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When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to co-housing. Fairbanks, Alaska had a housing shortage and my parents were renting a larger sized house, so for about a year, two of their friends shared the house with them. We had seven children under one roof. The husbands were all in and out working at remote camps. Two of the women worked outside of the home and one stayed home and cooked and cleaned and child-wrangled.

Image result for image of an orderly church serviceRaising seven children can’t be an easy job. The enormity of this task was compounded by Alaska’s cold climate. She couldn’t just send us outside. So, she had to institute some rules, some of which I remember:

Don’t throw things in anger, look the parents directly in the eye when they’re speaking to you, obey when sent to do something and don’t stomp, whine or argue, use your indoor voice, don’t make disgusting or obscene noises in public (that was the boys), don’t interrupt others when they’re speaking, take your shoes off at the door, don’t touch the walls (rented house), turn off the lights if you’re the last one to leave it, don’t flip light switches on and off, on and off.

I remember those rules because the adults took them serviously and there were consequences for disobedience. The rules were there to turn chaos into order.

Paul was the spiritual parent of the Corinthian congregation and in many ways he is our spiritual parent as well. Like any good parent, Paul communicated his “house rules”. He insisted there must be order in the church. If chaos and confusion reign supreme, worship will not build up the body of Christ. While worship can be creative and free, it still needs to be orderly. In our subject passage, Paul shared two directives that will help us maintain order in the church.

Pursue order in worship

What should you do thenbrothers and sisters? When you come togethereach one has a songhas a lessonhas a revelationhas a tonguehas an interpretationLet all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. 1 Corinthians 14:26

Speaking across the centuries, Paul tells us how to have an orderly worship service. Addressing the Corinthians, he began with a general principle. The first expression in this verse, “What is the outcome then?” is one of Paul’s typical methods of summing up a discussion before moving on to the next section. Before he concluded this topic of spiritual gifts, he wanted to give a general perspective on their use in the worship setting. His counsel was for all of God’s people to come prepared to participate. When the house churches in Corinth met for worship, it was normal for everyone to come ready to contribute. Some would bring a song they had written, some a teaching, some a revelation and some a tongue or an interpretation. These five gifts are not exhaustive list of all spiritual gifts. Paul was merely saying that he longed for God’s people to come to church ready to build up the body.

Paul concluded with a command: “Let all things be done for edification.” The gifts that manifest themselves during worship must be done for the strengthening of the church. The corporate worship service is not a time for self-edification, showing off, or entertainment. It is a time for edification or strengthening of the body. Congregational worship is not about the individual, it is about the body.

Individual Christian must come to receive and to give. There can be no passive listeners. Is that your mentality when you come to church? Do you come to participate or to spectate? Historically, the church has usually grown the fastest in small, informal fellowships. These may be fledgling “church plants” or small groups within larger more established congregations. The church grows in health and size when people recognize their spiritual gifts and get involved. Do you know your gift? How are you presently using your gift in the body?

If someone speaks in a tongueit should be twoor at the most threeone after the otherand someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreterhe should be silent in the churchLet him speak to himself and to God. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28

Having recognized that the Corinthian church members were particularly dense to God’s guidance, Paul provided regulations on how tongues should manifest themselves in the corporate worship service, and those regulations have come down to us. Paul had rules for speaking in tongues in the congregation:

  • No more than two or three should speak in tongues in a given service
  • Only one person should speak in tongues at a time
  • No one should speak unless an interpreter is present and identified. A tongue speaker can control his gift. The interpreter can be the tongue speaker, but the interpreter must be identified before one speaks in a tongue or the speaker should hold silence, not just hope there is one. Of course, if there is no interpreter present, the tongues speaker doesn’t have to stifle his or her gift, he or she simply must use it silently.
  • There will be no audible tongues in public church meetings. This goes back to the problem of uninterpreted tongues and their ability to build up worship.
  • In small groups or adult fellowships, ask permission and consider who is present. If there is no interpretation, then there is no legitimate word from the Lord by tongues at that moment. This is not meant to stifle the use of gifts, but to instill order within corporate worship.

Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. And if someone sitting down receives a revelationthe person who is speaking should conclude. For you can all prophesy one after anotherso all can learn and be encouraged. Indeedthe spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace. 1 Corinthians 14:29-33

After providing regulations on tongues, Paul offered some restrictions on prophecy:

  • Limit prophesying to two or three speakers. The mind can only absorb so much at any given time.
  • The church is to weigh carefully what is said. Certainly, when prophecy is taken to include Spirit-filled preaching, it seems clear that the ordinary “layperson” is often in a better position to determine how well or accurately the preacher has communicated than are fellow-preachers, who are absorbed in the fine points of the theology or technique of the message. The word used here is diakrino, meaning “to evaluate carefully.” Sometimes this could take days. A prophecy might be controversial, and the elders may need some time of prayer to determine its validity. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:211 John 4:1).
  • One prophecy at a time. Prophesying is to be done in turn. If one person desires to speak, he or she should be given the floor. Paul made clear that there was to be no speaking over another person’s words. If this control is lost, a prophecy is not of God. I suspect Corinth had a problem with certain people monopolizing “prophecy time.” Paul insisted all may prophesy one by one (not in the same worship service, of course), it is only fair that everyone who has this gift should receive the opportunity to exercise it at one time or another. Paul declared that people can control themselves. A sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence is order and courtesy. The entire purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the entire congregation.

Paul concluded by sharing a crucial principle worth bearing in mind: “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” The procedures in the worship service shouldn’t be disruptive but orderly. Paul had already stated one reason for this principle — unbelievers will be turned off to the church if there is pandemonium through a free-for-all exercise of tongues. More importantly, orderly worship reflects the character of God.

Respect God-ordained authority

As in all the churches of the saints, the women 13  should be silent in the churchesfor they are not permitted to speak. 14  Ratherlet them be in submissionas in fact the law says. 14:35 If they want to find out about somethingthey should ask their husbands at homebecause it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

Paul provided a number of thoughts on how we can respect the authority that God has put in place.

What is the role of women in ministry? I wrote a study on that a while ago, so I’m not going to address it in detail here. I don’t think 14:34-35 is a blanket denial to women of a public ministry in the church. I go to a church where the music leader is a woman. I can read in Acts where women were deacons. In chapter 11, Paul clearly acknowledged that under certain situations a woman may pray or prophesy in public. So, what’s up with him writing that women are to keep silent in the churches — that they aren’t permitted to speak, but must subject themselves to the rules of men? He said if women desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home for it’s improper for a woman to speak in church. Paul indicated that this was common practice in the churches of the 1st century.

So, what’s up with him writing that women are to keep silent in the churches — that they aren’t permitted to speak, but must subject themselves to the rules of men? He said if women desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home for it’s improper for a woman to speak in church. Paul indicated that this was common practice in the churches of the 1st century.

So which is true – women can be deacons and leaders as seen in Acts, but they are to be silent and only ask questions at home?

Sometimes you have to get deep in the details. The Greek verb translated “to be silent” (sigao) doesn’t mean they can’t speak at all in the local church. The word has contextual limits. The restriction may be temporal or topical. In the former, someone is to be silent while someone else is speaking. In the latter, the one who is silent doesn’t speak in a certain manner or on a certain topic, but he or she can speak in other ways and on other issues. Thus, Paul was restricting speech designed to critique prophetic utterances, but that didn’t other forms of verbal participation. Paul forbid women to speak in church only in regard to the judgment or evaluation of prophetic utterances. Evidently, he believed that this entailed an exercise of authority restricted to men only.

Why? Again, you have to look at the Greek. I am not a Greek scholar, but I own a bunch of books written by Greek scholars.

The word “subject” was a military term describing the chain of command. Scripture uses it in reference to Jesus and is a universal truth for the church. All of God’s people are to practice Biblical submission. That’s not just women, that’s men, children, elders, pastors. It applies to all Christians.

In that context, Paul commanded women to respect the God-ordained authority of their husbands. What sort of situation might produce a challenge between the views of husbands and wives? Since both men and women could prophesy (see 11:4-5), it is entirely possible that a husband and wife might say different or even contradictory things, and this could lead to an argument in front of the rest of the church body. Or if when one prophet spoke and the church evaluated what was said (14: 29), once again a husband and wife could end up in an open, public disagreement as to the content of that prophecy. Paul considered it disgraceful to damage the witness of the church in the eyes of the culture around them.

14:36 Did the word of God begin with you, 16  or did it come to you alone?

If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual personhe should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 1 Corinthians 14:37-38

The Old Testament does not teach that women are to remain silent at all times in worship, but it does endorse male headship in the home and in worship, consistent with Paul’s teaching here and elsewhere. Man was created first, then the woman was created to be a helpmate for him. It was in that order, not the other way around. In a matter of authority, the woman’s authority over creation involves her own voluntary submission under the authority of male leadership.

Paul sought to humble the arrogant Corinthians with a short and not entirely sweet point. An imperative appears in each verse. Paul gave a stern warning: anyone who ignores the advice/command he had just given will not be recognized as a leader, not by the congregation, but by God, Who will ignore these individuals and accomplish His work without them.

Paul turned to his summation for this section. Again, we should desire prophecy and refuse to forbid tongues. However, tongues operate best in a small group context where believers know one another. Ideally, each member of the group knows the other members’ spiritual gifts. Hence, if you know someone has the gift of interpretation, there is freedom for you to speak in tongues. We need balance on this matter of speaking in tongues. Many Christians error in extremes: everyone speaks in tongues or no one speaks in tongues. The whole focus of this chapter, I believe, was to discourage the public use of tongues, but for a higher reason than just to control people.

So thenbrothers and sisters, be eager to prophesyand do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues. And do everything in a decent and orderly manner.

1 Corinthians 14:39-40

Paul’s final words in this section sum up the overarching concern for congregational worship. The word translated “order” is a military term for falling in rank. Paul only used this word in one other context and it is translated “stability or firmness.” When the body of Christ functions the way it should, there will be a sense of stability that will encourage people to come back or more. We should strive for order within the churches, seeking to edify the whole congregation while not sliding into the “frozen chosen” stance where we seem not to allow God to work at all.

If people experience God’s presence in worship, they will come back, they will tell their friends, they will long for it. It’s all here—conviction of sin, a dissection of the heart, and awareness of God’s presence. God wants His church to come together and experience all that He has for her. Will you be a part of all that God wants to do?


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