In this parts 1 and 2 of this series (“Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 1” and “Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 2“) I discussed the context of 1 Corinthians 14 and verses 1-25. Paul indicates several times in this chapter that he is discussing how believers should exercise spiritual gifts when the church meets. Because prophecy edifies the church, Paul encourages believers to exercise during the church gathering. However, since uninterpreted tongues only edifies the one speaking in tongues, this gifts should not be exercised without interpretation during the church meeting. In this post, I will discuss the final verses of the chapter (26-40).
Section 5 – vv. 26-40 – Specific instructions for exercising gifts during the church meeting
I am going to divide this section into subsections.
Section 5A – vs. 26 – Introduction and overall goal of the gifts during the church meeting
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Cor. 14:26 ESV)
The phrase “What then, brothers?” begins the introduction. We might say something like, “So, now, what do we do about this teaching?” First, Paul recognizes that the Corinthian believers are coming together with the intention of exercising their gifts (“each one has” – present tense). This shows that there is some preparation for the meeting of the church, but it appears that each believer is preparing for himself or herself. The phrase “Let all things be done for building up” is an all-encompassing directive. By the way, this phrase parallels 1 Corinthians 14:40 in grammar and syntax: “But all things should be done decently and in order.” Thus, the instructions that Paul gives concerning building up (“edification”) will also result in things being done “decently and in order” – as Paul defines “decently and in order”. These are not contradictory ideas.
Section 5B – vv. 27-28 – Instructions about speaking in tongues during the church meeting
If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Cor. 14:27-28 ESV)
This is fairly straightforward. Here are a few points: 1) Speaking in tongues is a possibility, but not required (“if”). 2) Speaking in tongues is appropriate between the individual and God, even without an interpreter. However, this is to be done outside of the meeting of the church. 3) The person speaking in tongues can control whether or not he or she speaks in tongues. The Holy Spirit does not force someone to speak in tongues.
Section 5C – vv. 29-37 – Instructions about prophecy during the church meeting
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. (1 Cor. 14:29-37 ESV)
These instructions for prophets are similar to the instructions for speaking in tongues, but they also include instructions for “weighing” prophecy. In this case, Paul commands prophecy and he commands others to weigh the prophecy (no “if”). While before we saw that the believers were preparing for the meeting, in this passage we see that there is also the possibility that someone speaks from a “revelation”, that is, something that was not prepared. It also appears that one method (preparation vs. revelation) is not better than another. The person prophesying can also control whether or not he or she speaks. Once again, the Spirit does not force someone to prophesy.
It seems that the instructions for women are given in the context of “weighing” prophecy. Notice that being silent is not an absolute command in any of these passages. The tongues speaker does not have to be absolutely silent, but he should not speak in tongues without an interpreter. The prophet does not have to be absolutely silent, but he should stop talking if another wants to speak. Similarly, women do not have to be absolutely silent, but they should refrain from weighing prophecy.
Why should prophets allow their prophecy to be weighed? Because God does not speak through only one individual. As Paul says, someone who truly desires to speak words of prophecy will recognize that this command (“weighing prophecy”) is from the Lord.
Section 5D – vv. 38-40 – Summary and conclusion
If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order. (1 Cor. 14:38-40 ESV)
In these last few sentences, Paul concludes his instructions about spiritual gifts. The word translated “recognize” in the ESV is the same word translated “be ignorant” in vs. 12:1. Thus, Paul concludes his instructions where he began. Those who do not wish to be ignorant will heed his words. Those who do not heed his words simply show that they are not following the commands of God, and therefore should be ignored. During the context of the meeting of the church, Paul says we should seek to prophesy (because that edifies the church), but should not forbid speaking in tongues, as long as we follow the guidelines that Paul gave us. By following these guidelines, things will be done to build up (edify) the church (vs. 26), and things will be done decently and in order (vs. 40). Thus, we can follow Paul’s commands in this passage and still maintain decency and order. These commands are complementary, not contradictory. If they appear contradictory, then we are not viewing decency and order the way that Paul viewed them.
In the next part of this series, I’ll post some concluding remarks.
Series on 1 Corinthians 14:
Prologue 1 – What do we do with 1 Corinthians 14?
Prologue 2 – 1 Corinthians 14 and the Leadership
Context & Verses 1-5 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 1
Verses 6-25 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 2
Verses 26-40 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 3
Concluding Remarks – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 4