Head and Heart, Structure and Spontaneity
Chapter 14 has been a comparison of the use of the gift of tongues versus the gift of prophecy when the church comes together to worship. And that’s where it ends. But, let’s not forget 14:1:
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
There, Paul set the tone for the entire chapter. The thread that I think is woven through this chapter is Christ-like love. He showed us what Christian love was like, and we showed how Christ is the person and the cross is the ultimate place we should look at if we want to see true Christian love.
So, as Paul encourages them to desire the realm of the Spirit of God, he wants them to do it in a way that shows the love of the Son of God. We should not use the gifts of the Spirit of God in a way that contradicts the love of the Son of God.
And so, even though Paul has admitted that tongues is very helpful for personal joy and comfort in Jesus, and even though he thanks God for it, when the Corinthians gather, the Corinthian church, Paul has made a case for the gift of prophecy because it is more loving. It serves others. Why? Because people can understand it. You see, even though we are very prone to separate the realm of head from the realm of heart, Paul, in all his epistles, and here in chapter 14 holds them both together. He really wants people to get taught in a way that is clear and the can understand. Why?
Because then people get comforted, they get encouraged, they get built up, they get convicted, and they can repent of sin and worship the true and living God. We cannot divorce head from heart and especially not in worship. And so Paul prefers one gift to the other because of Christ-like love.
And if all that is true, then it makes verses 26-35 incredibly profound. You see, so often we think of love as grand acts and grand feats. We think of love as a big theological idea, like it is in chapter 13, and because it’s so big and so profound, we can struggle to see what it looks like when the rubber meets the road. But here, in verses 26-35 Paul is giving instructions with the mindset of Christ-like love. Paul is addressing the nitty-gritty details of how to walk through a worship service, when to stand, when to sit, who should talk, and how that should all happen because of love. True, Christ-like love makes its way into the nooks and crannies of life.
And let’s also remember that Paul does want the Spirit to move among them and accomplish all sorts of gospel-victories in their hearts. Just as often as we divorce love from the nitty-gritty planning and instructions of a worship service, we are also tempted to divorce the work of the Spirit from careful planning.
In other words, we often assume that “the Spirit was really at work” when something totally unplanned happens. But, we should not divorce love from the nitty-gritty details and we should not divorce the work of the Spirit from the hard work of careful planning. The Spirit can lead and move and work just as powerfully in the prayer-filled preparation of a sermon in the quiet study hours in an office or in the prayer-filled selection of songs as he can work in the spontaneous moments that catch us by surprise. Careful planning is important for the sake of love and to ensure that we’re not distracted by sloppiness that averts our eyes from Jesus.
And we’re grateful for the spontaneous leading of the Spirit, which shows up in these verses as well. There are many Sundays when the Spirit moves in surprising ways that we did not plan.
Therefore we should hope for worship services that touch head and heart and worship services that have prayer-fueled structure in the name of love and Spirit-fueled spontaneity.