably in the worship assembly).  Consistency demands that Paul must not be forbidding all conversation by women.
  • Who is the woman to be in submission to? We quickly assume Paul is telling the women to submit to their husbands. It could just as easily mean they were to submit to the Lord or even to the principle of order in the church.
  • What women are being addressed? In the Greek we read “the women”.  So the question is: Was Paul exhorting all women to be silent or were there particular women who were causing some kind of problem?
  • What Law does Paul refer to? In verse 34 we told that this submission is in accordance with the Law.  We don’t know to what Law Paul is referring.

It’s a difficult passage and I can only give you my read on its meaning.  I believe this was a situational (not the same as cultural) command. I believe in the city of Corinth women had been converted from all kinds of foreign religions.  They relished the new freedom that they were given in Christ, but they were taking it too far.  Let me share the words of one commentator,

In the Greek culture, women were discouraged from saying anything in public, and they were certainly not allowed to confront or question men publicly. Apparently, some of the women who had become Christians thought that their Christian freedom gave them the right to question the men in public worship. This was causing division in the church. In addition, women of that day did not receive formal religious education as did the men.

The “speaking” to which Paul referred was the inappropriate asking of questions that would disrupt the worship service or take it on a tangent. Therefore, the women should be silent during the church meetings, not because they were never to speak, but because they were not to speak out with questions that would be ineffective in edifying the entire church.

If this is the case these woman who were asking questions (apparently in a disruptive manner) were not only offensive socially (women didn’t do such things) but they were also distracting others (perhaps with their off-the-subject comments) and were therefore inconsiderate of others.  The questions they were asking (whatever they were) could easily be addressed at home and Paul says that is where the discussion should be.  Some suggest that the women Paul addresses were the wives of the men who prophesied!   Imagine how uncomfortable it would be if after a sermon the Pastor’s wife stood up and starting questioning everything he had said!

If this is the correct understanding, the issue then is no longer the role of women in the church but continues to be the nature of Biblical worship.  Biblical worship is considerate of others in the congregation. Let’s try to apply this in some practical ways.

  1. If your actions are distracting others then you ought to be silent or step out of the gathering out of consideration for others. Even when we disagree with something it is better to address that issue privately than to make a scene.
  2. We should be sensitive when talking about issues such as divorce, abortion, homosexuality, community concerns, or politics.  We should be sensitive to those who have a weakness, history, or even difference of opinion in these areas.  We must not compromise the Biblical truth but we must beware of elevating our personal opinion to the level of Biblical truth or presenting Biblical truth in a way that hurts those who have been hurt in these areas.
  3. Even as we make changes in a church we should be considerate.  Change that is sweeping and quick offends those who have cherished the former way of doing things.  It is better to make slowly with consideration for others whether it is in worship format, music, or programming decisions.
  4. We should guard against monopolizing conversations thus keeping others from contributing.
  5. We should be sensitive to attire that is offensive or distracting to others.
  6. We should be respectful of social customs (especially when we are in new communities or cultures).


Let’s face it, it may have been simpler if the Bible just gave us an order of worship and told us that this is what God wants from us.  God doesn’t do this because he isn’t interested in our performance of certain acts, He wants our heart.  Instead of giving us specifics, Paul gives us principles:

  1. Worship should be participatory rather than passive
  2. Worship should be orderly rather than chaotic
  3. Worship should be considerate rather than offensive

Paul concludes the text by asking,

Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that God is consistent. Congregations who believe they have a “special word from the Lord” that causes them to discount these guidelines are acting as if the Word of God originated with them.  Our job is to pattern ourselves after the principles of God’s Word.

If we pay heed to these instructions there is still room for creativity and innovation.  However, these things must never come at the expense of the body. It is impossible to truly worship God if we are acting indifferently to those who are around us.  John told us that that those who love God love those whom God has created.  For vertical fellowship with God to be clear and fulfilling, we must make sure the horizontal fellowship with each other remains clear.

It is easy to get distracted even in our walk with God.  It is easy to be distracted by petty issues, superficial gimmicks and our own personal preferences.  Our concern should be what is best for the Kingdom of God.  God has designed us to work best and to experience the greatest fulfillment when we focus on others rather than ourselves.  The world in which we live does not understand such values.  The world operates by an entirely different value system.  It emphasizes enjoyment, convenience, crowds, and immediate results.  Paul encourages us to live for eternity.  To do so we must work hard to avoid distraction and maintain our focus.  Only then will we know the blessing of true fellowship with God.

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