What are your expectations when meeting with the church – at a zone meeting, in small group, on a Sunday? How do you prepare yourself? Our expectations will inevitably affect the outcome of these events.
Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth is instructive when it comes to key principles and goals for when we meet as the people of God. He puts them right on a few things and in chapter 14 he looks specifically at the public use of the gifts of tongues and prophecy.
A central idea of Paul’s is that each member of the gathered church shares the privilege of carrying and conducting the presence of God and his many gifts. This adds enormous potential to what happens when we gather. It also goes directly against a religious consumer culture (persisting in the west) whereby we come to church to be entertained – and evaluate each meeting by whether kept us sufficiently amused.
In all of this we need to apply the biblical principles fittingly for different kinds of meetings. A meeting of several hundred will be different in many ways from meeting of around one hundred (e.g. a Zone meeting). This is not to say that we don’t look for the gifts of the Spirit from the congregation on a Sunday – but that we will be slightly more front-led by in a larger meeting. The meeting needs to be just as spirit-led (and with anointed people leading, this is more than likely).
There are two major concerns for Paul in dealing with the Corinthians and their use of the gifts:
1. Build up the Body. This theme is repeated almost obsessively in our chapter. Paul is determined that the Corinthian believers contribute spiritual gifts to their gatherings with the appropriate motives. And in Paul’s case the over-riding goal for all contributors must be the glorifying of Jesus and the building up of the body (and the best way to do the latter is to do the former!)
The Corinthians had fallen into the error of speaking in tongues publically – more as a ‘spiritual stunt’ than out of any desire to build other up. The only things being built up were the spiritual egos of the people dominating the meetings. Paul is telling them to serve the body and keep Jesus the focus – this cannot be done if we are busy setting ourselves up as something special in a church meeting.
2. Connect the Newcomer. The terrible spin-off from the ‘Corinth’s Got Talent’ approach to spiritual gifts was that non-Christians in the meetings were completely confused and switched off. They would leave, deciding the church was off its head – and thereby bring judgement upon itself (this is the meaning of the Isaiah quote and the strange idea of tongues as a ‘sign for unbelievers’ – it means a sign of judgement.) For Paul, the intelligibility of the gifts of the Spirit was as important as their use. It was no good, as far as he was concerned, for Christians to have meetings where wackiness goes on unchecked, jargon is never explained and non-Christians are made to feel like unwelcome aliens. For Paul, being good at welcoming newcomers and helping them understand the word and the Spirit – so that they could come to see that God is real (v.25) was simply being like Jesus. (1 Corinthians 10.32-11.1).
These are essential things to take on board as we continue to grow and excel in the presence and gifts of the Holy Spirit.