Life-Study of 1 Corinthiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Throughout the years much has been spoken and written concerning 14:26-40. The reason for this is that in the New Testament there is not a clear word telling us how Christians should meet or how we should function in the meetings of the church. This portion of 1 Corinthians is considered by some to be unique in the New Testament in that it seems to tell us how to function in the meetings. However, the more we study these verses, the more puzzled we become. But because Paul has included this section in 1 Corinthians, we need to study it carefully.
In the Recovery Version of 1 Corinthians, the subtitle for 14:26-40 is, “How to Function in the Church Meeting.” Actually, I do not like the term “how to.” The New Testament is the word of the Spirit, not a word of “how to” do things. The human mind always desires to know how to do a particular thing. This desire is somewhat natural. Nevertheless, it is sometimes impossible to keep from using the term “how to.” Therefore, I have used it as a subtitle for this portion of 1 Corinthians.
In verse 26 Paul says, “What is it then, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” “Has,” used five times in this verse, is the translation of the Greek word echo, a word widely used, with many meanings, three of which are the main ones: (1) to hold, to possess, to keep a certain thing; (2) to have a certain thing for enjoyment; (3) to have the means or power to do a thing. The first two meanings should be applied to the first three of the five things listed in this verse—a psalm, a teaching, a revelation—and the third meaning to the last two—a tongue and an interpretation of a tongue. This indicates that when we come to the church meeting, we should have something of the Lord to share with others, whether a psalm to praise the Lord, a teaching (of the teacher) to minister the riches of Christ to edify and nourish others, a revelation (of the prophet, v. 30) to give visions of God’s eternal purpose concerning Christ as God’s mystery and the church as Christ’s mystery, a tongue as a sign to the unbelievers (v. 22) that they may know and accept Christ, or an interpretation to make a tongue concerning Christ and His Body understandable. Before coming to the meeting, we should prepare ourselves for the meeting with things like these from the Lord and of the Lord, either through our experience of Him or through our enjoyment of His Word and fellowship with Him in prayer. After coming into the meeting, we should not wait for an inspiration; there is no need to wait. We should exercise our spirit and use our trained mind to function in presenting what we have been prepared with to the Lord for His glory and satisfaction and to the attendants for their benefit—enlightening, nourishing, and building up.
This is like the feast of tabernacles in ancient times: the children of Israel brought the produce of the good land, which they reaped from their labor on the land, to the feast and offered it to the Lord for His enjoyment and for mutual participation in fellowship with the Lord and with one another. We must labor on Christ, our good land, that we may reap some produce of His riches to bring to the church meeting to offer. Thus, the church meeting will be an exhibition of Christ in His riches and a mutual enjoyment of Christ shared by all the attendants with one another before God and with God for the building up of the saints and the church.
According to the stress and emphasis of this Epistle, all five things listed in this verse should be focused on Christ as God’s center for our portion and the church as God’s goal for our aim. The psalm should be the praise of God for giving Christ as wisdom and power to us for our daily life and church life. The teaching from a teacher and the revelation from a prophet should teach and minister Christ with the church as His Body to others. A tongue and its interpretation should also have Christ with the church as its center and content. Any emphasis on things other than Christ and the church will confuse and distract the church from the central lane of God’s New Testament economy and make the church like that in Corinth.
In verse 26 Paul tells us that everything should be done for building up. Whatever we do in the church meeting must be for the building up of the saints and the church. To exhibit Christ and to enjoy Him in our meetings for the building up of His body must be our unique purpose and goal.
In verse 26 the word “has” is very important. According to Paul, whenever we all come together to meet, we should have something. Paul does not say “shall have” or “should have”; he speaks in the present tense to denote the fact and says that we have something, that each one of us has something. Furthermore, he does not say that just a few have, that many have, or that most have; he says that “each one has” something. He then mentions five things in the following sequence: a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation. This list is not all-inclusive; it is illustrative. He mentions a psalm first, and tongues and interpretation last. He lists tongues and interpretation last because in this chapter he is mindful of the building up of the church for God’s administration.
The fact that Paul mentions a psalm first indicates that in the meeting of the church praising the Lord must be primary. A psalm is somewhat equivalent to a hymn. In today’s Pentecostal movement there is the singing of Bible verses. However, most of the verses are from the Old Testament. I doubt if there has ever been singing concerning Christ as the mystery of God or the church as the mystery of Christ. Have you ever heard that those in a Pentecostal meeting sang Ephesians 1, 3, or 4? We need to write music that we may sing these chapters and other portions of the books which make up the heart of the divine revelation: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. We need to sing about how it pleased God to reveal His Son in us; about Christ living in us and about the fact that we have been crucified with Him; about walking in the Spirit and according to the regulation of the Spirit; about the need for a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know the hope of God’s calling, the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the greatness of His power exercised to raise Christ and set Him in the heavens; about the church being the fullness of Christ, the One who fills all in all; about the need to be strengthened into our inner man by the Spirit of God with might so that Christ may make His home in our hearts and that we may comprehend with all the saints the universal dimensions of Christ unto the fullness of God; about one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all; about walking in the truth of Jesus so that we may put off the old man, put on the new man, and be renewed in the spirit of our mind to have the reality of the new man; about the bountiful supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ; about magnifying Christ, living Him, being found in Him, pursuing Him, and having the excellent knowledge of Him; about Christ, the Beloved, as the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of creation. Let us learn to sing verses from these four books as well as from Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Hebrews. In our singing we need to be brought up to the standard of the New Testament economy.
Our hymnal contains more than thirteen hundred hymns. When we compiled the hymnal, we selected hymns which God had given to His people throughout the centuries. This proves that we are far from being sectarian; on the contrary, we are all-inclusive. But now we must go on to write more hymns and songs on the completing ministry of Paul and the mending ministry of John. We need a collection of songs on Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews. We also need songs and hymns on the Gospel of John, 1 John, and Revelation. Let us sing hymns written on John 15 about abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in us. Let us also sing about the seven lampstands, the seven lamps of fire, and the flowing river in the book of Revelation.
In our singing and in the use of our hymnal, we should not be traditional. Our singing and praising should not mainly be of God as the Creator or of His dispensations in dealing with mankind, but mainly of His New Testament economy. For example, we need to sing concerning the processed Triune God.
I hope that in the years to come there will be a great change in our singing and in our hymnal as well. In our singing and praising we are still somewhat under the influence of tradition. Regarding this, we need to leave the traditional way and absolutely return to God’s New Testament economy.
The believers at the time of Paul may have sung the Old Testament Psalms. The writers of the Old Testament did not have a clear revelation concerning the church as the mystery of Christ. Since this matter is no longer hidden, we need to write hymns concerning it based on the revelation in the New Testament. Paul has written fourteen Epistles, and we need to sing them. However, we may be held back by the atmosphere and influence of traditional Christianity. Once again, I encourage you to write hymns on the New Testament economy. Let us sing hymns about Paul’s completing ministry and John’s mending ministry.
After saying, “Each one has a psalm,” Paul goes on to mention a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, and an interpretation. The teachings must be according to the teachings of the apostles, and a revelation must show something which has been hidden but is now revealed. In the meetings we need a word of teaching and also a word of revelation. We have pointed out that the teaching from a teacher and the revelation from a prophet should teach and minister Christ with the church as His Body. In principle, the same must be true of tongues and the interpretation of tongues: they should have Christ with the church as the center and content. This means that they should be centered on Christ as the mystery of God and the church as the mystery of Christ, not on other things. The proper tongue-speaking should be concerning Christ and the church. This is based upon the context of the entire book of 1 Corinthians, a book which speaks of Christ as the wisdom and power of God and the deep things of God and of the church as the Body to express Christ and as the means to carry out God’s administration.
The singing and speaking among Pentecostal people today falls far short of the vision of God’s economy in the New Testament. They are lacking in the heavenly revelation; therefore, their singing and speaking are in a natural realm. We thank the Lord that His recovery is in another realm, a spiritual realm, a heavenly realm, the realm of Christ and the church. Nevertheless, we still need our understanding and comprehension to be uplifted. We need to pray that the Lord will turn us fully from the natural realm to the heavenly, spiritual realm so that everything we say and do in the meetings will be for the carrying out of God’s New Testament economy. I hope that in all the meetings of all the churches this will be the situation and that the meetings will be filled with speaking concerning Christ and the church.
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