The weekly gathering of the local church on Sunday is a worship service primarily focused on glorifying God and edifying believers. And yet, in the midst of proclaiming the Word of God while the Spirit of God works, unbelievers can be transformed as well. For this reason, we invite our non-Christian friends to church and we welcome visitors from the community. Our prayer is that a guest at church would meet the living God, and “falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25).
Did you catch that? One of the ways that nonbelievers will come to faith is by coming to a church service and experiencing the presence of God! Let’s take a step back and look at the context of 1 Corinthians 14.
Paul began this section telling the Corinthians they should “pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (vs. 1). The passage goes on to give some detailed instructions about the use of prophecy and tongues in a corporate worship service. While I don’t want to get too bogged down in those details here, we do need to understand a few things to set the context for verse 25.
In a previous blog post on “The Gift of Prophecy Today,” I defined prophecy as the Spirit-filled ability to share a revelation which God brings to one’s mind, or lays on one’s heart, to build up the church. The gift of tongues is the Spirit-filled ability to praise God in utterances whose meaning is unknown to the speaker. As verse 2 explains, “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God.” God’s Word goes on to detail how these utterances are to be interpreted by others in the worship service. This is complicated and controversial stuff, I know, but remember we are trying to set the context for verse 25!
Let’s look now at verses 22–25:
“Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”
Both tongues and prophecy are referred to here as signs. Just as a yellow road sign with a curvy black arrow points you to a dangerous curve ahead, the gifts of tongues and prophecy point people to a greater truth or reality. The passage says that tongues is a sign for unbelievers because if they visit a church, and hear people speaking in tongues (presumably without orderly interpretation), they will think Christians are crazy! This disorderly worship might harden them to the Gospel. So in this way, tongues have become a sign of judgment for the unbeliever, leading them away from God. Prophecy on the other hand is a sign for believers, pointing them to the truth of God. And yet we also see here that prophecy can be used mightily by God in the life of unbelievers. As prophetic words are shared – by the elders, the worship team, a volunteer from the congregation, or the preacher – believers and unbelievers alike hear a revelation of God’s truth! This can have a powerful impact on a non-Christian man or woman visiting the service. It’s like the Holy Spirit rips open their heart and reveals their secrets. They are convicted and called to account by the truth they have heard.
When a nonbeliever has been confronted by the living God, faith is birthed in his heart, and “falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (vs. 25). He has met God! God’s presence is made manifest! He falls down in repentance and worship! What a beautiful picture! This is how some of you came to Christ. Others have seen this happen to a friend you invited to church. What a joy and privilege to be a part of God bringing a lost child to faith!
This can happen, it does happen! So, invite your friends to church, so they can hear the good news of Jesus Christ proclaimed in prophetic words shared, in Scripture read, in songs sung, and in the Word preached. But let’s not stop there! While there is a unique way that God manifests himself in the gathering of the congregation, the Word of God and the Spirit of God are not only at work on Sunday mornings at church. Read Scripture in the break room. Share the Gospel in the locker room. Speak the Word of God prophetically to your neighbors. Let them hear the truth of God from your lips and see the power of God in your life! By God’s grace and Spirit, he will work through us to manifest his presence to our friends and family.
Remember, God is really among you!