First Corinthians 14 is an often overlooked scripture teaching how Christian worship in the Assembly should be edifying to the mind and spirit, and in this sense, worship in assembly is to be uplifting. Christ’s Spirit speaks through the Apostle Paul telling “all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” how to engage in meaningful worship (cf. 1 Cor 1:2). In the midst of speaking about meaningful and edifying worship in the Assembly, the Spirit of Christ spoke through Paul addressing the speaking of the Gospel, praying, and singing with the spirit and the mind (1 Cor 14:15).
(1) Should we only pursue reverent worship in the Assembly? In 1 Corinthians 14:1–4, Paul wrote,
“You all must pursue love, and you all must be zealous for the spiritual things, and in order that you may prophesy more. (2) For the one speaking a foreign tongue speaks not to people, but to God; for no one hears, and in the spirit this one speaks mysteries. (3) And the one prophesying to people speaks edification, and exhortation, and consolation. (4) The one who speaks in a tongue, edifies himself, and the one prophesying edifies the church.”
The Assembly is for worship to God, but also for the edification of the Church. While seeking spiritual things, Christians must be zealous for what edifies the spirit and mind. The distinction between prophesying and speaking other languages is contrasted greatly. We prophesy now by scripture (1 Cor 13:8–12) recognizing that Jesus said that the scriptures prophesy (Matt 11:13). Speaking the truth in meaningful words is a far greater gift than to make show out of a Spirit-given ability of speaking in other foreign tongues. Therefore, let us pursue edification, exhortation, and consolation to the Church.
(2) How should Christians be diligent for worship that is meaningful and edifying? Paul revealed in 1 Corinthians 14:5–6,
“And I want you all to speak with tongues, and even more in order that you may prophesy; for the one is greater who is prophesying than the one who is speaking with tongues, if not the one explains outwardly in order that the church may receive edification. (6) And now, brethren, if I come to you speaking tongues, what will you benefit, if I speak not to you either in revelation, or in knowledge, or in prophecy, or in teaching.”
Useful and meaningful speaking in the Assembly consists of revelation, knowledge, prophecy, and teaching. This is edification. This is what the Church must pursue to build ourselves up in love.
(3) What kind of meaningful edification do meaningless noises give? In 1 Corinthians 14:7–9, Paul revealed,
“Still, the soulless thing giving a voice, whether pipe or harp, if distinct sounds are not given, how will one know what is piped or what is harped? (8) For also if a trumpet gives an unclear voice, who will prepare unto war? (9) And similarly, if you all may not give a meaningful word through the tongue, how will one know what was spoken? For you all will be speaking into air.”
According to this scripture, musical instruments are “soulless” and provide no edification to meaningful worship. One cannot teach Christ’s doctrine or confess the words of Christ by meaningless sounds. One cannot praise God or speak to others by mechanical music. The only things gained from musical instruments are signals to move or a tune or pitch to learn. Yet, such “soulless” devices had no place in the Assembly described here in 1 Corinthians 14, which is the most extensive section of scripture about worshiping in the Assembly of the Church. Similarly, speaking a foreign tongue does not edify in worship. It is meaningless to most if not all except God. Therefore, we must teach, pray, and praise by meaningful words or otherwise we will be speaking into the air. We do this with love or otherwise we are as clanging symbols (1 Cor. 13:1). Practicing worship with meaningless sounds from a foreign tongue, musical instrument, or any wordless noise is contrary to true worship. Therefore, the music of the Church of Christ Jesus is only singing by meaningful words. Any other music is “soulless.”
(4) What must our worship consist to be edifying? In 1 Corinthians 14:10–15, Paul reasoned with revelation,
“If one, who is in the world, obtained the vast many types of voices in the world, and not one of them is voiceless. (11) Therefore, if I knew not the ability of the voice, I am to the one speaking a foreigner, and the one speaking is a foreigner to me. (12) And similarly, you all are thereupon zealous ones of spiritual things to the edification of the church. You must be zealous in order that you may increase. (13) Thus the one speaking by a tongue must pray in order that one may explain. (14) For if I may pray by a tongue, my spirit prays, and my mind is fruitless. (15) Therefore, what is to be? I will pray in the spirit, and I will also pray in the mind. I will make melody in the spirit, and I will also make melody in the mind.”
Clearly, we must be zealous for what is edifying to increase. Speaking in foreign languages cannot offer that edification. This kind of worship is without the mind. The mind is essential to worship as also is one’s spirit. Therefore, if we pray with the mind and the spirit, we will not try to pray in a foreign language or pray by any other meaningless noise. The same is true for making music in the Assembly. We must use our minds speaking among ourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and also we must use our spirits making melody in our hearts unto the Lord (Eph 5:19; cf. Col 3:16).
(5) Are we zealous for edification if we worship in an unknown language? In 1 Corinthians 14:16–20, Paul observed,
“Thereupon, if you speak well in spirit, how will the one filling the place of the typical person say the amen upon your thanksgiving. (17) For though you give thanks well, but another is not edified. (18) I give thanks to my God, more than you all I am speaking in tongues. (19) But in church, I want to speak five words through my mind in order that I may instruct others also than speak thousands of words in a tongue. (20) Brethren, you all must not be children in thinking, but you all must be infants in evil, and you all must be complete in thinking.”
We are certainly not pursuing the edification of others if we try to worship in a foreign language. In the Assembly, it is better to speak a few understandable words than thousands in a foreign language. We cannot pray, praise, or preach by meaningless and wordless noise. Our pursuit must be for the understandable worship and thus pursue the edification of one another. No “soulless” thing brings edifying instruction to the Church not even by a thousand notes. Christians should rather pursue five meaningful words in a song than a thousand notes in any wordless music. Let us be completely mature in our thinking.
(6) Do we understand God’s principles and purposes for worship in the assembly? In 1 Corinthians 14:21–26, Paul revealed,
“In the law, it has been written that in different tongues and in different lips, I will speak to this people, and similarly not, they will listen to me, says the Lord. (22) However, the tongues are unto a sign not the believing, but to the unbelieving, and the prophecy is not to the unbelieving, but to the believing. (23) Therefore, if the whole church may come together upon one place and all may speak in tongues, and if typical people or unbelievers entered, will they not say that you all are mad? (24) And if all may prophesy, and one who is an unbeliever or typical person entered, he is admonished by all and he is examined by all; (25) the secrets of his heart become apparent, and similarly, he is bowed upon his face, he will worship God declaring that God is likewise in you all. (26) Therefore, what is to be, brethren? When you may come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, have a tongue, has an interpretation, one must make all to edification.”
The purpose of worship in the Assembly includes edification so much that every act of worship is to be for building up the congregation. God has a purpose for the gift of speaking in languages, which is to spread the Gospel to the nations. God also gave the spiritual gift of prophesy to reveal His Word by His Spirit to the Church through His Apostles and prophets (cf. Eph 3:3–5). Let us not misuse the gifts that gave us. Though God gives each one of us gifts and talents, we are not to misuse those gifts showing them in the Assembly without the purpose to edify (Matt 6). The definition of the Assembly of the Church of Christ is when the whole congregation can come together (1 Cor 14:23). When the whole congregation comes together, all the worship brought forward is to edify the church. Whatever one brings to worship in the Assembly, that person must do for the edification of the congregation. Christ’s Spirit is very clear about the acts of worship that are edifying in the Assembly. Let us hear the teaching of the Word, be led in prayer together, sing together with one voice, commune with God together in the Lord’s Supper, and share with one another by giving to our collection. Thank God for these instructions from His Spirit.