1 Corinthians 14:26-40 Order in the Church

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 01 Nov. 2009



26. What of it then, brothers? When you happen to come together, each has a psalm; he has a teaching, he has a revelation; he has a language; he has an interpretation – all things must happen toward the purpose of upbuilding.

27. And if someone is making utterance in a language,

            it should be according to two or at most three – he is just one part,

            but one person must be interpreting.

            28. Now, if there does not happen to be an interpreter, he must remain silent in church,

            yet he should keep making utterance to himself and to God.

29. And two prophets – or three – should make utterances,

            and the others should make assessments.

            30. But if it is revealed to another who is still sitting down, the first should be silent.

            31. For you are all able to prophesy one by one,

            in order that all might learn and all might be exhorted.

            32. And prophet’s spirits are put under submission to prophets.

33. For He is not the God of instability but rather of peace;

so it should be in all the churches of the saints.


34. The women should remain silent in the churches,

            for it is not being turned over to them to make utterances,

            but rather they should be kept under submission, just as the Law also says.

            35. But if they are wanting to learn about something,

                        they should be asking their own husbands at home,

            for it is dishonorable for a woman to make utterance in church.


36. Or was it from y’all that the word of God came forth?

Or was it to y’all alone that it came down?

37. If someone seems to be a prophet or spiritual,

            he should keep acknowledging that what I am writing to y’all is a command from the Lord.

38. But if somebody continues to be unmindful, let him be mindless!


39. Therefore, my brothers,

            keep being zealous to prophesy

            and stop forbidding the utterance of languages,

            40. and keep making all things happen according to good form and order.



A little boy was walking down the hallway of the church building on their way to the Sunday morning worship service. As they walked, the dad called his son’s attention to a wall display with the names of soldiers who had grown up in their church and who had given their lives in service of their country. The little boy asked his dad, “What are those names for?” The Dad replied, “Those are the names of men in our church who died in the service.” The boy looked startled and said, “I didn’t know that it was so dangerous to go to our church service!”


Of course those men didn’t die in the church service, but in military service, but the boy did have a point: A worship service that is not ordered according to God’s word could be dangerous – spiritually dangerous in drawing our hearts away from God rather than toward Him, and perhaps even physically dangerous, as you may recall Paul saying in chapter 11 that those who took communion in an unworthy manner were not only spiritually guilty but also liable to experience sickness or even death as judgment from God!


Our final section of 1 Cor 14 focuses on order in our worship services to avoid these dangers. It contains about 15 imperatives (command words), each command giving detail to how to bring Godly order to worship, but I see three overarching principles that drive all the 15 specific instructions:

  1. The first overarching principle is EDIFICATION.
    1. In v. 26, after listing all these things that might be done in a worship service, the first command in this passage appears: Let all things be [done] for edification/strengthening/building up.
    2. We have already covered this important principle of edification in previous sermons, so we won’t go into depth now on it, but let’s just review the previous passages to seal this point in our hearts:

                                                              i.      1 Cor 3: 9 “…we are God’s co-workers. You are God’s field – God’s building. 10. According to the grace of God which was given to me as a wise architect, I laid a foundation and another is building upon [it]. But let each look to how he is building upon [it]…”

                                                            ii.      1 Cor 8: 1 “…Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”

                                                          iii.      1 Cor 14: 3 “But the one who prophesies to men makes utterance of upbuilding and exhortation and comfort. 4. The one who is making utterance in a language is building himself up, but the one who is prophesying is building up the church. 5. … greater is the one who prophecies than the one who makes utterance in languages unless he is interpreting in order that the church might receive upbuilding.

                                                          iv.      1 Cor14: 12. … Now since you are zealots of spiritual things, let it be toward the buildup of the church that y’all keep seeking in order to abound.

  1. The next overarching principle I want to bring up is the principle of INCLUSIVENESS:
    1. This principle also jumps out from the first verse in this section - v.26 “Whenever you come together, each has” something to share with the assembly of believers. Each and every one of you!

                                                              i.      When you gather for a church service, are you coming with the expectation that somebody else has prepared a worship experience for you to sit through, or do you come with something to build up the other believers with? Paul tells us that we are all called to contribute to the edification of the church.

                                                            ii.      He mentions sharing a “psalm”

1.      Throughout the Gospels and Acts, every occurrence of the word “Psalm” is in the context of a quote from the O.T. book of Psalms. That part of God’s word is valuable to bring back up before the minds of God’s people!

2.      In other Greek writings, the word “psalm” generally refers to a piece of music with accompaniment, so it could also be referring to a song that would edify the church.

3.      About 150 years after Paul, Tertullian wrote: “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.”

4.      So I’d like to ask each of you in turn to come up to the front and sing a solo for us… Just kidding! Why? First off it wouldn’t be an edifying experience for everyone, so principle #1 of edification trumps principle #2 of inclusiveness. I think some of you are glad of that!

                                                          iii.      Paul also points out other things which might be shared with fellow believers. It is as though he is pointing to different people around the room: He has a teaching/ lesson/instruction; he has a tongue; he has a revelation; he has an interpretation.

                                                          iv.      Even after a good bit of research, it is not clear to me what all these things are. But there are some scriptures that shed some light on the meaning of these things:

                                                            v.      We’ve looked at “tongues” or the speaking of a foreign language in corporate worship last week and the need for interpretation so that the church can be edified by intelligible speech.

                                                          vi.      Revelation” and “teaching” were mentioned back in v.6 as “profitable” utterances along with “prophesy” and “knowledge” in contrast to utterances in tongues.

                                                        vii.      This “teaching/lesson/instruction” may have been a synonym for the material that the Apostles used in their discipleship and which was written down in the New Testament. The book of Acts reports that the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

                                                      viii.      But what does the sharing of a “revelation” mean?

1.      About half of the occurrences of this word in Paul’s letters refer to God communicating the gospel and the scriptures to Paul. (Eph 3:3, 2 Cor 12, Gal 1:12&20)

2.      But the other half seem to imply a slightly different form of revelation that is not on the level of scripture, but merely the uncovering of knowledge from one Christian to another that might not be naturally known:

a.       1Co 14:6 But now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching?

b.      v.25 “the secrets of his heart are brought to light”

c.       Rom 16:25 Now to him that is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal,

d.      Eph 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him;

    1. The principle of inclusiveness shows up throughout the rest of 1 Cor 14 as well:

                                                              i.      The tongues-speakers in v.27 are to speak “in turn/one at a time” The Greek word describing this one-at-a-time-ness (meros) has a primary meaning of partial-ness.

1.      It appeared in 12:27 “Now y’all are the body of Christ, and members of a part

2.      It was used in 1Cor 13:9 “we know in part, and we prophesy in part” And since what we have is partial, no one person presents the whole picture of God’s truth. That’s why we need more that one person leading and speaking.

                                                            ii.      We also see inclusiveness in v.27 calling for more than one person up front. There is room for up to three people to utter a message in a foreign language plus one more person to do the interpreting.

1.      In addition, there is room for two or three more to speak as prophets (v.29).

2.      Note, however, that the mentions of tongues and interpretation are preceded by an “if” whereas the mention of prophecy is not preceded by an “if;” I conclude that prophecy is more of a given.

                                                          iii.      Even if there is no interpreter (and therefore no utterances in tongues allowed), even then, tongues are not excluded from use.

1.      In v.28, tongues-speakers are rather commanded to keep using their gift, but to do it in a context where it is not distracting to others. Do it alone with God! (cf. v.2)

2.      Later on in v. 39, God’s word says, “Do not forbid/stop forbidding speaking in tongues” Don’t exclude what God has included.

                                                          iv.      v.31 “you are all able to prophesy one by one in order that all might learn and all might be encouraged/exhorted”

1.      The first “all” may be restricted within the context to all who are gifted with prophecy, yet that prophesy is for the sake of “all” in the church to be instructed and encouraged. This repeated use of the word “all” is inclusive language.

2.      Furthermore, if three people have filled the quota for one worship service, there’s always next worship service in which more prophets can cycle through.

                                                            v.      Even though there is exclusion of women from speaking in v.34, they are not excluded from learning, but rather encouraged to “inquire” and “learn” in v.35.

                                                          vi.      Even v.36 brings up this concept of inclusiveness by asking sarcastically if the Corinthians had exclusive rights over the word of God. On the contrary, the word of God is studied and shared with all the churches in the world, so we need to generously acknowledge those other churches while also seeing the gospel as a treasure to be shared with the world rather than hoarded exclusively to ourselves.

    1. How do we deal with inclusiveness today in worship?

                                                              i.      There is a balance that must be kept between, on the one hand, turning a worship service into an open-mic sharing time where anybody can get up and say or do anything, and, on the other hand, having a one-man show with an iron-clad program.

                                                            ii.      Our tradition is to avoid embarrassing displays at the microphone by planning ahead and keeping the reigns pretty tight.

                                                          iii.      I would be open, however, to planning how we could allow for more spontaneity in our worship service. [Look at ceiling and smile.]

                                                          iv.      However, we do have a certain amount of inclusiveness already built in to our corporate worship:

1.      Anybody that wants a certain song to be sung in an upcoming worship service is welcomed to send requests to Brian or me and we’ll do our best to work it in.

2.      We also try to get all the men to rotate through public reading of scripture.

3.      We try to have several different men lead in prayer as well, although this takes earning a higher level of trust to be given the mic to pray than to read a scripture passage.

4.      But if we are to be inclusive, why don’t we include women in front of the mic? That relates to a different principle which trumps this principle of inclusiveness:

In addition to Edification and Inclusiveness, we have a third overarching principle by which to govern Godly worship, and that is…

  1.  SELF-DISCIPLINE. Most of the instructions in this final part of 1 Cor 14 have to do with this principle
    1. If there is no interpreter, those with the gift of languages must exercise the self-discipline of silence, not using their gift in the worship service. (v.28) This self-discipline is for the sake of edifying the body of Christ.
    2. Another aspect of self-discipline in the exercise of spiritual gifts of speaking is to subject yourself to accountability: v.29 “Let the others judge/weigh [what is said]”

                                                              i.      We have already seen earlier in 1 Cor. that Christians are to be discerning (2:15, 6:5, 11:29-31, 12:3) and that there is a spiritual gift of discernment of spirits (12:10).

                                                            ii.      Those with the gift of discernment (same word) should be taking the lead in making this assessment of prophecy.

                                                          iii.      I encountered a couple of commentators who believe that 1 Cor 11 allows women to prophesy in a worship service, and who explain the instruction here in this chapter for women to be silent as relating specifically to this judging process, i.e. that women should not be given the final word on judging what other people have taught in the church. Although I do not agree with this position, I think it is only fair to present it here. I hope to go more into depth on the issue of women and speaking in the church next week.

                                                          iv.      At any rate, there should be an accountability structure that assesses whether the utterance was from God or not - whether it is consistent with what the Bible says,

                                                            v.      That’s what the Bereans did with Paul’s preaching - Acts 17:11

                                                          vi.      It also seems to be the process that Paul describes in 1 Thess. 5:19-22 “Don’t quench the Spirit; don’t despise prophecies; examine all things; hold fast whatever is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

                                                        vii.      It’s also interesting to see how these concepts of accountability and order outlined here in 1 Cor 14 played out in the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 – Paul had a dispute with Christians who wanted to Gentile converts to Christianity in Turkey to observe all the Jewish traditions. The church sent Paul to the other apostles in Jerusalem to iron the dispute out. There was apparently a time when everyone could say their piece on the matter, and then when they’re all done speaking, James made a final judgment, coming down on three protocols that the Gentile believers should be held to. The council then sends Paul and other delegates to announce the verdict in the surrounding churches. There’s an example of the use of accountability structures and orderly speech.

    1. Self-Discipline keeps prophecy from being disruptive

                                                              i.      v.30 could be interpreted two ways:

1.      Prophet number 1 has spoken. Now prophet #2 sits in the official chair of the teacher (often teaching was done seated) and is prophesying. But prophet #1 wants to say something more after he has left the teaching chair. In this case, he has stopped speaking and should remain quiet, knowing that it is wrong to interrupt the second prophet’s teaching. He can always get another chance later to speak. The Present tense imperative “let him continue to be silent” makes me favor this view, but I do not know of anyone else who holds this interpretation.

2.      The other, more popular interpretation is that Prophet number 1 is prophecying and Prophet #2 gets something on his mind to say. Prophet #1 should somehow see that Prophet #2 needs to say something and Prophet #1 should quit prophesying and let Prophet #2 speak what just came to his mind. It could also mean that Prophet #2 should not start speaking what came to mind until Prophet #1 is done speaking. This is the way it is described in the council in Jerusalem in Act 15:13 “And after their silence, James responded…”

                                                            ii.      Either way you take it, the point is not to interrupt the speaker in church.

                                                          iii.      This use of self-discipline in holding your tongue and not interrupting the speaker also shows up in v.31 as it says to prophesy “one by one,” taking turns, rather than speaking all at once. It takes self-discipline to take turns.

                                                          iv.      This indicates that the prophecy Paul speaks of is not an uncontrollable urge but can be held back at will for the peace and well-being of the church.

                                                            v.      Calvin added another good exhortation at this point, “No one will ever be a good teacher who does not show himself to be teachable… do not refuse or grudge to be scholars of each other.” It takes a humble, teachable spirit to be willing to sit under somebody else’s teaching, but it can be God’s way of encouraging you.

    1. In verses 31-33, three reasons are given as to why we should exercise self-restraint:

                                                              i.      You can get your turn later (v.31)

                                                            ii.      “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (v.32) (cf. Rev 22:6 on spirits of prophets). “In true prophecy, self-consciousness and self-command are never lost.” (Vincent)

                                                          iii.      God is a god of peace, not of confusion/disorder/instability.

1.      The apostle James had a lot to say about where this confusion and instability came from:

a.       Jas 1:6 … he who doubts… is unstable in all his ways.”

b.      Jas 3:16 “For where jealousy and division are, there is confusion/disorder and every evil thing.”

2.      Instead, 1Cor 7:15c “…God has called us in peace.”

3.      And we saw in the beginning of the book, 1Cor. 1:3 that the source of peace is God: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

4.      Some people believe that the second half of v.33 actually belongs with v.34, appealing to church tradition as the first reason for women to be silent in public worship. But I hold to the traditional view that keeps the final phrase with v.33, taking the word “as” as a comparative that relates the way God is to the way the church should be. You could even supply a verb of being in the imperative just as all the English translations do back in v.27a and render v.33 “…not the God of instability but rather of peace; so it should be in all the churches…”


So we have these 3 principles governing corporate worship: Edification, Inclusiveness, & Self-Discipline.


Specifically regarding Inclusiveness:

Regarding Self-discipline: