Something jumped out a me at church yesterday as we read the first half of 1 Corinthians 14 together.
I’d always read this passage as simply asserting the primacy of the ‘horizontal’ or corporate dimension (relative to the ‘vertical’ or individual aspect) of any activity done in the context of the church gathering.
As I understood Paul’s train of thought, instruction is the main game when we gather together.
But I’m starting to have second thoughts about this.
My rethink has been triggered by the perennially controversial issue of congregational singing.
Obviously enough, speaking in tongues is the presenting issue in the passage. But Paul moves towards generalisation as the argument progresses — explicitly mentioning singing in verse 15.
Understood the way I always have, the principle Paul elaborates here would seem to suggest that congregational singing must prioitise intelligible lyrics that maximise the potential to instruct one another so the body is built up.
And since instructive content is such an outright priority, being personally stirred or lifted up as we sing comes in a very distant second.
Yet when Paul turns explicitly to the issue of singing, he doesn’t come across as anywhere near so black and white (verses 14-17):
[I]f I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up.
Singing God’s praise in the company of his people is meant to move us and lift our hearts even as it speaks to the mind — whether it’s instructing, reminding, giving voice to gratitude, or expressing our deepest longings and aspirations.
Maybe this is old news to you. But it’s kind of a breakthrough for me…