Is God Among You?
1 Corinthians 14:1-40
Theme: Propriety in worship.
This week’s lessons remind us that in church we should strive to benefit others, not ourselves.
In the last half of this chapter, Paul sums up what he has said and applies it in several ways. His essential point has been that what we do must be done for edification, for the building up of the church. He then gives some rules that should be followed if we really take his words seriously. He does not say that people must never speak in tongues in church. He says that those who do speak in tongues should do so in a certain way. There should be two or three who speak in tongues, not twenty or thirty. They should speak one at a time, not all at once, because if they are to be understood they should speak so that they can be heard. Then when they do speak, someone should be present to interpret because, if what we are concerned about is the edification of the body and the communication of scriptural truth to unbelievers, something that is unintelligible has no message at all.
Paul applies this to other parts of worship as well. He ties the same principle into preaching. At a preaching service two or three should preach at most. You will wear the people out if there are fifteen or twenty people preaching, one after the other, on and on and on. Furthermore, they must speak clearly so they can be understood, because the main concern is about knowing and glorifying God.
I suppose it is for the same reason that he includes a short passage here about women being silent in the church. This does not mean that a woman can never speak in a church building. When he talks about the churches, he is referring to the assembly, the worship services that go on. He often uses the word church in that way. Even in such services, however, it is never the case that women can do nothing. In chapter 11 Paul talks about a woman praying, and he seems to assume that she can pray or teach in a certain way. That is all right.
Rather, he is talking about order in the church, the same thing, I believe, that he is talking about in the second chapter of 1Timothy. He says in that letter that he suffers women to keep silent in the church because that creates church order. He says that a woman is not to usurp authority over a man, and by that, Paul is referring to the authoritative teaching and disciplinary role of the elders or the ministers in the churches of Jesus Christ. He is placing a restriction there. And so when we are talking about order in the churches, this does not mean that women do not have gifts or that there are not places for those gifts to be fulfilled. Rather it is the authoritative teaching and preaching roles that should be restricted to men.
He sums up what he has said with three principles that are found in verses 39 and 40. First of all, be eager to prophesy. If prophecy – or preaching and teaching – is as good as he says, then everyone of us should seek to be able to do it in some way. So if you are going to desire any of the gifts, desire that. Secondly, do not forbid speaking in tongues. Desire the best thing, but make sure that you don’t forbid somebody else to do what they’re doing.
That is what Paul is saying here. Do not get all worked up because somebody else is doing something that you do not think is all that good. It may not be good. It may not even be authentic, but that is not your business. You make sure that you desire the better gifts. Then, as Paul concludes, he says that everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. But it is not about being spectacular, or eloquent, or giving clear exposition. It is not about great displays of wisdom that prove this teaching to be true. Those things have their place, but the only thing that really matters is the Word of God and whether we are faithful in the exposition, the teaching, and the application of this Word.
That is what God honors. God honors his Word. He does not honor your experience. God does not honor your intellectual capabilities. Since God honors his Word, where we are faithful and where we teach that, God, who stands behind it and carries its truth home to the human heart, is the one who brings about all that is necessary for illuminating the kingdom of God.
What is the theme found throughout 1 Corinthians 14?
What restrictions are placed upon women in the church? What opportunites are available for women in the church?
What spiritual gift do you most desire? Why?
God honors his Word. He does not honor your experience. God does not honor your intellectual capabilities.