1 Corinthians 14 – Good Worship

Read 1 Corinthians 14

For someone who talks a lot about freedom, Paul sure does spend a lot of time giving direction about having good order in worship.  This is an important section in Paul’s letter, though, not just for them, but for us as well.

He begins by grounding what we do in worship in the deep love of God that he just expressed in chapter 13.  This is the deep, “Agape” love that Jesus showed us by dying for us and loving us unconditionally.  Once again, Paul is pointing out that, while we have freedom in Christ, that freedom should always be directed outward in consideration of others.

The application here, then, is worship.  How are we to worship God in response to what Paul has explained here?  Simply put, worship needs to happen in good order so that the body of Christ may be built up.  If worship is chaotic and unintelligible, with people using their spiritual gifts as a display for themselves, nothing is accomplished and believers, especially new believers, would find themselves confused and perhaps even put off.

There are a number of reasons for this.  Paul is making sure that Christian worship doesn’t represent the temple cult worship of pagan gods, which was often chaotic and full of self-promoting displays.  This is one of the reasons Paul encourages prophecy over speaking in tongues as well.  People speaking unintelligibly in worship helps no one and may even serve as a way of judging others; those who speak in tongues being “more spiritual” than those who don’t.

In all of this, however, Paul says that we need to show our love.  Good worship is worship that honors God and therefore edifies the church.  Building each other up is an act of love, placing our own needs and desires aside for the sake of our brothers and sisters.  If we all truly did this today, we’d probably stop arguing about music styles and experience an abundance of worship renewal.

1 Corinthians 12 – Spiritual Gifts

Read 1 Corinthians 12

The manifestation of Spiritual Gifts like speaking in tongues or prophetic words is, sadly, not something that is very prominent in the denomination that I come from.  In fact, in western culture, these types of things aren’t very prominent at all.  Yet they are a part of the Christian life.  We should not be quick to dismiss such things when they happen.  Neither should we accept them wholesale when things may be in question.

Paul addresses this issue likely because of troubles that arose from the crossover between a person’s life before they put their faith in Jesus Christ and now experiencing the new life that He offers them.  Such “spiritual” utterances were not uncommon in the cultic worship of other gods, however their purpose in the body of Christ is significantly different.

Whereas those who exhibited such gifts in pagan worship were thought to be somehow “superior,” and so could abuse that status, here Paul places the use of these gifts within the body of Christ for the purpose of building up the church.  Like all of what he has been talking about, these too are a part of our freedom in Christ which is always used in consideration of the other.  All gifts, no matter what they are, were meant for edification and building up, not self promotion.

This too is why Paul urges them to desire the “greater” gifts, not necessarily the ones that create a large public display drawing attention to one’s self.

Again, like Paul has continually said, the life of Christ and those included in it is firmly rooted in consideration for others; humble service that is rooted in love.  Paul will talk about gifts and worship again in chapter 14, a bookend to what he calls “the most excelent way,” which is that of deep love for one another as Christ loves them.

Day 330: Romans 14-16; Building Up the Body

Yesterday we began the final section of Romans which brings us from the reality in which we live, the forgiveness we have found in the grace of God through Jesus Christ, to the response which we should have towards that grace.  Remember that this response is one of gratitude, the third part of journey of “guilt, grace, gratitude” and has much to do with the living out of our faith and the freedom from sin that we find in Christ.  Because we are dying to our old selves and putting on the new self, that is Jesus Christ, there is a sort of inner transformation that takes place.  This doesn’t necessarily happen all at once, where as soon as we accept Christ we are perfect little angels, but rather over time.  This process is called “sanctification,” the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to transform us and make us more like Jesus Christ each and every day.  Part of this is the living out of a life of gratitude towards God, emanating His love, grace, mercy, compassion, and so much more in every situation that we find ourselves in.

Again though, we find that this isn’t about simply about an individual’s inner transformation.  Too often in the American Church, which is plagued with individualism, we make things simply be about “me and Jesus.”  There is an element of this in the Christian faith to be certain.  Every one of us have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and each one of us will have to stand before the throne of heaven at the end of time.  Yet this emergence of “me and Jesus” thoughts is really a recent happening.  With the enlightenment, modernism, and now post-modernism leading the philosophical ideal, individualism and its associate relativism have marred the community of faith with its influence.  Yet Paul makes a point here at the end of his letter to the church in Rome that Christian faith is not simply to be an individual thing, it is to be something lived out in the community of faith, mutually building each other up as we continue to be transformed and made more and more like Christ.

This shows up in Paul’s writing to the Romans, and in other epistles as well with His addressing issues that have cropped up in the church.  We see Paul writing about the different things that people eat, about what is “clean” and what is “unclean,” and later we’ll even see what Paul has to say about spiritual gifts and how the impact the body of Christ.  Really though, what this has to do with is passing judgment on others within the body of the Church.  Paul is encouraging the believers in Rome not to sweat the small stuff as it were.  There are many things that people do differently and they are more than likely convinced that they are doing things right.  We see this all the time in church don’t we?  We judge how other people are worshipping, what other people are wearing, how they are controlling their kids, what they do for a living… the list goes on and on.

Yet Paul’s point here is that what people do they do before the Lord much more than they do before any person.  In this sense, individuality within the Christian community is something to be honored and understood.  If someone is singing with their hands in their pockets, their heart is still before the Lord.  If those pockets are bluejeans rather than dress pants their heart is still before the Lord.  If that person’s kids are running around church after the worship service is over, their heart is before the Lord (there are safety concerns of course which is a bit more of a public affair, but this is not a judgmental thing).  In all these things we are the Lord’s and we need to keep this in mind.  Paul’s command here is to not pass judgment on each other.  When judgment is passed it only serves to place a stumbling block in the community, not just in front of the one being judged.  It is a stumbling block that more than just the judged can fall over too.

So what then is the point of community?  Mutual edification… building each other up in Christ Jesus.  While there are things that we do that are between us and God, ways that we worship and live our lives that others might not necessarily agree with, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t in a position where we could grow a little bit.  Even those with the deepest convictions about their lifestyle, their worship style, or any other style can learn from those of other styles and convictions.  And those that aren’t so sure about themselves should find the church a place in which they can come and grow in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit through the encouragement of the community of faith, not a judgmental group that only want you to do things the way you do them.  What does Paul say right off the bat today?  “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him (or her), but not to quarrel over opinions.”  These opinion issues only serve to weaken the already weak and to drive a wedge between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Let us use our faith and our gifts to build each other up, so that together we may all grow in the Spirit and knowledge of God and be formed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ.