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Order in Public Worship
Summary —Of the Spiritual Gifts Prophecy Gives the First Place. Speaking With Tongues Secondary. Both Must Be Used so as to Edify. In the Church Assemblies What is Spoken in a Tongue Must be Interpreted. One Only Must Speak at Once. The Women Must Keep Silent.
1–5. Desire earnestly spiritual gifts. Though love is to be a supreme pursuit, yet this is not intended to disparage spiritual gifts. Let them be sought, but in seeking, desire above all the gift of prophecy. 2. For he that speaketh in a tongue. Hath the gift of tongues. The tenor of Paul's remarks shows that the Corinthians placed too high a comparative estimate on this gift. Speaketh mysteries. Things that are unknown and mysterious to his hearers. Men do not understand him. 3. He that prophesieth. To prophesy means more than to foretell. It is to declare the will of God under a divine impulse. When Peter spoke on Pentecost, he did the work of a New Testament prophet. In this formative period of the church, before the New Testament was written, it was needful that there be these inspired guides in the churches. Unto men edification. Instruction, and strengthening. 4. He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself. His speech in the unknown tongue tends to strengthen him, though not instructing others. He is made to feel that he is moved by God, and so is filled with awe. 5. Greater is he that prophesieth. Greater, because he serves the church best. Unless the tongues were interpreted, they were an unmeaning sound to the church, while he who prophesied, instructed and built it up.
Note. —Concerning this gift of tongues, there is considerable confusion among commentators. Some have held that it was a sort of rhapsody under the influence of the Spirit in no earthly language. Others have held that it was a gift of the knowledge of foreign languages to the early Christians to enable them to preach the gospel to all nations. Neither view appears to be correct. 1. Undoubtedly there was a manifestation of the gift of tongues on the Day of Pentecost (Acts, chapter 2). Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Greeks, Romans, heard in their own language. 2. It was not a gift of the knowledge of a foreign language, for verses 13 and 14 show that the speaker did not understand his own words. 3. It was a gift, not for exercise in the church, but a “sign to them that believe not” (verse 22). When they heard the gospel message in a tongue which the speaker did not understand, but in their own tongue (as on the Day of Pentecost), their wonder was excited, and many would confess that it was the work of God.
6–11. What shall I profit you, etc. The gift of tongues, exercised to the church, cannot profit unless it does one of four things named: A revelation. The inspired utterance of him who prophesies. Knowledge. The gift of teaching the inspired truths of the Scriptures, or those revealed by the prophets. 7. Even things without life. Musical instruments that give forth a sound, such as a pipe or a harp, the chief musical instruments of the Greeks, must give a distinction of sounds, if one would know what is played. 8. If the trumpet. The various distinctions of note sounded a charge, a retreat, etc. 9. So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue, etc. It is only speech to the air, unless there is the distinction of intelligible words. 10. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world. Articulate language spoken and understood by some men. 11. If I know not the meaning of the voice. The language. I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian. A foreigner, not understanding his language. The Greeks and Romans called all not of their races barbarians.
12–17. Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. If you seek for spiritual gifts, seek rather those that will build up the church, such as prophesying and teaching. 13. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue. Let him pray that he may have the gift of interpretation also. See 12:10. Let him pray that he may understand what he utters, so as to explain it. 14. If I pray in an unknown tongue. He does not understand, and only his spirit prayeth. 15. What is it then? How then am I to act? He answers that question. He will have both the spirit and the understanding unite in singing and praying, by using a tongue that he understands. 16. Else, when thou shalt bless the Spirit, etc. If an unknown tongue is used, how can one who does not understand it say the Amen to the blessing at the proper place? Note here, (1) This shows that audible responses to the praises and thanksgivings were the custom of the church. (2) The unlearned means a private person, the private members of the church, those not possessed of the spiritual gifts.
18–22. I had rather speak five words, etc. All must be done to edification. Hence, all must be understood. There is a lesson here to preachers who are so learned in their utterances that the people cannot understand them. 20. Be not children in understanding. Use manly good sense and judgment in the church. To babble in an unknown tongue is like a child. In malice be ye children. To vainly choose a course that would merely excite wonder, and not edify, would seem to partake of malice rather than love. 21. In the law it is written. See Isaiah 28:11, 12, for the quotation. The Jews were there told that for their sins they would be carried into the Assyrian captivity, where they would hear strange languages. This was a judgment. Wherefore, do not force the church to listen to listen to strange tongues which serve to remind of the judgment of Israel. 22. Wherefore tongues, etc. They are a sign to unbelievers, who are moved when they hear the gospel spoken in their tongue by men who have never learned it and do not understand it.
23–25. If therefore the whole church be come together. The apostle now treats of the proper order and decorum in the church assemblies. And all speak with tongues. There would be a babble of confusion and no edification. To a private member, or an unbeliever, they would seem to be mad. 24. But if all prophesy. Those speaking would then speak what would be understood, and, speaking under the divine impulse, would convict. He is judged. His state and character are laid bare by the speakers. 25. The secrets of his heart are made manifest. He is made to feel that he is face to face with God, who knows his life, and he is brought to confession. It is still often the case that the hearer thinks that the preacher knows his life, and is laying it bare, when it is his own conscience that is stirred up.
26–33. What is it then, brethren? What course should be pursued in the public assemblies of the church? When ye come together, each one hath, etc. When they come together, one comes purposing to sing a psalm; another to teach concerning some question; another, a prophet, has a revelation to present; another proposes to speak in a tongue; another, still, to interpret what is spoken. Now this must all be done unto edifying. All that will not tend to this must be left out. 27. If any man speaketh in a tongue. He must speak two, or at the most three sentences (by two, or at the most three) in succession (by course), and another, who has the gift of interpretation (12:10), must interpret. Most commentators refer two or three to persons speaking. I follow Macknight. 28. But if there be no interpreter. In that case the rule, “Let all things be done to edifying,” will force the speaker in tongues to keep silence in the church. He may speak somewhere else, or in his soul, but not in the assembly of the saints. 29. Let the prophets speak two or three. Let two or three prophets speak at a meeting. In the Greek, “two or three” are in the nominative. In verse 27, in which speaking with tongues is treated, the numerals are in the accusative case with a preposition. Hence there, with Macknight, I have referred to them to the sentences spoken. If the persons speaking were meant the construction would be as in verse 29. Let the others discern. Let them discern whether they speak by inspiration. 30. If anything be revealed. If the prophetic impulse comes upon a hearer, let the first desist. Let only one speak at a time. 31. For ye all may prophesy. All who have the prophetic gift, but it must be one by one, not more than one speaking at a time. 32. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. A prophet can wait his turn in silence; he is not compelled to speak at once, for his spirit is subject to him. He can be silent if he wills it. 33. For God is not the author of confusion. Such confusion as more than one speaking at a time is not of God. God demands peace and order “in all the churches of the saints.”
34–36. Let the women keep silence in the churches. This, in view of other portions of the Scriptures, is confessedly a difficult passage. In 1 Tim. 2:11, 12, We have the same teaching. On the other hand, Deborah was a judge and a prophetess; Huldah was a prophetess; Joel predicted that in the Christian dispensation “the sons and daughters should prophesy” (Joel 2:28), and Peter declared that this was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). In addition, the daughters of Philip prophesied (Acts 21:9), and in 1 Cor. 11:5, Paul gives directions concerning women prophesying. Probably these apparent discrepancies may be reconciled as follows: (1) Paul's prohibition of speaking to the women is, in the churches; that is, in the church assemblies when “the whole church is come together into one place” (verse 23). It is an official meeting of the church. “Church” in the New Testament always means the ecclesia. It does not apply to such informal meetings as the social or prayer-meetings, but to formal gatherings of the whole body. (2) It may be that even this prohibition was due to the circumstances that existed in Ephesus, where Timothy was, and in Corinth, and would not apply everywhere. If so, it applies wherever similar circumstances exist, but not elsewhere. Both were Greek churches. Among the Greeks public women were disreputable. For a woman to speak in public would cause the remark that she was shameless. Virtuous women were secluded. Hence it would be a shame for women to speak in the church assembly. It is noteworthy that there is no hint of such a prohibition to any churches except Grecian. Wherever it would be shameful, women ought not to speak. 36. What? Was it from you that the word of God went forth? A rebuke. The Corinthian church must receive instruction, not give it. It did not send out the word of God, but the word of God was sent to it.
37–40. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual. If any one thinks he is inspired, or has spiritual gifts, one proof of it is that he recognizes what I write as the Lord's commandment. This is always a test. Whoever insists that he has the spirit, and sets aside the New Testament commands is self-convicted. 38. If any man be ignorant. If he will be ignorant and obstinate, let him remain so. 39. Wherefore. The apostle concludes this section of church order by again commending prophecy as the chief gift, and enjoining order in the church exercises.
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