Category Archives: Worship

Revelation 1

A vision from God to the churches

Discussion Question

What would you rather: to know all the details of a holiday before you go on it (the events of every day right down to all the problems that will occur) or to have a guide that promises you will be fine and to just go on the journey?

Background (Context)

We are at the very end of the bible and in a book that gets way too much attention for the wrong reasons. Being the last book of the bible, we must consider all that has gone before it! Creation, the Fall, the promise of salvation, the suffering servant-king, the gospels, the spread of the church with the message of resurrection, forgiveness of sins and persecution. The Bible, as a singular book, ends with a vision of all that is and will be. Whenever it is treated as an isolated book it is mistreated by the reader.

The scope of these notes will not be exhaustive on the book of Revelation. As we have always done, we will take each chapter at a time, each section at a time and uncover what the author wants us to see and hear and how to respond. There is no end to the amount of commentaries written on parts of the bible but there is no substitute to the bible itself for gaining understanding and good context.

A note on apocalyptic writing. Readers can get stuck in this book whenever symbols and ideas emerge that spark our imagination. While the genre of Revelation is different, it still uses the same constructs of language. Words build up sentences which build up a message which, in context, can be understood when we look for the clues. We will see in chapter one that questions are raised in the text and then resolved – in the text! We may not always know what exactly is meant but we will avoid jumping to whimsical conclusions.

So, Jesus has come to this earth and laid down his life. John 3:16 is not a prophecy but history. In this book we will remember that there is no greater truth than that Jesus is King and He’s going to take care of everything.

Read Revelation 1

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The revelation (1-3)
  • Grace and peace from the Triune God (4-8)
  • Write what you have seen (9-19)
    • The writer to the churches (9-11)
    • What he saw (12-16)
    • How to respond to Revelation (17-20)

Part a (1-3)

The revelation (1-3)

“The revelation from Jesus Christ…” The bible does not waste words. These three verses and the rest of this chapter give us great insights to uncover the whole of this book. We start by reading that this book is about a revelation from Jesus Christ. A revelation is simply the uncovering of something previously unknown. Jesus is revealing something to John, the writer, and to us. The whole bible is a revelation – knowledge of God that would otherwise be unknown to us.

“…which God gave him…” So the revelation is from Jesus but it was given to Jesus from God. The doctrine of the Trinity does not simply state God is One but that God is One and Three. Throughout the book of Revelation we will be amazed at the revelation of the Trinity in action! Jesus is a servant of the Father.

“…to show his servants what must soon take place.” It is a little bit exciting to know that we read this book knowing that certain elements of it are still yet to be fulfilled. We are reading the finished bible with still hope for what God has promised. We will see, I hope, that the book is not forecast for a sequence of events that will devastate us all but that the events to take place all involve the consummation of the work on the cross. This is a book filled with hope for those who love Jesus and fair warning for those who do not. 

“He made it known…” John, an angel, Jesus Christ and God are all involved in the writing of this book. John’s hand is used to give exactly what he heard from the angel/messenger sent by Christ to convey the word of God. Although there are many hands in this kitchen, the authority of God is not bent. Again, the whole bible follows this kind of pattern.

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud…and who hear it and take to heart what is written in it…” We hold in our hands a message from God that is promised to be a blessing to those who take it to heart. We may very well pray for our church right now that we will take these words to heart and do more than treat it like a toy or puzzle to solve but to love God more dearly as we hear him speak to us.

“…because the time is near.” Jesus claimed not to know the hour when he would return but told his disciples to be ready. They died before his return. Many have died before Jesus’ return. The time is still near. We must not get trapped in the popular thought that the days are getting closer now. Everyday is one day closer of course. But the day has been near even in 90AD.

So, The Revelation is new and it is more of the bible. God has spoken, Jesus has served as the Word of God and with the help of messengers and writers, the things that God wishes to reveal to us have been made known.

Grace and Peace from the Triune God (4-8)

“John…” This is John the disciple whom Jesus loved. Perhaps not that Jesus had a special relationship with John but that John, the author of the 4th gospel, loved that Jesus loves him, and chose to refer to himself by that identity rather than just his name. Tradition tells us that John was the last disciple to die and died of old age, although suffered as much as the other apostles. He wrote three epistles and is known to have been ‘imprisoned’ on Patmos for his faith.

“To the seven churches…” The churches are listed in Verse 11 and are the focus of Chapters 2 and 3. The whole letter of Revelation is addressed to these churches. 

“Grace and peace to you from…and from…and from…” Like many of the letters in the New Testament, grace and peace set the tone of the greeting. This means that there is no war between the writer and the recipient. Even when Paul writes stern words to a church and when John here writes rebuking words to the seven churches, it is in the context of grace and peace. You see, we are not at war with one another. The gospel sets us free from that. There are no higher and lower orders of people but we are all servants of Christ and indebted to him for the grace received. We are at peace now with God and must be at peace with one another. The status we share is grace and peace – the reality must be matched as far as we are able.

“…from him who is, and who was, and who is to come…” This can be applied to Jesus specifically and will be done later on, but because Jesus is mentioned a few clauses later, this must refer to God – Father and Trinity. The eternal one. Probably no simpler identifier of God is that he just is. He is independent in every sense of the word. See Exodus 3:14-15.

“…from the seven spirits before his throne…” What is this? With the mention of the eternal One before and the Christ after, it is tempting to see this as somehow the Holy Spirit. And  perhaps it is. The term, “seven spirits” appears in 3:1 held along with the seven stars (which are the angels of the seven churches according to 1:20); in 4:5 described as seven lamps; and in 5:6 described as seven horns and seven eyes which are sent out into all the earth. You would know that seven is a perfect number in Revelation but what do we make of all this information? We may not be able to conclude that this refers somehow to the Holy Spirit but there is a will of God behind every metaphore provided in this list. Grace and peace are sent from the seven spirits and they seem tightly bound to both God and to the church. I won’t speculate any further.

“…from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one who does everything that the Father desires, the resurrection and the Lord of Lords. This is Jesus. Let’s not overlook this person. He is God’s promise. He is God’s faithful one able to represent God and man. He conquered death in a way that promises the same resurrection to us and he is the boss. Jesus is number one. In Bible study, this is not something to treat as theory but we follow Him, we praise Him and we thank Him. While He is the messenger and faithful witness here in Chapter one, He will continue to take centre stage in the story of salvation and the end of all things as we know it.

Write what you have seen (9-19)

The writer to the churches (9-11)

“… on the Lord’s day, I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” There is not much normal about this although it sounds normal coming from John’s mouth! The Lord’s day? Is this Sunday? Is it, like many will content, the Sabbath? In the Spirit? Was he in prayer? He pre-empty the rest of the story with the classification that he was not just sitting in a cave but he was engaged with God somehow – not with reality but with God.

“…write what you see and send it…” The vision is not intended for John to keep to himself. This vision and Revelation is not for John’s personal spiritual benefit alone. John is a messenger and scribe for the benefit of the church who are firstly the seven churches (that number seven again – why these seven and why only seven except that it represents the whole of the worldwide church) and then us.

What he saw (12-16)

“…I saw seven golden lamp stands…His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” There are two many elements to list and go through. We will hear these elements reappear. It is easy to see, however, the imagery of purity and power at the same time. There is strength but life giving – not entirely terrible. Jesus is of course standing in the middle of the churches. What John saw was a kaleidoscope of imagery mashed together to tell a story of one who upholds and speaks, he is nothing like a human and yet is one like a son of man. This is Jesus.

How to respond to Revelation (17-20)

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” One might expect John to respond in reverence and awe but he is stunned into submission – like one who is dead!

“Do not be afraid.” This is the juxtaposition of Revelation: at the same time terrifying and peaceful. When you are on the side of Jesus, you are on the side of the one who stands with his face as brilliant as the sun!

“I was dead…I am alive for ever and ever.. I hold the keys of death and Hades.” The whole New Testament teaches this. Jesus is the centre of our faith because he died and is NOW alive and wil never die BUT he holds the key to the eternal death of others. There is not rival to Jesus’ power and authority. Our God does not fight with other gods for who owns hell etc. Jesus is the king of everything. The book will talk more of death and Hades later. Who wouldn’t want to know the One who has the key to death in their hands?

“Write, therefore…” Again, this vision is not for John’s binge watching alone but news to be written down. What we find in this book, however, is not a brand new ending but the ending that the gospels and Epistles point to also.

“The mystery of the seven starts that you saw…” Here we have some clues provided. Not everything in Revelation is like this. We need to listen to the imagery, sometimes referenced elsewhere in the book, sometimes it is an Old Testament reference we need to relearn. It is helpful to know the overall story of the bible when reading this book and it is helpful to have a bible word-search tool.

“…angels of the seven churches…” It is not for us to conclude that every church gets its angel. An angel is a messenger and the whole book is metaphor, simile and apocryphal/pictorial language. The churches do not stand in isolation but are provided for by God by messengers. Jesus is at the center and He holds all the ingredients in his hands: the church which is purchased by his blood (to come later in the book), the messengers of the church who presumably bring the gospel, and the keys to death and hades. Jesus is not a spectator but the power behind what is, what was and what will be.

We respond to Revelation by avoiding mystery and fear and running to Jesus in awe and wonder. The imagery is out of this world but that is also the future that we are called to. Keep in mind that everything is picture language that point to real truths. 

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Christianity will not die out with the last remaining Apostle. God has got more to say to the church of Christ to confirm that Jesus is still alive, he is the king and he holds everything in his hands. We are not to be afraid when there is someone eternal and all powerful who has already provided victory over death and Hades. We must be ready to listen properly to this book so that we can be blessed by it.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Reflect on the person of Jesus. Take a breath and reflect on how central Jesus Christ is to all eternity. Take your eyes off your worries about tomorrow and consider that Jesus holds tomorrow in his hands. Ask yourself, is there anybody else in all the world and time and space worth knowing more than Jesus Christ? Respond to these reflections with praise and prayer.

Topic B: What questions do you have of God? As we get ready to read the rest of the book, what do you want to know from God about the future? If he were to list you a chain of events to be prepared for or give you confidence in a Person who has already defeated eternity, which would be better information to hold? Will it disappoint you to not have every question you have answered but be assured that God has already won? The image of Jesus in Verses 12-18 is of a divine man who has already won. He is to be feared but touches us gently and says, do not be afraid.

Topic C: Because the time is near. This is scary and comforting. Jesus warned his disciples while in Judea that they need to be ready. He told parables about bridesmaids and invitations to feats. He warned us that if we get distracted by this world and forget the kingdom of God then the kingdom of God may forget us. And so, Revelation instructs us to hear this word and to take it to heart. Pray that we will do just that.

1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Order in the house of God

Discussion Question

What would be worse: someone bringing their own sense of order to your house or someone packing up your house in their own way? Why?

OR

Share an experience of being in a noisy, busy place. What did you love about it; what frustrated you? 

Background (Context)

1 Corinthians 14 continues the discussion Paul began at 1 Corinthians 12:1 about spiritual gifts (or spiritual things). Building on the reality that everyone in the church has been given gifts from God (12:7, 27) and the importance of each other and the inter-relatedness of each other (12:14, 20, 25), Paul turned his mind to the antidote to much of the Corinthian dramas in chapter 13 – love. The first part of chapter 14 then dealt with (what looks like) a specific problem in Corinth – they have become enamoured with tongues speaking which is of detriment to the church because it does not build them up (14:12). Having unpacked the theology and usefulness of tongues and prophecy, from 14:26 Paul turns his mind to exactly how they ought to be used in the body of Christ so that everything is done in accordance with the character (14:33) and will of God (14:40).  

Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Practical outworkings for the church  (v.26-33)
  • Particular outworkings for women (v.34-36)
  • Practical warnings and encouragements for the church (v.37-40)

Practical Outworkings for the Church (v.26-33)

“What then shall we say…” (v.26) – Paul starts a new section dealing with the practicalities of tongues and prophecy. It looks like the Corinthians all come with a desire to exercise their different speaking gifts (hymn, word, revelation, tongue) and now Paul practically applies both the way of love and the need to build up the church (14:12) to their convoluted and chaotic gathering.

“…someone must interpret.” (v.27) – this is the outworking of 14:23. If there is no interpreter (v.28) then there ought not be any tongues because the church cannot be built up and unbelievers cannot be built in. This is a clear word of Scripture but there are churches where tongues speaking happens without interpretation in a chaotic fashion (ie. everyone prays in tongues simultaneously). Such practices would appear to be in clear contravention of the Scriptures. Speaking in tongues is never noted as a mark of true salvation or a special presence of the Spirit and should always be interpreted. 

That said, note that tongues speaking is interpreted but not weighed. You may want to ponder this and what you would do if someone spoke in tongues in church and said something contrary to the scriptures. Does the lack of necessity to weigh tongues interpretations mean they ought never be weighed?

“Two or three prophets…” (v.29) – again, two or three. You can see the orderliness of speaking in church without the theological justification being yet stated. Your group should have discussed the meaning of prophecy last week. To be completely practical, what a good service leader does is prophecy; same with a good song leader, a person giving a testimony or sharing a story of a conversion or something that happened for them as a Christian. So in the public gathering that we call church, when someone speaks a word of encouragement, male or female, they are prophesying. Not everyone can or should but many ought to.

“…the others should weigh carefully what is said.” (v.29) – the goal of prophecy is that people may be instructed and encouraged and if people are being instructed or encouraged in such a way that is contrary to God’s word then that must be countered in the church. The responsibility for this lays with other prophets but not all the prophets (v.34-36). The orderliness of the process is emphasised in v.30-32.

It is interesting to ponder how we might utilise prophecy more often in church. As far as can be seen, we don’t have prophets getting up to speak and we don’t weigh the words of those who do… or do we? 

I know of one church where at the end of each sermon series they have prophesy week and people are encouraged to come with a story from their life, a point of application or something they have learnt and been changed by from the series and they all share and are encouraged and pray. I don’t know about you but in some of our congregations that may be worth considering.

It is also worth noting that ministry staff do listen to what is said from the front; the people who speak are chosen for their wisdom and clarity and when they say something awry, it is often subtly corrected later in the church and brought to the speakers attention afterwards. Should this be more formal in our church? 

It is also worth noting that in an environment where the Word of God was not so readily available, prophecy was more necessary.  There was not a “bible” when Paul was writing 1 Corinthians and encouraging applications from the stories (written and passed on) of the life of Christ may well have been much of the content of prophecy. Would we expect or do we need so much prophecy today given that we have the Word of God in Scripture?

These are all good questions it is worth getting your group to chew over.

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…” (v.33) – Don Carson writes on this verse: This truth does not of course sanction mere traditionalism in worship or sanctify stuffiness;  but it does warn us sharply about the dangers of the opposite end of the spectrum. Wise worship does not pursue freedom at the expense of order or spontaneity at the expense of reverence. This reality flows into v.34.

Particular Outworkings for Women (v.34-36)

If you are looking for a controversial part of the Bible, you have found it! However, the heat and confusion is all taken out of this verse if we remember our basic skills of reading in context and being thoughtful and careful with the text. Like last week, encourage your group to grapple with the meaning rather than throw this text in the bin, refine it to some archaic mistake or simply ignore it. 

You will be helped in guiding the group on the meaning by going back to 1 Corinthians 11:4-5. You will see there, and elsewhere (Ephesians 5:18b-20), that Paul expresses no reservation about women praying or using prophetic speech in the church. So 14:34 cannot be a blanket ban on women making noise in church. It must mean something else.    

Look back into v.29-33 and see that prophecy needs to be weighed – checked, evaluated – as to whether it is true and accords with what God has said. Thus, prophesy in NT is not authoritative in and of itself, it is a word that must be weighed carefully and in an orderly fashion for the Glory of God.

In the context then, two things are true; (1) we have already seen that women are not to remain silent as they pray or prophesy, and (2) in the weighing of prophecy being discussed here (which necessarily involves authority and teaching); it is this weighing/ evaluating’ sifting that women are not to engage in inside the church. Not having a husband does not change the meaning of the situation here. It may mean that a person can ask and discuss a matter later but not in the public setting. The Bible is clear that we should teach and admonish one another.  

It is the teaching of the Bible that in the public church setting, the only limitations on the participation of women seem to be in teaching and weighing of prophecy. Prophecy itself, singing, praising, encouragement and praying are all gifts women have and are able to exercise for the benefit of others in the church. 

“As in all the congregations of God’s people” (v.33) – this is not just a Corinthian issue but a principle issue that applies across all churches in all places and times based in the order of creation and authority in men and women.

“…as the law says” (v.34) – this sounds like strange reasoning but Paul has already used it in 14:21 by which he meant the OT Scriptures. Paul is probably referring to Genesis 1-2 (2:20-24) for it is that passage that Paul quotes explicitly on two other occasions when discussing female roles in church and marriage. Paul means here that because man was made first and women was made for man, a pattern has been laid down reading the roles the two should play in family and church.   

“…speak in the church.” (v.35) – again, there is difficulty here with such an unqualified statement but you should guide your group to again see context and the importance of extracting meaning from context. You might argue that you could include the words “in such a way” in v.35 to fit the context because it is certainly not shameful for a woman to pray or prophesy. 

“Or did….” (v.36) – this verse bridges v.34-35 with the conclusion. It is a rebuke of the Corinthians with Paul saying “Did you write the Bible? Are you able to make your own rules?” The answer is of course no! They must sit under the authority of the Word like everyone else, everywhere, for all time.

Practical Warnings and Encouragements for the Church (v.37-40)

“…ignore…ignored..” (v.37-38) – those people who are working in line with the Word and work of God will acknowledge all that has been said as good and true because they will want to sit under God’s authority and not wrestle it for themselves.  

“…be eager…fitting and orderly…” (v.39) – Paul ties together all he has been saying from 12:1, through 12:31, through 14:1, through 14:21 and encourages them towards orderly, intelligible worship. 

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The Body of Christ ought to reflect Christ himself and the nature of the God who is worshipped. Words ought to be used to build people up and speakers should not seek to push their own agenda or their own personhood but to speak God’s words in God’s way to benefit God’s people for God’s glory.  To do church in a worldly way (that appears to be a significant Corinthian issue!!) is contrary to the nature and purpose of church and must be stopped. The enthusiastic language of v.39 (be eager to) ought not be underestimated. Paul wants people to hear the good news of Jesus and respond with delight saying, God is really among you!

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The Place of Prophecy in Church. You may discuss this when you get to v.29. See the notes above. Do you think our church should open up to more prophecy? What might this look like? How can we maintain order and truth in a chaotic world? What place truth in a world of freedom?

Topic B: The Way we do Church. Our church services are carefully planned with songs and readings; leaders and musicians are trained and given feedback and encouragement. But sometimes, there is laughter and hilarity; sometimes boredom and sombreness. Is there enough order in our gatherings? Could there be more? Is there disorder? Should it be repealed? What would Paul say is missing from our gatherings?

Topic C: Ordering of men and women. The Bible is clear that God created men and women equally but differently. The pattern of marriage is that men and women have different roles. The difference does not make one inferior to the other. The difference does not make one better than the other. The difference does not negate all that is good about the other. The difference is something God created us to be and it’s for our good that he has given us different responsibilities in our relationship with each other. It is the same in the church. How can we show this equality and difference in such a way as to help people rejoice in the goodness of God’s creation?

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Building the church

Discussion Question

Share a time when you experienced being a foreigner! (It could be when everyone around you was speaking another language, sharing an in-joke, or participating in an activity you had no idea how to do) How did it make you feel?

(This is a little sharper and more pointed… Share a time when you were almost completely selfish and did something for yourself at the expense of the needs of others. How did that play out?)

Background (Context)

1 Corinthians 14 continues the discussion Paul began at 1 Corinthians 12:1 about spiritual gifts (or spiritual things). We know that the church of God in Corinth was divided, competitive and boastful. They would do almost anything to one-up each other and regularly acted in ways that were not loving. Having sought to open their eyes to the radical gifting of everyone in the church from God (12:7, 27) and the importance of each other and the inter-relatedness of each other (12:14, 20, 25), Paul turned his mind to the antidote to much of the Corinthian dramas in chapter 13. They were urged not just to “love each other” but to pursue the “way” of love (12:31, 14:1). With this new understanding of the “body” and of love in front of them, Paul turns in chapter 14 to (what looks like) a specific problem in Corinth – they have determined what the “greater gifts” (12:31) are, and they have determined incorrectly!  In a tongues vs prophecy showdown, they have backed the wrong team and are causing more problems!

Read 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The greater gift is prophecy (1-5)
  • The importance of making sense in the church (6-12)
  • Why this matters for believers (13-19)
  • Why this matters for unbelievers (20-25)

The “greater gift” is prophecy (1-5)

“v.1…especially prophecy” Paul helpfully draws the threads of ch.12-13 together and makes his point – prophecy is the greater gift. 

It will be important for your group to use careful interpretive (exegetical) skills from this point forward in this study. “Prophecy” and “tongues” both carry meanings throughout this passage that are carefully defined by the passage. If your group brings its own definitions to the text (ie. prophecy is predicting the future) they will get very confused. There is a great opportunity to help your group learn again how to be great Bible readers – encourage them to allow context to determine meaning. Tongues will be defined in v.2. Prophecy will be defined in v.3.    

“v.2 speaks in a tongue”  You will notice in your footnote that the text may also read “in another language”. There is a debate as to whether this use of the word “tongues” refers to other languages (like the experience of the apostles in Acts 2) or a spiritual language understood to have come from God. Again, let the context of verse 2 define the meaning not a footnote or a different passage referencing tongues or languages. What does this verse say? …to God…mysteries… 

One of the questions often asked is whether the gift of tongues still exists. As you read this part of the Bible, you will see that there is no reason given in the text as to why it couldn’t. Some say that now we have the Bible we no longer need mysterious or miraculous gifts for we have the voice of God in the text. That is true, but it does not negate the gift nor God’s capacity to give it! This chapter regulates how tongues ought to be used in the church and when they ought not be. In the experience of many, where tongues are spoken today the teaching of this chapter is largely ignored. The goal of Paul is to ensure that gifts are used to build up the church and not confuse or divide. 

“v.3…strengthening, encouraging, comfort”  Prophecy is understandable and immediately applicable to the church. Tongues are mysterious and by themselves help no one.

v.4 …themselves…the church” the crux of the matter. When a gift is being exercised in church (the body) it ought to be for the benefit of the body (12:7, 26-27). Prophecy does that. Tongues does not.

v.5 …greater” the conclusion to the question of 12:31. But there is a caveat here – interpretation. The key to Paul’s thinking is …edified. Therein lies his goal for activity in the church. It ought to build up and grow the church, not just individuals (12:7). Anything that happens in the church that is not for the common good ought not happen. Note here that it looks like tongues+interpretation is of equal value to prophecy. Paul will have something to say about that in v.18-25.

The importance of making sense in the church (6-12)

“v.6…revelation…” There are many gifts of “greater” value than prophecy. Not all the gifts mentioned are easily defined but what is clear that whatever the 4 speaking gifts are here they are intelligible and “good” for the edification of the church (in comparison with unintelligible tongues).

“v.7-8…pipe… harp… trumpet…” Intelligibility and clarity of  sound or noise is important for interpreting the tune or message. 

“v.9 So it is with you” This is a verse that shows Paul is speaking into a Corinthian issue. They are gathering in church and some people are just “speaking into the air” and not intelligibly edifying (building up) each other. 

“v.12…build up the church…” Selfishness and self-indulgence are excluded in the church. If only the Corinthians had heard this (and believed this) many years before. You may want to take a moment for the group to evaluate their own hearts and motives for serving in church. Do we serve to build up the church or build up ourselves. 

Why this matters for believers (13-19)

“v.14…mind is unfruitful” I don’t think this indicates that the speaker is in a trance and their mind is blank or vacant, but that there is no learning or building up or encouragement or growth from words that do not make sense. Again, let the context guide your reading!

“v.15-16…understanding… Amen…” Note the variety of ways Paul is using words that are synonymous to make his point that body work ought to be for the common good. It may be worth going back and getting the group to see them all again and see that what we do in church is for each other and not just an individualistic journey of spiritual adventure and delight. We gather to edify each other!

“v.19…ten thousand words…” Tongues are not useless but neither are they super useful in the body. Intelligible words are better than everything else.

Why this matters for unbelievers (20-25)

It seems likely that Paul is seeking for another way to show the Corinthians that the high estimation they make of tongues is misplaced so turns his mind to unbelievers. These verses appear to be the most confusing in the passage as v.22 says that tongues are a sign for unbelievers but in v.23-25 unbelievers respond negatively to tongues. It would be a good exercise for the group to lean into this confusion and to see how they respond. We want to encourage our groups to grapple with difficulty and not just throw their hands up in the air despondent that the Bible is too confusing. 

Don Carson articulates 7 separate ways of viewing this contradiction, all of which have difficulties. The most likely takes account of the Isaiah quote in v.21 (surprise, surprise, the context of the passage helps!). In the days of the prophet God spoke to his people in languages they could not understand and they still did not listen and were condemned.  The other languages were a negative sign for the people that did not draw them to God but continued to push them away because of their hard heartedness. Spiritual tongues do the same. The unintelligible word makes them think that believers are out of their mind and that the Chirstian message is foolishness. 

But when intelligible words are spoken (v.24) they are convicted of sin and can in the end come to know God (v.25). 

It appears that the key to understanding v.22 is to recognise that: (a) the “sign” of tongues is not positive but negative. (b) the purpose of prophecy in v.22 (see the word “for” and the way it indicates purpose) is that there is benefit from prophecy for unbelievers, but it’s core purpose (v.3) is for believers.  No unbeliever can come and worship God if what they are hearing is not intelligible and no believer can be built unless the word they hear is intelligible.  

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The purpose of our time in church is to build each other up. We ought to show ongoing concern that all the activities that take place are for this purpose. Tongues were being exalted as a spiritual language that (perhaps) the Corinthians were claiming indicated a more spiritual person. Paul says no! Tongues are not helpful and ought only be used with an interceptor so that they can be helpful but the prophetic word is best! You may see resonances with the use of tongues today. Some people will argue that tongues are a sign of genuine faith or genuine conversion. What do you think Paul would say to that?

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: What is the sign of true conversion? Some churches have argued that true conversion to Christianity and following Jesus takes place when one experiences a baptism of the spirit that leads to speaking in tongues. What are the true signs of conversion according to this passage? What are the true signs of conversion according to other passages? How might you respond to a challenge to your conversion as to its authenticity?   

Topic B: Building up the Church. What takes place in church that builds up (edifies)? What takes place in church that might not build up the body? What ought we do in church to further build up the body? How do you think an unbeliever would respond if you brought them to your church service last weekend? Where are our moments of unintelligiblity?

Topic C: How are you using your personal gifts? It is always worth pausing as we did at v.12. Are we using the gifts God has given us for the building up of the church or the puffing up of self or are we just sitting in the body waiting for others to serve us? Are we working for the common good or the personal good? How might you start a conversation with someone who looks to be making church all about themselves? How do you need to change to make sure the way you are doing church is actually about others?