We've seen so far that the biblical practice of speech within church gatherings was dialogue as opposed to monologue.
But what was the goal of the dialogue? And what was the context?
The goal was clear: edification. Paul emphasizes this in I Corinthians chapter 14. The apostle uses the word "edification" in verses 3, 5, 12, and 26. We need to remember that chapters 12-14 focus upon the appropriate exercise of spiritual gifts within the assembling of the church body.
It is also important to remember the context of the church itself. In other words, what does Paul consider the church to be? One key metaphor that Paul uses to describe the church is the family. In all of Paul's letters to churches he uses the term "brethren" to refer to his brothers and sisters in Christ.
For example, in Romans 1:13 Paul writes, "Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles."
I Corinthians 1:10, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."
Colossians 1:1-2, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
When Paul uses the word "brethren," he is clearly painting a picture for us of the church as a family. In fact, the church is a new family in Christ that we become a part of immediately upon salvation.
These new family relationships are, in God's great plan, designed to supersede even our genetic family ties. In Matthew 12:46-50 we read this remarkable passage, "While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, 'Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.' But He answered and said to the one who told Him, 'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.'"
These words are all the more amazing considering that in that culture the closest familial bonds were between siblings. Jesus expects us to be closer with our church family brothers and sisters than with our genetic siblings.
What do families do when they get together? They spend time together, enjoy one another, hang out, laugh, eat, play, encourage, cry, and generally have a good time. They also usually get together in somebody's home. I realize not all families do this, but this is the ideal. Families don't sit around quietly listening to one person speak, hold extended ceremonies, or meet in special buildings.
The biblical model is for the church to function as a family in practice and in speech. With Christ as our Head, we are to spend time together, building our relationships in Christ. Within this context of the family, we speak words of edification to each other with the goal being that we mutually grow together in Christ.
When we think of the church as a real family, we better understand God's desires and goals for the church body. This dramatically informs our gatherings. If one of my primary goals in church life is the building up of my brothers and sisters, this then tells me what my focus should be whenever and however we get together.
Dialogue is key to church gatherings. However, we cannot define the parameters of this dialogue. Rather, God has determined that our speech is to be edifying within the context of the family.