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First Corinthians

Right Ordering of the Church

1 Corinthians 14

Several themes from prior passages merge in this section:

· First, just because we have the liberty to do something doesn’t make it profitable.

· Next, that all that we do should be done to benefit the church, not just ourselves.

· Finally, that the things of God must be used in God’s way – the “right use” principle.

If you will keep these three ideas in mind, this passage will become much less difficult.

Edification of the Church

(1 Cor 14:1-19 NIV) Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. {2} For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. {3} But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. {4} He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. {5} I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. {6} Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? {7} Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? {8} Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? {9} So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. {10} Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. {11} If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. {12} So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. {13} For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. {14} For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. {15} So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. {16} If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? {17} You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. {18} I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. {19} But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

This passage is one of the more hotly contested ones. Pentecostals frequently use this to justify the idea that “real Christians speak in tongues.” It is more instructive to see, rather, just what Paul was talking about. For that, we need a little background.

The problem of pride

Paul does not explicitly refer to it here, for it is not something that everyone who was speaking in tongues needed to deal with – but we should see it as a first problem. If you speak in tongues, as Paul makes clear, you are speaking with God. That point can be verified by having someone with a different gift – interpretation – translate your words.

Imagine, for a moment, that you talked with God on a regular basis. Would you not be viewed as one who was very influential indeed? So you might be. But you might also become inflated with pride – “I talk to God – and you don’t.” Now, we know this is a sad perversion of the truth, for tongues are a gift of the Spirit. But you can see the problem.

Paul’s answer to this, in this passage, is to point out that he speaks in tongues much more than any of them. So if you accept that as a sign of your closeness to God, then he is much closer still. And therefore you had best listen to what he has to say.

The value of the gift

The principle is simple: if you have a spiritual gift, the value of that gift can be determined by its benefit to the church. Note, please, not its value to you personally, but its value to the church.

Are tongues beneficial to the church? Certainly!

· A man who speaks in tongues utters mysteries in his spirit – in other words, he understands that which is hidden (the meaning of “mystery” in this context.)

· Such a man edifies (teaches, instructs, builds up) himself. As he is a part of the body, this strengthens the body to that degree. This can be particularly important to those whose needs are unusual or unique. If you are the only one with leprosy, it helps to hear from God directly.

But prophecy is more beneficial to the church. Prophecy means either foretelling the future or a form of exhortation. Paul tells us three ways it benefits the church:

· It strengthens the church – the word means to “build up,” as we would build a brick wall. It adds to the strength bit by bit.

· There is also encouragement there – the word is paraklesis, which will be familiar as one who comes alongside.

· There is also comfort – the word implies consolation – for times of grief.

So we see that, should we get the choice, we are to prefer prophecy to tongues – for prophecy builds the whole church.

The necessity of order

(1 Cor 14:20-33 NIV) Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. {21} In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord. {22} Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. {23} So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? {24} But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, {25} and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!" {26} What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. {27} If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. {28} If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. {29} Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. {30} And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. {31} For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. {32} The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. {33} For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

(Note: this is only the first half of verse 33. We’ll get to the second half)

Tongues, however, can be abused. Even the gifts of God can be twisted by sinful men.

· Suppose someone comes in to the worship service who is not a believer. What does he hear, if all of us are speaking in tongues? The babble of idiots, as far as he’s concerned. Have we helped, or hindered, this unbeliever for whom Christ died?

· We have already mentioned the problem of pride, and the resultant jealousy that can be caused by comparisons.

· In our own time, we have added a new problem. What if my “interpreter” has something in mind which is completely different? His own private agenda? Who checks on the interpreter?

If these things are to be kept from tearing the church apart, there must be order – there must be rules. But to obtain the right rules, we must understand the right use.

Right use of tongues

What should tongues be used for?

· For the unbeliever, they may be used as a miraculous sign – as at Pentecost. If I know you don’t speak Greek (but I do), and I hear you speaking Greek, then I’m bound to be impressed and want to know more. But note: the aspect of the sign implies that the tongue is known – and to me. If you’re talking in an unknown tongue, how is that a sign to the unbeliever? It’s the unbeliever who needs to know.

· Tongues are used to strengthen the individual believer. First, in that they are a miraculous sign, they can be used to strengthen a weak faith. Next, they can be used to deliver a lesson to the individual believer. Finally, they can also deliver consolation and comfort to the individual believer. One reason tongues have declined since Paul’s time is that these tasks are now allotted to the church.

· When interpreted, tongues can likewise strengthen the church. But clearly, the better way is through prophecy.

Right use of prophecy

Prophecy has two uses:

· For the unbeliever, prophecy carries out the Holy Spirit’s task of convicting the world of sin and judgment.

· For the believer, prophecy is used for strength, encouragement and instruction.

God the author of peace and order

The character of God should be displayed in the manner in which his people worship him. Our God is the god of peace and order, and therefore the worship service should reflect peace and order.

But some would argue, “my gift of tongues (or prophecy) just came upon me.” That’s why Paul makes it clear that these gifts are under your control – you don’t just have to blurt out your babble. And if you do, that’s just what it is: babble.

The matter is kindergarten simple: take turns, share, don’t hog the time (if someone else comes up with a revelation, let them take a turn).

This appeal for order in the church now gives rise to another controversial passage – about women.

Women keep silent in the church

As Oliver Hardy might have put it, “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Paul.”

(1 Cor 14:33-40 NIV) …. As in all the congregations of the saints, {34} women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. {35} If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. {36} Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? {37} If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. {38} If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored. {39} Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. {40} But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

A woman’s life

It’s helpful to understand the context in which this is written. First, remember that Paul is talking about keeping order in the church – not necessarily the possibilities for women two millennia later. Women at this time have a very different life:

· This is a hierarchical society in which people “know their place.” A decent woman stayed within her father’s home until she married; then she stayed within her husband’s home.

· This “male domination” (as our liberated women would put it) was the commonly accepted way of running an orderly society. We’re the odd ones, not only in historical terms, but even today – most non-Western societies still place the man as head of household. It seems that everyone’s out of step but us.

· Some women didn’t conform to this. These women were either prostitutes – or those whose lives were so wicked that they might as well have been such. So we see again the balance point between the liberty women have in the church and the reputation of the church in the world.

· One other thing: when women went to church, they were usually segregated into a different area. I will leave it to your own experience to determine what happens when you put all the women of the church in the same room.

Evidently the women liked to talk. But see how that would have impressed the world around them:

· Since this was an occasion of worship, it would signify to anyone who walked in that these women were not under the control of their husbands. He would see this as a gathering of prostitutes, in effect.

· It also would mean the service would be in chaos. This effect has not yet disappeared.

What does God say about this?

Do women have the liberty in Christ to speak? Or are they forever condemned to absolute silence in the church? The modern church is rather eloquent on the subject, by its actions. There are still some denominations and congregations that forbid a woman to teach – but I know of none which insist that she be absolutely silent in church. Why? Because the times have changed; what would have disgraced the church then is no longer a problem.

But God is still the god of peace and order; that’s why Paul issued this edict in the first place. The women were talking and the problem was out of hand.

There is, however, a clear example given here. Women were to inquire of their husbands if they had any questions about the doctrine preached. From that one may draw some conclusions:

· There is no sense here that women are not capable of learning what is to be taught; the context is one of order in the church, not the place of women in the world.

· There is also the definite sense that men are to be the spiritual leaders of their families.

I put it to you simply: of all the households you know in which there is trouble with the children, what fraction are headed by a man who is truly the spiritual head of house?

Perhaps the “fitting and orderly way” is not so obsolete after all. In a society which is disintegrating before our eyes we look for reasons. We might do very well to look at the role to which we have consigned husbands and fathers. Consider the movies and television: husbands are simpletons to be cuckolded; fathers are hopeless dorks to be rescued by their cool teenagers. Despite this, we wonder why the decline of western civilization.

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