God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 1 Cor 14:33
Last time in our exposition of 1 Corinthians, we derived a definition of the Spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy from 1 Corinthians 14, as follows: Tongues are a Holy Spirit inspired utterance that is unintelligible apart from interpretation. Prophecy is the God-given gift whereby some Christians receive and convey revealed information from God. Being that these gifts, as they were used in the early church, did not have to do with adding to God’s revealed truth in the Scripture, nor were they counted on par with the Word of God, we found no Scriptural reason to think that these gifts may no longer be properly used in the church today. As a matter of fact, in light of Moses desire that all of God’s people prophesy (Num 11:28) and the fulfillment of Moses words and the prophecy of Joel (2:28-29) at Pentecost, when the Spirit was outpoured on the church (Acts 2:5-21), we should expect that there would be prophets among God’s people to this day, just as there are shepherds and priests of God’s people. If Christ is our prophet, priest, and king, then we would expect that the church, which is to bear His likeness, would also have subordinate prophets, priests and kings who operate in these roles as they are gifted to do so by the Spirit.
As we consider the matters of prophecy and tongues, and their possible use in the church today, the logical question that arises is: “What ought this to look like in the assembly today?” It seems as though in first Century Corinth that these gifts were being used in such a manner that had no order. Many people were noisily speaking in various unknown languages at the same time, without an interpreter to explain what was being said. Unbiblical prophecies were being offered that went undiscerned and untested. So Paul instructs the church as to how these gifts should be used “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).
First in verses 27-28, Paul tells the church that these gifts are not of the sort where the person loses all self-control; rather there is a dynamic tension between the Spirit who is giving the gift and the individual who is its vehicle. So there is no reason that in the assembly these gifts could not be used in an orderly fashion; people could not make the excuse, for instance, that they were so overcome by the Spirit that they could not refrain from speaking up. One cannot help but see the difference here between this kind of prophecy and that of Jeremiah who could not contain his prophecy (Jer 20:9). Secondly in verses 29-33, Paul gives instruction to the church to evaluate these uttered prophecies. Again unlike the prophets of the Old Testament, whose words were to be counted as directly from God, the gift of prophecy in the church is to be used with discernment, under the authority of the church. This is very different than many of the practices we see in the modern charismatic movement, where prophecies are given as direct quotations from the Lord. If they applied these Biblical restrictions in contemporary charismatic churches, it would immediately reduce many of their abuses and misuses of the gifts. Thirdly in verses 33-36, while women were permitted (with certain restrictions) to prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 11:2-16), they were not to be involved in the verbal assessment of prophecies. Finally as Paul concludes his argument we are struck by the remarkable fact that while Paul considers prophecy to be revelatory (14:30), that it nevertheless holds less authority than the written word, with which it must agree completely or be rejected.
This section of Scripture ought to get us to think about how we might properly utilize all of the gifts of the Spirit in our own assembly. There seems to be Biblical warrant for practices and expressions that are both less formal (1 Cor 14:26) as well as more solemn (such as preaching, reading, the Lord’s Supper, etc.), and perhaps more thought ought to be put into how to develop both trends in our church. Pray for us as we all desire our church to be as Biblical as possible, as we seek to apply all of the Scripture.