1 Corinthians 14:26-33a
February 17, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 17:25 in the audio file.
Or, Ways That Worship Gets Out of Order
My dad always said that his favorite verse in the Bible was 1 Corinthians 14:38. He only read the King James Version; the NASB wasn’t on our church’s radar and the ESV hadn’t been translated yet. The NIV existed, but only compromisers read it. Our church was KJV only, and the KJV was the only translation we read and memorized in my house growing up.
So my dad’s favorite Bible verse was 1 Corinthians 14:38 in the KJV which says, “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” I think this enabled my dad to avoid dealing with people he thought were ignorant (and there were a lot of them, “I can’t talk to that guy, he’s ignorant”), and it also enabled him to avoid dealing with people who thought he was ignorant (“Let me be, I’m just ignorant”). He envisioned a mutual society organized around the principle of leaving each other alone (and thinking that many of those others are ignorant).
It turns out that’s not what verse 38 means, and it’s not actually a good translation at all. It’s also a much more serious threat, and one that protects the order and edification of the church, not the isolation of any particular curmudgeonly member.
We’ve come to the last section about relationships in the body of Christ, the variety and the purpose of spiritual gifts, and the concern for corporate worship. Halfway through this section (14:26-40) Paul gives a theological reason for orderly worship, that God is not a God of confusion (verse 33), and at the very end he gives a final application, that all things should be done decently and in order (verse 40). The majority of chapter 14 has been about speaking gifts, specifically tongues and prophecy, and it’s interesting that here Paul says that the best way to build up the body may require you to hold your tongue.
Silence isn’t a spiritual gift, but it could benefit the body. Plato once compared controlling one’s tongue to controlling a spirited horse (Laws 701C). Plutarch referred to the “fence of teeth in front of the tongue” as a principle of proper speech (Moralia 15.89, see Thiselton). Solomon said “when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). Even in church there is a time to speak, and a time to keep your mouth shut (a contextual application of Ecclesiastes 3:7).
The last part of chapter 14 has two parts, and each part includes two ways (for a total of four) that worship gets out of order. Worship can get out of order with things that belong in worship such as with tongues and with prophecy, and worship can get out of order with things that don’t belong in worship such as with women talking and with “super” spiritual people who won’t listen to the apostles. We’ll consider the first two problems in this message.
A new paragraph starts as Paul addresses the Corinthians again and summarizes the first 25 verses of the chapter. 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. Paul began talking about when you come together halfway through chapter 11, and this is the last time he refers to their corporate time together in 1 Corinthians.
Even though he says each one he doesn’t mean that each and every member of the body brings a piece for the liturgy, but that different persons who are differently gifted each have something to build up the body. A hymn is probably a “psalm” (NAS, in Greek ψαλμὸν compared to ὕμνοις as in Ephesians 5:19) to read or sing for everyone or to have everyone sing. A lesson is “teaching” (NAS) or a “word of instruction” (NIV), something we’d anticipate would be prepared in advance. A revelation is probably a synonym for a prophesy which may be immediately prompted by the Spirit. And a tongue and interpretation are about to be the subject of the next few sentences.
This is not an inspired order of service. There is also nothing that requires that it all be spontaneous either. There are different elements of and orders for a worship service, but there should be one shared goal: building up. Worship does the body good, which has been Paul’s main point. Building up is the chorus of the worship song, the repeated part he wanted them humming as they left the service…building up, building up….
The first order for worship regards the possibility of someone gifted to speak in tongues. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. Note a number of things about this. First, speaking in tongues is not required for spiritual worship. When Paul provides instructions for prophecy he does not say “if any prophets speak,” but “let prophets speak.” Paul gives permission for tongues with conditions, he definitely didn’t describe it as the pinnacle of spiritual expression. Second, if there is speaking in tongues it should not dominate the service. Paul really wants a max of two, but concedes to three; two is plenty. Third, only one tongues-talker should talk at a time. Paul prohibits the two or three from talking on top of each other (let alone an entire room full). And fourth, if there is speaking in tongues then there must be interpretation of those tongues. Paul already said that tongues by themselves do not edify the body because no one understands what’s being said (11:9).
The need for interpretation is a single issue principle. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Suppose someone really had the authentic gift, and suppose the Spirit was moving them to express that gift. Suppose it would spark joy for them to speak in tongues in the service. Paul says “hold your tongue” without an interpreter. “Keep quiet” (NIV), a point Paul makes again in verse 30 about prophets and in 34 about women.
Some of the verses in the chapter seem to suggest that the one speaking in a tongue might also be the one to put it into their native language, though that makes us wonder why not just start with the vernacular instead of the spectacular? This condition also more than implies, it requires, that identifying an interpreter was possible. How did they know? We don’t know. But if the tongues-talker(s) didn’t know that interpretation would happen then they were to keep silent. They needed to keep their words to themselves and God.
As with verse 23, it seemed like a familiar frenzy and madness if tongues-talking got out of order.
“The noun οἶστρος is a term for a tormenting insect and is used metaphorically to describe ‘insane passion’ or ‘madness,’ such as the Maenads caught up in a Dionysian frenzy (Euripides, Bacchae [Bacchanals] 665)(Garland)
All of these conditions teach us that when the Holy Spirit gifts members of the body He also governs them in such a way as that they are responsible to standards outside of themselves, especially that they are in control of their minds and their mouths. They can recognize when the conditions are met and they can hold their tongues if the setting is not right. If the Spirit supposedly overpowers a man in such a way that forces him to disobey the the Spirit’s word, it’s not the Spirit.
Paul is much more enthusiastic about prophecy than tongues, and has been all throughout the chapter, and really from the beginning of chapter 12. His reason for preferring prophecy is because prophecy is by nature better for edification. Even still it has ways to get out of order. Let two or three prophets speak, and let others weigh what is said.
Elsewhere Paul said that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). In the worship of the first generation church it was essential for prophets to speak. The way Paul explains the prophetic order affirms rather than merely allows it, while also putting a cap on it. Even with the importance of prophecy Paul still didn’t think that the service needed to go on all day (though he himself extended his talking till midnight, Acts 20:7).
Like tongues required interpretation, prophecy was followed by discernment. The others are the other prophets, those who were spiritually gifted with “the ability to distinguish between spirits” (see 1 Corinthians 12:10), rather than the entire congregation. Paul called the believers in Berea “noble” because they examined what they heard according to the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). All Christians are responsible for sifting what they hear by the standard of God’s Word, but prophets were sometimes revealing God’s Word, and the other prophets could judge, not if the inspired word was obey-able, but if it was, in fact, inspired, or a selfish counterfeit. So let others weigh, “pass judgment” (NAS), “evaluate” (NET). Paul doesn’t give any criteria for this weighing, which supports the argument that this was a spiritual gift. We can assume that the weighing included criteria such as, does the prophecy fit with the gospel and with Christ’s sacrifice, or does it demonstrate worldly wisdom and rhetoric and self-interest?
An additional instruction applies: If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. The scene is, the prophet speaking was standing, and then the Spirit moved another to stand and the first deferred. He also holds his tongue. No filibusters allowed.
Paul had been telling the Corinthian church to desire prophesy, and however many prophets were among them, they could all have a shot, at least at some point. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and be encouraged. Any given prophet might not get his chance any given Sunday. That’s okay. That prophet could not speak in the Spirit and, as that promoted worship that was in order, then others could learn and be encouraged.
Verse 32 could be taken one of two ways: and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. Does this mean that one prophet is subject to the other prophets, as in, everyone is accountable to others for what they say in God’s name? Or does this mean that the prophet himself was able to be in control of himself and not speak if speaking would make the worship out of order? Both are true, and true from this passage. I’d argue, based on verses 30 and 31, that verse 32 means the prophet can control himself to hold his tongue. Having the Spirit doesn’t provide excuse for being out of control.
The grounds for these instructions for order in worship is the nature of God. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. God’s ways are not our ways, but that’s an issue of our limited perspective not that He is indistinct or disoriented. He is not defined by confusion, “disorder” (NIV) or chaos; He is not unsettled. And more than the opposite of being orderly, He is the God of peace. It’s not that Paul is against zeal, against enthusiasm, against liveliness per se. But God Himself is a God of ardor and order (Garland), love and liturgy.
Sometimes we may need to fight to preserve this peace, but that’s different than pursuing discord and disorder as a sign of the Spirit’s presence in worship.
The second half of verse 33 better belongs as beginning the next subject: women talking in church.
How we worship says something about Who we worship, and Who we worship should direct us in how we worship. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul is concerned about love and unity and order. These are not just virtues, they are divine virtues. God values upbuilding and consolation. God desires clarity and intelligibility. God wants order and peace. Most of all, God is love.
Worship is not a “competitive sport” (Garland). Spiritual gifts are not given to us for a game of king of the hill. God wants us to fall our our face and worship Him, not the person He’s gifted to speak or sing.
I’ve said that I believe prophecy is not something that happens today. The church is built on the work of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), but in 1 Corinthians Paul doesn’t talk about pastors or elders, and in his later letters he doesn’t talk about prophets. There are principles in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 for preaching and order in worship, but the preacher’s job is to explain the finished “word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) rather than present new revelation.
If the Spirit doesn’t make a prophet infallible, then seminary certainly doesn’t make a preacher infallible. The pulpit might be built up for sake of everyone seeing, but figuratively, that means everyone should be looking, as in assessing, not merely accepting because the preacher said so.
You are the body of Christ, so let us worship like it.
It is not rare, it is regular for God to reveal Himself as “the God of peace.” He is at peace Himself, He makes His enemies be at peace with Himself (or He crushes them to pieces), and He gives His peace to all His children. Of all the sentient creatures in the world, of all the ones who could be, and even should be, upset that things are wrong, it is God who knows how bad things are compared to the standards He Himself has given. And He is the God of peace. Go in His peace and be the people of the God peace.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21, ESV)