Exposition of 1 Corinthians
1 Corinthians 14:26-33 ESV
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. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
As in all the churches of the saints.
We are moving along to the second part of 1 Corinthians 14. You will remember that I said that 1 Corinthians 14 consists of one main point and two sub points. This is the main point: The one who truly loves the brethren will want to edify (build up) the brethren; however it is impossible to edify the people of God without 1. Intelligibility (vss. 1-25) and order (vss. 26-40). Love seeks edification. Love says, “I value you and want to build you up in the love of Christ.” But Paul says that it is impossible to build up the body of Christ if you no one knows what you are saying and if you chaotic about it. We have already dealt with the issue of intelligibility.
We are now going to be looking at vss. 26-40. You may remember an illustration I used a few weeks ago when talking about the necessity of order in the body of Christ. I pointed to the Shawn Hannity show on Fox News. Hannity will have a panel discussion on a controversial political issue. On the panel will be four different political commentators with differing opinions. Generally there are no guidelines or structure to the debate. Because there are no rules or guidelines—no order—to the discussion, it usually devolves into a yelling fest within 15 seconds of the discussion. At the end of the discussion you haven’t learned a blessed thing. You couldn’t even summarize either of their positions. Because there is no order or structure the debate is unhelpful. This is what was going on in Corinth. Everyone was exercising their speaking gifts at the same time. It was a chaotic scene. There may have been a lot of ministry going on but it was not edifying or instructive or helpful because it was all a garbled mess.
1 Corinthians 14:26-32
Paul begins with a general statement.
26 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.
He says, “What then, brothers?” In other words, how should your church services look in light of everything I have just said. Paul has now come to the point where he is going to tell them how they ought to go about practicing their spiritual gifts—he lays forth guidelines for exercising the gifts in church. What follows is purely practical. What you will find is that Paul lays one overarching principle and 2 general guidelines for how the Corinthians are to go about exercising the gifts at church. We will consider these guidelines as we move throughout the text. Before we look at these guidelines, though, I want you to notice what Paul says about the giftedness of Corinthian church in vs. 26b. Paul is well aware that he is speaking to a church which is well-endowed with spiritual gifts. When they come to church they all come ready and raring to go with their spiritual gifts.
You will remember that Paul said that they were “eager for manifestations of the Spirit.” The Corinthians were not spiritually dead. They were eager to exercise their gifts at church. They were like a rodeo bull in the stall right before the gate is opened—filled with vigor and vim. They had no need for anyone to light a candle under their behind to get them passionate and excited to see God work in their midst. In fact, the Corinthians were at the opposite extreme. They were passionate, but they were undisciplined in their passion for the work of the Spirit in their midst. They were like loose canons—they were undisciplined in their exercising of the gifts. This leads us to the first principle.
Overarching Principle (vs. 26): “Let all things be done for building up.”
This is where the Corinthians went wrong. They had the passion. They had the drive. They needed no stimulus to crank them up to get involved. The problem with the Corinthians was that they were entirely undisciplined and selfish about the exercising of their gifts. They came to church with their gifts not looking to build up the body, but to build up themselves. They came to church looking to get a personal, private, spiritual fix without a care as to whether others were built up or not. This is the overarching principle of 1 Corinthians 14. We have already spent a good deal of time on this, so we will move along.
Paul goes on to argue that this edification cannot happen apart from order. He gives two general guidelines to help establish that order. The first guideline is found in vss. 27-33.
Guideline #1: One at a time.
Paul’s point in vss. 27-33 is that these gifts are to be exercised one at a time. Paul is not okay with two tongue speakers or two prophets speaking at the same time. Consider the passage with me.
27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
This is rather humorous, isn’t it!
It seems that multiple people would speak in tongues at the same time. They spoke over each other. Imagine if Moe was to get up and preach when I got up to preach. Imagine if we were to preach over each other. How could anybody be edified by that? I want to conduct something of an experiment. I am going to have Bill read a quote from Charles Leiter, Jeff read a quote from Leonard Ravenhill, and I will read a quote from D. Martyn Lloyd Jones. I want you to listen to these three quotes very carefully. I have found these three quotes to be extremely helpful to me in my own Christian life.
The tragedy of this late hour is that we have too many dead men in the pulpits giving out too many dead sermons to too many dead people. Oh! The horror of it. There is a strange thing that I have seen ‘under the sun,’ even in the fundamentalist circles; it is preaching without unction. What is unction? I hardly know. But I know what it is not (or at least I know when it is not upon my own soul). Preaching without unction kills instead of giving life. The unctionless preacher is a savor of death unto death. The Word does not live unless the unction is upon the preacher. Preacher, with all thy getting—get unction. –Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, 20.
Christians are not laboring to achieve a life that they do not yet have or to obtain a victory that has not yet been won. They are participants in the very life of Christ and in the victory that He has already won. Christian, you are a partaker of the resurrection life of Christ, and He has already defeated and broken the power of sin that you are facing right now—by His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension! As a participant in His life, your calling is not to try to achieve something for yourself that He has not achieved, but to believe what He has already done for you and to walk in it. –Charles Leiter, Justification and Regeneration, 106-107.
And this is our greatest need. Over and above all that we might see of the miraculous power of God in demonstration is the character of God Himself. Miracles and things of that kind God uses when he feels the time is appropriate, but men and women are always demanding them. There are those in the Church today who are so interested in faith healing for this reason. They say, ‘If only we could do that, then the people would be interested.’ But, you see, God does not grant it. No, we must not be interested in God’s activities at the expense of God Himself. Our ultimate need is to know God Himself and this is possible to us, in, and through, His goodness. –D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival, 227.
Now imagine if all of these quotes were to be read at the exact same time.
Would you be built up by these three quotes? No. How could you be built up if they are read at the same time? You wouldn’t be able to follow any one quote in particular. Three speaking at once would bring confusion. It wouldn’t be edifying… it would just be noisy! Now this was the problem with the Corinthians. You can see it right in our passage.
He starts with the gift of tongues in vs. 27.
He says that two or three should speak in tongues, but that they should do so “in turn.” What he is saying is that they shouldn’t do it at the same time. So you have person 1, 2, and 3. Person 1 gets up and speaks in tongues. Only after the tongue is interpreted should person 2 get up and speak in tongues and only after that tongue is interpreted should person 3 get up and speak in tongues. And you will notice that he says “at most three.” Paul is not okay with tongues taking on a life of its own in the life of the church. He will say down in vs. 39 that the church should not forbid speaking in tongues, but he also doesn’t want this gift dominate the life of the church. The emphasis in vs. 26 is on order. Each should speak “in turn.”
He then says in vs. 28 that the tongue speaker should not speak if there is no interpret.
Paul actually says that he should be silent if there is not interpreter. We have already discussed why Paul would say this—because uninterpreted tongues can’t edify the body because no one knows what is being said. It is not okay for a Christian to speak or pray in tongues at church unless there is an interpreter and unless they submit themselves to the guidelines of order that Paul has laid forth in this passage. If there is no interpreter, you should only speak in tongues at home—keep it between you and God. Your elders will pull you aside if you should speak in tongues in church out of order or without an interpreter. We will not bully you, but we will remind you of these very guidelines which Paul establishes in 1 Corinthians 14.
Paul goes on to speak about the gift of prophecy in vs. 29.
He says that two or three prophets should speak. It will become clear as we move along that these prophets should also speak “in turn.” These prophets should not prophesy over one another. He then says that after each prophet speaks, others are to “weigh” what is said. In other words, they are to discern the truth content of what is said. We will talk more about this in a minute. What Paul is clearly saying is that there is to be structure and order in the church when this gift is exercised. So you have three prophets; prophet 1, prophet 2, and prophet 3. Prophet 1 gets up and prophesies. Only after his prophecy has been weighed should prophet 2 get up and prophesy and only after his prophecy has been weighed should prophet 3 get up and prophesy. The emphasis is clearly on order.
He goes on to say in vs. 30 that prophet 1 should sit down if God should reveal something to another prophet.
What is Paul saying here? I think he combating the Corinthians view of the gifts. The Corinthians exercised the gifts selfishly. They did not exercise the gifts for the building up of the body, but for the sake of expressing themselves and of demonstrating their superior spirituality. I think Paul is combating that selfish spirit in this verse. Prophet 1 is sharing a word from God. As he is sharing a word from God, God reveals something to another prophet sitting there. What should prophet 1 do? Should he keep talking or should he yield the floor to the second prophet. He should sit down and let this other Christian share what God has revealed. Why? Because these gifts are not given for personal expression. They aren’t given for the purpose of showing off spiritual superiority. These gifts are given for the building up of the body. So if God reveals something to someone else that will be more beneficial to the body, yield the floor to him so that the body might be built up.
It is so easy to become possessive and territorial about the gifts and ministries that God has given us.
It is so easy for us to think about our own role without considering what is best for the building up of the body. But that was Paul’s primary concern. You may not have the gift of prophecy or tongues, but this verse applies to all of us. It is so easy to become possessive and territorial. We should be happy to share the stage with others. I personally love it when Moe or Kevin preaches in my stead. Preaching is not given for the purpose of giving a pastor a platform for expressing himself. Preaching is all about feeding God’s sheep. It is sheep focused (as opposed to pastor focused) ministry.
Pastors who are possessive of their pulpits are more concerned about expressing themselves and protecting their position than they are about the well being of the sheep. There is a great deal of a difference between being discerning about who preaches from the pulpit and being possessive of the pulpit. No preacher should let just anyone fill his shoes. Nonetheless, some preachers refuse to share their pulpit because they are afraid of being outperformed. Thus they are selfish about their gift. This is exactly what Paul is combating. If God reveals something to someone else which will be more profitable for building up the church, the first prophet should surrender the floor for the sake of the body.
Paul goes on to talk about order in vs. 31.
He explains that all can prophesy one by one. There is no need for two prophets to speak over each other. They can prophesy “in turn” just as those with the gift of tongues can speak in tongues “in turn” (vs. 27). They don’t need to be speaking over each other. He then tells us in the second half of the verse why order is so important in the exercising of the gifts—why it is important to speak “in turn”; “so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” It is for the building up of the body. The body cannot be built up when everyone is exercising their gifts and speaking at the same time. This is what vss. 26-40 is all about. The one who truly loves the brethren will want to build them up, but it is impossible to build up the brethren without order. That is exactly what Paul is communicating in vs. 31.
Now in vs. 32 we have a window into why the Corinthians were so disruptive in their worship.
Here Paul tells them that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” They truly were acting like children. I remember my mom scolding me when I was young, “Jimmy, I am talking. Don’t interrupt me.” I remember getting scolded at school for cutting in the lunch line. Imagine it. Imagine if I were to raise my hand during prayer request time and as soon as I open my mouth to share a prayer request someone else flat out speaks over me. We would call that childish behavior. This is what the Corinthians were doing. And I must say that Paul’s solution to their problem is not all that profound.
Paul’s solution is this, “Corinthians, stop talking over each other.
Wait your turn.” That is what parents tell their toddlers. But in vs. 32 we see why the Corinthians were so chaotic. They were chaotic because they had a “let go and let God” view of the Christian life. Now I am not totally against that cliché, but often times it is used to communicate that when a Christian is truly filled with the Spirit, he is so controlled by the Spirit that he is not in control of what he thinks, says, or does. The goal, you see, is to become a limp noodle in the hands of God. And many Christians will boast that when the Spirit comes upon them that they go into a hypnotic trance where they are carried away by the Spirit. Paul wants them to know that when the Spirit comes upon a Christian to prophesy, that Christian is still in control of all that he thinks, says, and does. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”
I would actually argue that it is dangerous for the Christian to be so carried away by the Spirit that they can’t control themselves. This is more descriptive of the work of the enemy than of the Spirit of God. One thinks, for example, of the demon possessed girl in Acts 16:16-18 who kept declaring that Paul and his missionary companions were servants of the Most High God. Paul cast the demon out of the girl and she was no longer under the control of the evil spirit.
This stands in direct contrast to what we find in Galatians 5.
Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in vss. 22-23. The last fruit of the Spirit that is listed is “self-control.” Self-control is what marks the one who is filled with the Spirit. This is exactly what did not mark the Corinthians. They were completely undisciplined in the exercising of their gifts. And the sad thing is that many think that this lack of self-control is an evidence of the Spirit’s work. It is not. Paul says that the spirits of the prophets is subject to the prophets. Many will actually say that you are quenching the Spirit if you impose the order of 1 Corinthians 14 on them. “When the Spirit empowers me I am just taken away and I can’t stop. I have no control.” Many of the “quote unquote” charismatic revivals were marked by this lack of self-control. People laughing uncontrollably, barking like dogs, and much of this while in a hypnotic trance. I am sure that many thought that Paul was putting limits on the Spirit by expecting them to exercise these gifts one by one. But we must understand that the one who is truly filled with the Spirit has more self-control, not less self-control. This is one way to test whether or not your gift is truly from the Spirit or not.
Paul concludes this section in vs. 33 by pointing to the character of God.
His point is this; orderly worship is appropriate because it reflects the character of God. He says, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” Our worship ought to reflect the fact that we worship a holy God who is both transcendent and intimate. Methods do matter. The way we worship reflects our God. Paul’s concern with the Corinthians is that their method of worship didn’t reflect Him properly. He says that God is not a God of confusion. The word Paul uses can literally refer to disorder. Yet what characterized the Corinthian’s worship? Disorder, chaos, competition, selfishness. Paul says that God is a God of peace. The way they worshipped did not at all promote peace among the brethren. In fact, their worship promoted one-upmanship and competition. Their worship promoted disorder and created discord instead of promoting peace through mutual selfless edification.
Guideline #2: these gifts are subject to spiritual oversight and biblical discernment.
The second guideline which Paul clearly lays forth for the use of the gifts is that all these gifts are subject to the spiritual oversight and biblical discernment of the church. Paul sets forth in these verses two very clear stages of spiritual discernment. The first stage is what I call a screening stage. Let me explain.
Paul gave the church in Corinth guidelines which they were to be subject to as they exercised these gifts. Someone must ask the question, How were these guidelines implemented into the worship service at Corinth? Someone had to take upon themselves the responsibility of implementing and enforcing the guidelines which Paul laid forth here in 1 Corinthians 14 so that these gifts are exercised in a way that promotes peace and edification. It makes most sense to me that the spiritual overseers of the church, the pastors/elders, would be those who take this responsibility on themselves. You can imagine how this would work; a person comes to the elders and says, “God has given me a tongue for the church.” The elders would listen to the tongue and see if anyone has an interpretation. If there were no interpretation, the elders would say, “No interpreter. It won’t be shared with the body.” If there were to be an interpretation, they would probably hear the interpretation and discern whether it was beneficial for the body.
You have to remember that part of the guidelines which Paul set established that only 2 and at most 3 could speak in tongues. So they had to discern which tongues were to be most appropriate for the church at that time. I call this the screening stage of discernment. The elders have the responsibility of screening those with the gifts so that they can make sure that these gifts are exercised according to the guidelines laid forth by Paul.
Let me say on a very practical level, that we would expect anyone with the gift of prophecy or tongues to share what God has given you with us before you exercise it. This has to be part of the process. It would not be appropriate, for example, for a person to speak in tongues off the cuff and then say, “Does anyone have an interpretation?” The elders of the church would have to take the responsibility on themselves to implement these guidelines. And I can say that Kevin, Moe, and I are all agreed that while we are open to these gifts being exercised, we would err on the side of caution. We do not believe that these gifts have ceased, but we also realize that we do not live in the same time frame as the apostle Paul. We do have a completed Bible. There is not as much of a need for supernatural communication from God. Thus while we would be open to God working in this way, we would err on the side of caution.
The second stage is what I would call the weighing stage. You see this in vs. 29.
After the prophet speaks “the others weigh what is said.” The whole body takes part at this point and tests the interpreted tongue or prophecy to the word of God to discern whether it is from God or not. Now this is so important. Everything is to be tested by Scripture. Nothing is above the test of Scripture. It doesn’t matter how spiritual it may seem, everything is to be tested by Scripture. The church must never grow slack on this point. Many will say, “Just receive it. God wants you to just receive the work of His Spirit. To test it is to lack faith.” I say, “No! God commands us to test all things.”
1 Thessalonians 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
There are two ways of quenching the Spirit according to this passage: by not being open to the work of the Spirit and by blindingly and undiscerningly receiving anything and everything without testing it.
Next week we will pick up where we left off this morning.
Jimmy serves as pastor for “Preaching and Vision” at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Boscawen, New Hampshire. Previoulsy he fulfilled leadership roles in both Kansas City, Missouri and Las Vegas, Nevada. Jimmy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Hannibal-LaGrange College and a Master of Divinity degree from Liberty University.
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