God surely had a lot to say to the Corinthian church through Paul and his ministry there. I have been uplifted and informed by the counsel shown throughout Paul’s letter to this church, written so long ago.
The disorderly, irreverent atmosphere that must have permeated the gatherings of the Corinthians back then sound much like some of the services I witnessed during my years in the Pentecostal church of my youth.
History has shown, though, that the nature of the disorderly conduct in Corinth may have been different. It is my belief that Paul would have been unfamiliar and alarmed with the manifestation of the gift of unknown tongues, called glossolalia, as manifested in churches today.
LEARNING FROM HISTORY
I’m assuming that Paul’s only experience in tongues would have been that which occurred at Pentecost and subsequent times, like what happened with Peter and Cornelius, when actual languages were spoken and heard, even though the speakers didn’t know the language. (Acts 2:3-11)
This was a miraculous gift to witness when it happened in Jerusalem, and it led to many more people learning about Christ’s salvation through His death and resurrection. The same gift, being given to Cornelius and those of his household, helped Peter understand that Gentiles were also to be accepted equally in God’s church (Acts 11:15-17).
The nature of the problem Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians seems to me to be more of a disruptive kind of service, which was not at all edifying or adding to the church membership there. People were speaking in their own languages (it was quite a diverse city), without any organization or care to provide interpreters time to translate their messages.
His warnings were warranted, because their haphazard worship services resulted in a negative influence on the whole congregation, including new and potential converts. Even the women had a part in making the services disruptive and non-productive through their argumentative, divisive comments and interruptions.
This week, we’ll conclude my own study of 1 Corinthians 14 with the final words of the chapter. Please try to envision, as I have, the obstacles Paul was trying to remedy there in Corinth:
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but [they are commanded] to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” 1 Corinthians 14: 34 KJV
“And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” v. 35
Keep in mind the fact that men were also told to keep silent in church if there was no interpreter (see v. 28). But just what were the reasons that women were told to keep silent? Was there something more to this recommendation for the women?
Going back to 1 Corinthians 11:18 and 19, we discover that there were some heretical doctrines being taught in the church. Certain parties were causing friction, which was dividing the believers and making them ineffective in spreading the gospel.
Evidently these teachings had also affected some women in the church. 2 Timothy 3:6, 7 says, “For of this sort they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” KJV
Yes, theological debate had infiltrated homes, causing many women to cause disruption in the church. Their unwelcome comments and argumentative communication was causing harm to the reputation of the church.
In addition, the culture of the times demanded that women were subordinate to men in pronounced ways. Although God does not desire that women be treated as inferior, He has given recommendations that divide the roles of men and women and are most conducive to peaceful family and community life.
One must not conclude that this silence indicates that God does not bless women with spiritual gifts, fully capable of edifying the church. Women have certainly proven to be effective preachers, prophets, and teachers in the church, both in Bible times and throughout history. Acts 2:17 affirms that in the last days, God would pour out His Spirit on ALL FLESH! God makes it clear that we are all one in Christ Jesus, including male and female (Galatians 3:28).
Therefore, we must conclude that Paul was not making any unusual demands on the women in Corinth. They were simply being told to stop causing harm to the reputation and effectiveness of the church in Corinth.
“What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” v. 36
Other versions read:
- “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” NIV
- “You disagree? And do you think that the knowledge of God’s will begins and ends with you Corinthians? Well, you are mistaken!” LB
This verse spoke to me, remembering my experience in the Pentecostal church. Often, the idea is given by Pentecostals that only when emotions are at their peak and the gift of “tongues”, or babbling, in the modern Pentecostal model is being demonstrated, is God’s will to be known by the members of the church. But do they really have a “corner” on the knowledge of salvation, because of their so-called “gift”? Does their glossolalia entitle them to special recognition and insight into God’s will, either as individuals or as a church? I had to question the pride that often comes when one is given “the gift”, that leads to this feeling of “ownership” of God.
“If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” v. 37
“But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” v. 38
Paul seems to be saying that a spiritual person who knows God will recognize Paul’s warnings to be valid and in line with God’s commandments. But if someone stubbornly denies the truth in his words, they were to leave him in his ignorance.
“Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.” v. 39
“Let all things be done decently and in order.” v. 40
Paul ends this passage in the same way he began. He asserts the value of all the spiritual gifts, but gives a special nod of approval for “prophesying”, which was just another way of saying “preaching”. Preaching, or instruction in righteousness, is certainly a needed activity in any church service, if God’s people are to have a solid foundation with which to build God’s church. Other gifts have their place, but prophecy must be at the forefront in all our worship services.
This same prophecy would not be profitable, however, if no one was available to interpret the messages that were given, or if it wasn’t done in an orderly, reverent manner. This, and this only, is the message Paul tries to convey in this chapter 14 of Corinthians. He wanted them to get their act together and clean up the worship activities they were offering to God.
I hope to continue this dialogue about tongues in later blogposts, because I know many of my Pentecostal friends may still have doubts about the origin of the practice of speaking in tongues, not realizing the spiritual danger of their “prayer language”.
Does Satan try to counterfeit God’s spiritual gifts? Is he powerful enough to duplicate them, making them so much like the real thing, that God’s people are totally oblivious to who they are really listening to?
Please stay by and hear more about the potential pitfalls that accompany any activity that Satan employs that is designed to steer us away from our heavenly Father. How could this happen with those today who use glossolalia, in hopes of improving their relationship with God? Is there a better way to know Him?