Decency and Order in the Lord’s Assembly: A Commentary of 1 Corinthians 14

How should worship in church look? Did Christ have a plan or any instructions regarding what the New Testament calls the assembly? The assemblies of the churches of Christ look different from the “worship services” today. Generations have struggled with decency and order in the assembly. Why? Many do not really know the Scriptures and what Christ would have us do. In a sense, many Christians are tempted to forsake the assembly (Heb 10:25). Many will forsake the assembly by not assembling with a congregation to worship and edify decently and in order. Christians must consider what the instruction means, “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). Paul wrote the commands of God, and those commands addressed the assembly (1 Cor 14:37). Christians must recognize the authority of the words of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians and recognize that these are the words that Jesus gave to Apostles and prophets.

The largest section of Scripture on the decency and order of the assembly is 1 Corinthians 14. Many are afraid of this chapter because of the references to spiritual gifts given by the laying on of the Apostles’ hands. Before a look into 1 Corinthians 14, one must ask again, “What is the Assembly?” People often call the assembly “worship” and it is, but this is not the Scriptural title for the assembly. Some also call the assembly “the services” or “worship services” referring to formal services in assembly.

What is the assembly? The assembly is “the whole congregation gathered together” (1 Cor 14:23). The assembly is in Jesus’ name (1 Cor 5:4). The assembly is the gathering where the congregation partakes of the Lord’s Supper every single time (1 Cor 11:17–34). The assembly is not every meeting of Christians. There were prayer meetings and other gatherings (Acts 12:12; 20:20).

Have you noticed how most of the verses on the assembly come from 1 Corinthians? Paul planned to address the assembly as is seen from his mention of teaching in the assembly (1 Cor 4:17). He spoke of discipline in the assembly (1 Cor 5:4), teaching in assembly again (1 Cor 7:17), the Lord’s Supper in assembly (1 Cor 10:16; 11:17–34), and the order and decency of the assembly (1 Cor 14). The church at Corinth had many problems and their factions appear to have changed the assembly.

Here is simple break down of 1 Corinthians 14:

(1) Bring Revelation, Knowledge, Prophecy, or Teaching! v1–6

(2) Strive to Excel in Building Up the Church! v7–12

(3) Worship with your Spirit and with your Mind! v13–19

(4) Speak to the Congregation to Convict Outsiders! v20–26

(5) Know that God is not a God of Confusion! v27–33

(6) Do All Things Decently and in Order! v34–40

(1) Bring Revelation, Knowledge, Prophecy, or Teaching (v1–6)! We will see that we must seek to build up the church, the assembly. First, pursue love. In 1 Corinthians 14:1, Paul instructed, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” Second, desire to prophesy. How does one prophesy today? You get revelation from God’s Word, and you teach. In the following verse 2, Paul points out how that no can understand their teaching because they were speaking in foreign languages. Those speaking in foreign languages were only speaking to God and to himself, and no one understood these speakers. Somehow the Corinthian Christians favored the idea to make a show of their talents and show superiority over each other. They thought that speaking in foreign languages (or “tongue-speaking”) was the greatest spiritual gift. Because of this show of spiritual gifts, the Word of God simply was not taught or communicated, and at the same time, these Christians were misusing their God-given abilities by bringing into the assembly what did not belong there. Clearly, the assembly is not a talent show. The Spirit declared in 1 Corinthians 14:3–4, “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” The Church needs up-building, encouragement and consolation, so “prophesy”, teach! Christians need to come to teach and learn not make a show and gain spiritual superiority. First Corinthians 14:6 inquired, “Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” Bring revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching! This is essential to the assembly. The up-building was cognitive and of the intellect.

(2) Strive to Excel in Building Up the Church (v7–12)! In 1 Corinthians 14:7–8, Paul revealed, “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” The Spirit clearly taught and clarified that musical instrument are things without a soul. These lifeless and soulless instruments communicate in limited ways, and the Spirit was teaching that these Christians, the Corinthians, were like instruments with out a purpose being without a melody or signal for action.

Here we see the limited extent of communicating with a musical instrument. With an instrument, someone can communicate a melody or a signal for action. An instrument can communicate by teaching music or through code such as a bugle in battle. Today, people can use a series of tones such as Morse Code, but Morse Code is a foreign language to many. For the musical instrument communicates very little. Preaching with a musical instrument or any sounds that do not communicate words is impossible. A musical instrument cannot teach and is like a foreign language. Teaching in an unknown language to no profit can be sinful. The musical instrument is no different from a foreign language in not communicating a revelation and message from God or to God. Christians cannot pray to God with meaningless sounds from musical instruments either. People can only as much pray and praise God with incense and candles as they can pray and praise God with musical instruments.

Only God’s musical instrument of the heart and the lips can praise God, because in worship, the words of the known language are all that matter. In Hebrews 13:15, the writer exhorts, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.” There is no instrument that is more beautiful than the human voice. The human voice and the heart are the only musical instruments that humanity possesses are made by God Himself! Furthermore, Christians cannot use instruments to worship God. Instruments are lifeless while the human voice is not. One cannot praise God or pray to God in a language that the person does not know, and that person cannot pray to God or praise God with a mechanical instrument. No one can teach others the Gospel by the sounds of a mechanical instrument. This is impossible. Remember Ephesians 5:19, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.”

The teaching in the assembly at Corinth was not profitable to the church. The Spirit says In 1 Corinthians 14:9, Paul observed. “So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.” These Christians were misusing a spiritual gift from God in assembly! Those speaking in different languages in the assembly were foreigners to the church (14:10–11). The Spirit also declared in 1 Corinthians 14:12–13, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church [the assembly]. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret.” However, no one did interpret and probably no one could interpret since foreign languages did not serve its spiritual purpose in this assembly.

In all of this, these Christians did not desire to teach the congregation and this was a sin against Christ and His assembly. Many of these Christians spoke in languages that no one knew, but this was all for show. Many assemblies do this today. Do not many churches make a show out of the assembly? Have not many gatherings become about showing off talents and, or rituals like the assembly of the Corinthians? Christ’s followers must strive to excel in building up the church! Christians assemblies must have teaching that is understandable.

(3) Worship with your Spirit and with your Mind (v13–19)! A critical point and the heart of the worship in the assembly is taught in 1 Corinthians 14:14–15, which says, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. In other words, “I’m not going to worship in a language that I do not understand.” This is the principle that the Spirit of Christ wanted written on Christian hearts. In these verses, the ability to speak in different languages moved from “teaching” over into prayers and making melody.

Someone can imagine a church where another is leading a prayer in Latin, Greek, or some other foreign language in assembly? Who would understand? What if someone led a song in a foreign language? Would it not become a solo? First Corinthians 14:15 is a key passage teaching that certain things are excluded from Christian prayers and music. The simple truth that one cannot pray or praise with incense or a candle is clear. Incense does not communicate to man or God. Musical instruments neither teach nor communicate a message. In 1 Corinthians 14:16–17, Paul affirmed, “Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.” No one can know to agree with prayers and say “amen” to prayers given in a foreign language. These are prayers against the Spirit and against the ideal of the Lord’s assembly.

Then the Spirit via Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 14:18–19, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in assembly I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Paul could speak in more foreign languages and did more than anyone else, but he did not speak in foreign tongues in the congregation. He taught God’s Word, but he did not speak in a foreign language. This whole situation may seem ridiculous, but this same thing is going on today with more than people thinking that they can speak with the tongues of angels. Many believe that they can pray to God with incense, candles, and even praise God with mechanical music, whistling, or hand-clapping. Christians must worship with the spirit and with the mind! Believers must make right their hearts, and worship in spirit and truth.

(4) Speak to the Congregation to Convict Outsiders (v20–26)! The Corinthians were not thinking maturely. In 1 Corinthians 14:20,  Paul exhorted, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” They were better than than this talent show of spiritual gifts, and Paul knew it. God knew it. Some might ask especially the Corinthians, “If you can’t speak in tongues in the Assembly, then when?” Paul reasoned, “Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers” (1 Cor 14:22). Tongues were to teach the world (Acts 2). The gift of speaking in foreign languages was for evangelism. How was the Gospel to go unto all the nations of so many different languages? God’s answer was the spiritual gift of tongues. Christians must thank God for that gift, because without it, the Gospel may not have been spread so quickly among the nations. Again many today may ask, “What about when the non-believers visit the assembly? Can you speak in other languages then?” Paul observed, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” (1 Cor 14:23). Is that true today? Do not “tongue-speakers” appear to be out of their minds?

Then, Paul noted, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 cor 14:24–25). Paul has clearly taught that teaching in a known language is not only better for believers, but also non-believers who come into the assembly. Visitors should be welcomed into our assemblies to hear what is taught according to God’s Word (cf. Jas 2). Everything in the assembly is to edify the mind. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul urged, “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.” When Christians are gathered together, they must let all things be done for edification of the mind. Paul has shown the place for the hymn, the lesson, and the revelation in a known language, and how those who bring a foreign language must bring some edification for the mind by interpretation.

(5) Know that God is not a God of Confusion (v27–33)! In 1 Corinthians 14:27–28, the apostle Paul instructed, “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.” In other words, a Christian is not to speak in unknown languages unless that person has someone to interpret. Did those in Corinth have interpreters? Evidently, they did not have an interpreter since they have had no one interpreting the foreign languages before Paul wrote them. Paul also taught them to do things in order. Much confusion can be caused by individuals teaching simultaneously. They were speaking out of order and at the same time. Multiple speakers spoke at once causing much confusion. They were not waiting for each other. They were already divided among themselves (1 Cor 1; 11). They even took the Lord’s Supper at different times before everyone had even got to the assembly (1 Cor 11). Again in verse 29, the Corinthians were to speak one by one and let those listening weigh what is said. The Apostles commanded, “If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent” (1 Cor 14:30). Silence is commanded in the assembly! Some people even today are bored by silences in assembly, but God encourages them in His church. Therefore, Paul taught them in 1 Corinthians 14:31–33, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” Some believe that they cannot control the Holy Spirit within them and evidently those in Corinth gave this same excuse. This is not true. God is not a God of confusion and the church is not the place for such confusion. Paul revealed, “and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints,” (1 Cor 14:32–33).

(6) Do All Things Decently and in Order (v34–40)The Holy Spirit revealed through Paul, “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in assembly” (1 Cor 14:34–35). Were women speaking in the assembly at Corinth? Yes. This is speaking before the assembly, and this is not talking about women singing or the like. This speaking in the Lord’s assembly belongs to the birthright of men. Women have rights and roles too in which men cannot participate (1 Tim 2:13). Do you think this offended some of the women at Corinth? What was God’s answer to those who thought of themselves as more spiritual than to have to listen to Paul about these disruptive and indecent speakers? Christ’s apostle affirmed, “Or did the Word of God go out from you? Or did it reach only to you? If anyone thinks to be a prophet, or a spiritual one, let him recognize the things I write to you, that they are a commandment of the Lord. But if any is ignorant, let him be ignorant” (1 Cor 14:36–38). Now, Paul concluded that his words are commands of the Lord and “the Word of God.” Paul concluded, “So then, brothers, seek to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in languages” (1 Cor 14:39). In other words, teach the congregation and forbid no one to evangelize using foreign languages. The great purpose and conclusion of these words is clear in 1 Corinthians 14:40. Paul commanded, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Every time that you hear that verse, know that this is talking about the assembly of Christ and how all things must done for Christ’s purpose through the edification of the mind.

People can take things from God and use them in the wrong way. Christians must keep order in the Lord’s assembly remembering the principles of the Lord’s assembly in 1 Corinthians 14.

(1) Bring Revelation, Knowledge, Prophecy, or Teaching! v1–6

(2) Strive to Excel in Building Up the Church! v7–12

(3) Worship with your Spirit and with your Mind! v13–19

(4) Speak to the Congregation to Convict Outsiders! v20–26

(5) Know that God is not a God of Confusion! v27–33

(6) Do All Things Decently and in Order! v34–40

1 Corinthians 14 Commentary

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
This entry was posted in Christian, Church of Christ, Worship and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Decency and Order in the Lord’s Assembly: A Commentary of 1 Corinthians 14

  1. Joyce McElroy says:

    The Church of Christ where I attend has recently decorated a room with symbols such as crosses and they have said in our bulletin that we should be able to express our worship by lifting our hands during prayer or singing etc. What do you think and why?

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    • Hi Joyce,

      I very much understand anyone’s concern. Many churches seem to be going in the opposite direction of the NT pattern for positive change. People want to add to worship rather than move closer to more first-century worship. Instead of changing the seating to face and speak to one another in song, many want to add clapping and instruments to singing. That is moving away from the NT precedent and toward another experience. Following NT precedent is essential to fellowship and unity. See my article on following the pattern.

      Concern with crosses has to do with idolatry and the borderline idolatry of Catholicism. Idolatry in Greek means in service and worship of an image usually representing deity. When our congregations appear to embrace errant traditions, this bothers Christians for the sake of our consciences and the weak who may be led astray. For this, we must appeal to others for Romans 14. For the use of crosses and Christian symbols, the NT does appeal to crosses to represent the death of Christ and death with Christ to sin and this world. For this reason, one may wear a cross or have them in their home. Having crosses in the forefront of a place of worship can cause problems. These are matters that the elders need to consider deeply. However, a room including crosses may just seem strange, but not include real error.

      The hand raising today is not that of the Scriptures. In 1 Timothy 2, men led prayers by lifting holy hands. That is not today’s hand raising. One could counter such hand raising today if the men led prayers by biblically lifting their palms up about chest high in prayer. However, this new tradition of hand raising is a not biblical. This once bothered me a lot, but now, I am more willing to bear with such in the hope of further study. I see such inclusions of cultural and denominational Christianity demonstrating weaknesses among our brethren. For this, I can see who needs more bible study and encouragement. There is a good in seeing such weaknesses. Now, we see where to improve.

      In conclusion, I cannot see the crosses and hand raising as sins but as symptoms of a deeper problem. That is what we want to look and address. Why does the church not seek NT worship in spirit and truth? Why are they conforming to their neighbor churches in worship? Why are these not reading the Scriptures and seeking to follow the NT precedent of true worship?

      God bless you, Joyce. I hope you are able to voice the truth and persuade some to reconsider.

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  2. churchesofChrist says:

    “I have noticed first-hand in my denominational upbringing that the instruments and solos only seem to build up the individuals who use them/perform them.

    People would say, “Suzie is a great piano player” or “Jay has such a nice voice”, and in those cases, Suzie and Jay were built up. But what of the rest of us? I think that many who couldn’t play an instrument or sing a solo felt inferior to those that could. That certainly isn’t building up the entire body, it is elevating certain individuals above the others (just like giving a man a title like “Reverend”).”

    – Good Point
    I played the drums for a so-called Christian band and we traveled to various denominational churches and it was always “ Randy, you sure can play good, how long have played the drums”…I would get comments like this as would other members of our band. The focal point was “entertainment” and not worship. Although I disagree with how you guys come to exclude instruments ( law of silence ) of music, I do agree with this point though and for this reason I exclude instruments of music.

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  3. I appreciate your encouragement Corey. I preached this last Sunday. I’ve only heard it preached once before by a missionary from the Ukraine visiting a little country church.

    You can use anything and everything from me. It is not really mine anyways. No need to even make citation.

    The issue of the God-given gift of tongue-speaking being misused in the Assembly is an excellent measure for anything that would parallel, which would be anything that does not build up the intellect and communicate the message of Christ.

    I play the guitar. I like it and believe that it is a gift from God. I can’t teach by playing it or pray with it or praise with it, and I cannot use it in the Assembly. It is just that simple.

    Grace and peace to you in Christ.

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  4. coreydavis says:

    This is an excellent article, Scott. I may use it for the Wednesday night class I often teach if that is alright with you.

    I really like how you brought out the point that unauthorized things like instruments do not build up the entire body. I have noticed first-hand in my denominational upbringing that the instruments and solos only seem to build up the individuals who use them/perform them.

    People would say, “Suzie is a great piano player” or “Jay has such a nice voice”, and in those cases, Suzie and Jay were built up. But what of the rest of us? I think that many who couldn’t play an instrument or sing a solo felt inferior to those that could. That certainly isn’t building up the entire body, it is elevating certain individuals above the others (just like giving a man a title like “Reverend”).

    Thanks again for the encouraging thoughts!
    Corey

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    • dw says:

      This is an old article, but does jealousy play a part? Paul boasted of how Christ worked through him. Others were jealous. Did Paul stop? We’re to rejoice in one another’s gifts.
      As long as one gives God the glory for a talent why should others bring them down. Paul addressed gifts in 1 Corinthians. No one should feel inferior unless provoked by jealousy or immaturity. Hence a perverted stand on choirs, solos, etc. Folks tell a preacher “nice sermon” and they mean it. Should we tell him to stop teaching solo as others might be jealous? Straining at gnat and swallowing camels while many blind lead others down the path of the Pharisee. Been there still, fighting the fallout.

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