Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Decently and in Order

What does it mean to do things decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40)? Some take it as advocating a very strict, structured type of service. Others seem to ignore it altogether. But what does it really mean? In context, in order refers to some kind of basic order (1 Corinthians 14:26-32): take turns, do not all speak at once. The whole description sounds very informal. I am not saying no one violates this, but it does seem to give a fair amount of latitude. As for decently, it is a broad word in the Greek, but in the context it seems to refer to things that do not make sense, like speaking in tongues without an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:6-19). I would conclude that while there are things done that are contrary to this commandment, it is not requiring something reserved or formal. But let us look a little closer.

What about reverence? Do we not have to show reverence for God? Where reverence is used in Scripture with respect to God, it is normally a translation of the word fear. So what does it mean to fear God? There is no question that it is commanded in Scripture (Proverbs 1:7; Psalms 2:11; 1 Peter 2:17). But we are also told that God loves us and is our Father and Friend (Romans 8:15; John 15:13-15; 1 John 4:18). How do we fit these together? I am convinced Martin Luther’s approach is helpful here. He stressed that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. We start by realizing that God is great and majestic and holy (Isaiah 6:1-5; 40:12-17; Romans 1:18) and we are sinners who are guilty before Him (Romans 3:23, Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). But God has provided a way for our sins to be forgiven in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1;18,19, Colossians 2:13,14; Isaiah 6:6,7) for those who put their faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). And this becomes a basis for rejoicing in the great things God has done for us (Philippians 4:4; Psalms 100:1-5; Romans 14:17). But there is still a place for us to recognize the greatness and holiness of God and to live in light of that (1 Peter 1:13-17; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:28,29). As C. S. Lewis said, perfect love casts out all fear, but so do ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. We must beware of having our fear removed by an inferior agent.

This is a delicate balance, obtained with difficulty. There is a danger of going so far in seeing Jesus as our good buddy that we forget that He is Lord of the universe. But there is also a danger of seeing God as a stern schoolmaster and forgetting His love for us. But I do not think the correct way to guarantee the right attitude is a strict, formal approach. People are different and approach God differently, but I do not think any one approach solves all the problems.

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