6. The Problem of Worship (I Corinthians 11:2-34; 14:26-40)




Messy Church Series
  • The local church has had problems from her inception. The local church is about people from all different background trying to discover unity in Christ and enjoy an amazing fellowship with one another through the Spirit's power. But, it is not automatic nor is it easy. In many ways it is very messy. Yet, God promises that His church will overcome and even the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. In the local church is the personification of the Lord Savior Jesus Christ. He will insure that the local church will flourish into eternity.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance - What are the central ideas of this text?
    • God created man and woman, and His creation was very good. – Genesis 1:26, 27 & 31; 2:21-24
    • Men and women are equal in God's sight, and though they are different (praise the Lord!), in Christ they all belong to Him and are useful in ministry for Him. – I Corinthians 11:11; 12:7, 12 & 13, 27; Galatians 3:26-28
    • All men and women in the church of Jesus Christ are under His Lordship and control for His purposes and glory. – Ephesians 2:10; 4:15 & 16; Colossians 1:17-20
  • Implications - What questions should the listener be asking?
    • What does it mean in every day life that men and woman are good and are created equal? 
    • What does it mean in the church that men and women are equal and all are useful to Him in ministry in some way?
    • What is your attitude regarding women in ministry?  Does your attitude need to change in light of these Scriptures?  Are there limits to how men and women serve in ministry, and what are those limits?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide 
  • Interpretation - What is the text telling/showing us?
    • Describe the problems in the worship of the Corinthian church?
    • What did head coverings have to do with worship?  
    • What about men and women in the church as relates to worship and the use of spiritual gifts – are there differences? Is there a hierarchy? 
    • Why is the Lord's supper so important?  Why was Paul's correction of the Corinthians in regard to the Lord's supper so important?
    • In what way must a person examine himself or herself before partaking of the Lord's supper?
    • How should one exercise his or her spiritual gifts in the body of Christ?  In a worship gathering?  (Note, our worship gatherings generally are not as those described in I Corinthians 14:26.)
    • What is the spiritual gift of prophecy?  Of tongues?  How are these gifts to be employed?
    • What, if anything, do these passages teach about leadership in the church?  From where do we in the church today get our “marching orders?”
  • Implementation - What should the listeners response be?
    • We aren't faced with the same issues that faced the Corinthians in their worship gatherings. But what issues face us that are similar to those facing the Corinthians in these passages? 
    • How should we handle the Lord's supper in our gatherings? 
    • Why is seeking personal prestige and position inappropriate in the body of Christ?  
    • Can you think of any ways that your approach to and attitude in worship gatherings might have to change in light of these passages?
    • Why is it important that worship gatherings be done “properly and in an orderly manner?” (I Corinthians 14:33, 40)
    • How should our worship gatherings be ordered as they relate to unbelievers in our midst
    • What is the outcome we should seek (and pray for) in respect to such unbelievers?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as compiled by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation - What's generally going on in this area of scripture?
In verse 2 of chapter 11, Paul turns to the matter of worship in the Corinthian church. As will become evident, in dealing with worship, Paul continues to deal with how the Corinthian believers should live as the church of Jesus Christ and distinguish themselves from the culture around them and the societal approaches to life that they were used to. And in this, the underlying issue of division and factions in the church based on their status in society is ever present, and is still driving the way they they are “doing church.”

Thus, in correcting their inappropriate behaviors, Paul continually emphasizes not only that the believers are individually “new creations in Christ,” but they are part of a new community under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In verses 2-16, Paul writes about the issue of head coverings. These verses have unfortunately been used by some as normative for the church today, requiring all women to wear head coverings in church, not to mention setting up a hierarchical view of men over women in the church. The verses are not about either of such things. In the Greco-Roman culture that permeated Corinth, it was customary that one's head was covered when taking part in a sacrifice to one of their Greco- Roman gods; and Romans were particularly rigid about such customs.

Further, it was customary for women in general to cover their hair as doing otherwise was seen as provoking men to lust. Nevertheless, some of the well-to-do women in Corinth, including those who were now believers, were by-passing that social convention in cluding for the purpose of showing off their fashionable hairstyles. So, as they gathered together for worship, there were differences among the Corinthians as to how to deal with head coverings, and especially when it came to praying or prophesying. Again, therefore, the issue facing Paul was how to teach the Corinthian believers to live in their culture as the church of Jesus Christ. Paul's answer was that as both men and women prayed and prophesied (I Corinthians 11:4 & 5, 11 & 12), they were to do so in such a way that God's glory was reflected, not their own (I Corinthians 11:3). And they were to do so recognizing that there are differences between men and women, and the distinctives of each are from God (I Corinthians 11:12b).

Each one was to proceed with worship giving due regard to propriety and humility, and to others in the fellowship. Paul's answer was that when praying or prophesying, the Corinthian women should cover their heads so that God would be the focus, not the woman; and the Corinthian men should not cover their heads for the same reason, namely that God would be the focus. Neither the women nor the men were to take their cue from their culture; rather there were to be no class or social distinctions within the body of Christ, as all believers belong to Christ, all are redeemed, and all are mutually interdependent (I Corinthians 11:11). Moreover, the matter was not to be the source of division (I Corinthians 11:16). In verses 17-34, Paul moves on to the matter of how the Corinthians celebrated the Lord's supper. Evidently, the Corinthians would engage in a so-called “agape” feast, following which they would celebrate the Lord's supper. Within the Roman culture of Corinth, feasting and banquets were common, and were sponsored by well-to-do folk, or by trade associations or clubs.

The banquet meals were often followed by drinking and religious ceremonies. At such banquets, guests of higher status were given the seats and places of honor, with their seating reflecting social rank. And such seating was in the larger room of the home (the triclinium), whereas the lower status people were separated into a lesser room (the atrium) and received inferior and lesser food and drink and leftovers. And beyond that, the poorer folk often came later to the banquets because they had worked all day, and much of the food and drink might even be gone by that point. The result was that the “have-nots” were in effect left out by the “haves” because of the social stratification of the society. The well-to-do Corinthian believers followed the same approach when they held agape feasts in their homes. By the time the Lord's supper was celebrated, the “higher class” folk were full from the sumptuous meal, and perhaps even drunk, whereas the “lower class” folk had a lesser meal, or none at all, not to mention that the two groups were separated from one another. Paul has harsh words for the Corinthians in this matter. Such a practice was antithetical to the unity to be shared within the body of Christ; there were to be no class distinctions within the body of Christ.

Instead there was to be humility and consideration of others within the body of Christ; and the centrality of the gathering was to be a celebration and remembrance of Jesus Christ, His death, resurrection and return. The matter is so important that Paul says taking the Lord's supper in the manner they were doing is sinful because it fails to recognize the centrality of Jesus and the unity of body for which He gave Himself (I Corinthians 11:27, 29), and that sin will bring judgment by means of God's discipline as it amounts to a rejection of Jesus' way. Paul notes that some have suffered health problems and have even died because of such sin. Altogether, Paul instructs the Corinthians to be patient with each other, come together when they take the Lord's supper, and adjust their mindset to be that of Jesus' call for unity within the body (I Corinthians 11:33 & 34).

Interestingly, verses 26-40 of chapter 14 dealing with worship focus on the same principles Paul enunciated in the prior verses: each one is to proceed with worship giving due regard to propriety and humility, and to others in the fellowship; worship together must recognize the centrality of Jesus and the unity of body for which He gave Himself. What was the problem addressed in these verses? It was the way the Corinthians were exercising their spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues; apparently, such exercise was creating disorder and disunity, involved “competition” in the use of these gifts, and was not edifying (i.e., building up) the body of believers.

At least some of the Corinthians were doing things, in this case exercising their spiritual gifts, for the purpose of achieving prestige and position (which was the norm in Corinthian society). Others, particularly women, were asserting their freedom in Christ to participate in the gatherings in ways that were uncontrolled (by speaking in the gatherings out of order, and asking questions. I Corinthians 14:35 & 35). The gifts of prophecy and tongues were more “showy” and therefore brought attention to those exercising them. Paul writes that everything done in the gathered church is to be done for edification (I Corinthians 14:26), not for personal aggrandizement.

Tongues are essentially a prayer language and should not even be exercised unless there is someone to interpret what is spoken, and even then only several should speak(I Corinthians 14:27 & 28). Prophecy is to be subject to spiritual discernment and further revelation (I Corinthians 14:29 & 30), done in an orderly manner (I Corinthians 14:29), and under the regulation of other prophets presumably as to timing and manner, if not content (I Corinthians 14:32). The habit of Corinthian women who were uneducated interrupting in the services to ask questions had to stop because the practice was distracting and disruptive (I Corinthians 14:33b & 34). These women should rather ask questions and learn in their home setting. (I Corinthians 14:35) In the Corinthian society, it was not uncommon for questions to be asked during public lectures, but was considered inappropriate for one who was unlearned to do so. Women in general in this time period were significantly uneducated in either the Scriptures or reasoning and other subjects. They were not unintelligent; simply uneducated.

So, Paul tells them to stop interrupting. Note that Paul is not indicating that women are second class citizens in the body of Christ; rather, he is really advocating that they receive more learning because they are intelligent and are part of the body. He is not setting forth a normative worship pattern wherein women are not to participate. Indeed, verses 26 through 33a make no distinction between men and women in terms of their participation in the gatherings. The principles to be applied are peace and order, mutual submission and interdependence, humility, and unity. Those who have the spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues must recognize that their gifts come from God and therefore are to be used in the context of His will and purposes for the church. It is not wrong to be eager to prophesy and speak in tongues, but the exercise of these (and all!) gifts must be properly and in an orderly manner for the building up of the body. (I Corinthians 14:31, 39 & 40) The above verses certainly apply to the church today.

The particular issues in worship may be different. But the principles of propriety, humility, consideration of others, mutual interdependence, order, and the centrality of Jesus apply just as much. The achieving of personal status is not appropriate for those in the body, and worship is no place to achieve one's own personal ends. Those who are in Christ have been brought into a kingdom with a different, counter-cultural set of “marching orders” that include putting others before self, serving and building up others, and participating in a faith community that reflects God's glory and witnesses to the redeeming and reforming power of the gospel to change life. One commentator writes that the foregoing is key for the body of Christ because “the congregational assembly is an open forum in which nonbelievers can participate and any bad witness should be avoided,” and because “Christian worship should bear witness to the character of God who embodies both peace and order.” (Conflict & Community in Corinth, Ben Witherington III, Eerdmans, 1995, @ p. 289) Worship by believers is to be participatory and reflect the fellowship of all participants, the sharing of spiritual gifts in an orderly way, all to the glory of God through the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.