1 Corinthians 14 - Tongues, Prophecy, Orderly Worship

1. What advantages or good results does Paul attribute to the gift of prophecy in verses 1-5? How do these advantages compare with the results of speaking in a tongue?

A: 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 begins this section by affirming the superiority of prophecy to tongues. The reason prophecy is superior to tongues is that it is understandable.

The contrast between prophecy and tongues is clearly stated in verses 2-4. People who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God. Those who prophesy speak to other people. It is important to understand Paul clearly at this point. Modern Pentecostals often claim that their speaking in tongues is a “message” for the congregation. Paul’s words here would not support such a claim. Whether the Corinthians thought they were talking to God or to each other is not stated. What is clear is that Paul regards speaking in tongues as not communicating [anything intelligible] to people.

2. Summarize Paul’s point in verses 7-11 in your words. What problem(s) with speaking in tongues do these verses reveal?

A: Verses 7-8 introduce a comparison. Flutes, harps, and trumpets do not accomplish their purpose unless one can distinguish between the notes they play. The distinct notes allow a melody to be played and harmony to be composed. The trumpet’s role is especially critical. If one cannot recognize its sound how will one know whether or not to prepare for battle? In the last several centuries bugles communicated the commander’s orders to either charge or retreat to the soldiers. If one could not distinguish the sounds how would one know whether to charge or retreat?

Verse 9 sums up the point. If one speaks in a tongue and the words are unintelligible it is the same as talking into the wind.

Verses 10-11 shift the analogy to a new front, that of foreign languages. Paul is not arguing here that the tongues-speaking done by the Corinthians is a foreign language. Rather, his point is that it is no more understandable than listening to a foreign language.

3. The NRSV translates verse 12 to say “strive to excel in spiritual gifts for the building up of the church.” What spiritual gift(s) should you excel in for the building up of your church?

A: The point of everything in corporate worship is not personal experience in the Spirit, but building up the church itself. … The building up of the community is the basic reason for corporate settings of worship; they should probably not be turned into a corporate gathering for a thousand individual experiences of worship.

Almost all American expressions of worship struggle to understand the importance Paul placed on the church as a whole. We are too used to measuring everything in terms of its impact on us personally.

4. What does Paul say about the importance of the mind in worship according to verses 14-16? What application would you make for the way the mind is used and involved in worship today?

A: In Verse 14, Paul says if he prays in a tongue his spirit prays but his mind is fruitless. Praying with the mind means praying with understanding, which is the point Paul has been developing throughout the preceding verses.

In Verse 15, Paul speaks of the same balance in psalm-singing. He presents his own pattern as a model for the Corinthians to follow. Paul’s demand for the balance of understanding and spiritual prayer is important for our understanding of appropriate corporate worship. The need for understanding and intelligibility excludes tongues speaking without interpretation. It excludes any other activity that is not capable of being understood and explained. Paul is still developing the same point he has been working on since verse 6. Another person cannot appropriately respond to an utterance that might be a message from God if that person cannot understand the words when they are spoken in a tongue.

5. What concern for outsiders and unbelievers appear in these verses? What principle guides Paul’s instructions on this subject? How should we apply that same principle to our worship today?

A: Paul asks the Corinthians not to become children in their thinking, but to become mature. There are several lines of thought at work in Verse 20. The clear implication is that the Corinthians have been childish and immature in their insistence on speaking in tongues in public worship. Maturity would lead them to restrict the practice of their gift for the upbuilding of the whole church just as Paul does.

6. How would someone today know that God is present in your local church? How would you summarize in a brief prayer what you would like God to do for your church in this area?

7. What is the central objective in Paul’s call for orderly worship in Verses 26 to 40?

A: In Verse 26, Paul describes the way the Corinthians come together to worship. As they gather each person comes with something to contribute. He lists a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, and an interpretation as examples of the kinds of contributions the Corinthians come planning to share. This list is not an order of worship. It is not exhaustive; other contributions could have also been mentioned. It is not a command that it should be this way. Paul is simply stating the fact of how the Corinthians come to worship. The command and objective is the final sentence of verse 26. All things must be done for upbuilding, strengthening, or edifying the church and its members. The edifying, upbuilding, a nd strengthening of the gathered church is the criterion that Paul uses to evaluate the all of the aspects of worship. So everything done in church must be beneficial and strengthen the faith of all the believers.

8. Explain what the statement (Verse 33), “God is not a God of disorder, but of peace,” means to you in the context of the way you believe worship should be conducted.

9. What do you think Paul had in mind in the instructions for a woman to not speak in church in Verses 34-35? How does 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 influence your understanding of Verses 34-35?

A: Verses 34-35 deal with the participation of women in worship. These verses forcefully forbid women to speak in church. If they have questions they are to ask their husbands at home. These verses have received intense scrutiny in recent years. They appear to contradict the assumption of 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women may pray and prophesy in church. A variety of explanations have appeared. The traditional explanation has been that verses 34-35 are Paul’s standard teaching and that the material of chapter 11 must be refer to prayer meetings or some small group meeting rather than the worship service of the whole church.

The most popular explanation has been that the women at Corinth were involved in disruptive behavior. The common scenario supposes that the women sat together on one side of the room and the men were on the other. If women shouted questions to their husbands or defiant remarks such behavior would cause a major disruption of the order Paul calls for in this section. Such an explanation is certainly possible but we do not know if women and men were seated separately in early Christian worship or not. They were in the Jewish synagogues, but first century Christians worshipped in homes rather than church buildings.

Another recent explanation has been that verses 34-35 represent a quotation from the Corinthians. That would solve the problem of contradiction with chapter 11. It also explains the very un-Pauline way of arguing in these verses. Rarely does Paul appeal to the Old Testament Law as a rule for people to obey. Talbert argues that verses 34-35 represent the position of at least some at Corinth and that verse 36 is Paul’s “indignant reply.” However, the normal indicators of a quotation from the Corinthians are lacking in this passage.

A significant number of commentators argue that these verses were added to 1 Corinthians sometime after Paul wrote the letter. Such an approach used to be labeled “liberal” but the recent massive commentary by the very evangelical scholar, Gordon Fee, takes this position. Fee (pp. 699-701), however, argues his case on the basis of ancient manuscripts rather than the problem of contradictory ideas.

The number of explanations put forth for verses 34-35 shows two things. First, it is extremely difficult to understand these verses as they appear in chapter 14. They contradict too much of what we know Paul thought about women. Second, no explanation has been sufficiently satisfactory. We may never know with certainty the best way to explain why these verses appear in this place and what we are to make of them. In such cases a spirit of grace and tolerance is better than one of dogmatic assertion.

10. What do you think Paul is doing in verses 37-38? Is it fair? Is it right? Would a similar strategy by a pastor in our time be appropriate? Why? or why not?

A: Paul concludes chapter 14 with a series of instructions. Verse 37 affirms that one of the tests of the Corinthians’ spirituality will be whether or not they recognize that his words in chapters 12-14 represent a command from Christ. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge this should not be acknowledged in the worship of the church.

11. What do Verse 39-40 represent in the context of all of chapter 14? What application does Verse 40 have for contemporary worship?

A: In verse 39 Paul urges them to zealously seek to prophesy. This is the third time the verb “zealously seek” has been used in the treatment of spiritual gifts. Verse 39 also forbids the Corinthians to forbid speaking in tongues. Verse 39 thus sums up verses 1-25. Paul’s final command in verse 40 sums up verses 26-38. All things are to be done decently and in order. Such a command is applicable to all Christians in any cultural context. The command also acknowledges the role that culture will play in determining what a group of people consider decent and orderly.

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