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Orderly worship

Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can wait their turn. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace… Be sure that everything is done properly and in order. — 1 Corinthians 14:32-3340

In sports there are those who know the plays and perform their roles meticulously. Then there are those who, with a flash of unrehearsed brilliance, can win a game—or lose it! In business, there are people who manage the details and give order to the enterprise, while others chafe at the daily grind but have the ability to win the contract.

Some people thrive on details and structure. Others love spontaneity and inspiration.

In an ideal world, form and freedom coexist cooperatively. They complement each other and produce a congenial atmosphere in which to function and an effective result toward their intended goals. In the real world, it is not always so straightforward.

Look at the church, for instance. Most church people would agree that the church’s privilege and responsibility is to engage in worship that praises and serves God, that honors His name, proclaims His worth, and furthers His cause. But when it comes to agreeing on what constitutes “worshipful” worship, major differences rise to the surface and often stay there! In fact, the differences are often so sharp that there is a term for these differences—“worship wars”—an oxymoron if ever there was one!

The Corinthians provide us with an ancient example of this recurring problem. By temperament, inclination, and preference they were in the camp of the spontaneous and the free. A worship service in the Corinthian church would have been lively and animated, unstructured, and unpredictable, even bordering on the chaotic. Worshipers were encouraged to participate and lead in the service, but sadly, this often took place without appropriate courtesy and decorum. As a result, there was strife among the members of the church over the conduct of their worship services.

Paul spelled out some “rules of worship” for the Corinthian Christians. “No more than two or three should speak in an unknown language. They must speak one at a time, and someone must be ready to interpret… Let two or three prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said… Women should be silent during the church meetings” (14:27, 29, 34).

All three groups mentioned were required to exercise “control of their spirit,” which meant that they had to be as ready to be silent as to speak. If prophets were prophesying all at once, if tongues-speakers were speaking without interpretation, and if women were asking questions aloud, then the result would be noise and chaos. A situation like that did not honor God or enrich the church. So Paul instructed, “Be sure that everything is done properly and in order” (14:40).

Paul was neither an opponent of spontaneity nor a control freak. His only desire was to see form embracing freedom and structure allowing spontaneity.

This is a noble goal for the church today. It’s a challenging goal, too.

For further study: 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.