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Mar 04, 2012

Worship:Wild, Weird or Wonderful

Passage: 1 Corinthians 14:1-40

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Objects for Worship--1 Corinthians 8-14

Category: Life Together

Keywords: spiritual gifts, tongues, prophecy, speaking gifts


This sermon looks at the gifts of the Spirit presented in I Cor. 14 and how they play into the worship life of the church.


Worship: Weird, Wild or Wonderful?

I Corinthians 12-14

March 4, 2012


How many worship services have you been to in your lifetime? I got to thinking about that this week so I calculated roughly how many I’ve been to over the 55 years of my life.  I figured it is somewhere between 2500 and 3000. I’ve been in every form of worship known to Christians from Roman Catholic to hyper-Pentecostal.  I’ve been in worship services from old Iron Curtain Communist Russia to newly emerging Papua New Guinea, from Africa to Asia.  I’ve done everything from drama and dancing to preaching and sleeping in worship services (hopefully the last two not simultaneously J). 


Truly some of the most memorable encounters I’ve had with God and with the people of God have been during gatherings of His worshipping church.  Some have been memorable for the wrong reasons; others memorable because I experienced the presence of God in powerful and moving ways. 


  • The very first time I ever preached a full message on a Sunday morning was in a house church in Manila, The Philippines.  We were gathered in the open courtyard of this family’s home, chairs placed with an isle in the middle underneath the shaded area.  When it came time to give the closing altar call, the first one down the aisle was…the family pig!
  • Moscow, Russia, July 4, 1975—Central Baptist Church service.  We arrived late, driven there by a foreign embassy employee we met at a U.S. Embassy 4th of July party.  Our ever-present tour guide had not seen us slip away from the party.  We carried a Russian Bible we had smuggled in to give to some Russian believer.  The service was packed.  It was after 5PM when we arrived.  The evening service was well underway.  We were ushered up to the balcony and given seats in the far right corner of this picture. We had been told that most of the 5 full-time, state-paid pastors informed on their congregation—who was there, how faithful they were, etc.  Anyone under 18 was there illegally…and there were many.  Every pew was full and people were standing around the edges of the building.  In typical Russian form, one of the pastors would begin by reading from the Bible…  Everyone would take out their notebooks, copy the reading down, close their notebooks and listen to a 20 minute message.  There would be a song in between messages.  There were 3 preachers. I could only see one or two Bibles in the entire congregation of 1,000.  But I will never forget the power of their singing.  It was so heartfelt, so loud, so fervent that while I knew the tune and sang along in English, I could not hear myself sing.  They sang truly as if it might be the last time they were privileged to worship together with their brothers and sisters. 
  • Dilla, Ethiopia—February 2004.  I had been asked to come and preach at the regional SIM pastor’s conference along with a couple of other pastors from the Spokane area.  We were not told what to talk about until we got there, something WAY outside my comfort zone in preaching.  So the morning I was to speak, I awoke in my little room before light to the sounds of the roosters and the smell of freshly roasting coffee.  I prayed much and jotted down a few ideas.  We arrived at the conference and were ushered into the main sanctuary.  There I was met by a sea of black faces…more than 2,000 of them, pastors and wives, who were working in sometimes very difficult conditions in southern Ethiopia.  If you think black churches in the U.S. know how to sing, you’ve got to see and hear their brethren in the motherland.  After singing that would have made me hoarse if I had participated in all of it, I got up and started speaking through a translator.  The Spirit began to take over, the kind of thing that happens when it gets very quiet and you can hear a pin drop.  When I finished, the crowd began to loudly praise God and sing.  As I took my seat down on the floor, one of the other pastors leaned over and said, “What just happened?  God just really did something, didn’t he?” 


Maybe one of the reasons those experiences stand out is because there was something in those gatherings of God’s presence that was different from what I normally experience.  Maybe it was what the church members had been through or were going through in suffering and persecution.  Maybe it was my own alertness to the work of the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know.  But I know as I know that virtually everyone in those services was experiencing what Paul talked about in I Cor. 14:25 when he said that when the gifts of the Spirit are being properly exercised among the people of God, even unbelievers will “fall down and worship God, exclaiming “God is really among you!”” 


So here is really the first truth related to gathered worship we might experience as God’s people:  it is to be some of the best visible and experiential encounter with the presence of God that we ever have on this earth. 

How about we invite God to make our times together as his church more like that—more filled with his presence and manifestations of His power?  [PRAY]


Here’s the second clear truth from this passage: verbal communication about and to God is to form a good part of our worship experience together. 

            Look at the different ways in which people are to be found ministering during the gathered church experience described in the book of I Corinthians.

  • 12:3—“speaking by the Spirit of God….”
  • 12:8—“To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom….”
  • 12:8—“…to another, the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit….” 
  • Then we have mentioned 3 more gifts that, at first brush, don’t seem to be terribly “word” related:  “…to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers….” (12:11). 

But just for a moment as yourself, “How are these 3 gifts put into practice?  Silently?  Or by some spoken word, be it a sharing of a visionary statement of faith or the praying for healing or some declaration of God’s healing or truth over someone? 

The Bible is simply not very clear on how these gifts are to be carried out.  But I’m thinking that even these gifts usually require that someone share something verbally so that others are blessed.  Isn’t this what Jesus and the Apostles did?

With Christ, it was most often through the speaking out of words that accompanied healing or deliverance.  Luke 5—the healing of the paralytic, Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven,” and “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home” (Luke 5:20, 24).  When he raised the widow of Nain’s son from the dead he simply said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  (Luke 7:14).  And when he raised the synagogue ruler Jairus’ daughter from the dead, he just said, “My child, get up!” (Luke 8:54). 

But sometimes it was simply through his presence or people reaching out to touch him that brought healing, as in the case of the woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years in Luke 8.  Even there, however, he blesses her after her healing with these words, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace” (Luke 8:48).

When we come to the Apostles, we see them speaking to the crippled man at the Temple (Acts 3) and praying to God asking Him to “stretch out [His] hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of [His] holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:30).  But we also see their very presence bringing healings in Acts 5:15ff—“…people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.”      

  • Now in chapter 14, Paul spends most of that chapter talking about three specific spiritual gifts that all have to do with speaking:  speaking in tongues, the interpreting of tongues, and prophecy. 


Church leaders and theologians have been debating for decades what is the proper understanding of this passage given the now century-old Pentecostal and Charismatic renewal movements that have touched virtually every nation and corner of the church around the world.

 Starting with the Azusa Street revival in 1906 led by an African-American pastor by the name of William Seymour in Los Angeles, this Pentecostal and Charismatic movement now claims somewhere around 600 million adherents worldwide.  It is the 2nd largest group of Christians in the world (behind Roman Catholics) and THE fastest growing portion of the body of Christ world-wide.  And only about 40% of Pentecostals say they speak in tongues with an even lower percentage claiming to be tongues speakers in third-world national churches where the movement is growing fastest.  What does seem to be consistent is people’s personal encounters with the power and presence of God in some capacity that builds them up and helps them live in Christ.


We are left with the question, “Does what we see happening in I Corinthians 12-14 fit what seems to be happening today?”  A more fundamental question might be, “Are the gifts described in I Cor. 12-14 still in effect in the church?  If not, why not?  If so, how so?” 

This is the stuff of which entire classes are made, so obviously we don’t have time this morning to look at the arguments various camps develop.  Let me simply give you the broad-brush outline.

There are 3 basic camps regarding whether these spiritual gifts talked about here are still evident in the church. 

1.)     The complete cessationists believe that spiritual gifts were meant only for the early church.  They contend that once the Scriptures were completed (i.e. the canon of Scripture), that there was no more need for these gifts. They interpret I Cor. 13:8-10 to mean that when “perfection” (being the Scriptures, they believe), “comes, the imperfect (being gifts) disappears.”

2.)    The second group of Christians are called partial-cessationists.  These Christians believe that what they call “the sign gifts” (gifts such as prophecy, healings, tongues, miracles, etc.) have ceased but the non-sign gifts remain (things like hospitality, helps, giving, administration, teaching, etc.).  This argument relies primarily on an interpretation of I Cor. 13:8 that points to the tenses of the verbs and says God is trying to tell us that these gifts have either ceased or died out over time.

3.)    The third group would be the non-cessationists who believe that all the gifts either are in play today or could be in play.  This would be pretty much all Pentecostals and Charismatics and some non-Charismatics who simply don’t see the Scripture clearly teaching that these gifts have, in fact, ceased in the church age.   They would see the “perfection” that is still to come in I Cor. 13:10 as the coming of Christ at his Second Advent or Second Coming (the parousia or appearing of Christ).

If you fall into the first or second group, then there is no point in discussing I Cor. 14.  It was simply instruction to the early church about the exercise of gifts we no longer have or need today.  But if you are a member of the third group, the “non-cessationist,” then this chapter is very important for you.  It informs you about how the gathered church is to conduct itself at any time when someone, either believing they have the gift of prophecy or tongues, believes God has given them a message the church needs to hear.  


One of the brightest Evangelical minds of our day, D.A. Carson, in his commentary on this passage and certain verses in it, says simply, “These verses are extraordinary difficult….”  [D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, p. 108.]  When a biblical scholar of the caliber of Carson has that to say about a text, you can be sure that you are entering into territory where even angels fear to tread.  And I, certainly, am no angel! J


So rather than lead you through territory that threatens to be over my head, can I simply tell you what my conclusions are about it in broad brush strokes and then step back so we can all see the forest instead of just get lost in the trees? 


The gift of prophecy in the N.T.

It appears that having this spiritual gift is not on a par with being, say, an Old Testament prophet.  In fact, this chapter seems to indicate that prophecy as a gift was in danger of being viewed as inferior to the gift of tongues in Corinth.  14:1 calls on the church to “eagerly desire” “especially the gift of prophecy.”  He ends that chapter by saying in vs. 39, “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy….” 

            The intervening verses talk about what the advantage are of prophecy over the exercise of the gift of tongues in the church.  In essence, the advantage of prophecies is that they are in a language everyone understands and they bring something, according to 14:3, that “speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”  That’s not the only thing a prophetic message brings, but it is several effects such messages often bring.   

            Paul comes right out and says in verse 5, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.”  Why?  Because everyone can understand a prophetic message that is given in the common language but not everyone (and perhaps no one but the tongues speaker) understands a message given in an unknown “tongue.” 

In verses 6-12 Paul appeals to the use of musical instruments like harps, flutes and trumpets as an illustration.  If you pound away on all the notes at once or just randomly play notes, there is no tune that people can either join in with in singing or respond to (in the case of a bugle call that is to rally troops). 

Vss, 8-9—“Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?  So it is with you.  Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.”


So it appears that prophecy was a gift given to certain people in the body of Christ to receive from God a message of truth that needed to be heard by either certain people in the church or the church as a whole.  But even if you believe this gift is still operative, the messages given are to be “weigh[ed] carefully” by the church and particularly those like elders and pastors tasked with guarding the orthodoxy and theological fidelity of teaching.


The gift of tongues

Again, books have been written and churches have been split over this for the last 100 years.  So I doubt whether my 2 cents will add much light and clarity to the topic.  But just so you know where I find myself on this issue today, let me state a few things I have concluded about tongues. 

            First, I see nothing in Scripture that clearly teaches or demands that tongues as a spiritual gift no longer exist.  I do not find convincing the cessationists’ arguments against the entire phenomena referred to as “tongues” today. 

            Secondly, looking at what has happened and is happening to the church worldwide, I find it at best arrogant and at worst totally preposterous to attribute what God has done through the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements around the world as either simply a.) psychological manipulation, or b) “of the devil.”  Those are the only two alternatives you are left with if you deny that tongues is a gift in any way in evidence today in the church.

            Thirdly, I do not see anywhere in Scripture where tongues, in order to be legitimate, must always be a known human language.  They clearly were in Acts 2:6 but beyond that, you cannot conclusively prove that every appearance of tongues in the N.T. was a discernable, known human language. 

            The Greek word translated “tongue” is glossa.  It can refer to

1.) your physical tongue (James 3:1-12),

2.) a human language (Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 10:11—synonomous with “tribe, people and nation”) or

3.) the spiritual phenomena known as “speaking in tongues” or glossolalia.  This, according to I Cor. 14, seems to be referring to “ecstatic language or ecstatic speech.”  It seems to be a special manifestation of the Spirit which involves the human tongue but which may have no recognizable syntax and may be, in some way, disengaged from the active mental process of the speaker.  (That is not to say that the “tongue” has no cognitive content.  The opposite seems to be true given the gift and requirement for interpretation of tongues in church worship.)


This passage in I Cor. 14 is very clear that IF someone believes they have the gift of tongues and a message through that for the church, it is only to be exercised in the church when 3 conditions are fulfilled:

1.)    There must not be any more than 2 or 3 tongues given in a gathering. (14:27)

2.)    They must be given in order and orderly. (14:27, 40)

3.)    Someone must be present who can give the interpretation and does so.  (14:27, 28)




Having said all that, let me boil it all down to something for us here at Mosaic and for each of us personally. 

The exercise of tongues and prophecy seemed to be a real problem in the Corinthian church.  Consequently Paul gave some very direct and particular instructions on how they were both to be used, balanced and measured. 

            WE don’t seem to have that same problem…if you haven’t noticed. J  We have people at Mosaic who have what I would say fits the biblical description of “the gift of tongues.”  For most of them it is something they use primarily in private prayer.  Since it helps them to pray, draws them closer to God and builds them up in their faith, it seems to have an indirect positive effect upon the life of the church. Everything I have seen about the use of this gift by those people has fit the parameters of the biblical instruction given by Paul here in I Cor. 12-14.

            So let’s not get all panicked about the possible dangers or abuses in the presence of this gift when we have not experienced that to date in this local church.  We’ll cross that bridge IF we ever come to it.


Secondly, where we seem to need to grow at Mosaic is in the area of actually exercising the various gifts God has given us.  If we are to be good stewards of those gifts, many more of you are going to have to learn to overcome your natural shyness or reticence to use your gift.  It’s taken me 30 years, but I think I have that piece pretty well mastered now.  J 

            This body of believers, this “local church within the city church of Spokane,” is in great need of you exercising your gifts.  I don’t say that because we need to fill holes in some ministry program we’ve got somewhere.  I say that because God gave you a gift for a Kingdom reason; if you’re not using it YOU are missing out but even more importantly the BODY of Christ is missing out.  Let me give you an example or two.

EX:  If you have the gift of service/helps as mentioned in Romans 12:7 and I Cor. 12:28, and, let’s say, you love to cook and have people over to your house…but you come week after week to be with God’s people and never actually open your mouth and invite people to come over to your house for Sunday lunch or Monday dinner or whatever time works for you and them, the body of Christ is make weaker and less connected than it needs to be.  I’ve heard too many people say that they have been at Mosaic for a while, sometimes several years, and they have never been invited into someone’s home for meal. 

NOTE:  Many of the things mentioned as “spiritual gifts” in the N.T. are also “spiritual practices” that we ALL should be engaged and growing in to some degree.  Inviting people into our homes is one of those.  ALL of us should do this.  I don’t care how small your place is.  If God gave it to you, use it!  The difference between the regular exercise of mercy or giving or serving and the spiritual gift of the same is a matter of degrees and impact. 

So even the gift of service or helps will require that you learn to step outside your comfort zone, speak up and personally engage others verbally and relationally.  We ALL win when you do…and we ALL lose when you don’t. 


EX:  Gifts of Healing

James 5 tells us that healing can be both physical and emotional.  People can be sick in body and sick in mind but they can also be sick, discouraged and defeated emotionally, spiritually and in their thought life. 

I believe there are far more people in this body than we realize with some sort of gift of healing.  But it will take us opening up and saying, “I’m discouraged.  I feel defeated.  I need someone to help me heal from this.  Who out there will help me confess my faults and be prayed for in healing?”  Some of you are uniquely gifted to listen to others who are hurting, help them discover how God wants to heal them and lead them into healing.  When different parts of Christ’s body, the church, are suffering and hurting, the Head of the Church is certainly aware of that and, like a human body, is sending messages to other parts of the body/church about how that hurting part is needing their care.  I don’t think the problem is with the Head, Jesus.  I’m guessing it is with us, the other body-parts of the church. 


As Paul said to the Corinthians in 14:6—“…all of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” 

That’s what real worship is about in the church—strengthening each other by getting involved in the body.

That’s what the end-game is:  coming together every week, as often as possible, in order to GIVE something of yourself and something of Christ in you to so that others in the church are strengthened. 

That might be as simple as a hymn you suggest we sing or it might be as prepared as a word of instruction.  Whatever it is, YOU have something that was given you by God when you joined His family.  Don’t hide it under a bushel.  Let it out so others are blessed!