After correcting the problems of rivalry and competition concerning the spiritual gifts the Christians in Corinth have received, the apostle Paul now directs the congregation concerning how their assembly should function. As we noted in the previous lesson, 1 Corinthians 14 is one of the best passages we have to give us insight into what the first century assembly looked like. So as we read these directions, we will consider how we can follow the directions and pattern established by God for the assembly. It is especially important to carefully study this passage and remember the context because there are many verses in this section that have been taken out of context and misapplied.
The Rules For Tongue Speaking (14:26-28)
Paul begins by reestablishing the key to the chapter. “Let all things be done for building up.” Faith is supposed to be encouraged and strengthened by the word of God when we come together. Satan attacks our faith on a daily basis and we need to assemble to rebuild our faith and grow stronger in the Lord. Verse 26 also gives us another small peek into what was going on during the assembling. We note that there was singing. Implied in this was that someone led the assembly in the singing of the song. Further, there was a person giving instruction and teaching. Also, there was a person giving a revelation of the word of God, which to us would be the reading of the scriptures. All of these activities during the assembly were to meet the goal of building up the body of Christ.
In verse 27 the apostle Paul gives the directions to those who have the miraculous spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. The first rule of God is that there is only to be two tongue speakers, and at most three tongue speakers, who will speak at the assembly. The second rule is that each tongue speaker is to speak in turn. They are not to speak simultaneously nor interrupt each other. The final rule is that there must be interpretation. This is so important that if there is no one to interpret the language spoken, then the tongue speaker is to remain absolutely silent.
There are a few things we need to consider regarding this direction. I think it is important to observe that those who claim to have the gift of speaking in tongues today violate every part of this command. The rule of no more than three tongue speakers is broken. The rule that they do not speak simultaneously is broken. The rule that they only speak if there is interpretation is broken. Every rule is regularly broken in many religious groups who claim to have the gift of tongues.
Another point that is very important to consider. Paul’s direction reveals that the speaker had power over the spiritual gift. The gift was not uncontrollable. Christians were not “slain in the Spirit” or lacking self-control when the Spirit moved them. It is not that a person could not help himself from speaking. Paul says that the tongue speaker, though given a message from God, was to keep silent if others were speaking, if three tongue speakers had already spoken, or if there was no one to interpret the foreign language. Again, what we see today in the charismatic churches directly violates the scriptures and directly violates the way the Spirit operates.
The Rules For Prophecy (14:29-33)
Paul now turns his attention to the gift of prophecy. Notice that the same direction is given to those with the gift of prophecy as those with the gift of tongues. The first rule is that only two or three prophets should speak in any given assembly. Everyone else is supposed to listen and evaluate what is said. Therefore we see that a Christian with the gift of prophecy would declare the very words of God to the assembly and the assembly would listen to that message, evaluating what is said. The second rule is that if another person receives a prophecy, the first prophet was to stop and allow the other prophecy to be spoken. The same rules apply that each person should prophecy one by one, but no more than two or three “so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (14:31). Again, Paul declares the goal of building up the believers who are assembled. Paul also explicitly declares the conclusion in verse 32 that we drew concerning the tongue speakers. The spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets. That is, those with the gift of prophecy are not lacking self-control but are able to wait and speak in turn. There is no reason for noise, interruption, or chaos because God is not the author of confusion. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that they can control the gifts given and empowered by the Holy Spirit because God does not cause confusion. In both instances, Paul is teaching that there is to be silence regarding the spiritual gifts they possess when in the assembly. There were rules for spiritual gifts when the assembly of believers is gathered.
The Rule For Women (14:33-35)
Paul continues by reminding these Christians that these directions are the practice in all the churches. Therefore, the teachings in this chapter are all the more emphasized as the pattern for us to follow today regarding the purpose and activities in our assembly. Verse 34 is a verse that is frequently quoted and separated from the context of the chapter. The women are instructed to keep silent in the assemblies. The same word instructing silence earlier in this section for the tongue speakers (14:28) and the prophets (14:30) is used here. As a reminder, the word for “silent” means absolute silence and to not make a sound. Is Paul teaching that women are not to make a single sound in the assembly? The answer must be “no” simply because women believers are instructed to sing in the assembly, to confess sins, and the like. The context of this command must be maintained. Paul is instructed the women to remain absolutely silent regarding the spiritual gifts they possessed. We know that women possessed spiritual gifts, like Philip’s four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9) and the instructions given to women with gifts earlier in this very letter (1 Corinthians 11:5). Therefore, just as tongue speakers and prophets were given restrictions for using their gifts in the assembly, so also women were given restrictions for using their gifts in the assembly.
Now we must ask why this would be the case? Why would be it be necessary for women not use their spiritual gifts in the assembly? Paul indicates in verse 34 that for the women to speak would mean they would be forfeiting the submission that the Law of God says. Again, we must ask an important question: how would women speaking cause a breaking of God’s law concerning submission? Think about this for a moment. The scriptures teach that the wife is to be submissive to her husband (cf. Ephesians 5:22,24; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:5). Does this mean that the wife cannot speak at all to her husband or else be out of submission? Of course not for there is no way for a marriage to operate without communication and no way for a husband to live with his wife in an understanding way without communication (cf. 1 Peter 3:7). The point to consider is that speaking does not equal a lack of submission.
So we must ask the question: why would a woman with spiritual gifts speaking in the assembly be a lack of submission? The necessary conclusion is that when any person spoke in the assembly the person was taking the lead. The person speaking was leading the assembly. We have seen this in the directions Paul has given. When the tongue speaker spoke, the rest were to be silent and listen to what was said and its interpretation. When the prophet spoke, the rest were to be silent and evaluate what was being said. The situation is similar this hour of assembly we have right now where the person speaking is in charge and in the lead. The song leader has the lead of the assembly. The prayer leader has the lead of the assembly. The Lord’s Supper speaker has lead of the assembly. The teacher has lead of the assembly. Whoever is speaking is leading the assembly. This becomes the reasonable answer for why the women must remain silent in the assembly. Speaking during time would be taking the lead, which is a violation of the law of God.
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:11–14 ESV)
The events of Genesis regarding creation and the sin of Adam and Eve are the reasons why women are to not teach or have authority over a man. For a woman to speak in the assembly would do that very thing — teach over the assembly. Therefore, saying amen or confessing sins or singing does not take authority away or violate a submissive attitude. This text has no application to women teaching children’s classes. Women speaking in our gathered Bible studies, whether in homes or at the building, is not violating this text because a man is leading the class and teaching the class. As we just noted, a wife speaking to her husband is not to lack submission. Speaking is not the issue. The way the speaking occurs is the issue. The scriptures want a submissive attitude reflecting godly character and not taking authority away from another or seizing authority over the assembly. So this is the evaluation to be made: when the assembly is gathered, is her speaking taking authority over the assembly?
The context of spiritual gifts helps us understand verse 35. It was not the woman’s place in the assembly to verbally disagree or question a prophetic teaching. To do so is to usurp authority and take the lead over the assembly. Therefore that questioning was to occur at home and not in the assembly. I hope we can see the need to keep these verses in their context and how we can properly apply the text when we do so.
All Things Should Be Orderly (14:36-40)
Paul concludes by observing that what he is commanding the church is the very command of the Lord. God has given an order to the assembly. The church may think they can run the assembly in the way they want. But Paul says to violate this order is to reject the Lord. This is not a suggestion by Paul. Instead, the rule is given: “But all things should be done decently and in order.” This does not mean that we have to do things traditionally or the way we have always done things in the assembly. The point is that spiritual upbuilding cannot happen in chaos. Paul has taught the need to take turns, to not speak over each other, and to focus on the goal of building up each other through the teaching of the scriptures.
It is my prayer that this series of lessons concerning miraculous spiritual gifts helps us understand the importance of our time together. How we worship when we come together matters to God, so much so that God will not recognize us if we reject his order (14:38). Everything we do must be for spiritual building each other up, not for fun or entertainment (14:26). The goal is spiritual strengthening in God’s word. Edification cannot occur in chaos and noise. Therefore, there must be an order to what we do so that learning can occur (14:31, 40). Otherwise our time together is wasted. The scriptures are all we need to learn and love the Lord.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV)