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"Let the Women Keep SIlence in the Churches"
Rightly Dividing the Word
“Let the Women Keep Silent in the Churches”
1 Corinthians 14:26-40
 
Perhaps one of the most misused and misunderstood verses in the Bible is the one we will consider tonight, and I don’t mind telling you, I tackle it with a great deal of trepidation.  If there is anything in the world about which I don’t want to be misunderstood, it is the place and ministry of women in the church. 
 
So while it is true I always approach any verse or text of Scripture with caution for fear I mishandle or mis-teach it, I will tell you that is especially true of 1 Corinthians 14:34 where we read, “Let the women keep silent in the churches”. 
 
If ever there was a verse that needed to be seen in its proper setting and context, it is this verse.  I say that for two primary reasons.  On the one end of the spectrum, there is a great violation of the Biblical place of women, particularly in regard to preaching and teaching the Bible in the church that disregards this passage, and on the other end, there is a great limitation that is placed on women unfairly due to disregarding this text as well. 
 
And it’s a shame that happens because that is not the primary focus of this passage.  In fact, this passage contains a very needful message for the church and if you only hear the part about the women, you will never see the greater need that Paul is addressing. 
 
So let’s begin with the text:
1 Corinthians 14:26-40
 
Now if we had time to back up at look the larger setting of 1 Corinthians, we would see that Paul is dealing with particular needs at the Corinthian church.  That’s not to say it doesn’t speak to any church in any age, but it has a historical setting. 
 
And in particular in chapter 14 he is dealing with the issue of speaking in tongues.  But there is a greater issue that needs to be addressed and the place and use of tongues is a part of that discussion. 
 
The key to understanding chapter 14 is the word “edification” or “edify.”  In this chapter, it appears in many, many ways. Sometimes it is used directly and others it is alluded to.  We see it in verses 3 and 4 and again in verse 5 and verse 12 to speak of edifying the church.  Then in verse 19 Paul talks about the desire to speak words that are understandable so others can be taught. 
 
And then in verse 26, he sums it all up by saying, “Let all things be done for edification”.  So this is the thought or the emphasis of the entire chapter.  God wants, when the church comes together, that they be edified. 
 
Now that’s all well and good, but what does it mean to be “edified”?  The Greek word actually comes from two words that carry the idea of building a house. 
Simply put, edification means “to build up”.  That is the term that is used here.  That’s why God has churches on the planet.  They are to build up saints into spiritual maturity.  We are to promote spiritual growth and develop the character of the believer to be like Christ.
And, just as an aside, that is not just the responsibility of the church in a corporate sense, but of every individual member of the church, beginning with the pastor on down.  
 
We err when we put all the emphasis on evangelism.  Listen to this:  Immature church members will never be effective in evangelism.  And unfortunately we are always trying to train Christians to be witnesses when we ought to be training Christians to be Christians.  If you mature a saint, he will be effective in evangelism.  
 
So we meet together to be edified.  We meet together to be taught the Word of God.  We meet together to be exposed to God’s truth in a way that it will cause us to grow to maturity.  So edification is the issue in the church.
 
Unfortunately, that was not what was happening in Corinth.  In Corinth, edification had come to a screeching halt because of the confusion and the disorder with which that church was functioning. 
 
And in 14th chapter of I Corinthians, Paul is trying to put a stop to the perversions and confusion and bring the Corinthians back to a system of order, particularly in worship, that would bring to them edification.
 
Now, in the first 25 verses of the chapter, Paul gives them a doctrinal lesson about tongues and prophesying.  Then beginning in verse 26, he deals with the practical side of that, how it’s going to look and behave in real life and practice in the church. 
 
For that reason it is somewhat unfair to jump in at verse 26, but I’ll give it a try, beginning with just a sketch of what has previously been said. 
 
First, he establishes that speaking in  tongues is a secondary gift to prophecy and he is basically saying, “If you will be edified by coming to church, then you need to be taught the Word of God in an understandable way.  It doesn’t build you up to come to church and listen to someone and you can’t understand what is being said.”
 
That’s verses 1-5
 
Then in verse 6, he reminds them for that reason if a language is spoken in church that no one understands, then an interpreter must be present, again so understanding and edification can take place.  Otherwise, you’ll wind up saying “Amen” to who knows what and others, notice the emphasis on edification won’t understand what is going on.
 
Then in verse 20 and following he explains how tongues are not intended to edify believers.  Instead they are a sign to unbelievers.  So if an unbeliever comes to church and everyone is speaking in an unknown language, they can’t understand what’s going on and can make no sense of it, and will come to the conclusion that the folks down at the church are crazy. 
 
So preach or prophecy so believers and be built up in the faith and unbelievers can be convicted and convinced to worship and serve God. 
 
 
Now, I realize that was a long introduction, but it was necessary to get us to our text beginning at verse 26 where Paul begins to lay out a very systemic procedure by which  the worship of the church is to function.
 
If we are to accomplish the goal of building up believers in the faith and seeing the lost come to faith in Christ, then here is how public worship is to operate.  And by the way, it is a fascinating insight into the Corinthian mess.
 
This is what would happen when you attended church on a given Sunday at Corinth.
 
Verse 26a
 
Paul says, “After all that I’ve just said to you about confusion and chaos and madness in your assembly, why is it that when you have church every one of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation?” 
 
Stop there for a minute.  How is it, knowing what you know about why you meet together in the first place, so that you can be edified, that all of you are doing all of these things all at the same time in the same place at the same hour?
 
Now, notice, he is not saying these things shouldn’t take place.  He’s simply calling them on the carpet for the way in which they are being done.  It was just chaotic, plus it was done to get all the attention. 
 
 
 
Nobody could benefit from it and the lost would never hear the gospel.  In fact, unbelievers would have concluded that they were out of their minds. 
 
So you have all this going on, resulting in chaos and Paul calls for it to come to a stop. 
 
Verse 26b
 
In other words, this is the key statement.  This is the basic thing.  The way to resolve this whole mess and avoid the confusion is for things to be done for the purpose of edification. 
 
Then he outlines four things that will accomplish that goal. They are both important and practical.  
 
First, he says, in order for edification to take place, there must be a procedure for the gift of languages.
 
Verse 27
 
I think it important to mention that the King James adds “unknown” here. The subject at hand is not ecstatic utterances; it is known languages.  We know that because of the construct of the sentence.  It is a tongue, a singular language.  And the reason it’s singular is because he is saying, “If any one man speaks in a specific language.”  Again, a singular subject demands a singular verb and a singular object, and so, he’s speaking of any single person speaking a single language.
 
Paul is allowing for the fact that someone might be present who spoke a different language from the crowd.  Or there might be several who were present.
The real lgift of tongues or languages would mean that person could speak a language they didn’t understand, but the lost visitor in the crowd did understand, and in a miraculous way through the gift of tongues, God would make it possible for them to hear and understand and be saved. 
 
So that could happen, but it was limited to never more than two or three and always one at a time.
 
Then verse 28 answers the question of “What if there’s no interpreter”.
 
verse 28
 
If you’ve got the gift, but there is no one there who can interpret or understand what you are saying, then just keep your mouth shut and keep it between you and God. 
 
It could be a great evangelistic tool to be able to speak a language at the right place and time, but if there’s nobody there to translate, then it has no capacity to do edify the church.  And the purpose for the church’s meeting is to be edified and that’s primary so you just drop it. 
 
So first of all, he places some regulations on the gift of tongues.
 
Then, secondly, he gives the procedure for prophesying. 
 
verse 29
 
 
Apparently at Corinth, not only were there several speaking in untranslated languages at the same time, there were also people jumping up all over the place and saying they had a word from the Lord and they wanted to proclaim a proclamation and they wanted to give a good statement from God and they wanted to preach a great truth. 
 
So in order to bring it into some kind of order so that people could be edified, Paul writes some procedure for preaching or prophesying also. 
 
First, no more than two or three in any given service this.  These are those who have responsibility for preaching or teaching at the church.  They spoke in two ways.  First, they spoke
 
-     Revelation
 
This was something that had never been given before for the life of the church.  It was direct revelation from God. 
 
And they spoke
 
-     Reiteration
 
I mean by that, they repeated a message given by the apostles, something that had previously been received and written down or shared.  That is very much akin to modern day preaching. 
 
And the church service apparently was structured so that one or two or at the most, three, could take their time to be the ones who spoke God’s message.
 
 
The second thing that was to take place was for others to judge what was being said.  “The others” refer to the other prophets and that was simply for accountability and accuracy.  They were to evaluate and discern whether something was of God or not of God. People just couldn’t stand up and speak and nobody evaluate it.
 
Verse 30
 
So here’s a guy up there preaching, and all of a sudden, God gives a new revelation to someone else.  And as soon as one of those other prophets receives from God a new revelation, he pulls the tunic of the guy speaking and he says, “Hey, I got a new revelation,” number one has to sit down because a new revelation takes precedence over reiterating something already given.  God has a special word for the church.  And it changed the order a little bit. 
 
Now, fortunately we don’t have that today.  Revelation is completed and there is no private or new word so don’t get up in the middle of my sermon and say, “Hold it, Tolbert.  Sit down while I share something new.”  No, if it isn’t here, it isn’t revelation from God. 
 
Then in verse 31 he says
 
Verses 31-32
 
So it’s pretty straight forward when it comes to prophecy.  Number one, no more than two or three in a service; number two, the others judge; number three, sit down if there’s a new revelation.  And number four, one by one in sequence, not all at the same time.  Why? 
The purpose is always the same, that all may learn and all may be comforted.  The edification of the church is the issue.  And nobody gets edified in all kinds of disorder and chaos.
 
And then he sums it up with what I think is one of the most beautiful truths here. 
 
Verse 33a
 
In other words, the worship of the church should reflect the character of God.  “When we come together,” Paul says, “we should, by the order and the beauty and the dignity and the system and all that is a part of our service, be manifesting a God whom we serve.  And our God is not a God of confusion.  Our God is a God of peace.  And when somebody comes to your church, he shouldn’t see confusion and fighting for preeminence or else he might conclude that you have a confused, angry, fighting God.” 
 
So Paul regulates the gift of tongues, he gives procedures for public worship, and then turns to one other category of instruction for procedure and that is procedure regarding women and their place in public worship. 
 
That instruction begins in the middle of verse 33 and extends through verse 35, so we’ll read it that way.
 
Verse 33b-35
 
I think it say to say that women were deeply involved in the confusion that was taking place in the Corinthian worship.
And because of that, Paul includes this teaching.  But he also says, “This is for all the churches”.
 
There are lots of reasons to include the end of verse 33 with 34, but at the top of the list is the fact that it makes no sense to include it with verse 33. 
 
The beginning of verse 33 has this great theological truth about God and how He is not the author or confusion, but of peace.  But that truth is not connected to the statement “as in all churches of the saints.”
 
Listen:  God is not a God of confusion but of peace, period, not just in the churches of the saints. 
 
However, it makes perfect sense to say, “As in all of the churches of the saints, let your women, the women of Corinth, keep silent in the churches for they are not permitted to speak.”
 
That takes care of all those who try to explain away this verse and say it was just a Corinthian problem Paul was dealing with.  No, Paul says, “In all of the churches, here is the way worship is to take place.”
That isn’t a Corinthian cultural issue; it is the standard for all churches. 
 
Wherever there are women speaking in tongues and interpreting and prophesying and usurping the authority, Paul singles them out and reminds them that they are to take the place of submission and silence in the public service of the church. 
 
 
 
And the point is very obvious.  God has gifted women in marvelous ways and many of them have wonderful gifts of teaching and proclaiming God’s Word.  But it is not to be exercised in the mixed assembly of the church when it comes together.  That’s what Paul is saying.  That belongs to men. 
 
Notice what we read in
 
Verse 34
 
So what “law” is Paul talking about?  The law of God.  In particular, I think he’s referencing what God said to Adam in Genesis 3:16, where he says to Eve, “he shall rule over you.”  From the very beginning the man was given the authority over the woman.
 
In I Timothy, chapter 2 in verse 11, “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.  I permit not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” 
 
The reason is not because now we’ve got a culture in Ephesus or a problem in Timothy’s town but because Adam was made first and because Eve sinned.  In other words, this is a divine design from the beginning.  You can’t assign that to cultural issues.  Neither can you can’t just slide it out the door because you don’t want to deal with it.  It is encoded in the law of God.
 
Further in verse 35 he says “It is shameful for women to speak in the church.”  And the word means it is ugly.  It is a deformity of God’s intention.  It is a perversion of beauty into ugliness. 
 
 
Many women are excellent teachers and they should be busy teaching other women.  They should be doing that in the right place at the right time, but the right place and the right time is not the assembly of the church.  I thank God for those gifted women who speak to women, who teach women, those Godly women who teach the younger women, as Titus was told.  But we must listen to God’s standards and there are reasons for that, that God may reveal the order.
 
You see, God has a plan.  Husbands are to love and to lead; wives are to submit and respond.  And God wants that order made visible because it is an order out of His nature and He wants His nature manifest in His church.  And where that doesn’t exist in His church, you have violated His order; you have violated His nature in terms of revealing it. 
 
If you go into a church and hear a woman preacher, God cannot be on display there simply because His nature and His plan and purpose are violated, even though that woman may say good things.
 
And notice, we find something very interesting in verse 35 when it says, “If they want to learn something”.
 
Apparently at Corinth they were adding to the confusion by asking their questions publicly which may have been a challenge to the prophet who was speaking.  And as is often the case, people who have questions don’t really have questions; they just want to be heard and argue.  And so they were, in the pretense of asking a question, blurting out something, and they were messing up the order of the service.
Now, I don’t believe this is saying, “At no time under circumstance can a woman ever ask a question.”  There are plenty of times in Bible studies and in fellowship together when we share.  And it’s proper when we have a question and answer time for anyone to ask a question because that’s the order of the time.
 
But where you are in the service of the church, duly constituted as an act of worship before God, and when there is structure and order there for the edification of the whole body, it is to follow these patterns and not to be interrupted and usurped by someone, even someone sincerely asking a question. 
 
And remember, we’ve already learned from this passage, the only ones who had the right to do that were the prophets.  So in reality, these women were usurping the place of a prophet who would be discerning what would be being said. 
 
Instead of teaching or challenging the teaching, she’s supposed to go home and ask her husband.  So husbands, get some answers!  Some of the problems with women asking questions is because they have a husband at home who is dumb as a rock when it comes to scriptural and spiritual things.  He’s saying, “I don’t know. Ask me the score of the Yankees for the last eight weeks, that I know.  Ask me about the Bible, I don’t know.”
 
Now, if you don’t have a husband, you can ask your father.  And if your father doesn’t know or you don’t have a father, you can ask your brother.  Or if not, you can ask somebody else who does know or you just stay ignorant, but you are not to interrupt a public worship to challenge what is being said.
And notice, Paul is really strong about this thing on women and tongues and prophecy. 
 
verse 36
 
You want to argue about this?  What?  “Did you write the Word of God?  Or did it come only to you?  Are you some kind of law unto yourselves?  You going to argue with me on this?”  He doesn’t say it’s a cultural issue; he says it’s the Word of God.  This is very sarcastic. 
 
And what it boils down to is this:  you are either the one who wrote it or you are required to submit to it.  So if you didn’t write it, obey it. 
 
And if you’re not going to obey it, maybe you wrote it.  Maybe it doesn’t apply to you; it’s just for everybody else.  “You think you have a monopoly on Scripture?”  That’s what he’s saying.  “Did it just come to you or from you?  You got some special dispensation? 
 
If not, if the same Scripture applies to you that applies to everybody else, the same Scripture authored by God, then you have one response; obey.” 
 
And I’m telling you he really calls a halt to all their unscriptural activity and returns the focus to that of edification.
 
Then finally, he closes with some regulation for everybody. 
 
Verse 37
 
What a great closing statement!  He says, “If anybody out there is legitimate in the ministry and in their giftedness, they’re going to agree with what I’ve taught you. And if they don’t, they are illegitimate.”
 
If you go to church somewhere and they don’t do it by two or three and they don’t do it in order and it isn’t interpreted and prophets don’t speak in this manner, if they do not acknowledge this as the Word of God, then they are not legitimate.  It’s one of the greatest claims Paul ever made to being inspired by God.  “The things that I write are the commandments of the Lord.”
 
That means we have no right to try and explain away these verses or say they are just cultural or just for Corinth.  No, Paul says, These are God’s commandments.”
 
And then he says,
 
Verse 38
 
“There are going to be some people who are going to ignore my commandments, and if anybody ignores these, you ignore him.  In other words, he doesn’t have the true gift.  If he doesn’t recognize that this is the Word of God, then he can’t be recognized as having the true gift.  He’s a phony and should be treated as such.  If he doesn’t obey these principles and acknowledge them as the commandments of God, then he is to be rejected. 
 
And then he summarizes everything in
 
verses 39-40
 
People are gifted in different ways and they should be allowed to use those gifts, but “Let all things be done decently.” 
 
That is a word that means beauty or harmony and it has to do with the way everything fits together.  Let it all be done in beauty “and in order.”  God is a God of harmony and beauty.  God is a God where everything fits together.  And God is a God of order or systems.  He says, “Let your service manifest God.”
 
I hope you see God here.  I hope you see God in the beauty of the music, in the symmetry of the notes, in the beauty of the message as it flows in order to edify.  I hope you see it in the way He gifts and calls.  In the way he organizes and systematizes.  In the way He places function and responsibility in the home to demonstrate Himself. 
 
That’s what the church is to do that God may be manifest.  And as God is manifest and the church is edified, the church will also be multiplied.  That’s God’s promise. 
 
Let’s pray.
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