Summary: What is a worship service suppose to look like?
What is a worship service suppose to look like? What are the proper activities in worship? Our text will lead us to explore such questions this morning.
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.
The issue is the place of tongues. It does not belong to public worship because it does not edify; it does not build up the body. Paul shows the superiority of prophecy over tongues by giving the example of its effect on the unbeliever. So, what then? Well, the principle of building up the body should control the format of the worship service. Each element in the service should serve to edify the church body and be carried out in such a way as to promote that purpose. Thus Paul gives a sampling of elements that typified the worship service.
He mentions a “hymn.” The Greek word is “psalmos.” Does Paul have in mind specifically a psalm? Possibly. In Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19, he distinguishes between psalms (psalmoi), hymns (hymnoi), and spiritual songs. Psalmos is the word used over many of the psalm titles in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Even so, psalmos was used in Greek literature for hymns and songs of praise, as well as hymnos being used for psalms. Anyhow, singing was an element in the worship service.
There is a lesson, a word of instruction. Next, a revelation, i.e. prophecy. The distinction between lesson and revelation is that the person giving the revelation purports to be passing on a message from the Lord. The teacher is explaining, giving instruction on doctrine or practice. Paul then lists tongue and interpretation. As he is about to make clear, the two must go together.
27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.
Here is another trait to add to our list about tongue-speaking. It can be controlled. Perhaps one cannot speak at will, but he can keep silent at will. The perplexing thing about this instruction is how it is determined that there is an interpreter. Perhaps he means to determine if the person, or persons, in the church who are known to have the gift of interpretation is present. If not, then the tongue-speakers should keep silent.
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.
What was said of tongue-speakers applies to prophets. The concept of someone going into some kind of trance and speaking in tongues or prophesying in worship is not taught or modeled in the New Testament. On the other hand, the revelation may come on the spur of the moment, as verse 30 indicates. It is possible that a prophet comes to church with a revelation ready to be spoken; but he may also receive a revelation during worship.
In truth, what Paul is actually describing for worship is not clear. Does he mean, let two or three prophets speak in order and then a response be made about them, or does he mean only two or three speak during the whole service? Are the speaker official prophets of the church, or could they be anybody to whom the Spirit has given a message for that service? Verse 31 would imply the latter, but referring to the speakers as “prophets” would lead me to think the former is intended. Either you are a prophet or you are not. Here is another question: who are the “others” that weigh the prophecies? Are they other prophets, or are they the other worshippers? Verse 30 is peculiar. If you want order in the worship service, and if you want every one prophesying to have their proper turn, why would you make the first person prophesying sit down. Let the second prophet wait his turn.
Here is how I interpret the scenario. Paul is speaking of prophets, of whom there are a fair number. They are the ones who weigh the prophecies, which are spoken two or three at a time. Telling the first prophet to stop when another prophet receives a revelation does not mean to cease prophesying, but to stop extending his discussion of the prophecy. We have all been in meetings in which a person has made his statement, but then keeps on talking. And don’t we want him to sit down so that everybody can have his say? No doubt prophets do the same. They give their “word” from the Lord and then talk about that word. Paul is instructing them to sit down when another prophet has a word to speak. I think the “others” who weigh the prophesies are the men in the congregation.