Is God Among You? -- Part Four


Is God Among You?
1 Corinthians 14:1-40
Theme: Propriety in worship.
This week’s lessons remind us that in church we should strive to benefit others, not ourselves.
Paul gives an illustration at this point. He talks about music. He says if everybody starts playing instruments all at once with no attention to an ordered score, it is not beneficial to anybody. In fact, it is horrible. And if, in battle, somebody picks up a trumpet but does not blow a tune that people can interpret, the soldiers will not know whether to charge or retreat. He says it is the same way in the worship service. When you are in church, try to do what is going to be strengthening, encouraging, and comforting to other Christians.
Secondly, there is a little parenthesis beginning with verse 13 in which Paul talks about the benefit of prophecy over speaking in tongues for the actual speaker. He contrasts praying in the Spirit versus praying with one’s mind. The way many of us think, we would say it is much better to pray in the Spirit than to pray with our mind. There is no use in just saying words; we have to be in tune with God and we have to pray the same way we worship. The Lord himself said, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).
It is interesting that he combined truth with worshiping in the Spirit. He is talking about heart worship. It has to be genuine. It has to be our spirit bearing witness with the Spirit of God and the Spirit of God bearing witness with our spirit. At the same time, it has to be according to truth, and truth involves content.
We have such a danger in our time of indulging in what I call "contentless" Christianity. It is the kind of Christianity that often takes place in services where there seems to be a great deal of emotion but not much instruction. The people go away having experienced an emotional jag, but when you ask them afterwards what they learned or what difference it is going to make in their lives, they really have very little to offer. I think that is a terrible danger because if we get off into that kind of an emotional jag apart from content, it is very easy to find ourselves performing in ways that are contrary to God’s revelation in his Word. We can say, "Well, I just feel that it’s the right thing to do. I was just so excited." But, of course, that is always dangerous unless you can go back to the Word and say, "This is what the Word teaches and as I take that Word and apply it to my life, it seems to me inescapable that it has to be applied in this way."
Some of the great spokesmen of our time have called attention to this. John Stott calls attention to the practice of Christianity without content and he says how dangerous it is. And I believe that is absolutely true. Now this is not to stress content apart from an emotional response; people respond differently. We are hard-hearted indeed if we can read these great truths in the Gospel of God’s love for us and his desire for our lives and not be emotionally moved by them. But it should be the content of Scripture that moves us rather than simply indulging in some emotional experience alone. So, Paul says, prophecy - in the sense of proclaiming, teaching, and applying the Word–is not only beneficial for the church and should be practiced for that reason, but it is beneficial for the individual himself.
Then, finally, he talks also of the benefit of prophecy over tongues for unbelievers. He begins, in verse 22, by explaining that speaking in tongues is a sign, not for believers, but unbelievers, whereas prophecy is for believers, not for unbelievers. What he means is that speaking in tongues is a miracle. A miracle is something that the unbelieving world will sit up and notice. But in the experience of Christian people, a miracle should not be all that unusual; it should be more commonplace.
But, alternatively, he says that if in your worship service you practice a kind of worship in which people are standing up and babbling away in tongues, and an unbeliever comes into your gathering, he is going to say, "I’ve never been in such a crazy place in my life. They’re all out of their minds. I can’t understand a word." He is going to turn around and leave, saying, "That’s a good place to stay away from."
On the contrary if an unbeliever comes into your fellowship, and, instead of unintelligible speech he finds people actually articulating the great truths of the Word of God, then that person is going to leave there edified. He is going to say, "God is really among you." That, of course, is what we desire.
Study Questions
  • How is the benefit of prophecy greater than that of tongues for the actual speaker? for the unbeliever?
  • What is one of the spiritual dangers of our time?
Read Romans 12:2. How are we spiritually transformed? What does that transformation enable us to do?