1 - 6 That the Church May Receive Edification
1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual [gifts], but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in [his] spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. 4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but [even] more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. 6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?
In the chapter you start with now, a comparison is made between two gifts: prophesying and speaking in tongues or languages. You may have heard about speaking in tongues (which is the same as speaking in languages). The way people talk about it may confuse you. It is often spoken about as a ‘second blessing’. People mean by that, that you are indeed converted and you have also received the Holy Spirit, though you ought to, in order to be a fully-fledged Christian, actually be able to speak in tongues. That is really not true at all.
Speaking in tongues is explained clearly in the Bible, as you will see in this chapter. In this chapter it is about the comparison between prophesying and speaking in tongues. You will see that the scales will obviously be tipped to the side of prophesying. That is because prophesying is for the edification of the church. Therefore the Corinthians, and you too, are called to strive most for this gift.
V1. You have seen in chapter 13 that love should be the motive to practice a gift, whatever gift that may be. However, if you want to be guided by love – and it is even said here that you should pursue it, you ought to make a determined effort to achieve this – then you will be willing to serve the church with your gift sincerely. Love is to serve others and not yourself.
Service to the church will be manifested best with prophesying and you can pursue that, but you should know what prophesying is. In 1 Peter 4 you find a fine definition of it. It says: “Whoever speaks, [is to do so] as one who is speaking the utterances of God” (1Pet 4:11). That means that when somebody passes on something, it should be something that comes directly from the mouth of God.
In order to be able to pass on the oracles of God, a person should be living closely to God in his daily life. That is not a privilege of just a single person, but that should be the desire of each child of God. Actually, it should go without saying that each believer has that desire. However, there are many things that can hinder you to live closely to God. Therefore it says that you should pursue it.
V2. Speaking in tongues is totally different than prophesying. This gift does not address people, but God. That seems much higher, and that’s what the Corinthians thought too and that’s also what many Christians are still thinking, but that is not true. At least, that appears to me to be the honest result of the detailed comparison that Paul makes in this chapter between these two gifts.
V3. A widely spread misconception, is that prophesying in the church as it is spoken of here, is in connection with predicting the future. You hear regularly about people who present themselves as prophets. In several denominations of Christianity they stand up to say things that will happen to others in the future. Sometimes these things come true. This is in contrast to God’s Word. Only God knows how your life will develop further and He will show you personally everything you should know step by step if you live with Him.
It is another thing when you are on the wrong track and somebody warns you that you will end up badly if you go on like that. But that is nothing new, for that is written in God’s Word. The brother or sister who is warning you, actually is prophesying, but in an exhorting sense.
According to verse 3 “exhortation” is a part of prophesying. He who deals with his or her fellow-believers like that, is concerned to serve the other person. Exhortation is therefore one way to manifest prophesying. But there are still two more elements mentioned, namely speaking for edification and comfort to men.
“Edification” is about giving firmness to the faith life of church members. By showing the believers, based on the Bible, which place they have received before God and in the world through the work of the Lord Jesus, they will be more capable to live in the way it pleases God.
“Consolation” is also a crucial element of prophesying. As long as the believers live on earth, they have to deal with sad things. God and the Lord Jesus know that and give comfort where it is needed.
Do you see that it is necessary to live closely to God, in order to be capable of prophesying? Only He knows what the hearts of His own need. Therefore the excellent thing in a meeting where “two or three prophets speak” (verse 29) is that each person present hears something he needs, though the speaker doesn’t know what each person is occupied with. Has it ever happened to you that something has been said in a meeting which seemed as if it was meant only for you? You might have been worrying about something and suddenly the word that was spoken seemed to be exactly the answer to your problem. That is what prophesying is like. You experience to be in the direct presence of God.
That’s what happened to the Samaritan woman, when the Lord Jesus was talking to her in John 4. She was a woman of loose morals. The Lord says to her that she has had five husbands and that the man whom she now has, is not her husband, but she is living together with him. The woman then says: “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet” (Jn 4:19). She sensed that she was standing in God’s light where you cannot hide anything. Many people have experienced such an awareness when they heard somebody preaching the gospel about the depravation of man. Many have said of the one who preached the Word: ‘It seems like that man knows my life.’ To many it has become a blessing, as to the Samaritan woman, when they acknowledged that it was God’s voice they heard.
That is still the aim of God with prophesying. He wants to speak to the hearts and consciences of both believers and unbelievers, in order to bless them at last. He mainly wants to use the meetings of the church for that purpose, for that is the issue of this chapter.
V4. The point is, that a gift is meant to edify others. What happens when somebody speaks in tongues? He edifies himself alone. It is of no use to others, for nobody understands him. Therefore Paul prefers prophesying far above speaking in tongues.
V5. He even says that he who prophesies is more than he who speaks in tongues. That was quite a sharp lesson for the Corinthians. They were really fond of speaking in tongues. There is only one circumstance to profit the church through speaking in tongues and that is when what is spoken is interpreted into the local language.
V6. In any case, Paul wanted to profit the believers at Corinth (and at all places in the world). That would not be the case if he came there and spoke “in tongues”. In fact, that would have made him very admired. Those people would have said: ‘Boy, that man is good.’ But the church would not have been edified by that.
No, when he visited the believers, he loved to do that with a “revelation”. He wanted to tell them something about God and the Lord Jesus, what they did not know yet. The Word of God was not complete at that time and that is why God still gave revelations. We now have the complete Word of God. Therefore we do not need new revelations anymore (Col 1:25).
He also wanted to come to them with “knowledge”. He had great knowledge of the Old Testament. In chapter 10 he demonstrated what value this knowledge has for the believers and he still could have added a lot more (1Cor 10:1-13).
Or he wanted to serve them by “prophesy”. What an edification, exhortation and comfort he could have given to them!
The “teaching” is also very important; the whole letter to the Romans is a proof of that.
Those are things that are of real profit to believers, which they can absorb with their hearts. That is something they can get down to work with.
Now read 1 Corinthians 14:1-6 again.
Reflection: What is (are) the condition(s) to be able to prophesy?
7 - 19 To Pray and Sing With Understanding
7 Yet [even] lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no [kind] is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual [gifts], seek to abound for the edification of the church. 13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What is [the outcome] then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. 16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit [only], how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. 18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
V7. Now Paul will demonstrate by means of some examples what happens when speaking in tongues is not being interpreted. He uses a flute, a harp and a bugle as references to make a comparison. First the flute and the harp. Only by the sound can you distinguish which song is being piped. When children get hold of a flute, they can blow the same sound/tone for a long time. To their imagination they pipe a song, but they still have to explain to me which song, as I can’t recognize the melody, because there was no melody. When they get hold of a guitar they do the same: they just hammer on the strings back and forth, and again I need to ask them what song they were playing if I want to know what they have played.
V8. The second example has to do with war. In order to be ready to fight in the war, the soldier has to be alert to the sound of the bugle. In former days, when there were no sound amplifiers, broadcasting equipment or the internet, the bugle was used to pass on messages. Each signal that was transmitted through the bugle had a distinctive meaning. In that way there was also a signal for the warriors to prepare themselves for the war. Therefore the man with the bugle had a very great responsibility. In the case of war he could not risk blowing just a sigh, or into the air, for that could only result in frowning eyebrows, confusion and irritation, while nobody would prepare himself for the war.
V9. This is what happens when somebody speaks in tongues. Because nobody understands him, neither will anybody respond. It is just some words, spoken into the air, and it doesn’t profit anybody.
V10. Try to listen carefully to the sounds in the world around you. In nature each animal has its characteristic sound. We teach children at an early stage: ‘What does a dog say?’ ‘What does a cat say?’ Also the different birds you can distinguish from the way they hum or sing (or whatever they do). If you work in a factory or a working place, you hear other sounds there. Every sound has its own tone. To recognize a sound, you should be accustomed to it.
V11-12. Paul applies this also to speaking in tongues. You should know the foreign language that is spoken, in order to understand what is being said, otherwise you are excluded. You have no part in it, for you are skipped: then you are strangers to each other.
I once was on a Russian ship with some other people to proclaim the gospel. The captain of the ship translated what we had sung and said, otherwise it was no use for anyone, of course. I do not speak a word of Russian; neither do I understand anything of it. You feel totally incapable to tell those people something and to make anything clear to them. There it was about proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. In the church it is about believers and what matters to them: that they receive edification.
Paul doesn’t get tired to repeat again and again what the standard of practicing the gifts is: the edification of the church. Edifying the church is something that happens consciously, with understanding. A person who edifies the church knows what he is doing and can be questioned on that. Other people can judge that (verse 29).
V13. In pursuing to practice their gift the Corinthians had to remember this well. If somebody still necessarily wanted to speak in tongues, he ought to have a prayer in his heart at the same time to be able to interpret what he had said, for only then it profits the church.
V14. Praying in tongues is without understanding. It happens with the spirit, not with the understanding. He who speaks in tongues doesn’t even know for himself what he is saying. It happens without his understanding. In verse 3 you read that he who speaks in tongues, speaks in mysteries in the spirit. What he is saying is not verifiable by others.
V15-16. How to deal with it? Praying and singing happen with the spirit. It is a spiritual occasion wherein you address God. It is not something wherein your understanding doesn’t partake. When you speak out in a prayer or when you sing a song, you also do that with your full understanding. You know what you are saying and you know what you are singing. You are not put at the mercy of a whim or some feeling that suddenly arises. A Christian is somebody who acts with his full understanding and with insight.
It is actually a renewed understanding. Formerly your understanding was darkened (Eph 4:18). You might have been thinking that you understood a lot of things, but you were missing the right conception of things, and you were not able to understand the meaning and purpose of your life and of the things of God and the church. Only after you received the Lord Jesus you could use your understanding rightly (Mk 5:15; Lk 24:45; 1Jn 5:20).
By your understanding is not meant the measure of your intelligence. It is your spiritual ability for judgment. Even if you have not been highly educated after the worldly measures, you still have the ability to judge everything through the new life and the Holy Spirit Who dwells in you now. In order to be fully aware of that you ought to have the right mind, which means that your goal is the honor of the Lord Jesus in all things. He who doesn’t use his understanding in what he is saying or doing at the meeting, cannot expect the consent, the ‘amen’, of the others. After all, they do not know what has been said, do they?
V17. This is the case of speaking in tongues whereby the understanding remains unfruitful, thus out of order. It may be quite a good giving of thanks, but nobody can understand it and therefore nobody can say ‘amen’. A giving of thanks should also be for edification. That doesn’t mean that in a giving of thanks all truths of faith are to be presented to God that others will notice how much a person knows of the Bible. That also will be a performance, a presenting of oneself. We do not have to tell God how much we know of the Bible. He knows that better than we do. After all He ‘has written’ the Bible.
A good giving of thanks will surely be in accordance with the Bible, but will mainly be a sincere expression of gratitude towards God and the Lord Jesus. Haven’t you ever had such an experience that you really got carried away through a giving of thanks from a brother which caused God and the Lord Jesus grow in your heart? In your heart also the feelings of gratitude arose and you could say heartily ‘amen’. (Just a note in passing: it is a good thing giving thanks loudly and clearly and not too softly. When this giving of thanks is spoken too softly, the other believers might not hear it and neither do they know what has been prayed and they cannot possibly say ‘amen’.)
V18-19. Paul was grateful to God that he spoke in tongues more than all of them. God gave him this gift by considerations of his ministry, in order to spread the good news in many countries. However, when it is about his ministry in the church, he had only one desire, and that was to teach others.
Just pay attention to how strongly he expresses himself here: rather five words with his understanding than ten thousand words in a tongue. Of course that is by way of comparison. Nevertheless, as you notice here, having a ministry in the church has nothing to do with the length of giving thanks or of a sermon. Do not think that you have first got to know a lot of the Bible and to have developed a large vocabulary before you can express yourself at the meeting. A giving of thanks in just a few phrases from a newly converted person has often been a large contribution to the spiritual growth of a local church. And that is what still matters: the edification of the church.
Now read 1 Corinthians 14:7-19 again.
Reflection: Why is edification of the church so important?
20 - 25 Tongues Are For a Sign To Unbelievers
20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy [is for a sign], not to unbelievers but to those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
The gift of speaking in tongues is about two issues:
1. The language spoken is a language in existence.
2. The person who speaks the language, has not learned this language.
That speaking in tongues is about existing languages, appears from Acts 2. There speaking in tongues happens for the first time in the New Testament. There you read that there were Jews who dwelled in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven” and that everyone heard the apostles speak “in his own language” (Acts 2:5-12). The apostles had not learned these languages. That can be derived from the fact that most of the apostles were “uneducated and untrained men” (Acts 4:13). Mention is also made of the ‘gift’ of speaking in tongues (1Cor 12:10,28). If you have learned a language it is rather strange to speak about a gift.
V20. The big question that then comes up for discussion is this: When should this gift be practiced? You may also pose the question differently and ask yourself why God has actually given this gift. Paul does not give a pat answer to this question. That would be too easy. He made the Corinthians meditate on this first. By meditating on something you are able to make a certain decision consciously.
To meditate or to ‘understand’, as it is said in verse 20, must not happen in the way children do. Children hardly think, they do not meditate, but they immediately make conclusions without having any knowledge of the matter itself. When they see something they like or when they enjoy doing something, they do not think further about the meaning or profit of it. The only thing they think of is the fun that goes with it.
It is important to understand why you do or do not do something. I already said before: A Christian is somebody who does things consciously. He does things deliberately. You don’t need to think about bad and sinful things. It is even forbidden to think about that consciously. Regarding that, you should be as a child. The evil and bad things you should reject directly, without any consideration.
With the things that come from God, you should deal differently. You ought to meditate on them. You need to become aware of what God wants in every particular case. This is the way you should respond when you encounter a case of speaking in tongues. You prove to have spiritual maturity if you meditate on what Paul is presenting here and if you try to understand what he means.
V21. ‘Look what is written in the Law’, Paul says. (By ‘the Law’ he means the entire Old Testament.) As an introductory phrase for his argumentation, he quotes Isaiah 28 (Isa 28:11-12). A verse that is similar to that verse you find in Deuteronomy 28 (Deu 28:49). What is the issue in these two sections? Now an appeal is made to your ability to understand, that is your spiritual ability for judgment. You should really read these verses and also read the verses that precede and follow them. Then you will understand the context of these verses. You see in both sections that the Lord announces judgment over His people Israel because of their unfaithfulness and unbelief. He indeed achieved that judgment. To make that happen he used the people of Chaldea (the Babylonians) directed by Nebuchadnezzar.
Of course these people spoke another language. When they invaded Jerusalem the Jews had to realize that it was a punishment from God because of their unbelief. In that way God abandoned the connection with His people and delivered them to a strange ruler. He did that because they first abandoned Him. The fact that they were addressed in a strange, incomprehensive language, should have stimulated them to be put in a thoughtful frame of mind. They should have asked themselves why God had allowed it that strange people invaded His land and was ruling it. When you see these verses from Isaiah 28 and Deuteronomy 28 in this context, it becomes clear that the languages, first of all, were given for a sign to the unbelieving Jews.
That also appears from what I quoted from Acts 2. It became clear that through all the different languages that were spoken on the day of Pentecost, the people of Israel were not the only ones with whom God was connected. They lost that right because they rejected their Messiah, the Lord Jesus. From then, the salvation of God was announced to all nations. In order to be able to reach all these nations, God gave the disciples the ability to speak all those different languages.
V22. The conclusion is that the languages are a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers. Prophesying is exactly the other way around. Prophesying is not to unbelievers, but to believers. By this approach the distinction between speaking in tongues and prophesying has become even clearer.
V23. What Paul had previously said, he is applying here to the meeting of the church. That is also what you should do. I hope that you are at a place where believers gather together as a church. You could have already learned from the previous chapters how to discover whether you gather at the right place and in the right way. In the verses 26-40 some more aspects are added. It is a good thing to examine, based on the verses you have in front of you, whether you are (still) at the right place.
Paul presents for our attention the case that the whole church was gathered together at one place (not split in numerous churches and denominations) and that everyone was speaking in tongues. Obviously the door was not locked, for ungifted people and unbelievers, people from the street, were allowed to enter the meeting. If they entered and heard the different languages spoken of which they couldn’t understand anything, then you can imagine their doubt and wonder about the chaotic club of people with whom they found themselves. They wouldn’t be able to make head or tail of it. There really was no message in it for them, for they would not understand what was said.
V24. Again we encounter the contrast with prophesying. Paul states further the case that all should prophesy. That did not happen by all at the same time, but according to verse 31 it happened “one by one”. When in such a case an unbeliever or an ungifted person entered the meeting, the impact was totally different. You still remember what prophesying is, do you? It is speaking the oracles of God (1Pet 4:11).
V25. When that happens, it will become absolutely apparent that the visitor feels the presence of God and feels himself personally addressed. I already referred to John 4 in the previous section, regarding the conversation of the Lord Jesus with the Samaritan woman.
How great it would be when believers gathered in such a way that things like that happened. It is only possible when we are spiritually minded and have an intimate relationship with God and the Lord Jesus. Prophesying is, after all, speaking from the presence of God, isn’t it? That reflects first of all, that we esteem His will in our lives. We will be willing to obey Him in every aspect of our daily life.
It goes without saying that it is unimaginable that we live decadently in our daily life, without considering God and His will and then suddenly become spiritual in the meeting. One cannot be more in the meeting than he is in his daily life. Still nobody is perfect, but he who really wants to live with the Lord, will acknowledge his falls, that fellowship with the Father and the Son is restored in no time.
A company of Christians who live like that with God and the Lord Jesus, will be able to experience things in their lives that are described here. If it is your desire to experience this, you cannot do any better than to make sure that you stay closely to the Lord Jesus yourself and to be filled by Him.
Now read 1 Corinthians 14:20-25 again.
Reflection: How do you experience the meeting where believers prophesy?
26 - 33 When You Assemble
26 What is [the outcome] then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, [it should be] by two or at the most three, and [each] in turn, and one must interpret; 28 but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33 for God is not [a God] of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
V26. Now Paul is going to tell us how the meeting of believers should happen. He starts with the question: “What is [the outcome] then?” It is a good thing to make it a habit to ask yourself this question and listen to the answer that is written in the following verses. The importance of these verses to you personally, is, of course, determined by the way you approach the meeting. How and why do you attend the meeting? Is it because you have to or do you really like to be there? I can well imagine that you sometimes feel less likely to go than you generally do, but if you love the Lord, you will generally love to be with others who also love Him very much. Then the question follows with which verse 26 starts: “What is [the outcome] then?”
When it further says “each one has a …” then it applies to you too. The point is that you go to the meeting with ‘something’ and that you do not go there with empty hands i.e. with an empty heart. Therefore it is important to prepare yourself for the meeting. That preparation is not just looking up a song or reading a Bible section just before you go. It is a matter of your life with the Lord as you experience it daily. Actually, your whole life is a preparation for the meeting. Meetings are the highlights in the life of a believer.
In Deuteronomy 26 you find a nice example of how the Lord wanted the Israelites to approach Him in the place He dwelt. When the Israelites were going to dwell in the land and bring in the harvest of the land, then the Lord would love to receive the first-fruits of the land (Deu 26:1-11). Spiritually it is like that too. When in your daily life you get more and more aware of what the Lord Jesus has given to you, then He as the First loves to hear out of your mouth what you enjoyed that much. Every time you can thank Him for what you have read.
It pleases Him very much to hear what you find attractive in His Word. Make it a habit to tell Him what you have discovered in the Bible. And when you go to the meeting you will notice that your heart is filled with Him. This is how God wants to meet you, together with other believers who, strictly speaking, have also been occupied with the Lord Jesus like that.
In Deuteronomy 16 it is written that we ought not to appear empty-handed before the Lord (Deu 16:16). Does it then mean that, in case you did not manage to be occupied with the things of the Lord Jesus because of much work or due to illness, you should not go to the meeting? No, absolutely not. It also happens to me sometimes that I feel quite ‘empty’. It is wonderful that in such moments there are other brothers and sisters who are praising and worshipping the Lord out of the fullness of their heart. Then I, as it were, am being dragged by that and still experience admiration for the Lord. But, after all, the point is that each person has something.
Nevertheless, if everyone has something, it does not mean that the meeting indeed happens in a way that is pleasing to God. At Corinth all did have something. But it appears that the meeting happened quite disorderly, for Paul is giving instructions to bring all things in order. When everyone has something and everyone wants to bring that forward as well, there is a great risk that it becomes a mess.
Even though everyone does have something, it doesn’t mean that they should all be noted audibly. The question if something is edifying is important for every meeting. The issue is always about the edification of the other. When in “a psalm”, ”a teaching”, “a revelation” etc. the interest of the other is being sought, then it is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:7-10). Then there is no disorder in speaking and neither will anybody put himself forward, but everybody waits his turn.
V27-28. For speaking in tongues there is a limitation: not more than three persons may do that. To the Corinthians, who loved to speak in tongues, it was quite hard to swallow this. Speaking in tongues in church was also connected to a restriction: it ought to happen only if there was an interpreter. If there was no interpreter they had to be silent. Next to the question if speaking in tongues still occurs and the question why the gift of speaking in tongues was given, you find here some conditions that may be useful to you in some cases. Based on these conditions you yourself can test if speaking in tongues is being dealt with properly.
V29. Regarding the prophets, the limitation was the same: not more than three prophets were to speak. The importance of this gift has been dealt with in detail already. Now something is said to the listeners. They are to judge what the prophet is saying (verse 29b). In 1 Thessalonians 5 you read the same command: “Do not despise prophetic utterances, but examine everything [carefully]” (1Thes 5:20-21). In both cases it must be judged if the message that is passed on is in accordance with the Bible. It is important that your judgment is not based on whether the message pleases you or not, or whether you like the speaker or not, nor whether he can speak nicely or not.
V30. Also something is expected of the prophet. He should be aware that the Holy Spirit may also want to use another person to pass on something. Therefore, he who prophesies in the church must not think that he is the only one to pass something on.
V31. Who actually are the ones who may prophesy? Is it an elected group of people? With the gift of a prophet it is the same as with the gift of an evangelist. Not everybody has the gift of an evangelist. In Ephesians 4 where it is written that the Lord Jesus gave “some” to be “evangelists” (Eph 4:11), but each of us are actually called to do the work of an evangelist (2Tim 4:5). That also applies to the gift of the prophet. The gift to prophesy is not given to all, but still each of us can prophesy.
Do you remember what prophesying is? That is speaking for the edification, exhortation and comfort (verse 3) of others. Well, that is something each brother ought to be aware of. Each brother who lives with the Lord and who loves His Word, can be used to pass on a word of comfort or exhortation (although of course there may be exceptions). The first time may be quite difficult. The speech doesn’t need to last for an hour. Paul talks about five words in verse 19 of this chapter. Those are quickly spoken. That is, of course, in a manner of speaking.
I believe that too many brothers leave this service to others, because they think that those others can do it (much) better. It is true that often a certain anxiety has to be conquered, in order to speak in public. On the other hand it is not the intention that a newly converted person addresses the church. He first has to build up a life with the Lord. However, that doesn’t mean that a person should be full-blown. Then you can wait a very long time. That can take forever, for here on earth we shall never stop learning. But I hope you can sense what I mean. Be open to the Lord and you will see that the Lord will use you.
V32. There is another significant aspect in this service and that is self-control. Do not think that you should express immediately each thought that crosses your mind, in the meeting. You really cannot hide behind the excuse: ‘But the Spirit urged me to.’ It is written: “And the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.” That means that each person who thinks that he should pass on something in the meeting, does that consciously, with consideration and not because of an impulse he cannot control. This is not how the Spirit of God works. For instance you think of something from the Bible. How do you know if the Lord wants you to say something about it? The important question you could ask yourself is this: Do I want to edify the church and do I want to glorify the Lord Jesus, or do I still seek my own honor?
V33. If we all come together in this way, while the sisters also pray that the Lord points out the right brother to serve us according to the right section from His Word, there will not be disorder, but peace. God is the God of peace and this peace ought to be noticeable in all churches. In this way the meetings of believers will be an oasis in the midst of a restless world.
Now read 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 again.
Reflection: How do you prepare yourself for the meeting?
34 - 40 Properly and In an Orderly Manner
34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God [first] went forth? Or has it come to you only? 37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. 38 But if anyone does not recognize [this], he is not recognized. 39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
V34. Things happened in a disorderly way at Corinth. You will come to this conclusion from everything Paul has already written to them. He had to correct many things. One of the disturbances was that women were speaking in the meetings of the church.
A woman has many capabilities with which she can serve the Lord. There are many examples of women in the Bible who have served the Lord, some of them with more devotion and insight than men had. The Lord notices that and appreciates that.
God makes no difference between sinners. Men and women have sinned and can be saved without any difference. When they are saved there is still no difference to God. In Christ man and woman are equal (Gal 3:28). But that still doesn’t mean that women have the same position as men in the meetings of the church. It is written clearly that they are not to speak in the meeting.
It has been mentioned once that the issue here would be their gossiping with one another. That is not true of course, for gossiping is also a wrong thing to do for men. Speaking as it is mentioned here, is speaking as a prophet in the meeting and that is not suitable for a woman. The reason for this is written thereafter: it does not fit with the submissive attitude she ought to have towards the man.
This submissiveness is not an invention of Paul. At the very beginning of the Bible, God Himself gave the woman this position. The expression “as the Law also says”, refers to what is told in Genesis 3. You read there about the fall. Due to the independent action of the woman, sin entered the world. This occurrence is the motive of God to establish clearly the position of man and woman. The man is the head and the woman ought to acknowledge him in that position, for he shall rule over her (Gen 3:16). This doesn’t at all mean that Adam did not do anything wrong. In fact, his guilt was greater, because he heard the ban on eating from that tree directly from God Himself. Sin affected him also (Gen 3:17-19). So there are no excuses for Adam.
Because Eve entered, without Adam, into a discussion with the devil, which caused sin entering the world, God determined that she became subject to the authority of man. And this relation is still valid. Look what is written in 1 Timothy 2 (1Tim 2:11-14). Of course that doesn’t mean that man should take advantage of the woman. He ought to treat her with respect. This commandment is clearly defined in 1 Peter 3 (1Pet 3:7). It rather emphasizes the responsibility of the man more to guide the woman rightly, that she is not tempted to take actions without him anymore.
V35. Therefore, when these things are general, then they should certainly be applied when the church meets. It is even shameful for a woman to speak there, even if it was only to ask a question. If she wants to have an answer on a question about a subject or a verse from the Bible, she ought to ask her own husband at home about that. This implies that the husband is expected to be able to answer the questions of his wife.
It is true that nobody knows the right answer to all questions. In fact a man has enough questions of his own. But I think that some men neglect this responsibility by saying that they are not able to do it. Each person who is aware of this task will make every effort to find an answer. There are a lot of devices, like books about the Bible that can be very helpful. Efforts certainly ought to be made for that. But who doesn’t want to do that for his wife? It is a great blessing to speak with your wife about the Bible.
A lot of matters, concerning the domestic environment, you will want to examine, based on the Bible. Thereby you could think for example of how to spend your money correctly or how to make wise decisions concerning your children. Actually, these can also be issues for the meeting of the church. New questions can arise after what is said about that. People can talk about this further, later at home.
Then there is still another question: ‘But what happens if a woman doesn’t have a husband or when her husband is an unbeliever?’ It is too cheap to say that she can find answers in the books about the Bible. That might be helpful if it is about an interpretation of a certain verse. However, most questions have to do with the practice of life: how to deal with a certain situation. There are no standard answers to that. A possibility is for her to consult a married couple of whom she knows that the husband has an open ear for his wife and who also makes an effort to answer his wife’s questions.
He who dares to proclaim loudly in these days what is previously said, will find no favor with those who think that these verses are outdated. There are a lot of such people and their number is increasing. There are still more and more Christians who become victims of modern thinking, which gradually erases the difference between men and women. Not only worldly people, the unbelievers, do that. You cannot expect from them that they do differently. The most dangerous are people who pretend to be Christians and tell you that you should see everything differently, more in accordance with the time in which we live. Do not be deceived! Hold on to the trustworthy Word of God.
V36. Paul says to the Corinthians: “Was it from you that the Word of God [first] went forth?” By that he means: ‘The Word of God originated from God Himself and not from you, didn’t it? You are not possibly able to determine what should happen in church, as if God has not said the necessary things about that, are you?’ When God speaks, you cannot do better than surrender yourself unconditionally to that, even though it means that you do things against the tide and even if the crowd is against you.
There is another thing to be added. They were not the only ones who were reached by the Word of God. What God has to say, He speaks to all churches. They could look around and see how things happened in other churches that took into account what God had said. They would do well if they accepted that as an example.
V37. What Paul has written about the order in the church, was not invented by him. It neither is a friendly request to do it that way. It is “the Lord’s commandment”. This commandment is also, whether it is consciously or unconsciously, being flouted in Christianity. But he who thinks himself to be a prophet, thus someone who passes on a message he has received from God, or he who thinks himself to be spiritual, thus someone who is guided by the Spirit of God, will have no difficulty with this commandment.
V38. He who does not recognize this commandment, is not to be recognized. Let him go. It is no use trying to convince such a person of this commandment.
V39. Paul finishes his clarification on prophesying and on speaking in tongues with a sort of resume. On the one hand he exhorts the believers at Corinth to prophesy; you have seen in this chapter that all the emphasis is on this gift. On the other hand they did not have to hinder the practice of the gift of tongues; you have seen in which cases this gift could have been practiced in church.
V40. You notice that the way Paul phrased his comments here is the same as he does through the whole chapter. It is all about prophesying, while speaking in tongues is of secondary importance. In any case, everything, whatever happens in the church, it should happen in the right way and in the right order. To accomplish that, there is no need to record the service of the church, as it happens too often in Christianity. If we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit in the meeting, He will surely show us the way of how to gather and He will protect the order.
It is striking that in this chapter there is no mention of the guidance of the Spirit in the meeting. Here it is made clear that it is most important that each believer has his own responsibility in the meeting. You are not suddenly overwhelmed by a certain feeling. God assumes that you are consciously present and that you consciously partake of the meeting. You will have to make efforts to experience it that way. And that is what the Holy Spirit wants to strengthen you for (cf. Phil 3:3).
Now read 1 Corinthians 14:34-40 again.
Reflection: Where does ‘the commandment of the Lord’ (verse 37) refer to?