Make yourself useful. I remember hearing these words from an employer when I was in school. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I just wasn’t doing anything particularly helpful. I was waiting to be told what to do when it was really my responsibility to anticipate what needed to be done and fill those moments when I was just sitting around. Make yourself useful.
The fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians contains some puzzling words. I have been to Corinth. Today, it is a pile of rubble, the ruins of a city long ago. The foundations of certain buildings and the layout of the marketplace can be seen, but there is little else. Nothing that can show us exactly how the Christians behaved. We are left with Paul’s letters, but Paul is responding to specific matters and often without describing exactly what was happening. By this point in 1 Corinthians we are piecing together a picture of chaotic place, lots of emotion but little order. It makes me wonder how a group of people could have experienced worship together. And then this verse: Women whould remain silent in the churches. Really? Well not exactly, not if we pay attention to what Paul says earlier in this letter or in other letters. Women were leaders in the church – and it would be hard to be a leader if you can’t say anything.
Once again, we do not know what Paul meant. I suspect the worshippers in Corinth knew exactly what he meant – as if calling out to a crowd – “You women keep silent in the churches” – and the women in question as well as everyone else would know who was being addressed. So, let’s take another step back to consider the point of this chapter. What stands out for me is a sentence from verse 26: Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If you are going to do something in worship, make yourself useful. Don’t quarrel among yourselves. Don’t focus on yourself. Build up the church. So the church may be edified. Over and over again, Paul wants us to see the community of believers and how we must come alongside to encourage and build each other up.
Make yourself useful.