Summary: Paul gives the Corinthians and us some important guidelines for propriety in worship.
A. One Sunday, a Sunday school teacher asked the children a question just before she dismissed them to go to church, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?”
1. Little Johnny replied, “Because people are sleeping.”
B. I think it is ironic and humorous that parents of babies cannot wait until they can talk, but then once they can talk, their biggest challenge is keeping them from talking through worship.
1. Many a child has been “shushed” during church.
2. And many a child’s first memory of worship is being told to be quiet.
3. Some preachers have jokingly said that the reason they became a preacher was so that they could talk during worship.
C. Although I have begun with a humorous take on the need to be quiet in worship, it is actually a serious matter.
1. Do you realize that it was such a problem at Corinth that Paul had to give them rules for talking in church?
2. Having laid the groundwork in chapters 12 and 13, Paul now addresses the problem of the Corinthian’s worship in more specific terms here in chapter 14.
I. The Chaos at Corinth
A. It appears that some of the Corinthians considered themselves gifted with wisdom and knowledge, and were placing inordinate emphasis on the gift of tongues.
1. They believed that their ability to speak in tongues was the ultimate sign of spiritual power and authority.
2. Worship in the Corinthian church had fallen into disorderly confusion as various members were speaking simultaneously and unintelligibly, and were perhaps even competitively seeking to outdo one another.
3. Additionally, there was some kind of confusion that was being brought about by some of the women who were somehow calling out in the middle of the service to question either their husbands, or the leader of the worship. Perhaps they were even trying to direct the proceedings.
4. All in all, it wasn’t a pretty sight and it wasn’t doing anyone any good – not the members or the visitors.
5. So Paul tackles the problem with the instructions he lays out in this chapter.
B. But if you think about it, the situation did pose a difficult problem for Paul.
1. Paul, obviously, firmly believed in the gifts of the Spirit.
2. He, himself, had a number of the gifts, and believed that God wanted those gifts employed in the worship of the first century church.
3. But the challenge was how to create order in the church’s worship without squelching the Spirit.
4. His inspired solution set forth in this chapter insists that love requires that the gifts be used for building up the community.
5. Consequently, intelligible speech is necessary in the assembly for the common good.
6. Unintelligible tongues must be either interpreted or reserved for private prayer.
C. Ultimately, Paul was not trying to put down tongues, but he was trying to counteract the excessive valuation and undisciplined practice of tongue-speaking in worship at Corinth.
1. At the same time, Paul urged his readers to desire the gift of prophecy.
2. He said, “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (vs. 19)
3. It is important that we understand what tongues and prophesy are as spiritual gifts.
4. The gift of tongues referred to the supernatural ability to speak a language not native to the speaker and not learned through normal educational processes.
a. It, therefore, was speaking, praying or singing in an unlearned language.
b. When manifest, it’s meaning would not be known unless someone was present who naturally knew the language or who had a corresponding supernatural gift of interpretation.
c. When in verse 22, Paul says that “tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers,” I think he is saying that the gift of tongues was given primarily for the purpose of evangelism.
d. The gift of tongues allowed one person to tell another about Jesus in their own language.
e. That’s what happened in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost.
f. Imagine how your attention would be drawn and faith would be established if someone who did not know your language was able to tell you the gospel in your own language.
5. The gift of prophesy is not necessarily future telling, as our English word tends to imply.
a. Prophesy was primarily speaking or proclaiming a message from God.
b. This could have meant relaying a vision or dream or some other special revelation from God, or just a particular insight into the teachings of Christ.
c. It is not the same thing as composing and preaching a sermon.
d. I think you can see why Paul says that prophesy is for believers.