“The Dialogue of Worship” (1 Corinthians 14:26–40)
Hear now the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.
1 Corinthians 14:26-40, ESV
This is the word of the Lord which is given to us this morning in love. Last week we took a very high level study of this passage to consider some of the basic general principles that we see here. Particularly, we looked at the distinction that Paul makes between the elements that we offer as worship, the word, the prayer, the sacraments that we offer as worship to the Lord. Then also the circumstances concerning worship. Not the biblical faithful elements that we must do when we worship, but the wisdom details about how to order and organize everything.
Paul appealed to those two principles in the commands at the beginning and the end of this passage. So the general principles that should guide all things are in verse 26, "Let all things be done for building up", and then in verse 40, "But all things should be done decently and in order."
Well, whenever you have a question about areas where we have to be biblically faithful, but we also have to use wisdom, there's always the concern, well, what does that mean? Does that mean that we can just sort of slide the scale that anything we want, we can put in whatever category we want so that we can do anything we want in worship? The answer is absolutely not. What Paul is telling us here, his reason for telling us all of this is that he has a vision for worship, that he wants us to see and to hear and to think about and to use, even in our own worship today.
Now, the details are going to be different from how they looked in the earliest church on that side of the Age of the Apostles, from how they will look today in our worship services on this side of the Age of the Apostles. While the details are different, the principles remain the same. So our big idea today is we think about the vision that Paul is giving us for worship is this Worship is a dialogue between God and his people..
So the first thing we're going to talk about this morning is what on earth that means, our dialogue with God in worship, what does that mean? The second thing we're going to ask then is how do we see this idea about a dialogue in worship reflected in this passage and what does it mean for us? So the principle that emerges from this will be our second point, our submissive silence in worship, our submissive silence and worship. Then the third thing we have to ask is, is this really a good thing? And the answer is yes. It's a very good, gracious thing that God is giving to us. And so our third point will be our participation in worship.
1. Our Dialogue with God in Worship
2. Our Submissive Silence and Worship
3. Our Participation in Worship.
Our Dialogue with God in Worship
So let's start with number one, our dialogue with God in worship. What does it mean to say that worship is a dialogue with God and his people? Well, when you talk about a dialogue, that's maybe a fancy word for just saying a conversation. When we come into worship, we are coming to have a conversation with God. God speaks to us and then we speak back to God. God speaks to us by his word and by the sacraments. We respond back to God with prayers and with singing. Which singing is really just singing our prayers to the Lord. So God speaks to us and we speak back to God.
Again, some of the forms that these elements took were different in the early church where they had prophets who could give direct revelations, directly from the Holy Spirit, that were new and fresh, or people who could speak in tongues in those times. Well, those gifts ceased with the apostles. And so now when we get the word of God, we get it in written form from the Bible. Even though the form of how God gets his word to us has changed again, the principles remain absolutely the same. God is speaking to us by his word, and we are responding to Him in prayer.
Now I want to make an observation about this before we sort of connect the dots to talk about how this looks in what we've already seen so far and what we're in the middle of in our worship service. I want to take a step back and make an observation, an observation that will become increasingly important as we study further into this passage. If God speaks to us by his word, then the one who leads in worship by reading God's word, by teaching God's word, or by preaching God's word, is doing nothing less than speaking with God's voice, by delivering God's word to God's people.
So to do what I am doing right now is an act of great authority. Not certainly my authority, I don't have any authority on my own. I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, charged with administering the authority of someone else. The rule of Christ's reign. Which means that I'm nothing. I can't say whatever I want. What I give to you has to be the word of God. Because I'm charged with speaking in this conversation, this dialogue with playing the part of speaking God's word to God's people. Of speaking as God's voice to God's people from his word in the middle of our worship service.
So we'll see how that works as we look through this passage more and more, but understand that one person has to speak as the voice of God in this conversation from God's word, and then the rest of us are responding in our prayers. So let's talk about how this works. Let's connect the dots to our own worship service.
So, if you've been here just today or if you've been here before, we have a fairly similar structure each week where we begin with God's word speaking to us. God calls us into worship. Bob didn't call you into worship this morning, God did. Bob just administered the word of God gave you the word of God, declared it to you to call you into worship by God's word. Then what do we would do? We responded with prayer and we responded with praises in our singing.
Well, then, in this conversation, God spoke to us again by his word, confronting our sin with his law, his righteous holy law, to show us how far we've fallen short in our sin. We responded, convicted of our sins with prayers, praying and confessing our sins to God. We responded in this conversation by confessing our sin. God then spoke right back to us, by his word, to remind us and assure us that the promises of the Gospel are real for all those who look to Jesus in faith. If you look to Christ in faith, your sins are forgiven. That was God's word, not Bob's word. Then we respond again with prayer and praise over God's grace in the Gospel toward us. With boldness we come before the throne of God by bringing our prayers before Him.
Well, then God speaks to us again by his word, the reading of his word, and by the sermon where we teach and preach God's word. That's what we're in the middle of right now. God is speaking to us in this sermon. Then we're going to respond with singing to praise God for what He's given us in his word. Then God will speak to us by his sacrament, which is the word invisible, tangible form. Then we're going to respond back with prayers and singing, and then God gets the last word, just as he got the first word. God gives us the final word, the benediction, where God puts his blessing on us before we go out into the world. God speaks to us; we speak to God. Back and forth, a dialogue in our worship.
Well, one of the implications of this dialogue is that in worship, one voice and only one voice may speak at any given time. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone where you can't get a word in edgewise because they're just talking constantly? I'm sure you've never been guilty of this, but let's imagine those other people who talk over you all the time. That's not a conversation, right? You're not in a dialogue with that person. A conversation requires back and forth. Speaking, listening, speaking, listening. The same thing is true in our worship, which means that in worship, only one person may speak at any given time to speak as God's voice by God's word to God's people. When God is speaking to us, all the rest of us must keep silence as we listen, as we hear, as we consider, as we ponder in our heart what God is saying to us as we believe and obey.
So when the rest of the congregation is silent, for most of it, that doesn't mean that we're always silent as the rest of the congregation. What it means is that when the congregation responds, we must do so, "all things should be done", verse 40, "decently and in order." Where the whole congregation speaks and responds to God as the covenant people of God with one voice collectively singing our praises and offering our prayers back to God in this congregation. God speaks the people speaks, God speaks, the people speak.
Well, if that's true, and there must only be one voice at a time, there's another implication that goes at this. If that's true, then our participation in worship is not characterized most of all by what we say in worship. Not by self-promoting speech, but rather our participation of worship happens through submissive silence. What this passage calls submissive silence.
So let's talk about that as our second point, our submissive silence as worship. This is where we're going to see what Paul is doing here. When Paul is writing this passage, understand, this isn't a tightly organized, logical passage where Paul says one thing and then he concludes that idea, moves on to a second idea and deals with that, and then concludes that and moves on to the third in logical progression. This is a tapestry where Paul has woven his ideas all through the passage. So we need to not just identify, point, point, point, point. We need to find these threads and trace them through this passage and see how this is working.
So, again, we're talking about this idea of silence. It's interesting, Paul spent the first half of this chapter talking about what speech should happen in worship. It shouldn't be in foreign languages. It should be only the word of God in understandable speech, the understandable speech of prophecy. For us that would mean the understandable speech of the Bible in our language.
Here in the second half, Paul is dealing not so much with speech, but with the counterparts of the conversation silence. So three times he gives an explicit command of people who must be silent. The first comes in verse 28, and Paul is talking to those who speak in tongues. He says, "If there is no one to interpret, let each of them, those who speak in tongues, keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God." So if there's no one to interpret, those who speak in tongues must keep silent.
Well, not only those who speak in tongues, but also those who are gifted in prophecy. Verse 30, "If a revelation is made to another, another prophet is very clear from verse 29, if revelation is made to another prophet sitting there, let the first the first prophet be silent." That one must be silent. So those who speak in tongues must be silent. Those who are prophets must be silent at times. Then we come to verse 34, where Paul says, "The women should keep silent in the churches."
Now there are these three explicit commands where God tells us to be submissively silent in worship. It's more than just those commands. This is a thread that's drawn, woven through this entire passage. So let me show you where else God is telling us to be silent and worship.
The first place that we also see this thread woven through is on the limitations of the numbers of speakers. We aren't supposed to have an unending parade of speakers. There are strict limitations on the numbers of speakers with the requirement that the speakers take turn. They don't all speak at the same time. They speak one by one. So look at verse 27, "If any, speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three and each in turn, and let someone interpret." So there's limitations on the numbers who can speak in tongues and the requirement that they take turns.
Well, not only those who speak in tongues, also the prophets. Verse 29, Paul says, "Let two or three prophets speak." Now, prophecy was clear. You didn't have to interpret it to make it clear. So there wasn't quite as strict of a limitation on the prophets that there was with those who speak in tongues, yet you see that there is a limitation that two or three prophets speak. Then in verse 31, we see the requirement that prophets take turns, they don't all speak at once. Verse 31, "For you can all prophesy one by one." So that those who spoke in tongues were to be submissively silent. Those who were prophets had to be submissively silent when it wasn't their turn, and there was only a couple of them who were even going to speak at all.
Then, of course, we come to the passage of women, which probably is where all of our eyes went in verses 34 to 35. Because what Paul says there, about the silent submission of women. It is very controversial, to say the least, in our culture. One of the difficulties of these particular verses, these two verses, is that Paul doesn't say much at all about why this is the case. He does elsewhere. In fact, I sent an email out this week with a link to a sermon I gave earlier this year, it was in the middle of COVID, so it was just by video, but on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. If you haven't rewatched that, I would encourage you to do so. I'm going to try to give you a sketch of that argument, because this passage sort of begs for it. But that's the passage where I'm really able to go into much more detail about why Paul is saying what he's saying here.
When we talked about that passage, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, the big idea was that it is glory for men to rule and it is glory for women to reveal. The point of that passage was that both men and women have glory, but God created men and women to portray different kinds of glory. When you consider men and women together in complementary roles, you recognize that together men and women reveal the rule of Christ reign, as they do so in different ways.
So what that passage talked about in chapter 11, was that men are called to the work of publicly and openly declaring Christ's reign in the world, both by their activity, especially in leading and prophecy or reading God's word and prayers, their activity as well as their appearance. Especially when they lead in public worship. The idea between what men are be portraying is that the message of Christ reign is not a closely guarded secret. It's public, it's open, it's declared for the whole world. So Paul says that if men shrink from this responsibility, it's a disgrace for them. If they exchange their glory for the glory that God has appointed for women, it's a disgrace for men, 1 Corinthians 11:14.
Whereas men are called to portray the public openness of Christ's reign, women are called to represent the hidden, veiled mystery of Christ's reign in this world. Again, both in their activity and in their appearance, especially by their silence in public worship. While Christ's reign is publicly proclaimed, it doesn't mean that it is universally acknowledged. Christ's reign is declared in all of the world and all kinds of cultures and languages. Yet it's hidden as being obvious and true and believed, except to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear his glory. To all others, when they look upon Christ, they don't see glory. They see something that is hidden and veiled from their sight in a mystery.
The same words that the Bible uses to talk about the hidden mystery of the secret of Christ's glory is the same word that's talking about the hidden veiled beauty of women. What Paul says is that it is shameful for women to exchange the glory that God has appointed for them in order to seek the glory that God has appointed to men. He says that in 1 Corinthians 11:6 and 1 Corinthians 14:35.
Where we see these two roles come together, the public nature and the hidden nature of Christ's glory is the cross. What we are doing is portraying Christ crucified, because the cross there wasn't anything more public. Jesus Christ was not executed in some dark corner out of the view of people's sight. No, he was executed publicly for all to see him as he hung and bled and died in public. When people looked upon him, the glory of that was hidden and veiled from their sight. Human eyes don't look at the cross and say, there's glory right there. They say, that's shame and that's horror and that's misery. It's foolishness. It's a stumbling block, except for those who have eyes to see the hidden, veiled mystery.
So on that day, as Jesus was hanging and dying, a thief who was also dying looked over at this other criminal, executed beside him and says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Well, crucified criminals don't have kingdoms unless you can see the invisible reality of who Christ was. Then, after Jesus had died, the centurion, a Roman pagan centurion, looked upon Jesus and said, "Surely this man was the Son of God." You don't think that crucified dead robbers are the sons of God, unless you can see what the rest of the world cannot. The hidden veiled mystery of the glory of Christ. The men portray the openness, women portray the veiled hidden mystery of Christ's glory. Together, we are portraying in this cosmic drama of what we're doing in worship, the mystery of Christ's glory.
Paul assumes this point as he tells the women to be submissively silent. What's interesting is not just that this command is given to women. The interesting thing, how this command to submissive silence, the thread is drawn through for all of us. All of us are to be submissively silent in worship. This isn't a command just given to worship, it is given to all of us. Let me show you explicitly how we see this in verse 32.
In verse 32, Paul writes, "The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets." Now the word therefore subject, that is the exact same word as submissive. It's translated with slightly different English words, but these are the exact same words in Greek. So the spirits of prophets are to be submissive to the prophets. What does that mean? Well, this is a complicated passage. Most of this we don't really know what's going on there because this all faded out so many years ago. What I would argue is that this has to do with what happens in verse 29, what Paul's talking about in verse 29, where Paul says, "Let two or three prophets speak and let the others, the other prophets weigh what is said."
So for the prophets to weigh what is said when any single prophet is speaking means that the prophets had a role of making sure that the church didn't blindly accept anything that anyone stood up and said as the word of God. They had to test whether it was really the word of God to test it against the rest of God's word that was given. So we find similar instructions to this elsewhere in the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, Paul writes, "Do not despise prophecies, but test everything." Test the prophecies. Then the 1 John 4:1 the apostle John says, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world."
You don't believe something just because a purported prophet says it. You've got to test it by the word of God. By the way, you are called to do the exact same thing. You are called to be good Bereans. Don't accept something because I say. It in Acts 17:11, it says, "The Bereans were noble minded because they search the scriptures daily to see if the things that Paul was saying were so." We are all called to test what comes purportedly as the word of God from the pulpit, test it against the word of God. "For the spirits of the prophets to be subject to the prophets" in verse 32 then, really means that the prophets are subject to the other prophets who test whether this really is the word of God. It's not only the women who needed to submit. The prophets needed to submit in silence.
Even beyond that and verse 30, remember, one prophet had to submit in silence when another prophet would be speaking. Then in verse 28, those who speak in tongues had to submit in silence if there was no one there to interpret. This isn't just those who are gifted with tongues or prophecy and the women in the church. This is every individual in the church. Look at verse 37, "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, gifted for spiritual speech, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized."
Every individual must submit to this. Not just individuals, but in this passage, part of this thread that we're pulling through is that Paul says even churches must submit to what all the other churches do. Not in a way of corruption, but in the way of making sure that no individual church is going rogue. Look at what Paul says at the end of our 33, "As in all the churches and saints." You should be conforming your practices to what all the churches are doing, not going off on your own. Why? Well, verse 36, Paul says, "Was it from you that the word of God came?" Are you the source of God's word? Or are you the only ones that is reached? Were you the sole destination? Do you have something the rest of us don't? Is that why you're doing these other things and your public worship? Even churches must submit to the other churches around them.
What all this means is that public worship is not a platform for everyone to have an opportunity to speak. This is not social media, and this isn't Twitter. This isn't Facebook. This isn't Instagram. Furthermore, public worship is not like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where all of us have to shout over one another in order to get a word in edgewise. What we do in public worship, all things must be done decently and in order. Where one person speaks at a time as God's voice to God's people and everyone else submits in silence.
So if you're a 21st century American like I am, this idea on submission and silence might rub you the wrong way. Is that really a good thing for us? The world just hates this idea of submission and silence, because the world interprets power as speech and the world interprets submissive silence as oppression. But God's word cuts through the confusion of our culture and says the question is not how do we let everyone do everything whenever they want so that everyone has unlimited privileges in worship? The question is, who is God? What is the authority that he has? How has he called us to submit to him? If this is true, that doesn't really still explain why. Why should we be submitting in silence and worship or specifically, is this really good for us? Is this good news that we should submit in silence and worship?
Our Participation in Worship
This brings us to our third point, our participation in worship. When we get to this, our third point, our participation in worship. Let's remember the two commands at the beginning and the end that we looked at last week. Verse 26, "Let all things be done for building up" and verse 40, "But all things should be done decently and in order."
Well, when we talk about submissive silence, what Paul is saying is that submissive silence builds up the church. Submissive silence allows for worship that is done decently and in good order. He tells us how this works out in verse 31. Paul says, "Fore you can all prophesy one by one." So take turns. When someone else is speaking, you don't talk. Why, one by one? "So that all may learn and all be encouraged."
This word for learn is the verb or the action word that if you tweak this word slightly to put it into a noun describing a person, not an action, but a person, you are using the word that we translate as the word disciple. So this word here "that all may learn" is really to say that all may be disciple, because the word disciple just means a learner. Submissive silence allows us all to learn as disciples. Submissive silence is necessary for our discipleship. Otherwise, how will we be disciples if we can't hear God's word when people are shouting each over each other and talking in other languages that we don't understand?
The second reason that all may be encouraged. This is a word that's hard to translate a little bit because it has two different ideas that we express in English. One is the idea of exhortation. Think if you're running a marathon, which maybe is hard for you to imagine, but imagine you're running it and you're in the very last mile and you want to give up. You've got nothing left in the tank. Then your coach, your trainer comes alongside of you and says, come on, you can do this, you can keep going, you can go. That's the kind of exhortation that keeps you moving. That's this encouragement, it's one side of it.
The other side is the comfort of encouragement. When you're run over by the world like a truck, when you were laid low in your sins, the comfort of the promises of the gospel give you encouragement. We're exhorted to believe and obey, and we're comforted by the promises of God's word.
So what this means then is just to answer this question, is this good news? There's a pastor named Kenneth Campbell, and I'm very indebted for much of what I'm saying in this sermon, in a report he wrote for his denomination about worship. He makes this brilliant point, really arguing from this passage that submissive silence is the purest and highest form of worship that we experience in this life. I've cited this in my sermon notes, if you want to get that and read it to more extent. He makes, for example, the point that if you think about old covenant worship, worship in the Old Testament, all of that was external and it was impersonal. When you went to worship, you brought an animal with you to the temple, and when you brought that animal to the temple, you were going to offer it as a sacrifice, but you did not offer the sacrifice. You handed it over to a priest and the priest offered the sacrifice. He shed the blood of this animal, put the animal on the altar, set it on fire so it rose as a burnt offering to the Lord. You could watch some of this from a distance, until it came time for the priest to take the sacrificial blood and to go into the temple, into the holy places, behind the curtain, behind the veil. There he would take that blood and put his hands on the horns of the altar of incense, where the sacrificial blood would enable his prayers to be heard on your behalf. You couldn't see that. You couldn't hear that from outside. The worship was offered on your behalf, but it was external and it was impersonal.
Well, when Christ died, that temple curtain was torn in two from the bottom to the floor. Now not only the priests are allowed into the presence of God in worship, but all God's people can come near to God and worship. That doesn't mean that we have to go somewhere. We don't have to fly to Jerusalem or something in order to see this happening. It means the opposite. It means that God has come to us by the person of his Holy Spirit, to dwell in our hearts so that when we are in silence, that doesn't mean that we are inactive. It means that we are doing business not by audible speaking, but by interacting with God silently in our hearts.
We see this in verse 28, "The one who speaks in tongues", don't get the idea that Paul doesn't like this person from what else he says in verse 14. Paul says, we've just got to make sure that people can understand. "So if there is no one to interpret, then let each of them who speak tongues keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God." To be silent isn't to be passive or blank minded. It's to be quite active in your heart by the Holy Spirit with the word of God.
We see this reflected all over the place in the New Testament, like Ephesians 5:19, that we are to, "Address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart." The essence of worship is not external and physical and public. It is internal and spiritual and private. It's always been this way. You think about Old Testament texts like Habakkuk 2:20, "The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him." We now have a deeper experience of this, because when we worship in silence, submission, God by his Holy Spirit is at residence in our hearts to lead us to worship silently so that we can speak to ourselves and to God internally, not audibly.
So what do we do with this passage? Well, let's bridge the gap between this passage to the early church in the Age of the Apostles and to our church today in 2020. The first application is this; treat worship as a dialogue between God and his people. Why do you come to church? Do you come to have a conversation with God, a dialogue with God, or do you come for something else? Do you come for friends, for music, for entertainment, because someone else is making you do so? Well, God has called you here for a very specific purpose. He wants to do business with you, to speak with you, to tell you about your sin, to tell you and remind you about the promises of the Gospel. That you can be forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ by repenting of your sins and looking to Jesus in faith. He wants to speak to you, to teach you how to please him and to build you up by his word. Then the last thing he's going to do is to send you out into the world, carrying his blessing. Not empty handed, but with the blessing of God put on you. So come to hear God speak by his word and come to submit yourself to Him in faith.
The second application then is that the leadership in the public reading, praying and preaching of God's word in public worship, must be limited to gifted and qualified men only. Leadership and public reading, praying, preaching of God's word must be limited to gifted and qualified men. Only now this is our practice at Harvest. This is really one of the major passages that we would be looking to that outlines the thinking of this. So it's worth a moment to bridge the gap between what Paul says to the early church in Corinth, to what we are doing here today.
In regard to the requirement for men to speak as God's voice to God's people, we see that God consistently does this through the whole of the Bible toward public worship leadership. That isn't to demean women. It is rather to bear witness so that women are free to bear witness to the hidden mystery, the veiled concealed mystery of the glory of Christ by their silence in worship. While only men should lead publicly in worship, that does not mean that all men should lead in worship. There's aspects of what this passage are pointing to toward the need for gifted and qualified men.
Now, in the earliest church, the gifting was pretty easy to see. Either someone prophesied or they didn't. Either someone spoke in tongues or they didn't. Either someone could interpret tongues or they couldn't. If they had those gift things, they could lead in public worship. But if men did have these gifts, even so, gifting wasn't everything. If they didn't have these gifts, they would remain submissively silent. But if they did have those gifts, gifting wasn't everything.
The earliest church and we see this reflected here, also evaluated the qualification of these leaders. What a prophet spoke was not blindly accepted, the other prophets had to weigh the prophecy to test the prophecy, so that the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. So today, the principal of leaving leadership in public worship to gifted and qualified men ordinarily means that only those ordained as elders should lead in worship.
Elders are not prophets, nor do we speak in tongues, but elders are called to establish the rule of Christ, reign by the word of Christ. To speak with the voice of Christ to Christ's people. We see this particularly in verse or in 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul writes, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching, especially those who labor in the Ministry of God's word to God's people." To call a man is an elder, then, is to recognize some giftedness and skill in the word of God, but giftedness is not enough. Elders must also thoroughly be vetted for their qualifications.
We have passages about the qualifications for elders and 1 Timothy three and Titus one. Not only does that deal with his ability to teach, that's a part of it, but a lot of it has to do with his conduct as a human being. This doesn't mean that the elders we call are sinless or that they know everything, but the Bible does insist there's a difference between qualified and unqualified men for this office. Candidates for ruling elders then are examined in their conduct and their doctrine by other elders in this church. Candidates for teaching elders are pastors, like I am, are examined in their conduct and doctrine by other elders in the region, the presbytery. So in this way, just as the spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets, so even today, elders who speak the word of God to God's people are also subject to other elders. I'm in submission. I am subject to another group of elders who keep a close watch on my conduct and my teaching, and I do the same for them.
The reason for this thorough vetting of elders who lead in public worship is reflected in this passage. It is a serious thing to speak God's word to God's people. It's an act of authority, not my authority, but of establishing Christ's authority in the church.
So what this means then and this brings us to our third application point, is it the way that we all participate in this is not necessarily by speaking. That's very few people do this, but we participate by submissive silence. Whenever we are not the single person speaking God's voice to the congregation at any given point in the worship service, we must submit ourselves silently to the word of God as our act of worship. It doesn't mean passively check out or go blank in your minds. It means we actively participate, but inaudible, silently in our hearts.
When we listen to God's word attentively, we've got to consider what he says. To talk to him, asking questions about his word, to ask him to search us and know us and see if there's any grievous ways in us, by his word. We're called to believe God's word, to obey God's word. We're doing this silently as we participate responsively in our submissive silence, even though it is not audible.
Now, this is true for women, as Paul says, but it's true for every other man who isn't speaking. Just as the prophets had to be silent when someone else was speaking, just as those who spoke in tongues had to be silent if there was no one to interpret. So even elders must be submissively silent when another is reading, preaching or teaching.
Now, let me tell you something. Speaking as a pastor who does bear the responsibility of doing this, of leading God's people in worship, of speaking as God's voice in this dialogue, this conversation, by reading, preaching and teaching God's word. I would note that I experienced the greatest freedom in worship not when I'm doing this, but when I'm seated in the congregation with the rest of you. I prefer it. If I can be seated in the congregation, I don't bear the burden and the strain of trying to mentally, emotionally, spiritually try to communicate God's voice with clarity. It's hard. It's a frightening thing. This is why James says, "Let not many of you be teachers, for we will be judged according to a stricter standard." There is a joy when I can just sit and hear God's word in simple, silent submission to the word of God.
Now, don't make any mistake. I love what I do. I love leading God's people in worship. Before I was a pastor, I was a Christian, before I was a shepherd, as one of the pastors I know says, I was a sheep. My greatest joy is my personal silent submission to God's word when I can hear someone else declare God's word to me.
Brothers and sisters let us submit in silence to God's word until together, as we will in just a moment, as the corporate community of God, the people of God, lift up all of our voices decently in order to respond and speak back to God, until our conversation this morning on this Lord's Day is concluded.
Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for speaking to us by your word and we pray that as we come to your word, you would build us up in Christ. Hear now are prayers and here now are singing as we rejoice before you. We pray this in Christ's name. Amen.