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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Welcome to HBS and thank you for your faithful participation in this study.
Paul has invested a lot of time and ink instructing this church in Corinth that their communication during the worship service needs to be clear and concise because it’s critical for edification. Now he’s about to introduce a second principle – mature thinking in the church is critical: “Brethren, do not be children (immature) in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (14:20). This declaration looks similar to a previous affirmation made by Paul at 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, which serves to remind us, although it’s true these Believers had received certain spiritual gifts this doesn’t mean they were spiritually minded.
Some of the Corinthians possessed the supernatural gifts of tongues and prophecy, and used them so frequently they disrupted the worship service (14:26-33). Sunday worship service, then, could best be described as confusing and disorderly with many people speaking at the same time; one often raising their voice over another so as to be heard, creating a din. Paul said this could not be: For God is not a God of disorder. Unless there’s only one person speaking at a time with an interpreter present, and everyone else listens, heeding what it said, no one is edified from the words the Spirit has given.
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 14:21
Instructions for the Church
1 Corinthians 14
21: In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES (foreign languages) AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord.
In verse 2 Paul uses a partial quote from Isaiah 28:11-12, which relates to the Assyrian invasion of Israel. Verse 22 is directly related to Paul’s quote and not the entire context. The book of Isaiah is not one of the books of the Law, but the book of Deuteronomy is. If you’ll turn with me to Deuteronomy 28:49, you’ll find this is where the Isaiah passage originates – this was prophecy fulfilled: The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue (language) thou shalt not understand (KJV).
Studying these two verses together we obtain this meaning - if Israel would not “stop” and “listen” to the LORD through the prophets, then they would not hear even when He spoke in foreign languages to them through foreign people. So, Paul’s saying, why put so much emphasis on tongues (foreign languages), when we know people choose not to listen; let’s all seek to prophesy (talk about what God’s doing in His church) instead.
22: So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.
Paul uses this passage to teach tongues are not a sign to those who believe for true Believers have no need of signs; but to unbelievers, whereas prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.
Prophecy’s purpose, as we know, was for the edification of the entire church. At this time in history it demonstrated that the Holy Spirit was actively involved and at work in God’s Church. The world which was steeped in idolatry and paganism wasn’t all that interested in the One true God or His Truths, but the gift of tongues was a sign to unbelievers who after hearing the revelation of God, spoken in their own native tongue, might come to believe (Acts 2:8).
23: Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?
We know the church in Corinth met in the home of Justus (Acts 18:7). Because this church had so many members it’s likely they met in several homes in the city. This may be one of the reasons for the development of factions within the church, or the idea of being separate from one another. But when the entire church came together to celebrate the Love Feast mentioned by Paul (11:17-34) they probably met in one of the large dining halls within the city or outside in a garden setting. This verse also reveals that “guests” and “visitors” were welcomed into their assembly and on occasion it’s possible a complete stranger entered demonstrating that these were not secret or closed meetings of the church; the public was invited.
The church comes together for the purpose of worship, edification, and to convict unbelievers of their sin. Having said that, the Corinthian’s meetings could best be described as chaotic, with many unknown tongues being spoken at once, one individual talking over another, and no one understanding what was said. Imagine an unbeliever, a seeker of Truth, walking into this assembly and witnessing all this confusion and disorder. Paul said this person could easily conclude you are mad or this church is filled with crazy people.
Thus, speaking in tongues or foreign languages is to be done in an orderly manner, each in turn; the rest of the body is to listen, and there must be an interpreter present. Paul then said when you come together as a church emphasis prophecy. The explanation for this is given in verses 24-25:
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man (or woman) enters, he (or she) is convicted by all, he (or she) is called to account by all; the secrets of his (or her) heart are disclosed; and so he (or she) will fall on his (or her) face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
Paul has already said, “tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers;” and here he builds on the statement by borrowing an event from every-day life – unbelievers attend church services on occasion. You don’t honestly believe everyone sitting in church on Sunday morning is a saved individual, do you? I pray not because this Truth prompted Paul to ask, “What if an unbeliever (or lost soul) enters the assembly in Corinth and finds all the Believers prophesying in an orderly fashion?” The outcome could be a positive one, if the Holy Spirit opens their heart to receive God’s Truths (Acts 16:14), but in any case he (or she) is convicted by all, he (or she) is called to account by all. The (deep-dark) secrets of his (or her) heart are disclosed; and so he (or she) will fall on his (or her) face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
I think everyone will agree one has to be aware of a problem before change can occur. This is psychology 101 for the most part. Most people aren’t even aware of sin let alone their own sin and need to be convicted of it, which is one of the reasons why Interventions are organized by family members and friends of an individual who is addicted to drugs or alcohol and then implemented. God decided tongues would be an outward sign to unbelievers so they might be convicted of sin and called to account, should they enter the church and hear a revelation from God spoken in an understandable and orderly manner, in their own language, coming to the realization that God is certainly among you. The reality being, God exists, Truth exists, and they’re in trouble. But God’s got this (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)!
Let’s go to verse 26.
26: What is the outcome (conclusion) then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
Paul gives us a glimpse of the workings of the early church in this verse and by that I mean to say there’s no appointed authority presiding over this house church. There isn’t an elder (Acts 20:17-38) leading this group of Believers. Anyone could speak freely, and we know from our study, they did, which caused at least two problems:
1) Confusion and disorder reigned because too many people were speaking at once.
2) No one was interpreting.
This poses a significant problem for Paul because he does not want to limit the Holy Spirit’s power in this church, but because of these issues he has to set limits so God’s purposes for their coming together can be met; two of these are the salvation of unbelievers and edification of the church. He goes about doing this in verses 27-33:
If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret. but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God – Coming together for worship, edification of the body, and to call all unbelievers to account, was not the time for incoherent babbling. Therefore, when tongues or foreign languages were spoken in the assembly there should be no more than two or three instances of these events and there must be an interpreter present. If there was no interpreter present, and the tongues speaker was unable to interpret the message, Paul said, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. This would have been in a silent prayer to God so as not to be a distraction.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
Likewise, no more than two or three prophets should get up and speak the Word of God. Those in attendance should listen and those who were gifted in prophecy should pass judgment on what was said to ensure that is was indeed of God, by the Spirit, and in line with what God had chosen to reveal to His church up to that point.
Always bear in mind God reveals knowledge to us in a progressive manner. Bible truths develop gradually over time. In other words, God didn’t download everything He wanted mankind to know in the book of Genesis, but instead we gradually learn more and more about God and His purpose and His plan for His creation as we move along through the Scriptures. God doesn’t change (Hebrews 13:8) but His dealings with mankind have undergone changes down through history – changes made necessary by changes in man himself. The method of interpreting biblical history that divides God’s work and purposes toward mankind into different periods of time is called dispensationalism.
Getting back to the Corinthians, prophecy should be heard by all so all can learn from it and grow to maturity. As to the meaning of the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets, Paul means to say these folks were able to control themselves in church, i.e. they were not under an impulse to speak out even though the Spirit may have inspired them to say something meaningful. Thus, the Word of God will be heard in an orderly fashion, and if done appropriately should lead to edification, harmony, and unity. This was to be the rule in all the churches of the saints (33).
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
These two verses have been labeled “difficult” by many people in the church. Because opinions vary as to what Paul meant in this passage there is much confusion and controversy. Whatever the opinion of men might be the women of faith are left with hurt feelings and a sense of low self-esteem. None of us were there with Paul when he wrote this, so we need to take “special care” with passages such as this when we offer an explanation as to their meaning.
The entire N.T. was written in Koine Greek, the language of the common person, 2,000 years ago. In our English language a word can have more than one meaning depending on its context and the same is true for Greek words. If you’ll pick up a Greek lexicon, you’ll see multiple definitions for many words. Therefore, to say unequivocally that Laleo, (pronounced: lal-eh’-o) the Greek word meaning, “to speak,” means all speech of any form, or that Sigao (pronounced: see-gah’-o) just means “to keep silence” is to over-simplify things a bit.
In view of the confusion and disorder taking place in the Corinthian assembly (v33), it’s not too difficult to picture certain women over reacting to their new found freedom in Christ Jesus by speaking freely during the worship service. I mean to say while other people were prophesying and speaking in tongues they were engaged in “casual conversation,” asking questions, talking above the din and adding to the noise level.
If we back up to 1 Corinthians 11:5 it is evident that it was acceptable for women to pray or prophesy during the service, so verse 34 isn’t a contradiction. Paul is addressing the unnecessary “chatter” in church; Paul’s saying silence is golden. Women should not talk in a disruptive way during worship service.
Permit me to illustrate: suppose your church invited a missionary to speak on their work in the field. Soon after he began talking, people noticed, including the missionary, that some of the ladies, not wanting to end their enjoyable conversation about the baby shower, were continuing to talk amongst themselves, ignoring the speaker and the church leader. Their actions demonstrate a disregard for the spiritual matters at hand, a rebellious nature, and a lack of reverence, for the Lord is present when His church comes together. Should this missionary write a follow-up letter to this church, would they be surprised if he responded firmly saying, “Just as in all the churches, your women should be silent during the meetings! They are not permitted to talk. Instead, they should be submissive, as the Bible also says, If they have questions, they should ask their own husbands at home. For it is shameful for women to be talking in church!”
The translators of the World English Bible have, in fact, translated the Greek word Laleo to “chatter” in verse 35: If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for woman to chatter in the assembly (WEB).
Paul forbids this rebellious activity during worship using strong language, “…they are not permitted to speak.” Paul uses the same Greek word “Epistrepo” in his first letter to Timothy where he writes: “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow (permit) a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1Timothy 2:11-12). Only in 1 Corinthians 14:34 Paul adds: women are to keep silent in the churches – (they) are to subject themselves just as the Law also says.
Now, the apostle of God’s Grace is not putting women back under the Law. This is evident from Paul’s phrase, “just as the Law also says,” which is in reference to creation law and this is of God; Paul had nothing to do with it. The relationship between man and woman and especially between husband and wife is not of Paul this dates back to the creation event in Genesis, the first section of the “Book of the Law,” the Pentateuch, written by Moses.
Let’s all turn to Genesis chapter 2:18.
Genesis 2:18 – Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
Flip the page and find Genesis 3:16.
Genesis 3:16 – To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”
Lastly, we have this verse from the Apostle Peter who writes about Abraham’s wife, Sarah, a God-fearing woman, who lovingly submitted to her husband’s headship.
1 Peter 3:5-6 - For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear (Genesis 18:6-12).
It has been said that Christianity in general, and our Apostle Paul, liberated women from bondage. To this we agree, from the bondage of ignorance and paganism, but not from behavior becoming to a woman of God, for no one has more to say about this subject than Paul. In addition to the passage we are studying, we have the following to go by:
1 Corinthians 11:8-9 – For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for man’s sake.
Ephesians 5:22-24 – Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Colossians 3:18 – Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
1Timothy 2:11-14 - A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
Titus 2:4-5 - so that they (the older women) may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
There is no inconsistency with God or His Word and we can clearly see by studying these Bible passages God did not liberate women from His expressed will regarding their relationship with the man, especially their husbands. God has clearly expressed His will in the matter.
Sin interrupted God’s plan and purpose for the married man and woman. God always intended for the woman to submit to male leadership in the home and then later in the church. But God also intended for the husband to lead with (agape) love, honor, and respect towards his wife, i.e. putting her needs before his own. Paul had much to say about the attitudes of believing husbands towards their spouse. I call your attention to Ephesians 5:25 where God has commanded husbands to love your wives even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it.
In case you husbands are unaware, this verse is saying every believing husband should be willing to lay down their life for his wife - even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it! What woman, who truly seeks to be a woman of God, wouldn’t want to live for and love a man who endeavors to be a man of God in the fullest sense? By the way, God created the woman to respond to her husband in this manner, if she doesn’t, then there’s something very wrong.
The Irresponsibility of the Men in Corinth
36: Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
37: If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s (what) commandment.
Paul addresses the irresponsibility of some of the men in the assembly with these words. Some of the men were encouraging the women in their rebellion, making up their own rules on the subject as they went along, and Paul wants them to be aware he considers their sin to be greater than the women who are disrupting the worship services.
Paul deals with this concern forcefully, saying “Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? Then He offers this strong apostolic challenge “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment, following it up with this stern rebuke “But if anyone does not (willfully) recognize this (Truth), he is not recognized (v38). Meaning, be prepared to suffer the consequences of your foolishness.
Not desiring to end on such a sour note, Paul opts to write a final exhortation:
39: Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.
40: But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
Paul began this chapter by exhorting them to pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy, while not forbidding the gift of tongues. Paul emphasizes prophecy over tongues and other spiritual gifts in general because the revelation of God to His Church as yet incomplete, i.e. the Scriptures not yet written made this gift superior to all other gifts. The gift of tongues was not deemed to be as valuable to the church. Paul also pointed out both of these gifts were temporary and would soon pass away (13:8). In the meantime, and always thereafter, all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
(To be continued)
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