1 Corinthians 14:33b-40
February 24, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:05 in the audio file.
Or, Ways That Worship Gets Out of Order
Who knew that being quiet in a church worship service could be so upbuilding to the body? Or at least it doesn’t get in the way of edification. This kind of quiet isn’t about keeping kids from making any noise, and it definitely isn’t an argument for some sort of monastic, silence-only Sunday meeting where no noise is allowed. This is about keeping the attention and focus where it belongs.
The Corinthians had a lot of problems; that’s well known. What was their worst problem? We could spend an all-day seminar attempting to answer that question. But we could probably say that all of their particular problems were rooted in the same general problem: lack of love. From chapter 12 through chapter 14—about being members of the body of Christ and about each member being spiritually gifted for the building up of the body and about some of the showy speaking gifts making church about personality and performance—this whole section of the letter centers on love, which the Corinthians were missing.
Likewise, when they divided over their favorite preacher (chapters 1-4), when they refused to deal with overt sexual immorality (chapter 5), when they were taking each other into the public court system (chapter 6), when they were puffed up with knowledge rather than concerned for the weaker brother (chapter 8), when they ate communion before others (chapter 11), these weeds grow from a loveless soil.
The lack of love also showed itself in a lack of order in their corporate worship. Some wanted to talk in tongues even though others couldn’t understand and therefore wouldn’t be edified (11:1-25). Paul said that’s crazy, and that others would think it was crazy. Paul also required that if tongues-talking was going to occur then there must be an interpreter and it must follow certain other rules (14:26-28). There were similar but more affirming instructions given for prophecy (14:29-32). God is not a God of confusion (14:33a), so the worship of God should not be a chaotic mess.
Tongues (with interpretation) and prophecy had a place in the worship of the Corinthian church, yet in verses 26-33a Paul instructed them that there was also a time for not talking, that holding one’s tongue could be an important application for the church. In the last paragraphs of chapter 14 Paul deals with two more ways that worship could get out of order, and these are things that never belong in worship.
There are a couple issues left to cover related to orderly worship.
The next couple verses are probably more inflammatory, in our modern church context for sure, than the verses about tongues, which is impressive, if you’re looking to start a fife. Verses 33b-35 are considered so inappropriate by some professing Christians that they’re sure that these verses must have been added by someone other than Paul. Some say there’s no way that these verses are inspired. These verses do not belong in this letter nor should they be considered as God’s Word. If they are part of God’s Word then it would be proof that God’s Word is an out of date and defunct book.
But when it comes to the Greek manuscripts, to the external evidence, there is no good textual argument that these verses weren’t original. Honest commentators reluctantly agree:
“We are bound to accept the unanimous testimony of the manuscripts, however deeply we may regret that Paul expressed this opinion.” (Ross, quoted in Thiselton)
When examining the internal evidence, that is, what’s in the passage itself, there are only good reasons to see these verses as closely connected to Paul’s instructions about corporate worship. The phrase that introduces the section bolts the paragraphs together, and the principle of holding one’s tongue for sake of orderly worship is the concern of the larger unit.
The second half of verse 33 states, As in all the churches of the saints. This phrase adds little to no support as a conclusion to the previous paragraph. God is a God of peace, and absolutely so. Is this really something that individual churches were questioning? God’s nature isn’t vindicated by a majority of churches. But there have been more questions about the role of women in church, and most translations (ESV, though not NAS) start a new paragraph in the middle of verse 33 and connect the universal church practice with the women should keep silent in the churches.
The context is the worship of the church gathered all together, especially worship expressed through tongues, interpretation, prophecy, and weighing the prophecies. These are all public speaking and authoritative speaking positions.
Paul wrote to Timothy a similar instruction about not permitting a woman to teach and take authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:11-14). As the following verses in 1 Corinthians 14 make clear, keeping silent is not only about being disruptive but being disrespectful. This isn’t as much a prohibition against chit-chatting during the service, though that usually doesn’t build up the body either.
The reason for women holding their tongues is not cultural, nor is it patriarchal. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. What Law is Paul referring to? Paul doesn’t quote a verse, but it seems that he’s referring to the creation order and the judgment given to Eve after the Fall in Genesis 3. Paul went into more detail in his first letter to Timothy (again see 1 Timothy 2:11-14).
In the corporate gathering it is not appropriate for women to lead, especially in the speaking ways. When preaching 1 Corinthians 11:5, where Paul refers to women praying and prophesying, I said I think that’s referring to praying and prophesying before other women. The first time that the phrase “when you come together” occurs is in 11:17, after the teaching on head coverings. Before that the women may be praying and prophesying in smaller groups, but not before the whole church.
It’s not that women are not allowed to know things; the goal is not female theological ignorance. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. They too are to be built up as part of the church. They receive the instruction and edification, but they are not to participate in the questioning of the prophets in public, instead they should ask their husbands at home. This means that wives are allowed to have questions; questions aren’t the problem. This also means that husbands needed to have paid attention, that husbands should be open to conversation, and that husbands should have something to say whey they are asked.
What if the wife is more spiritually mature than her husband? What if she understands the prophetic word better than her husband? If she does, then she’ll know what to do and who to talk to about this verse.
The Law makes the requirement and the reason comes at the end of verse 35: For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. It’s a different sort of disorder in the worship service, and it’s a potentially bad reflection (shameful, “improper” NAS, disgraceful) on her husband if she starts challenging things in church. The questions are okay in the proper place, but otherwise women should hold their tongues.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that women can’t ask question in smaller group settings where the format is discussion oriented, a context where questions are invited. When a leader asks if anyone has questions, that’s a good time for questions. Even in a church family meeting, that’s a different context, though there is a way for women to be disrespectful in those situations.
Apparently Paul did not expect all of his instructions to be appreciated. His questions in verse 36 anticipate that at least some of the Corinthians figured that they knew better than he did.
Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? Spiritual people are the most teachable people on earth. “Spiritual” (note the scare quotes) people are some of the most stubborn, hard-hearted, know-it-alls. Words can’t get into their ears because their heads are made of wood. But they’ll tell you it’s not just any old wood, it’s wood from the ark of the covenant, it’s wood from the heavenly storehouses, it’s wood straight from God. They glory in being “spiritual” blockheads.
The Corinthians weren’t seeking outside help. Those on the outside could see that they needed help, but the Corinthians couldn’t see the forrest for the logs in their eyes. They acted as if they were the alpha and omega of God’s revelation. The spiritual words were from them and to them.
Paul kicks out one of the legs on their two legged stool. 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. Paul already established that the church in Corinth owed its existence, by God’s grace, to him as the one who laid the foundation (3:10). In his greeting he identified himself as an apostle (1:1). They hadn’t “matured” enough yet to question his apostolic authority, which they get around to and which is part of the reason Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. But a man who really had the Spirit would recognize Paul’s writing as being from the Spirit. So, “If you didn’t write Scripture, then obey it” (MacArthur).
But If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. This is the verse that’s wonky in the KJV: “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” The KJV sounds like an admonition to live ignorant and let the ignorant live. “You can’t do anything about idiots.” It actually seems that Paul is saying that someone who doesn’t acknowledge the word of the Lord through him is not someone who the Lord will acknowledge. There is only so much questioning of God’s Word, which is different than questions about God’s Word, before their spiritual status is the bigger question.
When it comes to the Bible, we’re being judged, not the Bible.
The final two verses sum up at least chapter 14 with its emphasis on tongues and prophecy, though again, this is the last lap of a run started in chapter 12. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.
Prophecy edifies. You are the body of Christ, edify the body of Christ. To the degree that the Corinthians elevated tongues as the most excellent spiritual gift Paul wanted them to put prophecy in that top spot. They were not to forbid speaking in tongues, though there were detailed instructions and limitations on it.
The bottom line is that all things should be done decently, as with the proper manner, and in order, as with a fitting liturgy.
How does this apply to our worship and liturgy? How should we conclude these messages on spiritual gifts?
We are not going to start encouraging members to speak in tongues; we don’t have interpreters. We are not going to start sharing prophecies. But we will keep singing and praying and reading Scripture and having someone give a lesson.
Most importantly we will be eager for manifestations of the Spirit as we strive to excel in building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12). You are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12:27). Suffer with the suffering members, rejoice with the honored members (12:26), and pursue love (14:1). Let us worship in a way that we know, and others can declare that God is really among us (1 Corinthians 14:25).
When Paul asked the Corinthians if the word of God came from them, the obvious answer was No, but the implication is that it did come to them. So when he asked if they were the only ones the word had reached, he assumes that it had come to them. And so to you, church, the word of the Lord has come. He has given you milk, light, and seed so that you can worship and live decently and in order.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV)