The Gift of Order

Posted: March 28, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 14:26-40, “The Gift of Order”

Many of us have seen courtroom movies or TV shows that have a judge banging a gavel on his desk, shouting, “Order in the courts!” Usually something was said from the witness stand that caused a stir in the room and the people in the galley were talking over each other. Things became disorderly and needed to be brought back into line. The court case could not proceed unless it could proceed in an orderly fashion.

A similar thing might be said for the church. Order in the church, particularly in a corporate worship service is a good thing. In a discussion of spiritual gifts, order itself might even be viewed as a kind of gift. It is the context that allows the expression of the other things God the Spirit has given, so that God the Father might be glorified among the people redeemed by God the Son.

Yet, like everything else that surrounds the spiritual gifts, order itself can be somewhat controversial. On the one hand, there are some who believe that unless it can be planned and scripted by men, then it has no place within the worship of God. On the other extreme, there are some who believe that any discussion of mandating some amount of discipline and order in worship is akin to blasphemy against God, that the Spirit moves where He wishes, and it is sinful for God’s people to somehow stand in the way.

Both extremes are wrong, and neither abides by the clear teaching of the Bible. This is precisely what Paul has addresses in this passage as he brings his teaching on the gifts to a conclusion. The gifts are to be used, but they are to be used in the way prescribed by God for the glory of God. That means they are to be used decently and in order.

Since Chapter 11, Paul has been writing in one way or the other about orderly worship. First, there was the issue of gender roles within the Christian home and congregation, with all Christians needing to remember that we are under the headship of Christ. We are all under His authority and His church is to function in the roles He has given it. Second, there was the issue of the Lord’s Supper which had devolved into something chaotic among the Corinthians. They had lost sight of the ordinance of communion being a solemn and worshipful remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for the church and the price He paid for our redemption. The church practices communion rightly when we partake in remembrance of Jesus with Him receiving the glory.

Thirdly, was the subject of spiritual gifts, a topic upon which Paul has spent the last three chapters. As it is today, the use of spiritual gifts became something highly controversial among the Corinthians church. The Christians in Corinth were blessed with many gifts, but they did not use them rightly. It became a source of jealousy and division. There was little spiritual maturity that accompanied their spiritual giftedness; instead, they demonstrated more of the carnal immaturity that was addressed in the earlier parts of the letter. After establishing that the gifts are good when they are given by God the Spirit, Paul took some time to emphasize that love is more important than all the gifts. Without Christ-centered love, it didn’t matter what the Corinthians believed they did in the Spirit; they had nothing. 

Even so, Paul still needed to deal with the controversial stuff, so he brought clarity to the two most abused of the gifts: tongues and prophecy. Both are good; prophecy is better. Tongues is great in private personal worship, as well as being a potential sign of judgment to unbelievers. Prophecy, on the other hand, helps the whole church bringing edification, exhortation, and comfort to believers. Tongues can be great when interpreted, but without it, it should not be practiced publicly. Prophecy is great at all times and can bring people to faith in Christ.

Where does Paul go from there? Back to the overarching theme of order. As Paul closes out this section, he gives some very clear instruction to maintain orderly worship in the local church. The Corinthians were to avoid confusion, avoid interruption, and avoid anarchy. How could they do it? By using the gifts rightly, for the edification of the church and the glory of God. Here, the call isn’t for “order in the courts,” but rather “order in the church.” When we have orderly worship, we glorify our orderly God.

1 Corinthians 14:26–40

  • Avoiding confusion: gifts in the church (26-33).

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

  1. Right from the beginning, we see a turn from Paul to a general conclusion. For all that he has written about how the gifts might be used wrongly (and how they apparently were used wrongly in Corinth), Paul gives instruction for how to use the gifts rightly. What should a worship service in ancient Corinth look like? Paul gives a brief outline. One person “has a psalm” or song; another brings a teaching; another shares a spiritual gift such as tongues, prophecy, or interpretation. Be careful not to get the wrong idea. Paul did not give a specific liturgy to be followed for each and every corporate worship service; he gave a suggestion of what one might look like. Especially in terms of spiritual gifts, these things cannot be planned out. There might be room allowed for the expression of certain gifts, but they cannot be forced at will. A person will only prophesy when God gives a prophecy; it cannot be invented on the spot. (If it is, it is not from the Lord!)
  2. Guideline #1: Each comes prepared to be used by God. Corporate worship is not a spectator sport. This is true regardless if you attend a service where certain spiritual gifts are expected, or not. Any time that born-again believers gather to worship God through Jesus Christ, we are to come personally prepared to worship. We come ready to receive and to give. Perhaps we give our heartfelt praise as we sing out in songs. Perhaps we give our attention as we listen to the word of God. Perhaps we give our time to others before or after the service, as we minister to one another as led by the Lord. Do we receive? Hopefully every time we walk into a church, we walk out joyful or convicted or exhorted or better equipped to serve Jesus. But we need to be careful about running in and out of church looking for only what we can receive. Not to point fingers, but it is easy to find ourselves coming in late to worship, not paying any attention to the lyrics being sung – to listen only to bits of the word of God that might make us feel good, tuning out the rest of the time – and then race out the door as soon as possible before we’ve interacted with anyone. Beloved, hear this gently yet clearly: God has more for you than that! Jesus has saved you, having redeemed you from your sin and cleansing you from all unrighteousness, and in so doing has made you a member of His body. He wants to use you in His body. He has a plan and a purpose for you in the local church. Are you available to be used? Do you come prepared to be used, or do you look for only what you can receive?
    1. Once more, it is a reminder of the importance of physical gathering. Not everyone can attend every week, and we need to be careful of imposing legalism on anyone. But those who can come, should. As valuable as technology is, it is no substitute for participation in a local congregation. And if all you can do is online, then be active! Beware of just watching a livestream and treating it like television where you tune in and tune out. Be intentional in your engagement. Sing aloud, pray, worship, take notes. Comment online, reach out to people through texts or email and pray for them. Scripture enjoins us to be active and to be ready to be used by God; we need to make ourselves available to Him.
  3. Guideline #2: Edification is the rule. Whatever it is that we do, in all the things that Paul lists out (both in this verse in all the previous context stretching back to Chapter 11 regarding the gifts, the Lord’s Supper, and more), “let all things be done for edification.” What is it that will best build up the church? Do that. Will a bunch of tongues all spoken at once build up the church? It will cause confusion and be reason for unbelievers who are present to accuse the church of madness (14:23). Besides, even among the Christians, no one will understand what was spoken without interpretation, so that none are edified apart from those who speak them. Thus, use the gifts and practice the things that lead to the edification of all. Will teaching the Bible build up the church? Yes, so do that. Will singing Biblical songs of praise build up the church? Yes, do that. Will teaching children on their own level build up the church? Of course, so it is good. Ushering serves the people gathered for worship, thus it edifies. Even serving coffee and donuts exercises the gift of hospitality and serves the church, so it edifies. If it builds the church, brings us closer to Jesus, is in-line with the Scripture, it is good. If not, leave it out.
    1. This one simple rule could save so many people so much trouble! It is sadly far too common to see men and women who have gathered for worship, yet no true worship is taking place. There is no focus on the glory of God; it is all about the personal glories experienced by individual men and women. The corporate church is not built or edified; the focus is all on “what I can get.” Remember a simple rule: It’s not about you! It’s not about me! It is about God and His glory – it is about what He desires to do with His church. So the things we do as a local church need to be for the edification / the building up of the church. If we miss this, we won’t get anything else.

27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

  1. Throughout this whole section of Scripture, Paul has been absolutely clear. Here, there ought to be no room for misunderstanding, as Paul could not have been more precise with the details. How is it that tongues are to be used in a church setting? Break it down:
  2. First, tongues are not required to be practiced. Notice how Paul begins with an “if.” “If anyone speaks in a tongue.” Just because born-again Christians have gathered together in a local assembly to worship God does not guarantee that a tongue will be spoken…not even in ancient Corinth. Remember that not all born-again Christians have the gift of tongues, nor should it even be a regular expectation of those filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts individually as He wills (12:11). For those who believe that the church hasn’t really worshipped until a tongue has been spoken, that is imposing a law where the Scripture does not. The “if” is a big “if.” We cannot force these things, nor should we attempt to do so.
  3. Second, tongues are to be limited and allowed only with interpretation. This is in direct contrast with the common practice seen in many church congregations where dozens of people supposedly speak in tongues all at the same time, without even an attempt at interpretation. It needs to be said (with as much love and grace as possible), such a practice is absolutely unbiblical. Even in a congregation that was blessed with as many spiritual gifts as was Corinth, Paul allowed 2-3 tongues at the most, and those not all at the same time. Moreover, an interpretation was required for each one. You could not have three people in a row speak a tongue one week and wait for an interpretation the following week. On the contrary, each tongue required its own interpretation at the time the tongue was given. And on top of that, there had to at least be the possibility for a proper interpretation if a tongue was allowed at all. If there was no opportunity to wait for an interpretation, or no one present who had ever exercised the gift of interpretation, then all tongues were disallowed.
  4. Third, in lieu of an interpreter, the tongue-speaker was to “keep silent.” That tells us something important: tongues are not forced by the Holy Spirit upon an individual. The person who speaks in a tongue is not somehow possessed, losing all capacity to control him/herself. The speaker can choose to be silent. (This fact alone might be one method by which a true tongue can be judged. If a person appears to lose self-control, that is not a sign of Holy Spirit empowerment.)
    1. Instead of sharing the tongue, what is the person to do? “Let him speak to himself and to God.” The person doesn’t have to shout it loud; it can be spoken under his/her breath. After all, it is spoken to God. This gives us one more reminder that tongues are praises and prayers to God; not proclamations to the church.

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.

  1. Notice the parallel: Like tongues, prophecy is also limited. Even in a service dedicated to the expression of spiritual gifts, Paul does not allow a parade of prophecy. There is no doubt that prophecy is the better of the two gifts, as prophecy edifies the whole assembled congregation. Even so, it is possible to have too many prophets at one time for one service.
  2. How so? That leads to the other parallel: just like tongues require interpretation, prophecy requires evaluation. Prophecy is to be judged. Just because someone claims to have spoken a word from the Lord does not mean that it is from the Lord. People can say all kinds of things; it does not make them true. This is likely the reason for the limited number of prophets. It takes time to evaluate prophecy. Should the proper evaluation be given, it necessarily limits the number of prophets that can speak.
  3. Of course, that begs the questions: (1) How might prophecy be judged? (2) Who is to judge?
    1. On the first, the answer is simple: the Scripture. Anyone purporting to speak a word from God needs to have their prophecy judged by the word of God. God will never contradict Himself. The written Scripture is always our final and highest authority. No words ever spoken by men or women will counteract what is written in the Bible. Thus, any claim to prophecy must be tested by the Scripture. 
    2. On the second, the answer is a bit more debated. For some, the “others” refers to other known prophets in the church. For others, the “others” refers to other believers in the church, i.e., the rest of the congregation as represented by the elders. This seems to be the more likely explanation. After all, there might only be one person present who had been known to have the gift of prophecy in the past. If no one else in the church had experienced the gift, how would the prophecy be judged at all? Yet all born-again Christians who know the Bible can evaluate things by the Bible. Thus, prophecy is accountable to the entire church.

30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

  1. First, prophecy is to be orderly. At first glance, the instruction in verse 30 might seem to be backwards or even rude. Why should someone who interrupts a prophecy be given priority in speaking? Because if it is truly God-given prophecy, then the person interrupting is likely correcting the person who was interrupted. Just because a Christian is exercising the gift of prophecy does not mean that he/she is infallible. Quite the contrary! People trip over themselves all the time. Someone might initially be speaking a word from God and get caught up in his ego. That would be a perfect time for a bit of holy interruption. Whatever the reason, the overarching principle is orderliness. The first person isn’t to get upset and start speaking louder; he is to “keep silent.” If the church is truly trying to glorify God, then we shouldn’t get our feelings hurt if we don’t get to say what we want. After all, it isn’t about us; it is about the Lord.
  2. Second, prophecy is to be corporate. Notice how the prophecy takes place: “one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” Again, it is interesting to notice how different Paul’s instruction is from the way prophecy is often practiced in churches today. Sometimes people walk to the front of the sanctuary where men are prophesying over individuals. As much as we might understand the heart behind it, it simply does not fit the Biblical instruction. When prophecy is given in a worship service, it is given for the whole congregation. It is to happen singly (and only three at the max), it is to be judged in the presence of all, and it is given for all the gathered assembly. It is not a word for the ears of a single individual; it is given “that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
    1. On a personal note: I am under no illusion that this might offend some of us. Some of us have been in worship services where we believed many people spoke in tongues and many prophecies were given to all kinds of people. And we felt good about it, as if God the Spirit did something special that night. And without question, there are times that God works in spite of the people present. There have been men and women saved at signs and wonders events where the speakers were outright heretics. That doesn’t commend the speaker; it just speaks of the grace of God. What is it that the word of God says about these things? That is what we ought to strive to practice as a church. Will we do it perfectly? Have we always done it perfectly? Not likely…but we ought to seek to do so. By God’s grace, let us strive to model our worship and our lives according to the word of God as it is written, rather than the traditions we might have learned through others.

32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

  1. The bottom line is that these things can be controlled. Be it the speakers of tongues who have the ability to control their own mouths and choose either silence or personal prayers to God, or the prophets who have the ability to choose if/when to open their mouths, every Spirit-filled Christian still has the freewill to control themselves. God equips us to act but He does not force us to do so. Again, He empowers us; He does not possess us. The pagan religions of Corinth had people who allowed themselves to undergo demonic possession and oppression, where they lost control of themselves as they spoke in ecstatic gibberish or spoke supposed prophecies from their oracles. That isn’t Christianity. Biblical Christianity is far different, as it is given by the God of order and peace; not confusion.
  2. The word Paul uses for “confusion” is interesting in that it is the negated form (the opposite) of a word that means to “set down, put in place.” Paul’s use of the word refers to upsetting the order. That isn’t what God does – that isn’t God’s nature. God establishes order – God brings order out of chaos. Just look at what God did in creation: when the earth was without form and void with darkness on the face of the deep, God spoke forth light and firmament and organization. Where there was disorder and nothing, God brought order and life. Over the course of six days, God brought forth everything in its turn. There was nothing confusing about it. Additionally, God does not stir up trouble; He is a God “of peace.” That isn’t to say that God does not reserve wrath for the wicked (He does, from which anyone can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ!); rather, His goodness always leads to perfect peace. When we (as saved, born-again believers) stand in the presence of God in eternal heaven, we will not be in the presence of turmoil or strife or unsettled confusion; we will experience true wholeness, peace, shalom for all time.
  3. What does this tell us? Confusion is anti-Christian. If a practice in a church leads to confusion, it is not done rightly even if practiced with good intents. If something is truly given by God the Holy Spirit, then it builds up the church; it doesn’t confuse the church. If it’s confusing, cast it out. Don’t do it again until you can do it Biblically. This ought to inform everything all Christians do. This isn’t just a chastisement for the local congregation in ancient Corinth; this is a guiding principle for “all the churches of the saints.” It applies to us, too.

Are gifts to be used in corporate worship? Yes! In the right setting and in the right way, yes. But the right setting is never confusion. God gives good things and confusion isn’t good. Seek what is good and what builds up the church, according to God’s word. If we do that, God will guide us into the rest.

  • Avoiding interruption: women in the church (34-35).

34 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.

  1. There is no question this verse might stand out as blatantly offensive. It might lead to all kinds of assumptions and potential disturbing questions. For instance: Are all females supposed to be forever silent the moment they step foot inside a church building? If someone has two X chromosomes, are they forbidden from making any sound in the assembled congregation? We need to be careful not to put words in Paul’s mouth that he did not say, nor take his words out of context. Let us keep a few things in mind…
    1. First, it seems likely that Paul refers to wives, rather than all Christian women. The word used by Paul could be translated either as woman, wife, or bride, depending on the context. Considering that verse 35 is clear that these women had husbands, the immediate context is undoubtedly that of wives. Likewise, the section of Scripture this teaching concludes goes back to Chapter 11 where the context also speaks of wives and the symbol of authority on their heads. Additionally, the Old Testament Scripture used in support (which we’ll see in a moment) refers to the first marriage in history, i.e., Adam and Eve. Thus, this command has a specific context and application based on the specific address to wives.
    2. Second, there is a clear history of women who were used within the early church whose speech was used by God. Philip the evangelist (and one of the original deacons) had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). Aquila’s wife Priscilla was a valuable asset to Paul in the Roman church (Rom 16:3) and was used by the Lord to help disciple the initially uninformed Apollos (Acts 18:26). The apostle John seems to indicate that one of the churches he oversaw met that the home of a particular elect lady (2 Jn 1), and Paul’s ministry in Philippi was helped along by the service of Lydia (Acts 16:14). And that does not even begin to describe the importance of the women who ministered to Jesus’ body after His crucifixion and who were the first witnesses to His resurrection. God used all these women (along with many more who are unnamed) in wonderful ways within the church.
    3. Third, we know that there are some things that women are to do with their voices in church, just like everyone is to do in church. How can someone sing out in praise without using his/her voice? Psalm 150 exhorts everything that has breath to praise the Lord. That is not limited by sex. How can someone join in corporate prayer or say “amen” without a voice? Similarly, the church does not disappear simply because a worship service has ended. A women’s gathering is still among the church. A Sunday school class is still among the church. A home fellowship is still among the church. Paul’s context obviously references none of those scenarios. He has a very specific silence in mind for a very specific circumstance.
    4. Fourth (and finally), within the context of this very letter, Paul has written of something that wives/women are supposed to do with their voices: pray and prophesy (11:5). Granted, the immediate context and application is that this is something that wives are not supposed to do without a symbol of authority/covering over them, but Paul does not outright forbid the prayer or prophecy itself. He forbids only the improper expression of it. 
    5. Put all of this together and we cannot avoid the conclusion that the command for silence is qualified. It is not a command that we can rip from its context and use as a tool of oppression. Rather, it is something (like all Scripture) that only has its correct application when it comes after thorough observation and correct interpretation.
  2. With all that in mind, what is Paul saying? The context is that of corporate worship with wives in godly submission to their own husbands (per verse 35). Notice that there are two imperatives: (1) to keep silent, and (2) to be submissive. Question: Are these two imperatives applicable only to wives? No. Again, look at the broader context for the passage as a whole. Those who speak in tongues are to remain silent when there is no interpreter (14:28). Those who give prophecies are limited to only two or three prophets with anyone whose prophecy is superseded by another to remain silent (14:30). In other words, there were many men in the church congregation who were also to remain silent, being in submission to the word of God and the Spirit of God. In fact, anyone who did not have something to offer by way of edification was to remain silent and people were not supposed to interrupt others in general. When the Spirit of God used the spiritual gifts to edify the congregation, all were to remain silent and to receive. The principle is not different today, as we recognize that there is a time and place to be silent as well as a time to speak. When the word of God is being rightly proclaimed, the Spirit of God is not going to interrupt Himself. This is why the congregation remains generally quiet during the sermon (apart from a few amens!). That is the time for assembled congregation to listen and receive God’s edification through the teaching of Scripture. – What Paul says to the wives is simply for them to remain silent, right along with others who remain silent at the appropriate times.
    1. In all of this, don’t miss something wonderful. There is something implied by Paul’s directive that might be overlooked when we concentrate only on the negative commands. Where were the wives to remain silent? “In the churches.” Where were the wives supposed to be? In the churches! The wives were not commanded to remain home and forbidden to join the assembled gathering for worship. On the contrary, wives (and all Christian women) were invited and welcome, being valuable members of the body of Christ. Should the women remain home, the congregation would be missing people who were needed, unnecessarily handicapping itself. Paul’s command does not shove women to the back. Far from it! Women are brought right into the middle of the congregation, serving God in the roles He has given to each one.
  3. As for the specific commands of silence and submission, Paul writes that this is based on the “law,” referring to the Old Testament Scripture. Which law did Paul have in mind? Although he does not provide a direct quote, it seems likely to refer back to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3. Specifically, it might refer to one of the consequences of the fall. Genesis 3:16, “To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”” Remember what happened: the devil disguised as the serpent had encountered Eve in the garden and lied to her about the consequences of sin. He tempted her to eat of the specific tree God had forbidden, promising her that she would not die and that she would be like God (Gen 3:4-5). Eve believed the deception (no one had ever lied to her before!) and Adam failed to intervene and protect her. Both of them ate of the fruit and their eyes were opened to their sin. When God confronted them, He cursed each of them in punishment. The serpent would go in disgrace, awaiting the day that he would be crushed by the Seed of the woman (the future Messiah, Jesus Christ). The man would work the cursed ground, laboring over it to produce food and would face the inevitability of his own death. In between the two, God punished the woman with painful childbirth and a “desire/appetite” for her husband’s rule. Although Adam had headship and responsibility for Eve from the moment she was brought forth to him as his bride, now Eve longed for that place of authority for herself. Now she would long for something she was not given, being sorrowful. – What does that have to do with Paul and the Corinthians? Look at the commands: wives in the congregation were to remain silent and submissive…specifically in the context of prophecy. When the congregation was assembled and prophecies were heard, it was not the place of a Christian wife to judge the veracity of a prophecy over that of her husband. Even from a more general perspective in a congregational worship service, women are not to be in position of teaching authority over men (1 Tim 2:11-12). To judge prophecies inherently exercises authority, and there is a specific order for authority within the church that gives glory to God.
    1. That said, it needs to be emphasized that authority does not equal value. Just because God has an order of authority does not mean that anyone in that hierarchy has any more or less value than the other. Chapter 11 has already shown how “the head of Christ is God,” (11:3) with Jesus being fully submitted to His Father. Is God the Son somehow less valuable than God the Father? Certainly not! Jesus has a different role from the Father, but They are equal in worth. So too, with men and women / husbands and wives within the church congregation. We have different roles in the church and at home, but equal value in the eyes of the Lord. Men and women alike were bought with the same blood of Jesus, and we are sealed and empowered with the same Holy Spirit.

35 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.

  1. This gets back to the overall issue of orderly worship. Should a wife have a question regarding a prophecy or some other word, what is the right setting for that question to be asked? Should she interrupt the worship service and ask it right then and there? Of course not, no more than anyone else should interrupt a worship service for his/her own question. Better to ask that question at home than in the middle of service. Imagine someone today interrupting the sermon to ask a question…it would be a massive distraction to everyone else. There are times and places for questions. At home, after the service is completed, in small group Bible studies, classroom settings, etc. – these are all appropriate locations. The immediate context for Paul was a culture where the men had received far more Biblical education than most of the women, which made certain theological questions natural and common. Paul’s point was that instead of stopping the sermon or other worship service every few minutes for questions, to leave it till later. The husband, who (especially in a Jewish household) would have had far more Biblical experience could answer all the questions later to his wife’s content. And if he didn’t have all the answers, then they could both seek counsel and instruction from others in the church at a later time. 

Overall, the point was to avoid distraction. The worship service was to be dedicated to worship. Any undue focus on any particular individual (be it a wife or anyone else) was to be avoided.

Question: Why would the Corinthian church abide by any of this? To this point, Paul has laid down many commands regarding their unbiblical use of the gifts. God had gifted this church abundantly, and they likely considered themselves blessed. Why change now? Answer: Because although God gifted them, they were not treating God as sovereign over those gifts. God had given His command regarding those things, and His command is to be obeyed…

  • Avoiding anarchy: the word in the church (36-40). 

36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 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. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

  1. What was the problem? The Corinthians might have been tempted to write off Paul as being too restrictive. They might have read his words and thought, “Whatever. That’s just his opinion. We’ve had the gifts for a long time; we know what we’re doing here.” Considering Paul’s long experience with this congregation and their tendency to self-inflated so-called “wisdom,” this was more than just a potential assumption on Paul’s part. No doubt, this was exactly the tendency in Corinth, to think that they knew better. Paul understood he needed to address this head-on. There are two basic issues here:
  2. Issue #1: Spiritual gifts do not supersede Scripture. Although the local church is wonderful and ordained by God, it is possible for a local church congregation to be in error. Such was the case in Corinth. Although they were blessed by God with a wonderful abundance of spiritual gifts, they were using the gifts incorrectly. God’s word is bigger than the gifts – it is bigger than any purported fruit we might see in our lives. Sometimes we make the mistake of judging something only by its outcome. Initially, that might sound logical, but it is possible to get the right answer the wrong way. If you’ve got an infection in your big toe, you can take medicine or you can lop it off. Either way, the infection is gone. The methods used, however, (along with the pain!) is vastly different. Just because it looks like someone is speaking in a tongue or giving a prophecy does not mean that the person is actually doing it. We need to examine more than the supposed outcome; we need to look at the method used to get there. Is it according to God’s word? If not, throw it out…regardless of how “spiritual” it might appear.
  3. Issue #2: We are not the final authority; God’s word is. Not only did Corinth have the tendency to look only at the outcome, they set themselves up as the authority to judge that outcome. They made themselves the judge of God’s word, rather than submitting to authority of God’s word. Corinth was not alone in this error. This is the same sin committed by the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and any group that sets up historical and religious tradition as the lens through which to interpret Scripture, rather than Scripture as the lens to evaluate tradition. The word of God is to be supreme in our lives and in the practices of the church. If it is not, we are in sin.
  4. What does Paul say to those who refuse to submit to Scripture? “If anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.” If we choose to ignore God’s commands than the problem isn’t with the Bible; it’s with us. Moreover, those who ignore God’s word lose their standing with which to proclaim God’s word. NASB: “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” We are under no obligation to submit to anyone who does not himself submit to Scripture. It doesn’t matter what kind of reputation the person has, how much influence he wields, how much education is received, etc. If the person is not submitted and surrendered to the word of God, that person is in rebellion against God. Likewise, that person is not to be recognized by the church as one having authority.
  5. BTW: Paul recognized his letter to be Scripture. “The things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” Did Paul have this understanding every time he wrote one of the canonical epistles? We don’t know. We do know that there were certain times he understood that he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was one of those times.

39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

  1. This is about as clear as it gets. Christians are to zealously seek after the gift of prophecy, and tongues are not to be outright forbidden, as long as they are practiced Biblically. For all the error that can exist among the Charismatic wing of the church, this is a verse that speaks plainly against the error of the Cessationist wing. There is a principle in the theology of worship termed the Regulative Principle. Basically, it states that what belongs in worship that which is seen within the Scripture. (The contrast to it is called the Normative Principle, in which anything that is not forbidden in Scripture is permissible.) For example, the church is to sing because we are expressly commanded to praise God with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). How it works out within the culture of various churches and denominations vary, but overall, we should seek to abide by the Regulative Principle and do what the Scripture commands us to do.
  2. With that in mind, consider the plain teaching of verse 39. How can churches claim to follow the Regulative Principles when they categorically deny even the possibility of tongues and/or prophecy? Surely we can debate whether the true Biblical gift is often seen today, but to forbid them outright is to deny the written text of Scripture. If we are truly submitted to the authority of God’s word, we need to be submitted to it both in areas of doctrine with which we are comfortable as well as that which we’re not.

40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

  1. The conclusion of the matter: use the gifts but use them rightly. Whatever is done within a church (and particularly a corporate worship service) is to “be done decently and in order.” It might even be translated, “according to proper procedure.” The church is to use whatever God the Spirit gives us, in the right way according to God’s own purposes. Use these things reverently and in God’s ordained manner.


We need order within the church! That Paul commands order is not for him to quench the Spirit (by no means!); it us for him to teach the church how to come in line with God’s Spirit to use the gifts of God for the glory of God. The gifts are to be used; they are simply to be used rightly and orderly.

  • We are invited to use true God-given spiritual gifts in corporate worship, as long as we do not use them in a chaotic, confusing fashion.
  • Wives are invited to worship and participate in corporate worship, just as are all of God’s people, as long as they (and all of God’s people) do not cause interruption.
  • All Christians everywhere are invited to actively participate in corporate worship, as long as we do so under the authority of God’s word.

That is the ultimate issue, is it not? Are we, or are we not, submitted under the authority of God’s word? Do we believe the Scripture for what it says, and are we willing to abide by its commands? If we are, then we will experience the glorious plan of God for His church! Instead of seeking out conference after conference, experience after experience – instead of going by our feelings and the waves of our emotions – instead of being locked into our traditions – instead of all of these things, we will be the local church that God desires us to be, the church He has equipped us to be.

Where we have not surrendered to the Scripture, may God help us repent. Maybe we’ve committed error on the charismatic side – maybe on the cessationist side – maybe in our ego, where we thought we knew better. Whatever the case, may we submit ourselves anew to God and His word.

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