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1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Worship: Rational, Emotional or Both?
1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Teaching Moments

1. Verses 1-5 stress the superiority of prophecy over tongues. The fundamental reason for this assessment by Paul is that while the tongue speaker may edify himself while he is speaking to God, the prophet edifies the whole church. He strengthens, encourages and comforts the church while the tongue speaker, when he is uninterpreted, confuses the church even while he edifies himself. The criterion for superiority is intelligibility.

2. Paul is certainly thinking in an assembly context. The word "church" is used nine times in this chapter. The confusion/disorder is occurring in the assembly.

3. Verses 6-12 expand on the thought of intelligibility vs. unintelligibility. There is no profit in speaking is there is no understanding. Consequently, uninterpreted tongues are useless because they do not build up the church (v. 12) and they have no meaning to those who hear the tongues (v. 9-10). Tongues is only profitable if some intelligible "revelation, knowledge, prophecy or teaching" (v. 6) is offered the church.

4. Verses 13-19 are rather critical in this text. We see here that the Corinthians had placed a high value on seeking "spirits" (v. 12) and this entailed a kind of irrational, mindless ecstasy (v. 14). They valued an experience of the spirit through prayer even though it was mindless (without understanding). Paul makes it clear that whenever one prays or sings, they must do so with both spirit and understanding. Paul does not value irrational ecstasy, but rather one must worship with both mind and spirit.

5. Our blessing/thanksgiving is offered to God--we are singing/praying to God (14:15). It praises God. Nevertheless, it is a praise that instructs and edifies the assembly. Our worship should be edifying to the outsider or the unbeliever in the assembly (14:16,23,24). The assembly should enable outsiders/unbelievers to come to faith so they too can recognize God's presence and praise him. We should be culturally accommodative while at the same time retaining the integrity of our faith. In other words, we should praise God in such a manner and with such language as will introduce outsiders into our circle of faith where they too can say "Amen." Everyone should be edified.

6. Unbelievers valued tongues. They saw it as a sign that they were filled with the ecstasy of God--it was a sign of God's presence. But Paul values prophesy for unbelievers more than tongues because he thought prophecy would convict unbelievers, but tongue-speaking would not convict them but only contribute to their irrational view of religion which they had learned from paganism. The unbeliever will listen to the tongue speaker and think they are "out of their mind" (or, better, they are inspirited, enthused with God-filled ecstasy). Paul would rather they hear prophecy, be convicted and exclaim "God is really among you." The presence of God is recognized through conviction rather than by ecstasy.

7. Edification is the key principle of this text. Paul opposes an irrational understanding of worship. Paul is not opposed to "spirited" worship, but he is opposed to "mindless" worship. Worship should be both emotional (spirited) and rational. Edification is not simply a matter of "spiritedness"--one may be edified individually by that means (v. 4), but the church is not. When the church gathers, worship must be both spirited and rational. We must pray/sing with both the spirit and the mind.

Discussion Questions

1. What does Paul's emphasis on the use of tongues indicate about what is going on during the assembly? What is the practical effect to the way tongues are used in the Corinthian assembly?

2. Given the Corinthian tendency towards spiritual pride, why are the commands in verse 1 important?

3. How does Paul contrast the gift of tongues and prophecy? What is the value and limit of tongues, and what is the value of prophecy?

4. In what way is their use of tongues another sign of their spiritual immaturity (v. 20)?

5. What would you say is Paul's fundamental point in this section? What is he most concern about and why?

6. Which is more important? That members be comfortable or that outsiders be comfortable?

7. What are the limits of accomodating our assembly activities so that outsiders might be able to say "Amen" (be edified)?

8. How do we balanced "spiritedness" and "intelligibility" in our worship assemblies?

9. What are the dangers of an overemphasis on "spiritedness"?

10. What are the dangers of an overemphasis on "intelligibility"?


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