We are to love one another with our spiritual gifts, using them to build each other up in following Jesus Christ.
Worship gatherings are times when we realign ourselves to reality. But worship services can go bad in various ways. Sometimes they can just be boring, but sometimes they can even be damaging, negative and hurtful. In 1 Corinthians, Paul has been dealing with a group of Christians whose worship gatherings were disorderly, chaotic and damaging. In verses 26-40, he basically sums up his whole argument, the big idea being: we are to love one another with our spiritual gifts, using them to build each other up in following Jesus Christ.
Every Christian has a spiritual gift. And everyone can have something given to them by the Holy Spirit to contribute at a church gathering. The problem is, if everyone wants to contribute at once, it can cause chaos.
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.
– v. 26
Everybody has a potential contribution, but it is to be ordered and filtered with one question: Will this build everyone else up? If so, we should say it. If not, we should keep quiet. Paul applies this principle to three different situations.
Speaking in Tongues
Paul’s guidelines in verse 27 for speaking in tongues during a church gathering are
- limited quantity; (“let there be only two or at most three”)
- logical sequence; (“and each in turn”)
- accompanying interpretation. (“and let someone interpret”)
In verses 29-30, we see this principle also applies to people sharing prophecy – revelations given from God. The guidelines are similar:
- limited quantity; (“Let two or three prophets speak”)
- accompanying discernment; (“let the others weigh what is said.”)
- when no one else has a revelation. (“If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.”)
Prophecies should be shared so that everyone will learn and be encouraged (v. 31). And prophets need to be submissive to other prophets (v. 32) because submission is central to who we are as Christians. We need to listen to what other people have to say and not try to domineer.
Speaking as a Woman
Moving on to verse 34, we find that “the women should keep silent in the churches.” When Paul talked about tongues and prophecy, he gave specific scenarios for when people should keep silent; but in this case, it looks like the time to be silent is when you’re a women. But, based on Scripture, there are all kinds of problems with holding to that interpretation. One example is in 1 Corinthians 11:5 where Paul assumes women are prophesying and praying in church, and he doesn’t correct them whatsoever.
So why and when should women keep silent? Verses 35 holds the key to understanding what Paul is talking about.
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.
The first clue is the first phrase. Paul isn’t referring to the positive contribution that women are making, he’s referring to their response to what is being contributed. The problem appears to be in the way they were responding to what was being taught. And these were apparently married women, because Paul says that they need to “ask their husbands at home.”
This is probably the biggest clue to what Paul is talking about in this section: “For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” In our American culture, it can be difficult to understand this. But in shame-honor cultures, shame is a big deal.
This section likely has to do with women who were shamefully interrogating their husbands during the prophecy part of the church service. This would make sense in light of this section coming right after the part about prophecy, in light of the main point of the passage (orderly, edifying worship) and in light of verses 36-38, where Paul continues to talk about prophecy. In his conclusion, he says to “earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (v. 39) without mentioning the part about women – so this wasn’t one of his main points, but a sub-point of the part about prophecy.
Finally, the overarching theme is found in verse 40: “But all things should be done decently and in order.”
Discussion Starters (based on 1 Corinthians 14:26-40)
- Why do we gather as a church?
- Do you think mainly about yourself or others in regard to church participation?
- How has God gifted you to contribute to the body of Christ?
- How will you use your gifts to build up others?
- How do Paul’s principles for orderly worship apply to us?
- What can you do to better accommodate others, realizing they may have something to contribute?