Dr. Jack L. Arnold






1 Corinthians 13:26-39


Lesson 11



Most of us, if we are honest, do not like rules because they cramp our lifestyles.  Yet, God has rules, called commandments, and whether these commands are positive or negative, they are always for our good.  If we obey God’s rules, we are blessed; if we do not, we are not blessed.

God has given us some specific rules for conducting a New Testament church service.  Thank God He has, for the New Testament service was vibrant, dynamic and alive with excitement.  It was much different from the traditional service of our day. Leon Morris, commenting on 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 said, “This is the most intimate glimpse of the New Testament church at worship.”  As we shall see, it was much different than most services we observe today.  While it would be impossible to conduct a service exactly like the New Testament church, 1 Corinthians 14 can still be a guide or a general model of what the meeting of the church should be.  Whatever else we may say about the New Testament church service, it was a time when Christians exercised their spiritual gifts in order to benefit and build up one another and it was most certainly not dull and boring.




“What then shall we say, brothers?  When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.”  -- At this time, there may have been as many as 500 Christians at Corinth, and it would have been difficult to have Christians participating in the service consistently.  Many scholars think the church met occasionally as one body but broke up into various homes with an elder presiding.  It may be that there were two types of meetings in the first century - one being the small, intimate gathering of about twenty in a home where spiritual gifts could be more readily used, the other the more formal meetings where preachers and teachers would address the whole body at once.  Such a meeting would be that found in Acts 20 where Paul met with the Christians at Troas.  This meeting began around nine o’clock at night and went past midnight, causing Eutychus to fall asleep and fall out the window.  Even the Apostle Paul put a few parishioners to sleep.  We can’t be sure whether the meeting referred to here is the large gathering or the small gatherings of the church.

The word “everyone” is significant because it indicates that various Christians in the church contributed in the meeting.  This cannot be pressed to mean that every member of the group always had something to contribute, but it does mean that any of them ought to be expected to take part in the service if God so led.  The two words which best describe New Testament worship are spontaneity and participation. 

Tertullian (160-225) gives us a hint about worship in his day.  He was an immoral lawyer who came to Christ.  He was a radical and for a time was involved in the Montanist cult but later came back into fellowship with the established, institutionalized church: 


                        In our Christian meetings, we have plenty of songs, verses, sentences and proverbs.  After hand-washing and bringing in the lights, each Christian is asked to stand forth and sing, as best he can, a hymn to God, either of his own composing or one from the Holy Scriptures (Tertullian).


The Bible teaches the priesthood of the believer, and part of the Christian’s responsibility is to participate in worship not just be a spectator.  Corporate worship is not where people come to be entertained by other people up front.  Part of the spontaneity is people actively and wholeheartedly participating in worship. 



Some have suggested that this verse virtually eliminates the professional clergy (teaching-elder).  For sure, there was much participation by the laity but that did not eliminate the teaching of the Word from the clergy.  According to First Timothy an elder must be “able to teach” (3:2) and a teaching elder is told “command and teach these things” (4:11) and he is to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture and to teaching” (4:13).  There are other important verses for pastors.


“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy

of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching

(1 Tim. 5:17).”


“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct,

rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction

 (2 Tim. 4:2).”


When the saints gathered, they had a psalm, which is a song accompanied by a musical instrument, probably a harp or a mandolin.  It might even imply that this was the person’s own composition.  Another Christian would give some teaching or doctrine and apply it to the life.  Another would have a revelation in that he would bring truth to bear that would declare the mind of God through Holy Spirit impressions.  Still another would speak in a tongue and whether that is a foreign language or an unintelligible utterance, it had to be interpreted.

It is safe to say that while these services were done in a proper and orderly manner, there was no settled format to them.  There was a spontaneity but no routine order of worship.  The Holy Spirit guided the meeting.

This might give us some justification for changing the order of worship in our traditional services so as to add spice and variety, keeping our attention on what is happening.  Worship services should not be routine.  They should be exciting.  We all need spontaneity and expectancy in worship.  However, nothing should ever be done to force spiritual gifts or manipulate people.


                                                “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward

                       love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some

                        are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all

                        the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).


“All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”  -- The ultimate goal is the strengthening and maturing of the believers in any given church.  It is done by using the means, which God has given to accomplish this goal.




“If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.”  -- While Paul was not against the use of tongues in the local church, he did not encourage it either.  Paul clearly states that if people speak in tongues only two or three are to participate and they are never to speak all at once but in succession.  Tongues did not have to occur every worship service.  There must be no duplication or multiplicity of tongue speakers.  Only one could speak at any give time.  There was to be an interpreter whenever a person spoke in tongues.  If there was no interpretation, then this was not a work of God.  The interpretation was for the whole congregation so they should know what was being said.

There are charismatic who often have a number of people speaking in so-called tongues all at once and no interpreters.  This is contrary to God’s rules for the use of public tongues.

This verse does not say that people have to speak in tongues every week in the church service, but the rule is when tongues are used, they must be controlled and no more than three can speak.


                        “If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.”  -- Tongues whether a foreign language or a prayer language were never used in public without an interpreter.  If there is no interpreter, a person can use this gift of tongues in his own life so that he is praising God in his spirit, in his thoughts, but not in words.




“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.”  -- Only two or three prophets were to speak and this was probably done to keep down the length of the meeting.  Again, it does not say that people have to prophesy every Sunday, but when they do, no more than three should do it.  Those who pass judgment are probably those

with the gift of discerning spirits, being able to tell whether the prophecy is from God, the flesh or evil spirits.


                        “And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.”  -- If a person prophesying sees another prophet is led to talk, then he is to let him do it.  No one prophet is to take over the meeting.  Notice carefully that when people were prophesying they were not in a trance or a frenzy.  It was controlled prophecy that could be stopped and started at will.


“For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.”  -- Again the ultimate purpose of prophecy is to instruct and encourage true believers in Christ.

“The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.”  -- Those prophesying are not under some uncontrollable, irresistible force.  He or she could stop or start whenever the person wanted to do so.

If a person who claims to prophesy says, “I can’t help what I say; the Spirit of God is in me and He is speaking through me, therefore, everything I say is from God,” is pure nonsense.  The prophet could always control himself.


“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”  -- Apparently, all the prophets were trying to speak at once and so were the people who spoke in tongues.  Paul’s point is that God never creates confusion and disorder.  God has given all the spiritual gifts and all can be controlled so no confusion abounds.  Where there is confusion, the demons are lurking.



“As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the Law says.”  -- Now we come to a section where angels fear to tread.  Whatever else we may say about verses 34 and 35, we must put them in the context of I Corinthians 14.  These verses in context are speaking about tongues and prophesying in the public meeting of the church.  Therefore, when it says, “Women should remain silent in the churches” it is somehow related to tongues and prophecy.

There are some possible views on verses 34 and 35, none of which will satisfy everybody.  First, women are to never speak in church period, but this is clearly contradicted by I Corinthians 11:5, which allows women to pray and prophesy in church with their heads, covered.  Second, women are not to interrupt the preaching, but this context is not about preaching.  Third, because women were separated from men in New Testament services, they sat together in a designated section and there was tendency to chatter and gossip during the service, but this view is totally removed from the context of tongues and prophecy.  Fourth, women are excluded from tongues speaking only in the public service; that is, they can do anything except speak in tongues.  This view might eliminate a lot of modern abuses of tongues, but the immediate context is about prophecy.  Fifth, women are not to participate in the question and answer time which was provided after the sermon in New Testament times, but this does not seem to fit the context either.

Perhaps the best perspective, therefore, it to take Paul’s commands as prohibiting women from participating in the final decisions about the legitimacy of any given prophecy.  This act would be usurping authority over men who are to be the spiritual leaders.  “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (I Tim. 2:12).  Women are not to rule over or teach men in a public setting of the church, and discerning of legitimate prophecy would be a form of usurping authority over men.

This verse does not say a woman cannot prophecy in the public meeting of the church.  Nor does this verse teach a woman can never teach adult men the Bible, for surely Priscilla taught Apollos.  But what it implies is that women are not to be the final judges on the truth or error of prophecy.


If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church.”  Apparently whenever a prophecy was given, there would be a dialogue with the male leaders as to the legitimacy of that prophecy.  If a woman had any questions, she should keep silent in the church and ask her husband at home.  In so doing, she would be acknowledging the leadership of her husband.

Surely, this does not mean a woman can never speak in church.  If so, then she could not pray, sing, read responsive readings, repeat the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed or say “Amen” at the end of a prayer.  Obviously the Apostle Paul had a particular situation in view and that was the woman should have no authority over the issue of the legitimacy of prophecy.




                        “Did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached?”  -- This is clearly satire, for Paul gives a sarcastic statement about these Corinthians.  They thought they were unique, having special gifts.  They were not the only church around.  No other churches, however, were experiencing the abuses of tongues and prophecy like the Corinthians.  These abuses were bringing confusion and disorder.  They should have been following the example of the other churches but were not.


If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.”  -- Those who spoke in tongues or those who prophesied in the Corinthian Church thought of themselves as super-spiritual and superior to other Christians who did not have these gifts.  They were to stop their pride and recognize what Paul has written are the commands of the Lord.    

Truly spiritual people will always recognize the authority of Scripture.  Today there are many Christians who are having experiences, which are quite spectacular.  Yet, when you point out from the Bible that what they are experiencing is not found in the Bible or even contrary to the Bible, they insist on their feelings or experiences rather than conformity to the inspired, infallible Bible.  We know that the Spirit of God never operates contrary to the Word of God.  Those who are truly spiritual will recognize the authority of Scripture and will bring all experiences to the touchstone of Scripture.

“If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.”  -- Literally, this says, “If any one is ignorant, let him be ignored.”  If a person willfully wants to stay ignorant and refuses to acknowledge these commandments of the Lord concerning tongues and prophecy, let him stay in the state of ignorance and do not try to dispute the point.  Ignore him.  In other words, do not pay any attention to him.  Paul would neither attempt to convince him or waste his time in disputing the point.

While we must treat our charismatic brethren with love and respect, there comes a time when we must say to these dear brothers and sister, “We love you, but we think your abuses in spiritual gifts are wrong and hurtful to the body of Christ.  We ask you to take your experiences and put them to the touchstone of Scripture.  If you will not do this, then we will ignore you in this one area of your Christian practice.”




                        “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” -- Paul was not against speaking in biblical tongues in the public assembly, but he would much rather the people prophesy.

“But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”  -- Whatever is done in any church meeting is to be done orderly and discreetly so as to bring the most glory to the Lord and to edify the whole church.  Any worship service which is out of order and out of control is not of God.  It does not glorify God but exalts man.