What do services at your church look like?
It appears that the services at the church in Corinth were often chaotic. There would be times where the gatherings were a confused jumble of prophecy and speaking in tongues. When teaching would come forth, it was often questioned or challenged by members of the congregation, in many cases by women. Paul’s entire letter focuses on correcting the behavior, but especially the motive behind the behavior. In chapter 12 of First Corinthians, Paul laid out the importance of spiritual gifts in the life of the believer and the life of the church. In chapter 14, Paul outlines the correct usage of those gifts, especially the vocal gifts, like prophecy and speaking in tongues.
Paul has called some gifts “greater” than others – not more necessary but greater. The “greater” gifts, according to Paul are those which edify the church (believers). Paul does not assume that the Corinthian believers know this, so he explains the difference between prophecy and tongues.
First, let’s look at speaking in tongues.
Paul uses the Greek word, “glossolalia” for tongues. This is simply defined as: to speak with the tongue. According to the scriptures, tongues are:
- A spiritual language prayed to God.
- Primarily used in private worship.
- Used for petitions (Rom. 8:26), praise, thanks, protection (Eph. 6:18).
- Used to edify the speaker (Jude 20-21).
- A sign of unbelief on the part of natural Israel and a sign of belief on the part of godly Gentiles. (Isa. 28:11-12, Acts 5:32)
- Not learned through the mind but given by the Spirit.
- Used to speak to the corporate setting only with an interpretation.
In contrast to tongues, prophecy is a spiritual gift that:
- Is spoken in the hearer’s language.
- Is given to edify, comfort, and exhort the hearers (church).
- Originates from the testimony of Jesus. (Rev. 19:10)
- Reveals the secrets of men’s hearts.
- Is to be judged by other prophets.
- Is to be released at the time best for the church (hearers).
When speaking of the corporate usage of both gifts, Paul states that tongues and prophecy are to be given by, at the most, three people. Tongues are not to be given unless there is an interpreter and prophecy is to be judged.
Not all revelations are to be given in church! Many are for the receiver to intercede over.
Many prophets (givers of the testimony of Jesus) go on, and on, and on. God has a specific word – that the prophet is to give – we prophesy in part. If another prophet steps forward with a revelation, the speaker is to wrap us quickly because God is not confused about what He is doing!
At this point, Paul gives another teaching about women in the church setting.
In chapter 11, it appears that Paul has given the “green light” for women to pray and prophesy in the church setting. But, in chapter 14, and in 1 Timothy 2:12, it appears he contradicts himself. This supposed “contradiction” has caused much confusion in the church.
The Greek word used here for “women” is the word “gunaikes” which, throughout the New Testament is most often translated as “a wife”. It appears that what Paul is addressing is a husband-wife issue rather than a man-woman issue. Many scholars believe from studying this letter that some women, many of which were married were openly questioning teachings by the leadership and may also have been prophesying or speaking in tongues, disrupting the corporate setting and when confronted, where saying that they were under “inspiration” of the Spirit and couldn’t help it. I believe some men were doing this as well. Paul tells the wives that they are not to take authority over the leaders or over their husbands. This, along with allowing love to be the motivation for using spiritual gifts will stop the abuses.
Two things to remember as we sum up Paul’s teaching:
- Maturity in the Spirit is evidenced through a desire for the profit of the church.
- Desire earnestly to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues, but let all things be done decently and in order.