Contributor: Isekhua Evborokhai
Last week’s study saw us looking at the first part of 1 Cor.14 as we considered Spiritual Gifts and Church Order. We learnt that the gifts are for edification of the body of Christ, that worship should be all involving and beneficial, and that common language promotes corporate worship. We concluded by striking a balance that we should do both; pray in unknown tongues and in ordinary language that everyone understands. Today we shall be concluding our study of chapter 14 as we receive instructions that will help us grow into maturity.
THE TRUE PURPOSE FOR THE GIFT OF SPEAKING IN TONGUES – Read Verses (20 – 25)
We know that children are quick to be struck with novelty and strange appearances. They are taken with an outward show, without enquiring into the true nature and worth of things. Do not you act like them, and prefer noise and show over worth and substance; we should show greater maturity in judgment, and act a more manly part; be like children in nothing but an innocent and inoffensive disposition, void of all guile and malice; but should have wisdom and knowledge that are ripe and mature. A double rebuke is implied in this passage, both of their pride upon account of their gifts, and their arrogance and haughtiness towards each other, and the contests and quarrels proceeding from them. Christians should not be unskilful in the word of righteousness (Heb. 5:13), but unskilful in all the arts of mischief.
Apostle Paul then went further to address their misuse of the gift of tongues in the church.
When he quoted Isa. 28:11, he was referring to the fact that tongues were used as a token of judgment from God than mercy to any people (v. 21). The meaning in this view is that it is an evidence that a people are abandoned of God when he gives them up to this sort of instruction, to the discipline of those who speak in another language.
In verse 22 he mentions that tongues were meant to be a sign to unbelievers and not to believers. They were a spiritual gift, intended for the conviction and conversion of unbelievers, that they might be brought into the Christian church; but converts were to be built up in Christianity by profitable instructions in their own language.
For gifts to be rightly used, it is proper to know the purpose they are intended to serve. To go about the conversion of unbelievers, as the apostles did, would have been impossible without the gift of tongues, and the discovery of this gift; but, in an assembly of Christians already converted to the Christian faith, to make use and show off this gift as the Corinthians did was out of place, because it was of no advantage to the church; not for conviction of truth, because they had already embraced it; not for their edification, because they did not understand, and could not get benefit without understanding, what they heard.
In Verses 23 - 25, Paul inferred that the reputation of the church among unbelievers required them to prefer prophesying over speaking with tongues. Because, if, when they were all assembled for worship, and the ministers were speaking in unintelligible language, and unbelievers should drop in, they would conclude them to be mad! And this would make Christianity ridiculous to a heathen, to hear the ministers of it pray, or preach, or perform any other religious exercise, in a language that neither he nor the assembly understood.
If, instead of speaking with tongues, those who minister plainly interpret scripture, or preach, in language intelligible and proper, the great truths and rules of the gospel, a heathen or unlearned person, coming in, will probably be convinced, and become a convert to Christianity (v. 24, v. 25); his conscience will be touched, the secrets of his heart will be revealed to him, he will be condemned by the truth he hears, and so will be brought to confess his guilt.
DISORDER REPROVED – Read Verses (26-33)
In this passage the apostle reproves them for their disorder, he blames them for the confusion they introduced into the assembly, by showing off their gifts (v. 26). The picture Paul painted here was that of pandemonium that cannot be in anyway edifying. and so, he corrects and regulates their conduct for the future by the following:
1. As to speaking in an unknown tongue, he orders that no more than two or three should do it at one meeting, and this not altogether, but successively, one after another. And even this was not to be done unless there were some one to interpret (v. 27, v. 28) either the speaker or another. Note this is different from praying in tongues.
2. As to prophesying he orders:
(a) That two or three only should speak at one meeting (v. 20), and this successively, not all at once; and that the other should examine and judge what he delivered, that is, discern and determine concerning it, whether it was of divine inspiration or not because there might be false prophets, mere pretenders to divine inspiration.
(b) That all (two or three) might prophesy, one by one, or one after another, which could not be where any one was interrupted and silenced before he had done prophesying; but might easily be if he someone else receives a word while another is speaking, holds his/her peace till the former prophet had finished what he/she had to say. And, to confirm this sense, the apostle quickly adds, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (v. 33); that is, although they have these spiritual gifts, that can be expressed anytime by the leading of the Holy Spirit, they still possessed their reason, and capable of using their own judgment in the exercise of them.
Divine inspirations are not, like the diabolical possessions of heathen priests, violent and ungovernable, and prompting them to act as if they were beside themselves; but are sober and calm, and capable of regular conduct. The man inspired by the Spirit of God may still act the man, and observe the rules of natural order and decency in delivering his revelations. His spiritual gift is to be managed by his discretion. The apostle gives the reasons of these regulations.
That they would be for the church’s benefit, their instruction and consolation. That God is not the God of confusion, but of peace and good order, (v. 33).
Therefore, divine inspiration should by no means throw the Church into confusion, and break through all rules of common decency. And finally, that things were being orderly managed in all the other churches (v. 33); they kept to these rules in the exercise of their spiritual gifts, therefore the church of Corinth should do the same.
THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE! – Read Verses (34-35)
Here the apostle enjoins silence on the Corinthian women in public assemblies, and to such a degree that they must not ask questions for their own information in the church, but ask their husbands at home. So many scholars have tried to interpret this passage and as it is normal, inclined towards their individual bias! But let’s look at it from a more balanced view as it is our tradition. Let’s say for instance, the Spirit of prophecy came upon a woman in the church, should she not prophesy? Anna, for instance was a prophetess, in the temple she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all them that looked-for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). What about Philip’s daughters who prophesied? (Acts 21:9).
The reason that is given why women should keep silence, is, because they are commanded to be under obedience. Apostle Paul referred to the same in 1 Timothy 2:11,12. The early church evidently followed Jewish practices in religious education. In Israel, mothers taught their daughters, and it was the father’s responsibility to teach his sons in all areas, including religious education. So, Paul’s prohibitions here are consistent with the practices of his day. *
Others have said that the silence enjoined in 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 must be a specific, limited silence. Numerous suggestions have been offered, some have also suggested either that 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 was not written by Paul but was inserted by a copyist or that it is a question from Paul’s opponents in Corinth which Paul denounces in 1 Corinthians 14:36.
One view is that the speaking prohibited here is mere babbling. There is, however, nothing specific in the context to support this meaning of “speak,” and such nonsense would certainly have been prohibited to all persons in the worship Paul described not women only. Another view suggests that the speaking prohibited is speaking in tongues (glossolalia) since that is frequently mentioned in the preceding context (1 Corinthians 14). However, glossolalia is always referred to as “tongues” or “speaking in tongues” and never simply as speaking.
The view that seems to make the most reasonable sense is the speaking prohibited here to women to refer only to disruptive questions that wives (usually uneducated in the culture of Paul’s time) were asking their husbands.**
This is made clearer when we read these verses in the MSG version: “Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God’s Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking.”
CONCLUSION - BE COURTEOUS AND CONSIDERATE IN EVERYTHING. Read Verses (36-40)
In these concluding verses, the apostle closes his argument, by rebuking the Corinthians for their extravagant pride and self-conceit; they behaved in a manner that would not easily endure control nor regulation. As so Apostle Paul addresses them to beat down this arrogant humour. He asks rhetorically in verse 36:
“Did the word of the Lord originate from you [Corinthians], or has it come to you only [so that you know best what God requires]?”
In other words, if you think everything revolves around you; then you are mistaken!
In verses 37-38 Paul adds: “You who claim to have the gift of prophecy or any other special ability from the Holy Spirit should be the first to realize that what I am saying is a commandment from the Lord himself. 38 But if anyone still disagrees—well, we will leave him in his ignorance.”
It is just with God to leave those who choose to remain blind wilfully shutting out the light; to the blindness of their own minds. Those who would be ignorant in so plain a case were justly left under the power of their mistake. Romans 1: 28, Rev 22:11
He then sums up all in two general advices that once again strikes the required balance in verses 39 and 40. “So, my fellow believers, long to be prophets so that you can preach God’s message plainly; and never say it is wrong to “speak in tongues”; however, be sure that everything is done properly in a good and orderly way.”
With this passage Paul was admonishing the Corinthian church that
(1.) They should not despise the gift of tongues and that they should prefer prophesying. This is indeed the scope of the whole argument. It was to be preferred to the other, because it was a more useful gift.
(2.) And that all things be done decently and in order (v. 40).
Avoiding indecencies and disorders such as childishness (v. 20), or any expression that would give people the opportunity to discredit the church and refer to the church as a gathering of mad people (v. 23), or cause confusion, (v. 33).
Instead they were to do things in order; they were to speak one after another, and not all at once; take their turns, and not interrupt one another. God is not to be dishonoured, nor his worship disgraced, by our unbecoming and disorderly performance of it and attendance at it.
Parts of this study was culled from Mathew Henry's commentary on 1 Cor. 14
* 1Tim2:11-12 footnote on AMP
** DAVID SCHOLER'S ESSAY ON WOMEN IN MINISTRY