SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
- Paul writes about the gift of "prophecy." By combining verses 3 and 32 from this chapter, we can define "prophecy" as speech that strengthens, encourages, comforts or convicts its hearers.
- Paul writes about the gift of "tongues." Some combine verses 2 and 13 - 15 and conclude that this is the personal prayer of a person's spirit to God in a language unknown to the person praying. But this understanding seems to be contradicted by verse 22 where it says tongues are meant as a sign to unbelievers, and the other verses in this chapter that refer to "tongues" being interpreted so everyone can know what the person speaking in them is saying. This understanding of tongues (as a language to be understood by people) seems to fit better with all the other references to tongues we find in the Bible, where it clearly seems to be a special God-given ability for people to speak in a foreign language they had never learned, as a sign that they were "credentialed" by God, and as a way to allow them to communicate to people they wouldn't have been able to otherwise. (By the way, and interestingly, some understand the passage in the previous chapter, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, where we're told that speaking in "tongues will be stilled" when "perfection comes" to mean that when the Bible arrived (remember 1 Corinthians was written before there was a New Testament for people to read or give someone) there would no longer be a need for tongues. The idea is that unbelievers wouldn't have to be convinced that a person was speaking the words of God as the Bible could be credentialed instead of the speaker. Also the person wouldn't necessarily need to communicate God's words if they could hand the other person a Bible, in that person's language.)
- Paul goes on to explain that he would rather clearly speak the word of God so it can be understood. And then ends the discussion by saying that our speech (whatever it is) "must be used for the strengthening of the church."
- Paul also makes the point, in verses 22-25, that when believers gather to worship, but have unbelievers in their gathering, they must be careful to make sure all of what happens does not confuse and does make sense to the unbelievers. This is one of the things we always keep in mind at Verve, as we have unbelievers in our services every week.
- After all this, Paul says that women need to keep silent in church. This teaching is debated, mostly because we don't fully understand the context in which he is saying it. Back then women were generally not educated, and some historians believe that a problem existed in the Corinthian church where some women were disrupting the service by asking lots of loud questions. This may have been the impetus for Paul's instruction for women to keep silent.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
- There are definitely some confusing ideas in this chapter - confusing in large part because we live 2,000 years later and just don't know (or can't fully understand) all that was happening in their culture. But we can understand the principle that we need to make sure that non-believers are not confused by the way those who are Christians act or talk. And we can understand the principle that Christians need to be instructed and encouraged.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
- In your life, how might you be confusing people who are not believers? Is there anything about the way you act or talk that might give them the wrong idea about God, or what it means to follow Jesus?
- In your life, how are you doing at instructing and encouraging other believers, and being instructed and encouraged by other believers? Where does that happen in your life? And, if it doesn't, where could you start to experience that?