Sometimes reading a verse in a different translation or paraphrase version lends a completely new perspective to something read over and over for years. I’ve recently had that experience. While I understand and agree with the priesthood of all believers I have often wondered what the 1st century church would have looked like as they were practicing such freedoms. And then I read a verse from 1 Corinthian 14 as if I’d never seen it before. Here it is in the NIV translation.
1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (NIV)
The point is everyone has something to do and if you’re bored think about a service and find something new to do. We imagine that our lack of personal contribution really does not mean that much. We think it only hurts one person if we neglect participating—that one person being ourselves. Interestingly, that thinking is wrong. The NIV adds all of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. Folks wonder why their church became weak and then look for a new church to find strength and fulfillment. However, if this weakness occurs, especially in smaller fellowships, it’s generally the result of inoperative members that have grown tired—and who can blame them. Now’s the time to reach down deep and sing for joy! Crazy enough, the Message Bible lends even greater insight to the verse.
1 Corinthians 14:26 So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (Message Bible)
We find a little command buried in this verse. It says, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all. A cynical attitude is not useful for all. A judgmental spirit will strengthen nothing. But a hymn, lesson, story of faith, prayer and insight does. The 1st century church needed every advantage worked in its favor. If one grew tired of working there were not mega-churches to run to for encouragement. Every member needed to work together for the success of the whole and I’m sure Paul wrote these things to the Corinthians as life was seen getting longer and harder for all those involved. With this little encouragement I’ll bet folks recommitted themselves for service and things went forward! So, when you come together ask not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church—each of you be prepared.
J. Robert Hanson