1 Corinthians 14


Our sermon wasn’t recorded on Sunday 29 March 2015 due to a technical failure.

What follows is a transcript of what was spoken by Senior Minister, Craig Roberts and Women & Children’s Pastor, Kate Haggar.


1 Corinthians 14

Teaching and exhortation from Craig Roberts & Kate Haggar at St Augustine’s Anglican Church, Neutral Bay

29 March 2014



If you want controversy in the church 1Cor 14 is a great place to start.  Along with chapters 12-13, it covers the place and use of spiritual gifts in the life of church.  And there are some doozies:

The spiritual gift of prophecy – does that mean that Christians can foretell the future?

Speaking in tongues – is this gift of the Holy Spirit speaking in an alien language or one of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today.

Interpretation of these tongues – I had a mouth ulcer when I was in France many years ago, and I wished the chemist had the gift of interpretation.  That would have saved me from about a minute of quite unhygienic cheek-pulling and pointing. But that would have also deprived her and her colleague of about half a minute of laughter.

And then there’s v.34-35

As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Do we say that this command is anchored in a particular time and culture, this is just Paul showing the 1C Corinthian church how to do what he modelled in 9:22 I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

Plutarch, writing 40 years after Paul, in his Advice to the Bride and Groom: the virtuous woman ‘ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything in the hearing of outsiders…a woman ought to do her talking either to her husband or through her husband.’

Maybe v.34-35 is just Paul being politically correct in 1C?  Or was God, through Paul, laying down a timeless command for the good order of the church forevermore?

Neither of those options is correct.  If we look back up the page a little, we see Paul using the exact same ‘be silent’ word to people who speak in tongues (v.28) and those who prophecy (v.30).

And back in 11:5 Paul assumes that women are praying AND prophecying in church meetings:

every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head. The point is, Paul expected women to be praying AND prophecying in church meetings, and you can’t do either of those things and be silent at the same time.

So what’s going on in v.34-35? The context is, v.29, the weighing of prophecy.

Prophecy is not primarily about Nostradamus-like foretelling the future (there is an element of that, but that’s incidental to its primary purpose).  Prophecy is not so much foretelling as forth-telling.  Telling forth to everyone who will listen who God is, what he has done in Christ and what he is yet to do. I say this because of 1 Peter 1:10-12 {Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things}. Prophecy is telling forth the good news of the gospel.

And when someone prophecies, it builds up the church.  The word our Bibles use is ‘edify’.  V.4 the one who prophesies edifies the church. Literally it means house-building, and when a house is built, it starts in 1 spot and is built out and up, at the same time.  As the good news of the gospel is proclaimed, unbelievers hear it, repent of their sins and are saved (the church is built out), and as believers hear the gospel they grow in depth of understanding of who God is, what he has done in Christ and what he is yet to do (the church is built up).

Prophecy builds up the church.

Back to v.34-35 – when someone in church speaks about who God is, what he has done in Christ, and what he is yet to do, that person is prophecying. Women are to do that.  Men are to do that. But prophecy is to be weighed, evaluated, tested against what God has already said in Scripture. And God has said this is the job of men and men alone to have this buck-stopping responsibility for doctrinal purity in the household of God.

These verses are telling us men to man up and take responsibility for guarding the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is spoken and lived out in our church. This really is a man’s job.  And part of doing this man’s job is to make sure women are participating in church in Biblically-appropriate ways.

Speaking of which, we’re going to hear from the Rev Kate Haggar, our women & children’s pastor in a moment, and together we’re going to teach and encourage you from 1 Corinthians 14, just as we did a few weeks ago when we looked at chapter 7.  But we don’t have our random question generator working today, instead, we’re going to look at this chapter in its 3 sections:

v.1-5 Body-building

v.6-24 Understanding and intelligibility in church

v.25-40 Order in church



1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Why women can speak in church

The first time I remember being really aware of these verses was about 8 or 9 years ago. Someone had put the idea of going to bible college in my head and I was busy looking for a reason not to go. So I’d spent some chatting the women’s minister of the church I was at about some other parts of the bible that talk about women and I was  to trying understand them and answer this big question that I had – which was why go to bible college if the bible says I can’t teach anyone, or even speak!

It was recommended to me that I listen to some talks given by a women named Claire Smith. It was a series of 6 talks from 6 different parts of the bible that have been quite controversial – of course 1 Cor 14 was one of them. It was actually while I was listening to those talks that I made the decision to go to bible college.

I’m convinced that the reason that happen was that I had taken the time to listen to God’s word and hear what it was actually saying and not what I assumed it was saying.

So then, what do these verses say to me?

As Craig already mentioned, they come in a very particular context. During the weighing, or the judging, of prophecy it’s good for women allow men to step up to the responsibility that God has given them. In this way, our silence is an act of the kind of other person focused love we heard about last week. Because it puts our desire for them to be the kind of men God wants them to be, over our own desire to simply be heard.

But our silence also benefits us. Elsewhere in his letters, Paul speaks about how a women should learn and he says she should learn in quietness and submission. And this was incredibly counter-cultural because the 1st century culture had no desire for women to learn. But Paul says of course women should learn.

As a rather opinionated and out-spoken woman, I know that the times I learn the most are the times when I’m less concerned about being heard and more concerned about hearing what’s being said. So while I find silence hard, I’ve come to value it’s benefits.

We don’t have a lot of public weighing of prophecy at church – the closest thing is possibly question time at night church – but there is an attitude here that I think we should bring not just to church, but to life – are we concerned for loving our brothers by encouraging their godly leaderships, and do we have hearts that are more concerned for listening than they are for speaking?

There are many times when women should speak in church and I believe that the whole church loses something if that never happens, but there is also great gain in listening and learning.




v.1-5 Body-building

Chapter 14 follows on from chapter 13.  Ch.13 sets out the general principle of acting in love – act to build others up, act in their interest.  Ch.14 is a specific application of the principle, given in response to local circumstances. V.1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts.

Paul goes on to focus on 3 spiritual gifts – gifts from God that come upon Christians by the enabling, equipping work of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

Let me tell you what the 1st 2 spiritual gifts are, and what they are for.

As I said earlier, prophecy is telling others the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and when it occurs, it builds up the church.

Speaking in tongues, however, v.2 anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.

We don’t know exactly what language a person speaking in a tongue is speaking in.  But if I look at Acts 2, the Day of Pentecost, when God poured out his spirit on Jesus’ followers, we read in v.4

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The response of the crowd was, v.6-7, amazement at hearing redneck Galileans speaking in at least 15 different foreign languages. They said, v.11, we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Then Peter gets up and speaking in Aramaic, prophesy’s by preaching the gospel and calling the multi-national crowd to repent and be saved. And the church was built up.

And on that day, recorded for us in Scripture, we have a case study of prophecy and speaking in tongues working together.

Looking at the opening verses of ch.14, we can see that prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues because while the tongue-speaker speaks to God and builds up, edifies, himself.  But the prophet speaks to people and builds up the church.

Moving now to v.6-25, which…

v.6-25 Understanding

v.6-25 represent the next section of ch.14, and we’re confronted with the question of how the use of spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues should take place in the church. When it comes to building up the church, speaking in tongues doesn’t build up the church, because no one knows what the person is saying.

In fact Paul says in v18

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

If you haven’t received the gift of speaking in tongues, that’s OK.  Being able to tell forth the good news of the gospel is 2,000 times better than speaking in tongues.

But it seems that the Corinthians did have this gift and it became a source of selfish pride for them – that they were so ‘spiritual’ with their spiritual gift of tongues.

Paul warns them, and us, in v.12 Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. Literally, strive to abound in body-building gifts.  That excel word has the idea of a rushing torrent of water taking any and every path it can to reach its goal at the bottom of the hill.

Remember where this chapter started – Follow the way of love.  Take any and every opportunity you have to use the gifts God has given you to build up the church.  Will you allow your heart to be transformed and warmed by love so that your life lived in exercising your gifts to build up the church will be like a rushing torrent of water.  Or will you allow your heart to grow cold, so instead of being like a rushing torrent of water you will be like a glacier – hard, unforgiving and barely moving, not exercising your gifts, not building up the church?

try to excel in gifts that build up the church.



1 Corinthians 14:1-25: Understanding

In this section Paul is teaching about 2 specific spiritual gifts, but also giving us some good principles for the use of any spiritual gift (not just word based gifts). The most important principle is to do with the purpose of our gifts. The purpose of our gifts isn’t to makes us happy or even to make us look good – but to serve and edify the church.

The obvious question I have as I read this is ‘how do I know what my gifts are?’

The moment I knew for certain I don’t have the gift of tongues was about 30 minutes into my first Greek lecture at college. It was very clear that was not my gift. But sometimes it’s not so clear.

Here’s my top 2 suggestions for how to know what your gifts are

First – Pay attention to how others are encouraging you. If our gifts are not for us but for the church, then it makes sense that often others will see our gifts in action much sooner or clearer than we will. So if someone is encouraging you to serve in particular way – pay attention to that because they may be able to see something that you don’t.

The flip side of that is that if you’re not being encouraged in a specific way that’s probably not an indication that you don’t have any gifts but that sometimes we’re not very good at encouraging one another. So ask people. If you’re wanting to work out what you’re gifts are then ask the people who are closest to you.

The second suggest is – find something that needs doing and do it. It’s really nice to do things that you know you’re already good at. But sometimes to work out what your gifts are you need to just give things a go.

7 years ago when Craig offered my a position as a student minister here, I almost turn him down because I knew it would involved kids’ ministry and I didn’t want to do that. I was completely convinced that I had no gift or ability to teach kids. Nevertheless I came and started to teach kids’ church and discovered that I love it.

Sometimes, until we try something, we have no idea if we can do it well or not. So start trying things. After all your gifts are not for you, their for the edification of the church. So look at what acts of service are needed the most and give it a go.




The final section of ch.14 gives us guidance to ensure we get the balance in our church right between on the one hand – fire, life and spiritual vitality in our church, and on the other fireplace, order and structure in our meetings.

So everything that happens in our church meetings is to be done, v.26, for the strengthening of the church– the edification, the building up of the church. That means only 2 or 3 people should speak in tongues and they must be interpreted.  If there’s no interpreter, they must be silent, because they will not build up the church.

v.29-33 if someone has a message they believe by God’s grace and the work of His Spirit, that we should all hear, then Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. This careful weighing is for men to do.

v.30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. He should be silent, just like the uninterpreted tongue-speaker and women during the weighing of prophecy.  So there is a place for everyone to speak, and a time for everyone to be silent. Because, v.33 God is not a God of disorder but of peace. And Paul concludes this chapter by saying

v.39 be eager to prophesy [there’s that rushing torrent of water word again], and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

Life in the body of Christ, life in the church is to be done in a way that is appropriate for the body. Its about doing the right things at the right time so that we honour God and build the church.

I’m not going to wear Jimmy Choos on a building site, but I will wear Hunter wellies on a rainy day.  I’ll wear appropriate footwear at the appropriate time.  So too the way we exercise our God-given gifts is to be appropriate as we meet together.  Life in the body is to reflect the character of the Head. And that responsibility falls on each one of us.



1 Corinthians 14:26-40: Order

Part of being human is that we don’t like to think that life isn’t all about us. I’d much rather think that life revolves around me and that the best decision in any situation is the one that benefits me the most. But in this section of chapter 14 Paul is really making clear that there’s something more important than me. He’s been writing about spiritual gifts for 3 chapters and each chapter has given us something other than ourselves to think about

In Chapter 12 he reminds us that we are all members of the one body of Christ and that we are all different and we need each other.

In Chapter 13 he tells us that service without love is nothing. Without love we are a clanging cymbal making a lot of noise.

At the beginning of chapter 14 he’s told us that the purpose of our gifts is to build up the church. And now he gives something else to think about – as we serve we are reflecting that character God to those around us. In particular, showing that God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

This is something we see right in the beginning of Genesis. As God creates the world there is order and peace in everything he does. And what a privilege it is for us to reflect that same order in how we do church.

There’s no doubt that you have a contribution to make. Paul assume’s in verse 26 that everyone will have something to say. But if focus is on doing this is fitting & orderly way. This means sometimes we will speak and sometimes we stay silent and let others speak.

We have great freedom to do this without feeling like we’re missing out, because we know that God is good and loving and wants the best for us and his church. If we truly believe that then we can be confident that even when we don’t speak he will honour us as we seek to honour him.



Close in prayer.

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