There are three passages which unlock God’s design for public worship—what I’m calling God’s blueprint for worship. These three texts are:
|John 4:24||Spirit and Truth|
|1 Corinthians 14:40||Decently and In Order|
|Hebrews 12:28-29||Reverence and Awe|
In part 2 we studied the context of John 4:24 and learned that the Father is seeking true worshipers who worship in spirit and truth. We stated that this true and spiritual worship can be described in the following table:
|spirit = whole-hearted||truth = whole-minded|
|-with a vital relationship||-with a true knowledge of God|
|-not external, not Pharisaical||-not emotionalism; not with an insufficient view of God|
|-spiritually, genuinely||-with Scripture as the authority|
|-with affection||-with accuracy|
These definitions of worship echo Calvin in his commentary on this passage. Calvin writes,
What it is to worship God in spirit and truth appears clearly from what has been already said. It is to lay aside the entanglements of ancient ceremonies, and to retain merely what is spiritual in the worship of God; for the truth of the worship of God consists in the spirit, and ceremonies are but a sort of appendage. And here again it must be observed, that truth is not compared with falsehood, but with the outward addition of the figures of the Law; so that — to use a common expression — it is the pure and simple substance of spiritual worship.John Calvin, Commentary on John
This week we are looking at the second key text, 1 Corinthians 14:40, and will reach back several chapters for a broad overview of the context. 1 Corinthians 14:40 is the decisive summary of the unity and outward nature of corporate fellowship and worship that begins in 1 Corinthians 10:14.
Paul is making a lengthy argument and he begins with a command against idolatry when participating in the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthian church, Paul writes, must properly discern the blood and body of Christ and not participate in these elements if they are offered to demons. He states in verse 20: “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.” Paul’s first summary statement or conclusion is that during participation in the Lord’s Table, no one should seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor (v. 24).
Beginning at verse 25, Paul gives a tangible example of seeking the good of our neighbors—this time, however, it is at an ordinary dinner. He argues that if the food that was prepared was offered as a sacrifice to idols that the believer should not eat it. Believers should not eat, not because of their own conscience, for they are free to eat whatever they please (v. 27), but for the sake of the unbeliever who could be wounded in conscience.
Paul’s second summary statement or conclusion, before moving to the specific cultural example of head coverings (11:2-16), is that the believer should do everything to the glory of God (v. 32). So, whether taking the Lord’s Supper with believers or having a dinner date with an unbeliever, we ought to seek the good of others and do all to the glory of God. We should try to please everyone in every way (v. 33) in order to build others up and imitate Christ (11:1). Paul tried to please everyone (v. 33) but did so by seeking to glorify God.
Note that here—or anywhere else in his writings—Paul did not attempt to please men according to their needs, but he always attempted to please men in accordance with God’s commands.
These two principles set the foundation for our proper concern and regard for others in corporate worship:
- Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
- So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
In the next pericope (a small section of verses with a tightly woven theme) Paul addresses head coverings for women and the headship of husbands. Though quite some ink has been spilled about the continued relevance of head coverings for NT Christians and even more ink has been spilled over the nature and extent of male headship, there is no question that the role of husband and the role of wife, are roles in submission to Christ (v.3) and established in creation (vv. 8-9). We won’t add to the ink, but since Paul is addressing this topic in this context of corporate worship his summary statement is incredibly important because it provides an answer to how we balance apostolic tradition (v. 2) and localized cultural practices. His summary statement or conclusion is that in corporate worship we are not to be contentious (v. 16) about cultural practices that do not go beyond or breach the apostolic tradition.
Matthew Henry in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 11 writes,
He sums up all by referring those who were contentious to the usages and customs of the churches, 1 Cor. 11:16. Custom is in a great measure the rule of decency. And the common practice of the churches is what would have them govern themselves by. He does not silence the contentious by mere authority, but lets them know that they would appear to the world as very odd and singular in their humour if they would quarrel for a custom to which all the churches of Christ were at that time utter strangers, or against a custom in which they all concurred, and that upon the ground of natural decency. It was the common usage of the churches for women to appear in public assemblies, and join in public worship, veiled; and it was manifestly decent that they should do so. Those must be very contentious indeed who would quarrel with this, or lay it aside.Matthew Henry
We are left with one interpretation of verses 1-16 in terms of what is required in worship: Our worship should seek to maintain the apostolic tradition, i.e., the biblical directive as it is faithfully applied in accordance with God’s word. As with the Corinthians, so with us, it is the apostolic tradition as inscripturated that we are to maintain and obey in corporate worship. The next pericope in chapter 11 makes this abundantly clear.
Chapter 11 is the New Testament’s clearest and longest exposition of the Lord’s Supper. Though an extended verse-by-verse study is beyond the scope of this essay, we will address how the supper, rightly and regularly practiced, brings utmost glory to God while bringing utmost blessing to the partakers.
Some foundational points:
v. 17 – we ought to come together
v. 18 – we ought to come together as a local church
vv. 18, 19 – basic differentiation in practice is not a surprise nor sinful, but if it is outside the apostolic practice as Paul describes here it is, indeed, sinful and not genuine
vv. 20-22 – it is the Lord’s Supper and so when we come to His home and His table we follow His rules and His practice for the benefit of all
Consider vv. 20-22. A simple but helpful analogy to help this concept sink in is to consider how you yourself host a dinner at your home compared to when you are invited over to a friend’s house. Do you follow your own practice at your neighbor’s house? Do you ask for appetizers because you always provide appetizers when hosting? At our house, my wife and I ask our guests to remove their shoes when they come in because our family does not wear shoes inside our home. Would I then tell my neighbor to remove his shoes at his own house when I am invited inside? No.
Similarly, this passage requires the Lord’s people to “come together” to take the Lord’s Supper in the way the King commands, for this is the way that he prescribes and seeks to be glorified. This exposition by Paul and its implications requires all of His people to shed personal preference; we should all aim to eliminate the contention that comes from everyone wanting worship according to what is right in their own eyes (or ears!).
After Paul’s detailed, step-by-step exposition of the process found in the communion liturgy, he returns to describing the corporate nature of coming together in verse 33. Paul uses the phrase “come together” five times in vv. 17-34. His summary statement or conclusion is that participants in the Lord’s Table should “come together” and wait for one another. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is as much about unity and outward fellowship among the body as it is the individual’s blessing and accountability to God (v. 26-28).
Chapter 12 is Paul’s introduction to spiritual gifts in the life of the church and specifically the spiritual gift of tongues, which caused so much confusion for the Corinthian church. Every gift, including tongues, is given for the common good (v.7). Spiritual gifts are Spirit-empowered (v.11) and no spiritual gift is intended to serve the one manifesting the gift. The gift is always for others. No doubt serving with gratitude results in blessedness and contentment for the one serving, but this is a secondary effect and not the primary purpose. Today’s charismatics would do well to remember this biblical truth.
Paul’s analogy of one body with many members (vv. 12-31) only strengthens his argument (and mine) that the body of Christ as it is manifest in a local congregation is one whole (v.17) and unified (v.26). Self-evidently, Paul does not deny the obvious, that the whole body is made up of individual professing Christians with individual needs, preferences, gifts, and burdens. But the more excellent way (v.31) of love that is expressed outwardly (13:4-7) in the practice of fusing the golden rule with the fruit of the spirit, is the way of binding and bonding the body of Christ together. Paul emphatically states that the point of all giftedness is so that the church may be built up (14:5). In fact, all that individuals do within the church should be for the purpose of building up the church (14:12). Note the emphasis and repetition of these phrases:
v. 4 – [the one who prophesies] builds up the church
v. 5 – so that the church may be built up
v. 12 – strive to excel in building up the church
v. 17 – but the other person is not being built up
v. 26 – let all things be done for building up
How is the local church to “build up the church” when it gathers for worship? Paul’s answer and ours: But all things should be done decently and in order (v.40). This is Paul’s summary statement of all three chapters ( 1 Corinthians 12–14) and a summary of the whole narrative on unity, conscience, and orderliness in gathered worship beginning in chapter 10:14. Paul writes similarly elsewhere: “For although I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, and I delight to see your orderly condition and firm faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5).
The imperative to conduct worship in a decent and orderly way is a clear and concise directive for the character and practice of every worship service. Do we want to build each other up in our local churches? Of course! How do we do this in the worship service? By not having services that are filled with confusion (14:33) or motivated by the whims of man, but are orderly and driven by the word of God in their organization, function, and ability to foster the building up of the body. Worshiping decently and in order in the worship service maximizes the glory given to God as well as the unity and genuine togetherness of God’s people.
Let us commit to do all things in corporate worship decently and in order for the good of others and the glory of God. Orderly and decent worship can be described in the following way:
|In order = without confusion||Decently = properly|
|-orderly; systematic||-noble; comely|
|-in proper arrangement||-with propriety|