Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:22 Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 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 mind? 24 But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. 25 After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”
Observation: Paul continues his counsel regarding comportment in the context of worship in the Corinthian church. It’s clear there were both believers and unbelievers present during worship, at least some of the time. What grabbed me this morning is the term “outsiders”, which is “ἰδιώτης” (idiotes) in the original Greek. It’s from this Greek word we get our English word “idiot”. “Idiot” in our day suggests a lack of smarts, but that’s not what Paul means. Idiotes is translated in the NRSV as “outsiders”. My Greek lexicon defines idiotes as “a person who has not acquired systemic information or expertise in some field of knowledge”.
Application: It wasn’t so long ago I was the “idiotes” in relationship to church life, mostly because I wasn’t raised as a churchgoer. I was the outsider. I recall being a youth group volunteer leader when we were planning for an overnight retreat. Our youth pastor was supposed to go with us and preside over morning communion, but had to bow out at the last minute. People started saying that we would have to scrap communion, but that seemed silly to me. I’d watched pastors preside over communion many times. If one can read, one can preside. So I said, “I’ll preside at communion if no one else wants to. No big deal.” People looked at me as if I were from Mars or something. I didn’t know that only pastors were allowed to preside at communion. Didn’t make much sense to me then, or now. Nevertheless, rules are rules.
These days it’s often us church people who are the “idiotes” as we figure out how to take the church into the world rather than ask the world to come to us. How do we retain our core identity while venturing out in new ways? What are the parts of who we are that cause new people to stumble? How do we function in a world where Sunday is becoming just another day? What does the gospel sound like to people who are apathetic or even hostile to Christianity? Lots of questions, few answers.
Prayer: Gracious Lord, these days it is often the Christians who are the “idiotes”. A new world has emerged and we’re not sure of our place in it, or how to function. Give us grace to re-imagine what it means to be the church. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.