“Be exalted” – is ringing out in my ears. “Be exalted oh God” – so holy, so wise, so omnipotent, so other – I lift my voice and sing – “be exalted!”.
“Yes Ian – it is indeed a privilege – an almost immeasurable privilege you have to be able to meet with Me – the Sovereign Ruler of the whole universe. Yet it is My desire to meet with you, that is why I sent my Son to bridge this gap between us, so that you can receive from Me all the blessings and love I want to share with you. You are enormously privileged, yet no more than any other of my precious children. This is available to every one of you without measure. You have and are receiving every blessing in the heavenlies. As your heart is overwhelmed and filled to overflowing, share these thoughts that those you are in contact with can appreciate just how much they have and are receiving from Me – and by appreciating it, keep singing, “Be exalted oh Lord”.
Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians next, opens with the words “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy”. The whole question of spiritual gifts in this church has been a divisive element and Paul has been addressing it in various ways since the beginning of the letter. When I was a young Christian this whole question of the so-called “supernatural gifts” was very prominent. I am afraid it was also very controversial and often led more to divisions and quarreling than to the upbuilding of God’s church.
We must realize that the circumstances in that community and church were very different to what we have today. People were used to living their social life in the pagan temples and once saved were having difficulty distancing themselves from that lifestyle. There were no printed scriptures yet as we have them. Teaching came from prophets. There were those who were itinerant prophets and then of course local people within the congregation. There was a huge possibility of false teaching. Hence the many warnings in the various letters to test the teachers and prophets who were bringing God’s message.
Then there was the question of “tongues” which seemed to have become almost a distinguishing sign of superiority to some. Against this background I want to pick out the central teaching of this chapter. Maybe you should read the chapter again and see if you can see the core teaching Paul is giving.
Here goes: Verse 26b “All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church”. Whatever the practices which are being discussed here and how they are played out today should have this main aim in mind. “The strengthening of the church”.
Central to the upbuilding of the church was and will always be the right teaching. Today we have the scriptures which are the core which we use for our teaching. God’s word. God speaking through His word as it is opened up by teachers who, let me use a useful expression, have a prophetic teaching ministry as they open up the scriptures and as the Holy Spirit gives us understanding and applies it for us.
Very important to the upbuilding of the church is that it should be “outsider focused”. The whole first part of this chapter focusses on this important point. If we as God’s church are to carry out His mandate in the world today, we must keep reminding ourselves of the importance God places on the expansion of His Kingdom. Internal strife and quarreling invariable takes everyone’s eyes off this important role the church is called to fulfil. How can we be witnesses if we can’t get on together, never mind love one another. So, while there is a place to discuss doctrine and such issues it should always be done in love and behind closed doors.
The other factor which Paul raised in the last 12vv is the question of church order. Whatever factors which were causing disorder in that church probably are not replicated today. However, it is only fitting that our services should be orderly as another part of our witness to God and His kingdom. That there should be participation by the congregation is highly advisable as it draws everyone in. The church of England has dealt with this by producing the “Book of Common Prayer”, dating back to the 15 and 1600’s.
The liturgies of the services that are used give ample opportunity for participation, in various ways in the service. There is also a heavy emphasis on the role of the scriptures. It is important to see how the church has progressed since the early days, taking into consideration all the attacks on it. It still remains the apple of God’s Eye and the means through which He is reaching out to the world.
While some may long for what they perceive to be the freedom of worship in the Corinthian church, they should realize that it led to much abuse and division, and we should take that as a warning and directive for ourselves.
So, where do you stand in your involvement in the church function? As we read this chapter, we should realize again how vital our positive participation in the church is. We have all been gifted for the common good and by not using your gift/s you are withholding a vital part of God’s plan for His church.