Worship Must Be Orderly
26My friends, when you meet to worship, you must do everything for the good of everyone there. That's how it should be when someone sings or teaches or tells what God has said or speaks an unknown language or explains what the language means. 27No more than two or three of you should speak unknown languages during the meeting. You must take turns, and someone should always be there to explain what you mean. 28If no one can explain, you must keep silent in church and speak only to yourself and to God.
29Two or three persons may prophesy, and everyone else must listen carefully. 30If someone sitting there receives a message from God, the speaker must stop and let the other person speak. 31Let only one person speak at a time, then all of you will learn something and be encouraged. 32A prophet should be willing to stop and let someone else speak. 33God wants everything to be done peacefully and in order.
When God's people meet in church, 34the women must not be allowed to speak. They must keep quiet and listen, as the Law of Moses teaches. 35If there is something they want to know, they can ask their husbands when they get home. It is disgraceful for women to speak in church.
36God's message did not start with you people, and you are not the only ones it has reached.
37If you think of yourself as a prophet or a spiritual person, you will know I am writing only what the Lord has commanded. 38So don't pay attention to anyone who ignores what I am writing. 39My friends, be eager to prophesy and don't stop anyone from speaking languages that others don't know. 40But do everything properly and in order.
This passage provides wonderful insight into the participatory nature of worship in the congregations of Corinth. Paul begins by emphasizing that that all aspects of worship must for the good (building up) of everyone present (v 26). He concludes by stating that every aspect of worship is to be done properly and with a sense of order v 40).
These principles are expressed in concrete instructions. Worship in Corinth is to be a shared experience with different members offering their gifts including music and teaching. Speaking in tongues is limited to two or three people provided that someone is present to interpret (make the content intelligible). Similarly, there are to be no more than three prophetic messages with time for congregational discernment. We recall that Paul earlier wrote that no prophet can claim to have all the truth (13:9). Furthermore, no one person should dominate the whole worship service (14:31-32).
Paul’s advice to women must be understood within the patriarchal structures of the first century Mediterranean world. Most girls received little education and were married as adolescents to older men. Married women, in public settings, were expected to remain silent. Paul’s general position on gender relations in the church was liberating and revolutionary. He refused to allow divisions based on ethnicity, social position, and gender (Galatians 3:28). Women prayed and prophesied in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:5). He valued women as co-workers in the mission of the early church (Romans 16:1-7). It seems that in Corinth there was something disruptive and unseemly about women’s participation in discussing prophetic speeches. Paul responds with a firm directive that married women should ask questions at home.
Many churches today have lost the vitality of participatory, Spirit inspired worship. Paul’s instruction encourage us to recognize more fully the gifts of God given to all members of our churches.
Lord God, we confess that our worship services often seem more like a performance than the joyful expression of the heart. Through the grace of your Spirit, draw us into a deeper experience of your presence in our congregations. In Jesus’ name. Amen.