Well, this is a little different. I can’t tell you how good it is to be here with you, and see half of your face again. I also can’t tell you how much I appreciate people who would sit with uncomfortable masks on, brave this illness, to come and worship with us.
I’ll tell you what, ya’ll know how to break in a new pastor. I’m over here like, yeah, Mardi Gras was kind of crazy, but things will level out. And God’s like, nah brah. Put your seatbelt back on. Here we go. Things got a little crazy there for a minute, and things are still a little crazy. We’re not through with any of it—not this deadly virus taking the lives of so many of our neighbors, and not this other deadly virus of racism and injustice which has taken countless lives of our brothers and sisters throughout the history of our nation and world. I pray for the healing of our bodies, and for the healing of our communities. Both are broken, but God is faithful. I obviously don’t know what the future will hold, because I had no idea the past few months would hold what they did—but I do know things will spin out of control again in our broken world. If not tomorrow, then next year, or the next. But when the world is out of control, look to our God, who loves all of his children, who hears breathless cries when no one else is listening, who has never lost control, never been surprised, never even been interrupted in his work of causing his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
“I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the maker of the mountains. He has been my defender since my birth. My help comes from the maker of the heavens. My help come from the maker of the earth.”
Please go with me to 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. If you haven’t been able to join us for the services online, we’re in the middle of a summer series on the Holy Spirit, and I want to say a special thank you to my good friend Tim for preaching for us last week so I could have some time to rest and plan for reopening. We’ve talked about how the Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the Trinity, and he unifies his church, binds us together in love and care for each other here. How he gifts us to serve the church and the people around us; and it’s not about you—Spiritual gifts are for the building up of the body to the glory of God. This week, I want to talk, specifically, about what theologians call the charismatic gifts, prophecy and speaking in tongues, and how the Holy Spirit of God orders and composes our worship when we are gathered together as a church.
So that’s 1 Corinthians 13, starting in verse 8: let’s stand and read it together. We’re going to read the whole chapter, because sometimes to understand the Bible you have to read the Bible. [1 Corinthians 14]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. It is so good to be able to hear you respond. Pray with me, briefly. Father God, please introduce us to your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
Our passage has so much to say about worshipping in the Spirit, and through the gifts given by the Spirit. Spiritual gifts are the various ways in which the Holy Spirit manifests himself in his people for the good of the church and communities they are in. If you’re confused about spiritual gifts or want to know more, I would encourage you to read 1 Corinthians, chapter 12 alongside what we’ve read already, to ask questions in small group, or go back and listen to my sermon from two weeks ago.
One beautiful thing about Christianity is that everyone is gifted differently and called to do different things. We all need each other to make a fully functioning, healthy body. Some people are gifted to preach, others to teach, some to encourage, or to organize and administer the church. And again, today we’re going to focus specifically on the gifts of prophecy and tongues.
I would define prophecy as the Spirit illuminating, or showing the truth of, a text or a situation through a person, so for example when I pray with every sermon, asking the Holy Spirit to show you truth through my sermon and set you free, I’m praying for the gift of prophecy. Speaking in tongues is the gift of speaking in the language of heaven as a means of worship, or as a means of miraculously communicating with someone who does not speak your language to share the gospel. You won’t need to talk to international missionaries for very long to hear stories of the Holy Spirit allowing them to communicate the gospel with someone in a language they had never learned.
Now for some of you, you’re like, “Yes, we’re finally talking about this! Break out the shofar! I’ve got my tambourine and my anointing oil in my purse; here we go.” For others, this may seem very strange, and it may come as news. You didn’t know the Holy Spirit has a role in worship, or that there were spiritual gifts at all. Or maybe you had an experience like what Paul describes here, where you walked into a church claiming to worship in the Spirit, and you walked out thinking that they were insane. And now you’re getting nervous. Stay with me; before you think I’m insane, give me a chance to explain.
One thing you may not know about me—I always have music playing in my life. Oftentimes it’s Taylor swift. Haters gonna hate, but I know what’s up. Music, I would say, is not merely entertainment. Music is a language, one that crosses every line we draw, which is part of why it comes up in this passage about tongues. That’s also why almost every time people have come together to worship our God through the ages, we’ve done so with music. It’s the language of our relationships to each other and to God. Paul, here, gives us a metaphor in v. 7-8, but also throughout the context of our passage, in chapters 12 and 13, when Paul talks about the misuse of spiritual gifts as a raucous noise—our worship is like music, and I want to seize on that metaphor, and talk about music, and the Holy Spirit’s role as composer in our worship and in our lives.
So the Holy Spirit is a composer, in our worship and in our lives. I’ll start by showing how the Spirit is composing our worship. Please write this down, or remember it, this is my first point today from our text: Spiritual worship resolves; it has a right end. Spiritual worship resolves; it has a right end, a telos.
A resolve, in music, is when you move from tension to release. It’s that moment, at the end of the song, when you land on that last note; you can even feel it coming, it’s like the whole song was working to get to that right end.
In chapter 13, verse 10 is at the height of Paul’s argument, he writes, “when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away,” and with the word for perfect here, Paul is saying, when the Lord returns, everything on earth will come to its right end. The idea here is that everything in creation, you, me, prophecy, tongues, animals, the trees, the sky, everything; it’s all heading towards a conclusion; the song is closing, and you can feel it. It has a right end. And even though Paul, here, is talking about the end of all things, we catch glimpses of that resolve from from time to time, just as in a song you are able to hear the base note throughout.
We had a piano in our house growing up. I have two brothers; my mom tried to teach all three of us to play; I refused to continue lessons after a while, but my middle brother continued on, and he learned to play beautifully. I used to go sit in his room while he was practicing, close my eyes and just listen, but no matter where you were in the house, you could hear him. I think part of the reason I always have music playing is because my house growing up was filled with music. I would sing as he played.
He’s three years older than I am, so when he went off to college, I remember the house falling silent for three years, and there the piano would sit, unplayed. I walked past it every day, but there was no music from it anymore. To me, it seemed sad that something capable of so much beauty would be just sitting there, unused. So on holidays, when my brother would come home from school and sit to play, every time he would touch the keys, I would think—this piano exists for this moment. This is its perfect use, its purpose, its right end. Each year when we get together as a family, we gather around the piano and sing. This is the idea Paul puts across when he says in v.10, “when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”
So, Paul is saying we, too, you and me, we have a perfect end—our perfect end is love and worship of God in unity with the church. When we are in community worshipping God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, it’s like having music in our lives again. But too often in life, I think we sit quiet, unplayed. When our bibles sit on the shelves for months at a time, the music starts to fade away in our lives and in our homes. When addiction or business draws us away from our communities, and we don’t gather together to sing and to listen, silence creeps in.
But when we gather together as a church to worship God, when we go together out into our communities to make peace and justice, the Spirit, through us, is making beautiful music. He’s the pianist who comes and breaks the silence in our lives, ends the uselessness and futility; creates something beautiful in us. That’s what I mean when I say that we have a right end. Our lives have a purpose, and until you find that resolve, you’ll be in dissonance, in tension.
We have a right end. Our worship has a resolve, as well; a right end. Look again at v. 25: When an outsider enters, “falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” Our worship’s resolve, its right end, is to bring honor and glory to God in the world, to invite those who have been sitting in silence in their lives into beauty and song.
In 14:7 Paul starts into what I personally think is a hilarious and wildly offensive analogy. He says the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us are like instruments, and that this church in Corinth is like a group of children who were just given instruments. What happens, you ask, when you give instruments to children? As the father of a five-year-old, let me tell you: Chaos. They’re all playing different songs and different rhythms, and there’s no resolve in sight. It’s raucous noise.
So as we here, in this local church, strive to worship well together, I would encourage you, as Paul does in v.20, to strive toward maturity in your thinking and in your worship. Don’t be a child, grab your instrument and see how much noise you can make, but take the time to learn the music the Spirit has written for you, your specific gifting according to the needs of the church; feel the rhythm, and join in wherever you find opportunity.
So what does mature, Spiritual worship look like? How do we apply the things in our passage today? To say that this point is debatable is a wild understatement. Even in our church—I know tons of people come from a pentecostal background, and their worship often includes speaking in tongues; we have people who want to see some people dancing and waving their hands around, and others like me, coming from the ECC, where if I raise my hand, I have a question. We have people who talk back to the pastor during sermons, and others, like Jess Taylor who don’t even talk during the greeting time.
Paul gives us a wealth of instruction. I’m going to go through it quickly, and if I say something you disagree with, I come from nine generations of lawyers, come argue with me after the service. We’ll talk as long as we’re both exemplifying the love of Christ. We can disagree, and love each other through it.
I’ll start with this: I find no biblical evidence for the idea that the Holy Spirit gave spiritual gifts to people in biblical times, but not in our time. Even the charismatic gifts, prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues. I think Satan intentionally divides denominations along lines of spiritual giftedness hoping to cripple each individual church body by making some churches blind, others deaf, and others lame. Some churches don’t speak, and others don’t walk, and one of the greatest blows we can strike in the spiritual wars of today is to welcome our brothers and sisters who disagree with us into our congregations. So if you are from a pentecostal or charismatic background here today, hear me: I’m glad you’re here. We need you here. And you need everyone else.
Paul, in our passage, gives instruction on how spiritual gifts can be used for their right end, for their purpose. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to bring glory and honor to God, and Paul says clearly here, if you are shouting loudly in a language no one can understand, it makes you, and your whole church, look insane, v.23, and what’s more, Paul writes in this passage—speaking in tongues loudly in the worship service is an attempt to bring glory, not to God, but to you. Are you more interested in showing everyone how filled with the Spirit you are, how spiritual and good you are, or are you more interested in showing them how good God is in a language they’ll understand?
Look at v.18-19, where Paul says he speaks in tongues, but when the church is gathered together, one word that people can understand is worth a thousand words in a tongue. Why? Because the gifts of the Spirit are not about us, they’re given for the good of the church, for the building up of the body; that is their right end, that is their purpose, their melody, their resolve.
And for those of us who look down on the gift of tongues, look in v. 5. Paul says he wants the whole church to speak in tongues, and to prophesy. He calls these “greater gifts” in v.1. He specifically commands that we not forbid the speaking in tongues in v.39. We look down in our churches on people with charismatic leanings, and we shouldn’t. The gifts the Spirit gives are good, and we shouldn’t think someone is less spiritual because they speak in tongues. Is the apostle Paul less holy because he speaks in tongues? No? Then neither are our brothers and sisters who speak in tongues in prayer and miraculously across linguistic boundaries, and we are to eagerly desire these greater gifts. We exclude charismatic people from our churches thinking they shame us—but our pride and disunity are what shame us.
Always, always, as mature musicians, we keep our ears fixed on the resolve. We sing and play together in unity according to the song sheets given us so that in the day when the perfect comes, our song will continue. Divisions, they will cease. So will evangelism, speaking in tongues, prophecy, doctrine, healing, preaching—all of these things are in the tension, and only love and worship of God will resonate in the resolve. Pursue those things.
That’s my first point. Spiritual worship resolves; it has a right end. My second, and last, point from the text is this: the Holy Spirit orders our worship and our lives. The Holy Spirit orders our worship and our lives.
You can see in v.33 the conclusion of Paul’s argument, he writes, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace,” of order, then in v.40, “all things should be done decently and in order.” So we need to consider the order of God, and the ways in which he brings order to our churches and to our lives.
From the very beginning, the Spirit has brought order to the world, like composition. When author J.R.R. Tolkien imaginatively retells the beginning of the world, he writes that God began to sing a song, and the words of the song had a form and a substance and they formed our world. God created a world full of creatures who sang together with him, all different parts, but together it was one unified whole. Sin, in his imagining, entered the world when one of his creatures decided to sing his own song, clashing with the song creation sings.
In the creation stories of the Bible, we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, bringing order slowly to the world out of chaos, day by day, and filling creation with life. And the Spirit of God does not change. So, in our churches as we invite the work of the Spirit, we’re inviting order into our midst. Order, and a filling with life. And it’s not for our sake the Spirit brings order, it’s for his own honor and glory.
Here, again, we see how the music metaphor can teach us. There is order in music, rhythm and meter running underneath the melodies, and it’s not until you learn to live within the meter that you are really able to find life and movement in the song. There is no melody without meter, without order.
In our church, as we invite the work of the Spirit, we recognize that we are inviting order into our services. Paul shows us many ways, in our passage, the Spirit orders our services. If no one is interpreting, meaning if you’re not speaking in a language at least one person understands who is able to explain it to the congregation, he writes in v.28, those who speak in tongues should remain silent in church services. That gift is meant to be expressed in prayer, and more privately, so newcomers in the church, v.23, don’t assume you’re insane.
Many churches would tell you that when someone stands up in the service, they are speaking in tongues privately to God, in the middle of the congregation. No, cher. If you have a conversation loudly with your spouse in the middle of the church service, it’s not a private conversation, because everyone can hear you. If everyone can hear you loudly conversing in tongues with the Lord, you’re not praying privately, and you are no longer following the instruction in this passage.
Why is Paul so concerned about this, and why am I talking about this? In New Orleans, we like to let people do their thing. It would be way easier not to preach on this passage. So why am I bringing it up? Paul cuts to the heart of the matter in v.4, where he writes that those who speak in tongues in the service build up only themselves, not the church body, and they make strangers of people who are seeking God. Our orientation in church is not to freely express ourselves. That’s an American value. Or to show off how spiritual we are, building ourselves instead of the church—that’s a sinful value. The Biblical value is to honor God, even if we have to give up some rights, some things we would rather do.
We give up whatever we need to give up in order to honor God, and not shame him, not draw people away from him and have people conclude that God is a God of disorder and chaos. You’re preaching something false about God if you neglect this passage. That’s why we need to talk about it, and the Spirit brought you here today to hear it. He is attempting to order your worship for his own honor and glory.
The order of the Spirit, too, doesn’t stop with tongues. Paul also instructs in our passage, even when you speak words of prophecy, opening the word of God to discern the truth of God for us today, have one person speak at a time, v.27, and not too many people—the church service isn’t the place for an open mic. It’s a place for trusted teachers to open the word of God to the congregation. And when the preachers are preaching, don’t just blindly trust what they say, v.32, but the words of these prophets are to be tested against the Scriptures. Include spiritual songs in your worship, v.26. Just like in creation, you see how the Spirit brings order, and through that order, he brings life. It’s not flashy, not always exciting, but rich and meaningful and good, like melody.
I love watching the way the Spirit works in our services, revealing truth in our sermons and conversations to save lives, to free people from the sin enslaving them. In our prayers, he is praying through us, binding us to the Father, in our greeting, uniting us to each other and bringing peace. In confession and repentance, bringing conviction, forgiveness, and healing. In worship and in our songs, filling this place, feeding us spiritual food to nourish us, meeting us here. Privately, the Spirit fills our prayer with meaning, praying for us and through us when we don’t have words—and everything, always, for the glory of God, and for his honor.
The Spirit always brings order, because God is a God of order and peace, in our worship service and in our lives. I want to close today thinking about what the order of our gathered worship might mean for us in our daily lives, how the Spirit, our composer, orders our lives as well as our worship.
We live in an age of chaos, with the demands of modern life like a raucous noise blaring from every speaker and headphone and screen. It can overwhelm. Just as the Spirit calls us to worship at the beginning of the church service, calling us to leave behind our busy week, we need the Spirit to call us out of the hectic to pause and worship throughout our week.
Just as the Spirit works in our greeting times to unite us as one body, we need the Spirit to go with us to make peace in our world, enact justice, cross boundaries and greet people on the other side, inviting them into relationship. There is no Biblical difference between making peace in your daily relationships and making peace broadly in the world. Start with your family and close friends, tell them you’re sorry, and ask for forgiveness. Do the difficult labor of building a life after homelessness. Be the first one to apologize in the fight with your spouse or your child or your friend. Make peace in your lives, in you homes, and share it with the world.
In giving our offerings each week we learn a posture of generosity. As we sing songs in the Spirit, we learn to keep the truth and goodness of God on our lips as we speak to our families and have conversations with those who don’t know him. Through ritual worship, like communion, we learn the reason food exists, to remind us of the necessity and goodness of Christ in our lives, and we learn through the repetition of ritual to form habits which nourish us and don’t break us down.
In confession and repentance, we learn the depth of our own sin, and humility. Through assurance of pardon, we learn that forgiveness comes to us not through penance, and not by grand gestures, but by consistent, small acts of pardon. Through the standing and sitting, bowing and kneeling, we find that our bodies worship alongside our minds, and we learn to cherish our bodies and the messiness of embodied worship. In the benediction, we learn the need for stopping, for sleep and rest, for a stopping of the chaos and a closing of doors. In meeting weekly and celebrating the various holidays and seasons of the church calendar, we learn that Christians are people who wait, because we wait on the Lord.
So you can see, the Spirit doesn’t just order our worship on Sunday, but he shapes us as worshippers of God every day, until our lives begin to move in the rhythm and sway of worship day by day.
As the Spirit brings order to our worship on Sundays, ask the Spirit to order your life. Think about how you spend your days. Do you experience the order of the Spirit day by day, and the life he gives? Or is your life in chaos? Pray to the Spirit who brings order, that he would begin to bring order and peace to you today. The world was in chaos from our sin, which threatened to overwhelm us, and Christ died to put the world and us back to rights. If you search your life and realize that you are in chaos because you don’t have God in your life, come talk to me or to another member of the church right now as we sing and close our service, and ask God to make you new. If the Holy Spirit was able to form our beautiful world from the chaos and heat of the beginning, he is able to remake you, to rescue you from chaos through the work of Christ, and fill you with peace, beauty, and life. He is able to come again to you, like my brother to his piano, and fill your life with music.
And I would invite you to pray, wherever you find chaos in your life or in the world, pray for the work of the Holy Spirit. Pray, and figure out a way to take part in his ordering, peace-bringing work in the world. Pray with me now.
Father, God, we thank you for the gift of your Spirit, who brings us peace and order for the sake of your name. God, I pray that we would live in keeping with this passage, and seek to bring glory to you and build up your church rather than ourselves. We thank you, Spirit, for bringing glory only to God, because honor belongs to no one else. I pray that we would live with our ears listening for the resolve you bring, that we would long for the Day the partial passes away and we see you face to face. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, so we know you hear us. Amen.