1 Corinthians

Should Women Speak?

“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.

“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 Corinthians 14:34-40.

There is so much in here that needs to be talked about, and it will be a struggle to be concise, so bear with me.

This passage has been used as a cudgel against women preachers for a long time. It’s not hard to understand why, because the language seems pretty plain, but there are things in it I have never heard explained. For instance, Paul says they, “should be in submission, as the Law also says.” But can’t a woman be in submission and also be sanctioned to speak by those to whom she is submission? Under the law, a woman’s vow was not sanctioned until her husband was aware of it and approved. (Numbers 30:6-8). Then, it was as binding as if any man had made it.

There are examples in the Bible of women who were sanctioned to speak, like Deborah. She had been sanctioned by the people if Israel to be their judge. And when the word of the Lord came to her to rise up against the Canaanites that oppressed Israel, she summoned Barak, the man who the Lord spoke to first but wouldn’t go, and got him to obey. She could not raise an army. She needed Barak to sanction that, and he did.

Esther also had to get the king’s sanction to speak. If she spoke without that, she would have been executed. He allowed it, and she was able to save her nation.

The new testament mentions women who prophesied. They brought the word of the Lord. Was it for women only? Even Paul said that a woman who prayed or prophesies with her head covered was in order. It was a sign of her authority because she was in submission.

I have spoken in a fair number of churches. I was sanctioned to do so by whoever was in charge. I could not just mount the stage because I was a man. Even in my own church, I ask to be sanctioned to speak. I have seen men just take the authority to do so, and turn it into a stemwinder that we all wanted to escape from. That was disorderly. A woman can be sanctioned to speak and bring the word of the Lord. It has precedents.

Tongues and Prophecy

“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” 1 Corinthians 14:1-5.

And there you have it. Pursue love AND spiritual gifts. Paul is not discouraging one at the expense of the other. Neither is he reminding people that any gifts will soon pass away. In fact, if you read this chapter to the end, you will see that some protocols developed to insure the orderly use of the gifts. And these gifts were not given to “write the Bible.” Prophesy and revelation could be quite common as people were led by the spirit and shared what they were receiving.

“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. 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 Corinthians 14:26-33).

That sounds like a pretty lively church gathering, and I suppose that very few of us have been to one. This is not God’s fault. It is ours. Many congregations suppress the gifts, while others orchestrate and limit them in other ways. And the most common way is to keep silent and be a spectator. Instead, let us prepare our hearts and spend time with God ahead of time so that we have something to say.

Love is Supreme

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

This chapter has so much to say to us about how we should treat one another, but that opportunity is often squandered by bad scholars. This is the place they always go to in an attempt to “prove” that the supernatural gifts of the spirit have ceased. They claim that the gifts have ceased because that which is perfect has come: the Bible. Really? Which Bible would that be? There are over 700 translations. And every one of them is scorned by various parties of scholars as “inaccurate.”

Love and spiritual gifts are not mutually exclusive. We can have both. But it is possible to have gifts and be rude, unforgiving, demanding, and selfish. It can all be a show. Which is why love is most important. If you love people, you will be patient and kind. You will exhibit the fruit of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23). And the gifts will give you joy because they help reach the lost and build up the church.

When Jesus returns, judgment is done, and there are a new heaven and a new earth, then we can say that the perfect has come, and the gifts will be supplanted by the manifested kingdom of God. And love will be what remains.

Spiritual Gifts

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

Early in my Christian life, back in the 80s, the subject of spiritual gifts was a contentious one. Many churches teach that these have passed away, and that supernatural gifts were intended to jump start the church, and that we don’t need them anymore. But there are churches that believe those gifts are still needed, and that every generation needs a jump start, and that these gifts were given no expiration date.

Spiritual gifts serve an important purpose: to demonstrate God’s power and get the world’s attention. Paul tells the Corinthians in this very letter, “…my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Is this less important today?

Our lack of spiritual gifts today has a lot more to do with our willingness to invoke them, than God’s willingness to perform them. I have a window cleaning business in Florida. It rains here a lot, and I depend on it to not be raining where I am. The night before a big job, when the forecast is for lots of rain, I often ask the Lord to give me an open heaven, free of rain, where I am working. Sometimes I share this with my customer, who is leaning toward canceling because of the forecast. I remember one day I told such a person, “Sir, I have prayed that God would give me an open heaven, that it wouldn’t rain on your house, so I would like to begin.”

I cleaned the windows at this man’s house all day. Every couple of hours, he would race over to where I was working, and exclaim, “I cannot believe it’s not raining! The forecast was 100% chance of rain!” I would remind him, “Sir, I told you that I have prayed that it would not rain here.” And he would walk away with his mouth hanging open. To him, it was a miracle.

If we want to see more demonstrations of God’s power, we must be willing to dare to put our faith out there. I want to risk my reputation more, so that God’s reputation may be defended. Lord, give me the courage to stick my neck out for you.

First Century Communion

“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” 1 Corinthians 11:17-32.

From this context it appears that what we call communion today was a larger event that included having a meal together. This expanded format led to problems where some people had little or nothing to bring while some came ready to party hard. It may have been an attempt to eliminate this class distinction that gave us the purely ceremonial bread and wine/grape juice format that we use today.

Even if we have lost that teachable moment of being considerate of the poor, it is still included in Paul’s lesson on communion. That is, that we are all part of Christ’s body, and should treat each other with kindness and reverence. Do we really think he was saying we had to focus on the edible elements, and not one another? He wasn’t scolding them for being rude to the bread.

It is despising one another that brings judgment upon us, for by so doing we despise Christ. Yes, that unkempt slob that you disdain, who comes to church looking like an unmade bed, needs your compassion, not your social distancing and contempt. Do not forget that, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40).