Having addressed what the church should look like to a visiting unbeliever, Paul turns to instructing the church on orderly worship:
“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God” (1 Cor 14:26-28).
In worship, make sure that it builds up the church and any unbeliever who may have come in for the first time. Are we focused on ourselves or on others? Do we reflect perfect unity with the Lord and with each other?
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor 14:29-33a).
Today we typically start with praise music, ancient or modern in style, and then it is the pastor or priest who prophesies his insight into a passage from the Word of God. I have never seen a worship service where the floor is open for two or three in the congregation to reveal what the Spirit is saying to them at that moment. This suggests studying how worship has evolved over the centuries and to ask whether we have strayed. On the other hand, I believe God is pleased wherever the Word is pronounced and the church is built up in perfect unity.
With these thoughts in mind, the next few verses are very awkward for modern congregants:
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor 14:33b-35).
Of course, Paul’s injunction against women goes all the way back to Eve’s temptation by the snake to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. She is condemned forever. But I note that Adam, whom God appointed head of the family, blamed Eve rather than accepting responsibility as head of the “household.” Paul’s teaching insists that women should be silent as a result.
Paul moves on to address the church at Corinth as a whole:
“Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:36-40).
Paul’s position could not be stated more strongly! But in the spirit of perfect unity – of both men and women of Christ – may I observe that Paul received God’s word straight from the mouth of God? At that time of the church’s immaturity, Paul was obedient to what he knew in limiting women based on Jewish tradition to keep worship in an orderly fashion.
But now we must ask where we receive the word of God today, and the answer is from all Scripture, both Testaments. And the New Testament presents a loving Jesus who died to forgive the sins of all – men and women.
Today, if we are to have perfect unity in orderly worship to build up the church and every believer, we must have freedom within an orderly worship process for both men and women.