Love Series, Part 8: The Greatest of These
July 30, 2006
This sermon was presented before the Load, Kentucky, Church of Christ, on July 30, 2006. The purpose of the assembly is to edify--build up--the members of the body of Christ, until they reach spiritual maturity. Bernie Parsons
Edifying The Assembly
By Bernie Parsons
Presented to the Load, KY, church of Christ on 07-30-2006
Today I want to discuss the concept of assembly by the church of our Lord. For the record, there is no such phrase in the Bible as “worship service”, yet we claim to search for the Biblical pattern for this non-existent practice. In fact, the idea of “worship service” is indeed a Roman Catholic one, in which they attempted to create a Christian version of the Jewish temple practices.
In the apostle Paul’s first Corinthian letter, we recently studied the importance of charity in the Christian’s life. Many at Corinth desired the gift of speaking in tongues, or foreign languages. Paul explained that charity was durable, while the importance of spirit-inspired tongue speaking would fade as the church matured. During this discussion, he described what little that we can learn about early church assemblies. Even so, Paul did not purposely outline a pattern for the assemblies, but was merely describing how the speaking of foreign languages fits into such an assembly.
1 Corinthians 14:1: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
2: For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
3: But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
4: He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
5: I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.”
We gather from these verses that the purpose of the assembly was to edify, or build up, the church; to encourage the members to persevere in their good works; and to comfort such as were suffering or in despair.
(A side note: some ridicule the use of the word assembly to describe these early church gatherings. Their reasoning is this: since the word that is translated church is ekklesia, in the Greek, and means called out assembly, to say a “church assembly” is like saying “a called out assembly assembly”, and would therefore be redundant. However, ekklesia refers to the entire body of Christians gathered in Christ, while the term assembly, in this context, refers to a local gathering of members of this body. Assembly means a gathering, and is quite appropriate.)
1 Corinthians 14:6: “Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
7: And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
8: For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
9: So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
10: There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.
11: Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.”
Prophecy, or preaching the word of God, was more beneficial to the early, growing church than was speaking in a foreign language. The only two instances where speaking a foreign language benefited the assembly, were these: (1) The assembly of listeners spoke a different language than the preacher, and so the preacher spoke to them their language, which was foreign to him; or, (2) The preacher spoke a language that was foreign to the listeners, and he had an interpreter present who could translate his words into their language. Otherwise, a preacher speaking in a language foreign to the listeners benefited only himself, as he was the only one who could have understood the message.
1 Corinthians 14:12: “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
13: Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
14: For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
15: What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
16: Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
17: For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
18: I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
19: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.”
Spirit-given gifts of the first generation of Christians were provided to grow the church to maturity. Otherwise, speaking in tongues would have been fruitless and senseless.
1 Corinthians 14:20: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
21: In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.
22: Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
23: If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
24: But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
25: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.”
Foreign languages were beneficial in the conversion of unbelievers, showing that this gospel was indeed from God rather than man. Prophecy was for church growth. If an unbeliever decided to visit an assembly of Christians, and found the speakers talking in languages, which others present could not understand, he would be convinced that they were all insane. However, if he found them informing, encouraging, and comforting one another, he would be persuaded that the speakers had the best interests of the assembled believers in mind.
1 Corinthians 14:26: “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”
These few sentences are loaded with information regarding those early church gatherings. For instance, all men had something that they could share with the group. The form of the message varied. It could be the singing of a psalm, teaching of doctrine, preaching in a foreign language, revealing something that had been hidden, or interpreting something that had been said, or written. Yet, in every case, the goal was to grow the church.
1 Corinthians 14:7: “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
28: But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.”
Although every man had something that he could share, not all were to share in one assembly. This kept things moving in an orderly manner. No more than three speakers in foreign languages were to address the assembly in one session, and each had to have an interpreter of the particular language that he was speaking. Otherwise, he was not to address the assembly, since they would not be edified. H was to remain silent.
1 Corinthians 14:29: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
30: If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
31: For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
32: And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
33: For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”
The preachers who proclaimed the words of God to the gathering were to speak no more than three in a session. Other prophets, or preachers, were to listen to what one said, to make sure that he was telling the people correctly. If another were given an insight into something, the first was to leave off speaking, allowing that man to speak instead. They were to take turns preaching, one at a time, so that that everyone could benefit from the knowledge that each one possessed. By taking turns, one was not given more prestige than another. Another point that comes to the forefront is that the message of the preachers is to be substantiated or refuted by others who are as knowledgeable, if not more so. We often see members of the congregation who are not preachers who criticize the preachers, or fight against the message. It is not their place to do so. The responsibility lies with the other preachers, who are more qualified to do this.
1 Corinthians 14: 34: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
35: And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.:”
In our time, many have tried to bypass this instruction. Many religious groups have openly embraced women preachers and teachers. In the Churches of Christ, an attempt to sidestep this commandment is done by declaring a “Bible study” in which women can teach, comment, and ask questions. The architects of this doctrine differentiated between “worship service”, which is not found in the Bible, and “Bible Study” or “Bible Class, which also are not found in the Bible.
1 Timothy 2: 11: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12: But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
13: For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”
When the early church gathered to learn and grow in the knowledge of the Lord, we find no formal title given to that assembly of Christians. It is not labeled, so we should not accept and use such labels as “worship service and “Bible Study”. If we will simply accept that the women are to remain silent in the assembly, and the men are to do the speaking and teaching, we will be following what the apostle Paul taught. As Paul will say later in this Corinthian letter, he is passing along the commandments of God. These are not man-made doctrines, but are Spirit-inspired.
1 Corinthians 14:36: “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
37: If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
38: But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
Those who had received the word of God should be able to pass that good word on to other believers. They should also be able to verify and corroborate that Paul was telling them the truth. Those who claimed otherwise were ignorant, or uniformed.
1 Corinthians 14: 39: “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
40: Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Remember that he also wrote in verse 33: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”
Prophecy—that is, proclaiming the divine will of God—is to be desired rather than the ability to speak a foreign language, because prophecy builds up and strengthens the church. However, Paul did not forbid speaking in foreign languages, as long as the rules that he mentioned were observed: speak only when an interpreter is present who can put the words into the language of the listeners; and, speak only two or three in a session, one at a time, and not all at once!
James 3:16: “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”
God is the author of order, and is not the author of chaos. Their envy of the gifts of others was not godly. Neither was the use of foreign languages that could not be understood. Orderliness, or one man speaking in turn, and limiting the total to three in an assembly, produced the desired result—growing the body of Christ to maturity.