William J. Stewart
In all things, we want our service before the Lord to be according to His will, not rooted in church tradition, popular culture or personal preference. This is true both in our personal lives as we endeavour to have the light of Christ shine through us and in our assembling together for worship and study. Of this latter realm, the apostle Paul demanded:
Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
Throughout the book, Paul spoke of several issues the Corinthian church needed to address. In chapter 1, there were divisions among them (1:11-13). He commanded them to have unity (1:10). In chapter 5, they openly accepted immorality in their midst (5:1-2). He commanded them to remove the unrepentant sinner from their midst (5:4-7, 11). In chapter 11, they were misusing the Lord’s Supper and had mad it into a common meal (11:20-22; 33-34). He commanded them to observe the Lord’s Supper in the manner the Lord Himself instituted (11:23-26), and also compelled them to examine themselves (11:27-32). In chapter 12, it appears some were exalting themselves above others regarding spiritual gifts (12:4-10) or their importance to the assembly (12:15-17). Paul affirms that whatever gift one has, it is the same Spirit who had supplied it according to the will of God (12:11). Again, God has set every member of the body where He pleases, and all are essential (12:18-25).
Chapter 12 is the first of 3 chapters that specifically address miraculous gifts. It introduces the gifts (12:4-10). Chapter 13 speaks of the duration of the gifts (13:8-12), and chapter 14 addresses the use of miraculous gifts in the assembly. By using miraculous gifts (specifically tongues & prophecy), Paul teaches on the need for decency and order in the assembly. NOTE, even in the absence of miraculous gifts (the specific context), the assembly should still be held “decently and in order” (the general principle).
So, what did Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, identify as decent and in order?
Speak to be understood. (14:1-25) Years ago, a university student from China met with us on a regular basis. He was asked one Sunday morning to lead the assembly in prayer. He did so, and I’m sure it was a fine prayer, but I gained no benefit from it. He spoke to God in another tongue—Mandarin. Though he is my brother in Christ, he was “speaking into the air” (14:9) and “a foreigner to me” (14:11) on that occasion. Those who are leading in the assembly need to do so in such a way that they are understood. May I further suggest that supercilious ecclesiastical disquisition (sorry about that—speaking above the people) is as much a violation of this principle as speaking in a foreign language.
One at a time. (14:26-31) The folks in Corinth were certainly engaged and active when it came to their assemblies. Everyone had something they wanted to bring (14:26). The problem seems to be that such was being done with no focus on decorum or order. Imagine what it would be like to have one singing a psalm, another teaching on something, another speaking in a tongue, another giving a revelation, another supplying an interpretation—all at the same time! It was utter confusion. So, Paul gave instruction—divinely revealed instruction—about establishing order to their assembly. If there were tongue speakers, a limit was set on how many would speak, and they were to speak one at a time. Also, one person was appointed to give the interpretation. If there was no one present who had the gift of interpretation, NONE of the tongue speakers were to speak. They were to keep silent (14:27-28). Likewise among the prophets, a limit of 2 or 3 prophets were to speak, again one at a time (14:31) and others were to pay close attention or judge what was said (14:29; cf. Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1). However, if one was speaking and another had a revelation, the first was to keep silent (14:30).
Exercise self-control. (14:32-33) I have heard folks who are of the charismatic persuasion speak about the Holy Spirit as though He just takes control when they are speaking by the Spirit—basically that they are just along for the ride. That is not what the apostle Paul said. In verse 32, he clearly states, “…the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” That is, they are in control. They are not possessed by the Spirit or simply become a tool in the Spirit’s hand. They have control to speak or to keep silent. Though he does not specify the tongue speakers in this verse, the same is true of them also; else he could not have truthfully recorded verse 33, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.”
Women speaking. (14:34-35) A hot topic over the past few decades has been whether a woman can serve as a pastor in a local church. Sadly, most who are asking the question misunderstand what the office of “pastor” is (see “Presbuteros, Episkopos, & Poimen,” “Pastors, Reverends, Priests, etc.,” and “Is He Really A Pastor?“). Our present text will inevitably come up in such a conversation. However, Paul is not dealing with whether a woman can serve as a pastor or preacher—his statement is more rudimentary than that. He says she is not permitted to speak in the assembly! She is not to speak, just as the tongue speaker (14:28) and prophet (14:30) are
not to speak. Does this disqualify all speech? No. Ephesians 5:19 says we are to “…speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” The speech under consideration in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is authoritative speaking, just as the speech of the tongue speaker or the prophet in the text. Specifically in the context, it would seem to refer to her using a spiritual gift, whether tongues or prophecy.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a specific application of the principle that is stated in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. There, Paul says a woman is not “…to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” The Greek for “silence” here is not sigao (absolute silence, as used in 1 Corinthians 14), but hesuchia, meaning “stillness, desistance from bustle or language: – quietness, silence” (Strong’s). A woman’s participation in the assembly must be in according with God’s will. The Holy Spirit said that she should not find herself in a position where she is teaching or exercising authority over a man. this certainly means that she cannot be a preacher or pastor in the local church, but further, a woman must be careful about the nature of her participation in Bible discussions, lest by the nature of her comments she inadvertently (or intentionally) become a teacher in the assembly.
Some will explain this away by saying it was a cultural thing, and that it no longer applies. Where does the Bible say it was cultural or that it no longer applies? In fact, the text itself, identifies the Law of Moses (1 Corinthians 14:34) and the order or creation (1 Timothy 2:13), not culture as the source for this teaching. Creation and the distinct roles which God gave to men and women in the family are equally applied to the assembly of God’s people.
Paul closes out our text by affirming his authority. In verse 36, he challenges those who might oppose what he said, asking if the word of God came from them? In verse 37, he says that those who are spiritual, those who claim to be true servants of God, will acknowledge that what Paul wrote are the commandments of God. In verse 38, if anyone wants to be ignorant, he invites them to be ignorant (though understand, being ignorant of God’s commandments is NOT bliss). In verse 39, the Corinthians were encouraged to desire the gifts (and use them to God’s glory), and then finally, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (v 40). May we serve decently and in order!