Imagining the Commotion in Corinth

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

It may be hard for some to imagine a scene in church where more than two or three are talking at once. Truly, it may be hard to imagine more than one person. Many denominations today are in no real need of hearing an instruction about making sure people are silent in worship, if anything it would be the opposite. But that is the scene in Corinth.

Take time as you read this to try to imagine what this would look like. What would worship be like if everyone had something to share, whether it be a lesson, prophecy, tongues, hymns, and there was no order in the way they shared. How would that sound? How would that look? Perhaps you can wonder, if you were one who was interrupted or shouted over, how would it feel?

If there was such a commotion, what would be the point? If you couldn’t understand someone why listen? I for one am not a fan of loud restaurants. I’m not the best at projecting and it is near impossible for me to have a good conversation. Because of that I’m drawn to more low-key environments. Paul likewise wants to turn down the noise to make room for encouraging words and provide peace for the people of God.

Should I speak in tongues? If I can’t is there something wrong with me?

Personally, I believe there is much I could learn about speaking in tongues. I’m not part of a tradition nor am I from a part of the world that embraces it as much as others. That said, I think I can still understand some of what Paul wants us to learn in 1 Corinthians 14 in regards to the practice.

I think it’s clear from Paul’s writing in this chapter and in the ones preceding that speaking in tongues does has a place and a function in the body of Christ. But that place is not primarily in public worship and its function isn’t for boasting and it’s not to be a litmus test as to whether or not you have the Spirit. After all, it is just one of many gifts of the Spirit, and each is gifted according to God’s will.

Unfortunately this is how tongues is presented in some churches. To those churches whether or not your speak in tongues is the sign of if you have the Spirit of God. It is treated as the sign and the gift above others. That is not building up the body and instead it’s dividing it between the haves and have-nots. That is not the reason we’ve been given these gifts by God.

That reason, the building up, is so important and it is why Paul placed prophecy above speaking in tongues in this section. Speaking in tongues is a more personal, private gift, but prophecy is one that builds up the body, believer and even unbeliever. He doesn’t want to demean speaking in tongues, and he mentions that he does it himself. But he does want to focus more on the goal behind these gifts, that is, of building up the body.