Notes on 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

1 Corinthians 14:26‑40  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The apostle now comes to the practical deductions from the divine principles laid down for regulating the assembly. The Corinthians had assumed absolute openness or really license for human will from the fact of the powers distributed to one and another by the Spirit. To control a meeting where He wrought thus seemed unreasonable. But here they were wholly mistaken; for the blessed One who is now gent down from heaven is a Spirit of order, and works in love for the purpose of maintaining the Lordship of Christ. Hence no power at work in or by man exempts from the rule of the Lord, but on the contrary exalts it, if exercised according to the will of God.
“What is it then, brethren? Whenever ye come together, each of you1 hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edification. If any one speak with a tongue, [let it be] two or at the most three, and in turn, and let one interpret; but if there be no interpreter, let him be silent in an assembly, and let him speak to himself and to God. And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others discern; but if there be a revelation to another while sitting, let the first be silent; for ye can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all be exhorted. And spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not [a God] of confusion but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints.” (Ver. 26-83.)
Such was the restless desire of contributing each his part, not of general edification by whomsoever the Lord might deign to employ. Indeed they were thinking of themselves, not of Him nor of each other in love. Still none can deny to the assembly the fullest liberty: else it could not have been thus abused. Modern arrangements exclude not the abuse only but that liberty which ought to be; and in fact, where the Spirit of the Lord is, liberty is characteristic of His presence individually or collectively, and in the assembly it is marked according to scripture. Not that such as Neander in the least understood this, who founded it on the priesthood of all Christians, which is a wholly different relation concerning the saints in their freedom of access to God. Here it is a question of His assembly wherein the Holy Spirit acts by the members as He will to glorify the Lord and edify the saints. Hence power is subordinated to the Lord's authority, the vessel of divine energy is made to feel responsibility in its use, and the vital principle of obedience is preserved intact. Thus is God in all things glorified through Jesus Christ, as says the great apostle of the circumcision, when exhorting that each should use the gift which he had received as a good steward of God's manifold grace.
The apostle then limits speaking in a tongue to two or at most three on the same occasion, in turn, and then only in case of one to interpret. So it was to be even with prophesying, where the others2 were to judge or discern, instead of one interpreting. Prophesying was of all gifts the most precious and suited to build up or otherwise act on the saints and even those outside for good; but there must not be an excess even of the best thing, for God is jealous for the blessing of His saints, and thinks of the weakest in the assembly who might be distracted, not edified, by more than three. Should a revelation be made to one sitting by, he could speak, the other being silent, for a revelation when thus given took precedence of all communication. There was room indeed for all to prophesy for the instruction and stirring up of all, but one by one. Power must not set order aside: spirits of prophets are subject to prophets, instead of all being an uncontrollable impulse. It was not with the working of the Holy Spirit as with demon power; and this because God is not the source of confusion but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints, where order was peculiarly due to His character as present. Excitement and tumult, even in the exercise of divinely given energy, dishonor Him, the spring and giver of peace.
It is not quite certain whether we should connect the last clause with verse 33 as its close, or with verse 34 as its beginning. Many critics and commentators prefer the latter. There is no doubt that Lachmann was wrong in punctuating the Greek, so as to make “of the saints” the complement, not of the assemblies to which it unquestionably belongs, but to “the women,” ύμῶν, being of course omitted on the authority of the three greatest uncials, six cursives, most of the ancient versions, and of early citations. But safer editors, like Tischendorf, who also omit ὐμῶν, separate αί γυναῖκες, “the women” from τῶν ἁγίων, “of the saints.” To begin with such a phrase is unexampled. “Let the women be silent in the assemblies; for it is not permitted to them to speak, but let them be in subjection3 as also the law saith. But if they wish to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in an assembly.” (Ver. 34, 85.)
This rule is of great moment. Women are forbidden to speak in the assemblies. It might have been supposed by those who love to reason that there if anywhere they might be allowed. The holy atmosphere, where man is as nothing, where God makes His presence and power known spiritually, might have seemed a fitting place for holy women to speak, who undoubtedly might have gifts, even that of prophesying like the four daughters of Philip the evangelist. (Acts 21:99And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. (Acts 21:9).) But no; the apostle was inspired to forbid it in the assemblies, of course not absolutely, for every gift is meant to be exercised, but the manner must be in submission to the Lord's direction. Divine revelation in the Old Testament gave clear intimation of woman's place generally in subjection: the New Testament is no less peremptory as to the assemblies. The notion of their standing forth in proclamation of the gospel crossed no mind in those days. This was a violation of female propriety, which would have shocked even the heathen. It was reserved for the corruption of the best thing, for the innovating spirit and ways of modern Christendom. The apostle forbade their even asking a question on these public occasions. If they wish to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in an assembly.
The entire subject is wound up by the demand whether the word of God set out to them or reached to them only. The Corinthians were the first to depart from the apostolic order established everywhere. It was the beginning of ecclesiastical revolt. The church is to be subject. The word of God commands, and commands all assemblies alike.
“What, did the word of God go out from you, or reached it unto you alone? If any one seemeth to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge the things which I write to you, that they are [the] 4Lord's commandment.5 But if any one be ignorant, let him be ignorant.6: Wherefore, my7 brethren, seek earnestly for prophesying, and forbid not the speaking in 8 the tongues;9 but let all things be done becomingly and in order.” (Ver. 80-40.)
The assembly is bound to maintain the truth, and, whilst bearing with want of intelligence (for we all know but in part), to sanction no error. The assembly is bound to walk in holiness to the Lord, as becomes those called from darkness into His marvelous light. But the assembly is taught; it cannot and ought not to teach, but to accept those whom the Lord sends to teach. The assembly is called to act in receiving and putting away, in both subject to the Lord and His word; but rule properly is in the hands of those so gifted of God, just as preaching, teaching, or any other service. It is the Lord who gives; it is the Lord who commands, as we see here, in the authoritative injunction of His apostle. The word of God comes to the saints, and it comes to them all. Differing views may be found, alas! like every other failure; but the assemblies are surely to seek to walk in the fellowship of His mind and will. Different circumstances may modify in matters of detail, yet more in appearance than reality; while, in matters which concern not only vital truth but godly order as here, scripture leaves no justifiable ground for dissent again, to be gifted with special insight into God's mind, or to reap the fruit of this in spirituality, if real, would only deepen the sense of the Lord's authority and the imperativeness of obedience. We see the perfection of this in Christ Himself here below. Let power of the Spirit then be shown in the recognition of His commandment Does any one refuse subjection on the score of ignorance? Then let him keep the place of ignorance and not pretend to teach. Those who wish to guide others should know what is, and what is not, of the Lord. It is really a question of will in those who do not see; for His injunction fails not in power to reach the conscience. To reason further would be to indulge will and strengthen, beside possible harm to one's own soul. The refractory are best left in His hands whose words they cavil at: if His own, He knows how to break them down and make them thankful for the light, the refusal of which keeps them in ignorance.
The conclusion the apostle then shuts up the brethren to is, zeal for prophesying, and no prohibition of speaking with tongues, regulated as we have seen in the assemblies. For all things, not these merely, are to be done becomingly and in order. But the Spirit alone can give us to discern always what is comely, and the order is not left to human discretion, but revealed by the Lord. Thus man's will, as it is condemned in every detail of individual life (for we are sanctified to obedience, yea, to the same kind of obedience as our Lord Jesus Christ), is no less excluded from the assembly of God which He has formed for the glory of Christ, and in which He acts by the Holy Ghost according to the written word.