Public vs Private Worship

1 Corinthians 14:1-5 – Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

As a young pastor, for a few years I oversaw an all-ages punk rock concert venue for mainly non-Christian teenagers. We gave young bands a start at live shows to test the viability of their musical ability.

Some bands were incredibly tight – their rhythm section dominated by the drummer and bass player stayed in steady unison driving the guitars and vocals forward like a finely tuned machine. Some bands were the exact opposite. Losing time, forgetting the lyrics, or having different band members playing different songs all at the same time was the acoustic equivalent of a series of head-on collisions among vehicles all converging on an intersection at high speed. In this section, Paul begins by using the analogy of a band speaking of the “flute”, “harp”, “bugle” and “notes” to distinguish between public and private worship to God.

Your private worship to God is a lot like a new musician first learning an instrument. At home, alone, you make a lot of bad noise until you figure out how to play some good music. Some people forget this basic principle and want to come practice their gift on the stage at the church during service – they want to sing, preach, speak in tongues, or prophesy, but they are not yet ready to go public and everyone in the church should not be forced to watch anyone and everyone turn the church into what feels more like open mic night at a dive bar after a few drinks. There is a big difference between your private and public worship. Your soul may benefit from you singing at the top of your lungs completely out of pitch and key in your car, but you do not need a sound system and church service for that. Your soul may benefit from praying loudly in tongues in the basement of your home as you emotionally process a difficult season with God, but that need not be livestreamed to the world. Your soul may benefit from you praying at the top of your lungs for people you have a burden for, but if everyone did that at church, it would be as edifying as a riot.

Private worship is for you, public worship is for everyone else and not all about you. Private worship is for self-care, but when you make your private worship public, you are being selfish. When the church comes together, it is not time for you to express yourself, or do what you do in private. Instead, the goal is to find harmony with the rest of God’s people and, like a band, work together in unison and harmony to love and serve the Lord.

To help God’s people find the rhythm of public worship together in the Spirit, the following questions are helpful while looking at the passage above from 1 Corinthians 14:

  1. What will other people find loving (14:1)?
  2. What will build up those who are struggling (14:3)?
  3. What will encourage those who are discouraged (14:3)?
  4. How can I benefit other people and not just myself (14:4,6)?
  5. How can I build the whole church up (14:4-5,12)?
  6. What will help others learn about God most easily (14:9)?
  7. What will non-Christians think about what I’m saying/doing and will it help or hinder them to hear about Jesus through Bible teaching (14:16-17)?
  8. Am I helping people learn the Bible or hindering that from happening (14:19)?

To find the 100+ page study guide and sermon series that accompanies this devotional series, or to find a free mountain of Bible teaching, visit or download the Real Faith app.

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