Text: 1 Corinthians 14:26-40
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people…
We’re continuing our miniseries on spiritual gifts, and this week we will complete chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians. My plan is to finish out this chapter in the way that we have been proceeding, by exegeting what is written and explaining Paul’s goals and intentions. In order to do this faithfully, we will not be able to answer every question about charismatic practices today. The reason we won’t is that Paul doesn’t ask or answer those questions. However, since those questions are so pressing and pertinent, especially in our area, I do plan to devote a sermon to them. In two weeks, once I return from Pennsylvania, we will cover a sort of “big picture” of the charismatic landscape and explain why, in our view, the miraculous gifts do not continue today. So that is coming.
But for this morning, we want to complete Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 14. Having spent a good amount of time instructing the Corinthians to use their gifts for love and edification, he has also explained the need for intelligibility and translation. Miraculous gifts like speaking in tongues are of no value if no one can understand them. Now, to close out the chapter, Paul says that the gifts must be used in an orderly fashion. There are rules for how and when one can use their gifts in the church. Paul is clear that the normal order, including hierarchy and authority, must not be disrupted by the use of charismatic gifts.
In our sermon today we will look at the order Paul gives. Then we will point out how he relates the charismatic gifts to that order. Thirdly, we will explain why order is so important. As Paul says, all things must be done decently and in good order, and this is so because our worship shows the world our God. We must worship in a way that is consistent with the character of the true and living God.
The Order Given By Paul
It’s important to point out that Paul is here talking about corporate worship. He says, “whenever you come together…” (1 Cor. 14:26). This is the sacred assembly. He is not talking about personal devotional routines or other occasions to use one’s spiritual gifts. He’s talking about the worship service.
It is also important to see that Paul does not give us an entire order of worship. We cannot be sure when this time of sharing one’s prophecies or tongues would have occurred. Many synagogue services at the time had a period of dialogue, Q&As if you will, after the teacher had expounded the law. This may also have happened during the agape feasts.
And one last caveat is necessary. Even though Paul says, “you can all prophesy…” (vs. 31), this has to be kept in context with what he’s already said in chapter 12 and earlier in chapter 14. Everyone has different gifts, and not everyone does the same thing. So he’s not changing his mind here. He’s just addressing all of the folks who are getting up to speak. They can “all” do this, but they have to do it in an order.
So what is the order that Paul gives? The first thing we note is that he caps the quantity. “Two or three.” This is the rule for both speaking in tongues and prophesying (vs. 27, 29). That’s it for each week. No more.
Secondly, those who speak must speak “one at a time.” (vs. 27). They cannot just speak whenever they feel like they have the Spirit, and if there have already been two or three speakers, they must remain silent. If someone is going on for a while and someone else has a word, then the first person has to stop (vs. 30).
Thirdly, there must be interpretation for the tongues. “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God” (vs. 27-28). It does seem that, on some occasions, the same person who spoke in the tongue would also interpret (see vs. 13), but obviously, on other occasions, the interpreter would be a different person. Either way, the fact of having an interpreter needed to be established first, because if there was no interpreter, the tongue-speaker had to keep quiet.
Fourthly, the “prophets” were known to be such, and they would have to judge anyone claiming to be a prophet. Listen again to how Paul puts it: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. …the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (vs. 29, 32). Notice, Paul does not say “let two or three people speak prophecies.” No, he says “let two or three prophets speak.” Why is that distinction important? Because the prophets would have to be judged by other prophets in the assembly. This means we have to know who those prophets are ahead of time. They had an office of authority, and there was some structure to identify them and allow them to function in an orderly fashion.
This also comes up in Paul’s response to doubters:
Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. (vs. 36-38)
His point here is simple. “If you don’t like what I have to say, too bad!” Even spiritual prophets are under authority. They must submit themselves to the objective commandments of the Lord. Normal officers would regulate how this occurred.
The Relationship of the Charismata to Normal Order
So that is an outline of the order Paul gives the Corinthians for their charismatic gifts. But this order brings out two other more basic points, and these basic points are important for us to see and understand because they will serve as the underlying guiding principles which continue throughout all times, even if the specific kind of gifts change or go away.
The first basic point is this. The presence of charismatic gifts does not and cannot violate the normal order. It cannot violate the orderliness of the service, nor can it violate the normal authoritative hierarchy and jurisdiction. Just because someone has a spiritual gift does not mean that they are immediately free to use it, and it does not mean that their personal inspiration can overrule the normal government of the church. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (vs. 32).
Even though the gift is spiritual, you are still in control over it. It is not an ecstatic trance, nor is it a possession over you. Spiritual gifts can and must be controlled and regulated. As Paul mentioned earlier, love is the ultimate regulator, but order is another regulator.
This is so true, that it applies to gender roles as well. Verses 34 and 35 are highly controversial, but they are, nevertheless, here in the Word of God. Paul says this:
Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
What do we make of that? To modern readers, these verses are seen as sexist. How dare Paul? Of course, for those of us who know Paul, as well as Peter and many other Bible writers, we know that reaction is not an option. The Bible consistently teaches male leadership, carried out through fathers and husbands. And it connects this to God’s original creation order.
But does Paul really mean that women can’t even speak? Well, again remember the context. Paul is discussing worship, and he is discussing authoritative speaking in the worship service. This does not mean that females must take a vow of silence as soon as they enter the church building, and it does not mean that they are forbidden from asking questions in Sunday School or other small-group setting. Paul is only discussing the worship service, and he is discussing authoritative speaking to the corporate assembly.
In context, Paul is also talking about the spiritual gifts. So we can even direct these verses to that situation. A woman cannot appeal to her spiritual gift in order to violate the other rules of order, including the rule that pastors, elders, preachers, and teachers must be men. Just because a woman is “gifted” does not mean that she can therefore be ordained. No, as we see in 1 Timothy 2:12, as well as the explanation given in 1 Cor. 11:2-16, men are to hold positions of authority, and they are to do this because of creation.
But how is it that Paul can here forbid women to “speak” with their charismatic gift when he gave them instructions on how to prophecy back in 1 Cor. 11:5. There he said, “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” And he then goes on to talk about headcoverings. He does not say, “So women don’t prophecy.” He says, “if women prophecy, they have to wear headcoverings.” So what gives? Why is Paul now saying that women must be silent? Has he really just contradicted himself?
There are a few answers that people offer to this. The first thing to say is that it is highly unlikely that a thinker such as Paul would make a “slip” that is so obvious, and it is impossible that no one in the earlier churches would have noticed if he had. Additionally, if we believe that Paul was inspired by God, then it is theologically impossible for this to be a contradiction. So we have to assume that it is harmonizable. And it is.
Some have said that 1 Cor. 14:34-34 more or less trumps 1 Cor. 11:5. Paul says women can’t speak, and that’s clear, so whatever is going on in the very complicated part of 1 Cor. 11, it can’t be women speaking. This doesn’t work, however, since 1 Cor. 11:5 does, in fact, say that women were prophesying. While the business of headcoverings is complicated, the fact that women were prophesying is not unclear. We also know that there were female prophets from other parts of the Bible, even parts of the New Testament (Acts 2:17, Acts 21:8-9).
Others have said that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is not talking about women using their spiritual gifts, but instead it is prohibiting them from “judging” the prophecies. Basically it connects vs. 34-35 to vs. 29 and 32. Women cannot be the authoritative interpreters of the prophecies. This might work, but Paul seems to go further when he tells the women to wait and ask their husbands at home, “for it is shameful for women to speak in church” (vs. 35). It’s not clear how the judging of the gift is more of a problem than the using the gift to deliver the speech.
We can also point out that 1 Cor. 11 is limited to “praying and prophesying” and does not mention tongues. Thus, 1 Cor. 14 might be specifically aimed at tongues. It may also mean that the women would give the prophecy but then, more or less, hand it over to the officers. Basically, she speaks the prophecy itself and then no more.
My own view has been that 1 Cor. 14 gives us the standard rule, and that 1 Cor. 11 gives us the exceptional scenario. In fact, I have argued that this is precisely the reason of the headcoverings in 1 Cor. 11. They were regulating devices to account for this apparent “break” in order. The spiritual woman was allowed to speak her prophecy, but she had to do so “as under authority,” and so the headcovering symbolized that authority (1 Cor. 11:10). I wouldn’t hold you to my interpretation, as I admit I’m trying to reconcile different ideas and account for all of the available information, but I do think it works and makes the best sense of it all.
Whatever interpretation we take, though, we see the same principle. The charismatic gift does not over turn the normal order of the things. In fact, Paul goes further and appeals to domestic, household order, as the foundation and grounding of the church order. “Let them ask their husbands at home…” (1 Cor. 14:35). A woman should not assert authority over her own husband, nor other people’s husbands, and the church does not get to dissolve or overturn that authority. So today, no matter what we think about spiritual gifts, we have to say that the church’s order and way of doing business must be consistent with the order of the home. The domestic arrangement is a basic template, and the church does not get to overturn or cancel that out. This will inform how we should do church activities, pastoral counseling, and inter-family relationships.
The Importance of Decency and Order
The final point is that, whatever we do, we must maintain good order. “Let all things be done decently and in order” (vs. 40). Why? Because our worship reflects our God. “God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (vs. 33).
We need to make sure that our worship is like our God. We need to worship like the Person we worship. We must send a “true message” about God in our style and method of worship. This means we must conduct ourselves appropriately. We have to understand that concept of “propriety” that we preached on a while back. We have to make sure to avoid chaos and confusion. That’s why we must be intelligible.
Order is also connected to love. Boundaries help protect people. Without them, the strong overrun the week. The rude push out the polite. The loud swallow up the quiet. Rules, boundaries, and order help to include everyone and look out for their good. They help us not be selfish. Thus, the church must always maintain good order.
This works from the other direction as well. The Psalmists says that we become like what we worship:
[I]dols are silver and gold, The work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Noses they have, but they do not smell; They have hands, but they do not handle; Feet they have, but they do not walk; Nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them. (Psalm 115:8)
We become like what we worship. The opening chapter of Romans teaches the same thing:
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. (Rom. 1:22-24)
The idolatry came first. Immorality followed. False worship leads to false living, and you become like your idol. And if you do this, you will meet the same fate as your idol.
So we see that the way we worship matters. We must be sure to maintain good order, and we must do this in order to maintain the gospel. We have to show the world who God is.
We also maintain order to maintain the world is supposed to be. We uphold creation and show its proper form. We do this so that we can love and edify, all to the glory of God.
Let us pray.