Paul gives the Corinthians this guideline for deciding when to speak in their public gatherings: If your speech does not edify the group, keep silent. If your speech does edify the group, take turns in an orderly fashion.
Paul is correcting a group of believers who think if you don’t speak in tongues, you’re a lesser Christian. So far Paul has made the following points:
- The true mark of the Spirit of God in your life is that you can say and mean that Jesus is Lord.
- While the Spirit gives every believer faith to believe that Jesus is Lord, the Spirit gives each believer a different opportunity to serve the kingdom of God (what we call spiritual gifts).
- While we should desire the greater gifts, faith, hope and especially love are greater than all the individual gifts.
- Prophecy is a greater gift than speaking in tongues, because prophecy edifies the whole church while tongues edifies only the speaker (unless someone can interpret).
- If you’re going to be zealous for spiritual gifts, be zealous for the greater gifts like prophecy which edify the whole church.
In this section, Paul applies the principle he’s been explaining.
14:26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. -1Corinthians 14:26
- 1Corinthians 14:26 is the bottom line. Everything done in the public worship gatherings should be done for the edification of all.
- This list is not a list of items every church service must include. Rather he’s saying whatever you do (including any and all of these things) must be done for edification.
- If what you would say or how you would speak in a public gathering, does not contribute to and edify the rest of the group, you should keep silent. If your speech does edify the rest of the group, then speak in an orderly fashion, patiently waiting for your turn.
- He paints of picture of a worship service where people are speaking all at once, shouting for the floor, some in tongues, some prophesying and no one able to hear what the others are saying.
- Paul speaks into the chaos of their worship service and applies this principle to three groups.
27If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; 28but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. – 1Corinthians 14:27-28
- If you’re going to have tongue speaking in the public assembly, limit it to 2 or 3 speakers at most, and take turns. Ir no one can interpret what for a tongue speaker, then tongue speaker should keep silent and pray silently to God.
- Paul does not forbid speaking in tongues, but he insists it must have publicly understood content.
29Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; 32and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. -1Corinthians 14:29-33
- As with the tongue speakers, Paul concern is order and edification. There can be no edification if everyone is shouting at once.
- Only 2 to 3 prophets/teachers should speak, taking turns, and be wiling to have the other prophets/teachers evaluate their message.
- Someone with discernment and wisdom needs to be able to judge what was said and either say “amen” or “no you’ve not got that right.”
14:34The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. – 1Corinthians 14:34-35
- Many scholars observe that these two verses interrupt the flow of thought, and there is some reason to question their authenticity.
- Many scholars point out that the Old Testament Law does not forbid women to speak in services, indicating that Paul did not write these verses as he knew the Old Testament well.
- Gordon Fee concludes that these 2 verses were added later and are not part of Paul’s original thought.
- D.A. Carson disagrees with Fee, and argues these two verses are authentic. See: Silent in the Churches: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36. Carson’s article contains an excellent overview of the various interpretative options for these verses.
Whatever Paul means, he is not giving a universal ban on women speaking in church.
- In 1Corinthians 11 Paul gave guidelines for how married women were to pray and prophecy in church. Banning all women from speaking would have been an easy solution to that problem and it is not the solution he chose.
- Paul’s primary concern in this context is that everyone should learn and be edified. Given that context, it seems unlikely that he would essentially say, let the women stay confused until they get home.
- These verses are the third in a series of three places where Paul tell someone to keep silent. In the other two cases, Paul did not ban an entire class of people from speaking.
- The immediate context of these verses is: If your speech — whatever it is — does not edify the entire group, then keep silent. When you get together, do everything for edification and not disorder.
- The context suggests that these particular women were disrupting the service some way, just as the shouting prophets and tongue speakers were doing.
- Carson’s article — Silent in the Churches: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 — contains an excellent overview of various interpretative options for these verses.
- The option I lean toward is: Since the immediate context is the prophets/teachers being judged by other teachers, and the women were disrupting this evaluation process. Thus, Paul means if you women have a problem with the decisions being made by the leadership, talk to your husbands at home and let him represent your family in this time of judgment, rather than disrupting it.
- However, I have not found an interpretative option that does not have at least 1 problem (if not several problems) with it.
36Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? 37If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. 38But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. -1Corinthians 14:36-40
- Paul concludes his 3-chapter argument here, not just this section.
- As we saw earlier in the letter, a group in Corinth is challenging and rejecting Paul’s authority as an apostle.
- To be recognized as a prophet/teacher, you must recognize Paul’s authority.
- You are not speaking for God if you reject the teaching of one of his apostles.
While there are many debated issues in 1Corinthians 12-14, Paul has made these points clearly.
- The mark of true spirituality is not having a particular spiritual gift including speaking in tongues
- Rather the mark of true spirituality is to say and mean that Jesus is Lord
- Jesus has called us together to belong to each other and to him as his people.
- Through His Spirit, God gives each individual believer varies opportunities to serve the people of Gods and bring about his kingdom. Everyone believer has a unique role to play and way to serve the kingdom of God.
- It is terribly wrong to judge people based on whether they have a particular gift or they serve a particular way.
- The purpose of having these roles and gifts is to build each other up in the faith.
- Building each other up in the faith is primarily done by clearly communicating with words the content, hope and promises of the gospel.
- Tongues are a private thing and have no place in public worship unless they are interpreted so that all may be with edified by them.
- The mark that God is with is us is NOT out of control, ecstatic experiences but that we proclaim the truth of the gospel.
- Life now is fundamentally about faith, hope and love.
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