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Reflections on the call to live by the Word of God

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Decently and In Order

1 Corinthians 14:26-40
Sunday morning, February 4, 2007
Buena Vista, Virginia, Milton Stanley

Because we’ve been away from 1 Corinthians for several weeks, let’s review what we’ve learned so far in this letter. When we study this week’s passage about prophecy and speaking in tongues, let’s remember that the Corinthian Christians seem to have been infatuated with speaking in tongues. And can you blame them? Wouldn’t you be fascinated with the Spirit-given ability to speak in a language you had never learned? But they were even more infatuated with something else: themselves. They were proud of their Spiritual power, their worldly wisdom. Their pride and knowledge had puffed them up, but the Corinthians were worldly, and so they were in fact small children in the Kingdom of God.

Remember that the Corinthians were a church with a number of problems. In Churches of Christ we strive for the simplicity of the first-century church. Certainly the early church didn’t have all the centuries of trivial additions and harmful tradition that we fight against today. Yet the church of the first century was far from pure of error. The Corinthians were split into factions, prone to bringing lawsuits against one another, plagued with sexual sin, disorderly in the worship, and confused about gender roles—much like the North American church today.

The immediate context of this letter is Paul’s discussion in chapters twelve through fourteen about prophecy and tongues. At the beginning chapter 14 we saw that prophecy is superior to tongues because it edifies believers and convicts the lost. Prophecy does not necessarily involve predicting the future but rather is proclaiming the deep truths from God. It’s not exactly the same as preaching today, but that’s the closest equivalent we now have. In the passage we’re looking at this morning, Paul wants to make sure the Christian assemblies in Corinth are proper and orderly in three areas: prophecy, tongues, and women. The overall theme is expressed in verse 26: “Let all things be done for building up” [1].

Building up, or edification—let everything done in the church be for building up the Kingdom of God. OK, that’s simple enough. But here’s a question. Why does Paul describe the purpose of the assembly as edification of each other rather than worship of God? No one would argue that building up is important, but isn’t worshiping God more important than serving each other? Well, if we’ll take a moment to see what’s being said here, not only will we better understand Paul’s message to the Corinthians, but we’ll gain an insight into interpreting all the Bible.

First of all, it’s understood—to Paul, the Corinthians, and Christians today—that the assembly is where Christians gather to worship God. Remember that 1 Cor. 14:25 mentions worshiping God in the assembly. And here’s the point that helps us understand not only this passage but many other passages in the Bible: Paul is addressing an immediate concern in both verses 25 and 26. It should be clear from Paul’s emphasis on edification that the Corinthians were not doing a very good job of building one another up! So that’s what Paul reminds them to do: edify. Paul is not trying to write a theological monograph here. He’s trying to help Christians in a specific place solve a specific problem. Remembering that truth helps us interpret Scripture. It also helps us see how the truths for the Corinthian congregation are truths ones still benefit the church today.

The focus of these verses reminds us of our two main emphases and obligations in the Kingdom of God. First is the obligation to love and worship God. Jesus told us loving God with all our being is the first and greatest commandment (Mt. 22:36-38). Of course, Jesus was quoting a Word given by God on Sinai (Dt. 6:5). Paul echoes that emphasis in verse 25 when he mentions unbelievers falling down and worshiping God. Second is our obligation to love and edify one another. Jesus called loving our neighbor the second great commandment (Mt. 22:39-40). That commandment, too, goes all the way back to Sinai (Lev. 19:18). Paul reminds the Corinthians of that commandment when he tells them that their worship must edify one another. We’ll look at a few particulars of that edification in a moment. First, though, let’s face perhaps the most controversial element of this chapter in our day.

In verses 34 and 35 Paul declares that “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.” That’s clear enough what he says. The more difficult question is, what does Paul actually mean? What exactly does keeping silent involve? Before we try to answer that question we need to acknowledge up front that our North American culture is very unwell right now on matters of gender. That cultural sickness affects everyone’s judgment in one way or another, whatever our position on these types of matters may be. Let us then, approach the text humbly as well as faithfully. Let’s remember that cultural biases are just as real in our day as they were in Paul’s. Some of what Paul has to say may be directed strictly to first-century Corinthians, while much of what he tells them should be shaping our behavior as well. The challenge is telling the difference.

For example, when Paul says that the women should “keep silent,” is he using a figure of speech or idiom? Consider our own day. When we tell someone to “Be quiet,” what exactly do we mean? Depending on the context, that simple little sentence could literally mean, “Stop talking so much,” “Stop talking so loudly,” “Stop talking about a certain topic,” or “Stop talking at all.” How literally, then, do we take “keep silent” in 1 Cor. 14:34? Should women be allowed to preach and teach in the church? To say “Amen” at the end of a prayer? To speak before and after services as they’re entering or leaving the building? To lead prayer in the assembly? To sing in church? To shuffle in the pew?

Christians have interpreted these two verses in a wide range of ways through the years. Some simply take the passage literally—that women are simply not to talk at all during worship services. Some limit the silence to judging prophecies as in verse 29. Some think the command is for women to worship in an orderly way and stop chattering to one another during the assembly [2]. Others think the instructions here are purely cultural and have no bearing on Christians today. With so many widely varying interpretations, how can we be sure which is correct?

To arrive at a valid interpretation, we must look at passages like this one with the logic of God’s Kingdom. We must be thoroughly familiar with the values of the Kingdom as revealed in the Word and the church. As a first step, we must look at the rest of Scripture and the practice of the church. And what do we find when we look at the contexts of 1 Corinthians in particular, the New Testament in general, and the history of the church?

Well, we know that Christian women did prophesy in the first-century. First Corinthians 11 suggests that women prophesied and prayed in the assembly, and we read unambiguously in Acts 21 that Phillip’s daughters were prophetesses. As Acts 2:8-9 tells us, God declares that “even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” Yet we also know that men and women have different roles in the church. The same chapter in 1 Corinthians that suggests women used to pray and prophesy tells us without any doubt that the male is head of the female (1 Cor. 11). What’s more, Paul tells Timothy that he does not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man (see 1 Tim. 2:8-15). We also know from history that the church made it through its first nineteen centuries without women preachers or elders.

Beyond these general principles, I’m not sure we can say much more about exactly what Paul meant. There’s a name, by the way, for the view that men and women have different roles in the church: complementarianism, from the idea that men and women’s roles are different but complementary. That is not a popular view today in many circles. Modernity has produced what is known as the egalitarian view—that men’s and women’s roles are equal. But because women’s authority has typically been exercised in the private sphere of the family while men’s has been in the public spheres of business and politics, the egalitarian view is based on an underlying devaluation of femininity. Some will say it is unjust that women are not allowed to be preachers. One could equally as respond that it’s unfair that men are not allowed to be mothers. You might say that one is physically possible while the other is not. But simply because something is possible doesn’t make it acceptable to god.

Keeping a couple of principles in mind can help us better understand the complementarian view. First, even though our roles are different in the church, in a more important sense men’s and women’s natures are the same. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We all stand in need of a Savior. All Christians are accepted as living members of the Body of Christ, in which there is no male and female, for we are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). What’s more, the pattern of men and women being essentially the same but functionally different reflects an important characteristic of God. In John’s gospel we see that Jesus and the Father are essentially one (Jn. 1:1; 10:30), yet Jesus was subject to the Father (Jn. 12:49-50) [3]. Jesus was sent not exalt himself, but to deny himself all the way to the cross. Christians are to do the same (Lk. 9:23), and that applies to men as much as to women.

The concept of denying ourselves lies at the heart of Paul’s admonition for worship to be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). Worship is not about expressing ourselves or satisfying our own needs. It’s about glorifying God and edifying one another. In this section Paul gives a list of activities that should be done in a proper and orderly manner. Not all Christians should be speaking in tongues at once (v. 27). Believers should speak in tongues only if there is an interpreter (28). Christians should consider, distinguish, or weigh what is said (29), and those prophesying should take turns (30-31). To those of us used to a single sermon at the worship service, Paul’s instructions for two or three to prophesy at one meeting may seem a little unusual. But keep in mind that the Corinthian church was plagued by big-shot syndrome. Paul is simply telling the Corinthians not to allow anyone to monopolize the meetings by talking on and on. At the same time, no one can honestly say he couldn’t stop talking because he was swept away by the Holy Spirit (v. 32).

Notice, too, that there’s nothing in this passage about Christian worship being buttoned-down and solemn. Worship should be orderly, but not hung-up! There’s nothing wrong with becoming excited, laughing, or generally showing emotion in church. In fact, the glimpses of Christian worship we find in the New Testament are far from buttoned-down. The disciples at Pentecost were so emotional that some folks thought they were drunk. Paul wanted men to lift up holy hands in worship (1 Tim. 2:8). Even in this chapter, we have a picture of folks falling on their faces to worship God (14:25). So let’s be sure not to write too much into the words of this chapter. Simply put, Christian worship should be orderly, rather than wild and chaotic, because God is not the Lord of confusion, but of peace (v. 33). In that way, the worship assembly should reflect the character of the Kingdom of God.

Before they received this letter from Paul, the Corinthians may not have realized how unlike the Kingdom their assemblies really were. Pride, it seems, had damaged relationships, reputations, and even their worship gatherings [4]. But a well-ordered assembly not only allows Christians to worship more freely, it is a reminder of God’s own order. He is, after all, the one who orders the sun, moon, stars, oceans, and all life. He is the creator and sustainer of heaven and earth. And he loves us. The old order all around us, where sin spoils everything, is passing away. And this world order is being replaced by the new order of the Kingdom of God. When the church gathers together, we are called to reflect and proclaim the order of that new Kingdom.

And that’s good news—not only that each of us individually can be saved, but that God is renewing all creation (2 Pe. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). So when we gather for worship, let’s remember the one who lived and died for us and for all creation. Let’s die to ourselves, and in the process, truly live.

PRAYER
INVITATION

NOTES
[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
[2] Ray Stedman. “When You Come Together.” Sermon text online at www.pbc.org.
[3] Wayne A. Grudem."Wives Like Sarah, and the Husbands Who Honor Them: 1 Peter 3:1-7." In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. Wayne Grudem and John Piper, 194-208, 499-503. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991. Book on-line at http://www.bible.org/docs/splife/chrhome/manwoman/chap10.htm.
[4] David J. Hoke. “Doing Church: The Place of Order in Worship.” What’s a Church to Do? Studies in First Corinthians, 34. Sermon text online at http://www.horizonsnet.org/sermons/1cor34.html.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

3 Comments:

Blogger elman said...

This should have been a comment to your previous post, but since it's related, let me post it here.

Well, I was asking you about your stand on head cover, as you see, though I do not want to interpret the bible myself, you can read the connection between the head cover, (which is the hair); and the Church of God. You can read that at 1 cor 11, which you stated from your other post.

1Cor 11:1-4 states, 1Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 3But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

Well, I think that it's not time to tackle about the head cover yet, though the authority on a woman's head is never taken off like a hat, and since it is one of the mysteries being revealed only to the Church of God: where Jesus Christ is the head and the Church is the body.

The name of the Church is actually: Church of God. Paul always mentioned that and even the old testament states that everything that the God of Heaven command you shall do in the house of God of heaven. The house of God is the Church of God. I am not saying that it is we mentioned by Paul, but instead we affiliated to what Paul preached.

Ezra 7:23Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?

Actually I mentioned previously in your other post, about where I am affiliated and you never ask about it, unfortunately.

Nevertheless, you see, we did not create our own church because there is a commandment to join or affiliate yourselves to good.

Some established ministries, fellowships, etc. But you would know, I hope, that Jesus is the foundation, he is the Rock. He is the foundation of the house, of the church.

1 Cor 12:28-30
28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.
29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[a]? Do all interpret?

And if you read the 1 cor 11: Jesus Christ is under his Father. Jesus Christ's head is His Father. So, without interpreting it, we can read the same.

You know, Milton, my other comments were blocked by some of the preachers in your link, and they were annoyed with me and that's because they might have not yet learned of those I am saying which I learned from our Church.

And I was too hasty to say all things that they might have confused to my real intention. All I wanted was to invite and give some proofs of the True Word of God. I am glad that you let my very long comment stand.

Another comment, Milton, you said: "Well, in God’s eyes, it seems, loving hearts are more important than either words or actions. That’s the whole thrust 1 Cor. 13:1-3; without love, all the good and even miraculous works we may do are worth nothing."

But what is that love really? Actually, loving hearts, or love is the spiritual technology that will make a Christian follow God's commandments through words and works. A christian should speak and act like a christian but we cannot do it all without the help of Jesus Christ. And Jesus said, love one another. So by loving one another, we can then follow the law of Christ, so that no man can boast. The loving heart is manifested through words and actions of a christian. Even christians are commanded by Jesus Christ to love their enemy and to feed them. Actually, you are just lying if you say that you are a christian if you do not teach your brother that he should not wear long hair or men to wear long hair. Also, some of the commandments is to consider your brothers more holy than you are. We still need to work to attain holiness. By love, hypocrisy is eradicated. Christians shall be perfected by following God's law, which is the Law of Christ. But how can you follow those if you are not part of the body?

May I just ask Milton, would it be unprofitable to speak to a group of people, trying to associate yourselves to church Paul was speaking to, specifically to the Corithians?

When in fact, Paul was speaking to his brethren in Corinth as they are part already of the church of God. And is also speaking to those in the future that will be affiliated to what he preached.

When you become affiliated or become a part of the body, you will be able to understand in context what the verse means, what love means.

What I am saying is, before teaching what Paul said, is it more profitable to begin knowing how to be a member in that Church? Actually, first is to know who the God of Paul is!

Psalm 53:1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.

We need to also know the Jesus Christ Paul talks about too!

And also those corrupt teachers so that we can distinguish the Timothy of this times from: 1Tim 1:7 And those who wanting to be teachers of the law, but without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.

But how can you be a teacher of the law?

John 7:17-18 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.

Just to make a point, Paul said that some members should have been eating meat, but they have not because they have not grown spiritually. Therefore, there is a discipline to be followed, a process, before you can teach that stage, about the head cover and holy supper discussed by Paul too...before you can teach love.

Paul said: Hebrew 5:11-14 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

2 Timothy 2:15 diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

You will notice, that I am not just rumbling.

Anyways, I have said a lot. I am a student of the True Word of God. May I also invite you for we will have a general thanksgiving by 18-19March2007 and if you are interested to watch, how we thank the God of Israel, you can visit the site I mentioned for more details so you can check, should you be interested, to know if we have a locale near your place. Do not be afraid because we do not ask anything from non-members, and it is still up to you to decide if you want to join or not. But what important now is for you to listen. To God be the glory!

Some words of wisdom:

Philippians 2 and Hebrew 5, states to work out your salvation. Salvation requires humbleness and obedience not only believe but continue to believe and obey, keep Jesus' word, john 8:31.

Matthew 28:

19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen

Isaiah 34:16. Look in the book of the LORD and read: No one of these shall be lacking, For the mouth of the LORD has ordered it, and his spirit shall gather them there

11:40 AM

12:00 PM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for sharing your comments, Elman.

12:29 PM  
Blogger elman said...

Correction to my above comment found in the middle:

"... Actually, you are just lying if you say that you are a christian if you do not teach your brother that he should not wear long hair; and if you do not teach your women to wear long hair..."

7:42 AM  

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