1 Corinthians 14:1-40

By April 11, 2021Sermon Notes

I want to start this morning with some background, both personal and biblical.

First some personal background:

  1. In Seminary I had a New Testament and Greek professor whose name was Dr. Munn.

-I suffered through Greek (we called it “fun with Munn”) but I loved that man

-I would see him laughing and playing tennis at the courts on campus.

-I admired his way with students and his love for the Bible

-I was drawn to his grace and wisdom and wit and smile

-Each semester, and I had him for a number of classes, he would begin with this same speech.

“If you are in Seminary studying for a ministry role in the local church and you are not spending daily time with God in the Bible…there is just one word that describes you…dumb.”

It was a bit surprising at first, to hear this coming from this kind, funny, smart man…but then I realized how many students were not spending time with God and his word while preparing to serve God and teach his word in the church…I realized… “Yeah, that’s dumb.”

He challenged us to read through the NT monthly to become immersed it…he had, for years, read through it monthly himself…I took his challenge and read it through 12 times a year for many years.

He also said, don’t just fly through it…read for understanding.

I knew I needed both immersion and understanding.

So, one year, as I read through it monthly, whenever I encountered a verse or a passage I didn’t understand, which was all the time…I wrote down the reference in a notebook…then pushed on in my reading.

Later, when I had time…I would go back and study those passages using commentaries.

Commentaries are the written expertise of people who have spent a lifetime studying the background and language of the Bible…very helpful tools.

I had a lot questions…But I spent years working through my list.

Now, I’m 62…I’m been working on understanding (and applying) the Bible for over 40 years…I’ll be working on this until I’m dead.

So, seminary was just the beginning…it helped me know how to study…I’ve continued to read…the Bible daily, commentaries almost daily, and lots of other books.

Because I want to know what Scripture means and how to apply it to my life.

I’m not trying past tests in school anymore…I want to know how to maximize my life…I really want to love God and others well.

Not everyone should or even has the time and opportunity to do all this…it is my own personal calling and job as a pastor that, in my mind, required this of me.

But in addition to personal study…I have been to a lot of churches in America and in other parts of the world and I have had conversations with a wide variety of people from many different cultural and theological perspectives.

I’ve talked with Catholic friends, Jewish friends, Charismatic friends, dispensational friends, reformed friends, Baptist friends,  Muslim, friends, atheist, deist, agnostic friends.

Here are a few points from this personal background:

  1. I have decided what I believe regarding the key biblical principles and doctrines

-This is not to say “So don’t doubt me”

-This is simply to say… “I’m not still circling the runway…I’ve decided where I land on these things.”

  1. I have also decided what things are not essential and that different views on non-essentials are okay.
  1. Some things are not essential (that is, not necessary truths as relates to God, man, sin, salvation)…but they do require decisions because you have to actually do stuff in the real world.

There are Christians who take the Bible seriously, who have come to different conclusions about things like charismatic gifts and gender roles in church.

These differences can provoke debate, anger, disillusionment, division…but they are not, for me, matters of essential truth…though they are…important.

We will talk more about this next week.

I believe that you can live a Christ honoring life and go to heaven when you die…whether you believe tongues are for everyone (some do), or for no one (some do)

All this is to say this:

  1. I’ve decided on a lot, maybe most, of what I believe are essentials and non-essentials.
  1. You are free to disagree…but just know…this is what I believe, and I’ve not just woken up today and decided to believe it.

I’m at the point in my life…where I want to spend my time…however much is left.

Engaging people in gospel ministry…that’s what excites me and energizes me.

I will never be done studying, learning…but I’m done debating…my focus is to live and teach what I believe.

I won’t fight over essentials or non-essentials or over what goes in either of those categories.

But we do have to make practical decisions regarding some of them…how will we live doing our best to faithfully apply Scripture to our lives.

Sometimes people will disagree on essentials, non-essentials…and what is what…and so they seek a church where there is more agreement…that’s okay, normal, good.

Remember Paul and Barnabas…disagreed…Paul took Titus and headed north, Barnabas took John and headed west.

“But Terry we should all agree and just get along”

We don’t and we won’t…but we can disagree in agreeable ways.

It’s entirely possible…I’ve seen it done.

  1. Biblical Background

The famous quote  “Location, location, location”  was coined in 1944  by Harold Samuel, in response to the question as to what three things matter most in property.

I would say that is very similar to what is most important in understanding the Scripture.

“Location in the Bible” or “context, context, context”

A verse has a context in a chapter, in a book, in a testament, in the Bible as a whole.

It also has its genre context…is this history, poetry, proverb, letter, etc.

It has it grammatical/historical context…what did that word or idea mean in the original language and culture…how does it apply now.

Sometimes…we know clearly, sometimes we don’t.

In all of this here’s why I am not dismayed, confused, or overwhelmed about the Bible.

I’ll quote Dallas Willard on this because I can’t improve on how he says things:

Regarding the bible:

“On its human side, I assume that it was produced and preserved by competent humans beings who were at least as intelligent and devout as we are today.  I assume they were quite capable of accurately interpreting their own experience and objectively presenting what they heard and experienced in the language of their historical community, which we today can understand with due diligence.”

“On the divine side, I assume that God has been willing and competent to arrange for the bible, including its record of Jesus, to emerge and be preserved in ways that will secure his purposes for it among human beings worldwide.  Those who actually believe in God will be untroubled by this.”

I’m untroubled by this…because I actually believe in God.

I believe God is there (I’ve seen too much to think otherwise) and that he is not silent (He is too good to not speak to his kids)

He has spoken through the Bible and when we approach the Bible as God’s word…in community, surrendered to the Holy Spirit (reading with a ready “yes”)…then we are positioned to know and apply the Bible…to be changed by it.

I’m good with some mystery…because there is so much clarity…enough to keep me busy from now on.

Today, we are in 1 Corinthians 14

What’s the context?…if you have been here this year…you know.

Cultural context: 

It is a new church comprised of mostly new believers…who thought themselves all grown up…but they weren’t

It is a church in a city full of idols, immorality…all this mess was smushed together to create a situation that was out of control, broken, chaotic.

These new believers brought this chaotic baggage to their church life.

What is the Context in the letter grammatically:

Paul is writing to help them grow up…to not focus on their differences, their external showy displays of spirituality and their supposed superior wisdom.

He wants them to leave the messed-up parts of their former lives…behind them.

He’s addressed specific issues…meat offered to idols, morality, taking each other to court…all in the overall context of how they are to treat one another now that they follow Christ.

They are to use their freedom in Christ to serve others not themselves.

Then in chapter 11 he began addressing what this kind of maturity looks like in their worship together…worship is so important because it shapes us.

This discussion extended into chapter 12 and gifts.

**Remember, Paul didn’t have chapter numbers in his letters…they were added later to help us move around in them.

Then in chapter 13 it might appear that Paul goes off topic (from how to worship) and was diverted into his “love poem”…but of course he did not go off topic.

He is giving the lens by which they are to focus on what he has been saying.

They were really into the showy, self-exalting gifts, selfishness in worship was common…he showed them the “most excellent way”

Go back there for a moment.

“If I speak in tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am only making noise” (clanging cymbal)

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries…but don’t love…I AM nothing.”

Now in what we call chapter 14…Paul continues dealing with topic of their worship.

In particular, here, the importance of rational truth versus emotional outbursts.

Tongues were the presenting issue…the core issue in the entire letter…is what it means to grow up as a follower of Christ.

Adults who are acting like adults…use their mouths and their minds to express facts with clarity (it doesn’t mean they don’t feel strongly about things)…but truth is essential for relationships.

Children or adults acting like children…operate out of their emotions…their minds are overwhelmed by chemicals and feelings and they speak whatever they feel compelled to speak.

When adults speak and listen using their minds (not being ruled by emotions)…relationships can grow.

When anyone is acting like a child…operating mostly out of emotions…relationships are crushed.

I’ve seen this over and over as I’ve intervened in my grandchildren’s emotional outbursts.

As well as many times dealing with biological grown-ups whose relationships have devolved into emotion on emotion…leading to the destruction of friendship and trust

One more, actually two more things, before we look at chapter 14:

What does Paul mean by “Tongues” and what does he mean by “Prophesy”?

What Paul meant by tongues is debated.

-One view is to see it as someone speaking in an actual language they had not learned (like in Acts 2).

There, however, people heard in their own languages…no one knows how God did that?

-Did he translate in their minds?  Cause their eardrums to vibrate with native sounds?

-Another view is that Paul here is talking about a private, personal kind of verbalization that is not intelligible speech, but more like a “prayer tongue”

-I haven’t done this, I’ve had friends who say they have.

-I’ve seen something like it done in church services…but it was clearly not biblical or good.

-I think it was probably in Paul’s setting some kind of what is called a “prayer tongue”

But it maybe something entirely different than what we have thought about.


This is also pretty widely debated.

Our default when we hear the word is “telling the future”…but that is the minority use of prophesy in the Bible.

It is most often used to describe a person speaking  the “word of the Lord”…could be judgment, could be encouragement, could be instruction, could be the future.

In the early church (and some believe today still)…it was probably included some sort of direct word of instruction, rebuke, encouragement from God to the church through an individual.

Why don’t we do this stuff at River…tongues and prophecy?

They didn’t have a NT…we do, thank God.

-They didn’t even have a gospel yet…Matthew was probably being written about the same time as Paul was writing this letter.

-NT books had certainly not been copied and distributed to churches.

-I think God was giving them instruction on how to operate more directly…because he had to….even though this approach was open to much abuse.

-False prophets are often warned about in the NT…it is pretty easy to fake the truth without a Bible to compare what people are saying to.

-If someone had a “Prophesy” or “Word from God” now for instance in a small group.

We would have to check it out against the written word of God to see if it was true.

So, from my perspective, if you read the Bible in small group…you are, if effect, doing what they did…the intent of prophesy…you speaking a word from God.

The Bible is, in fact the Word of the Lord…when you read it out loud…you just spoke the Words of God.

Then, as we work though the passage together in group…there are the checks and balances of community that help us apply it correctly.

So, what we do as a church, in preaching and teaching, is to “hear in order to apply the word of the Lord.”

That was the intent of prophesy…whatever it meant exactly in their setting.

-Preaching is what I’m doing now

-Teaching is what happens in groups and other settings.

-Preaching is where one person (today it’s me).

Does a lot of study, prepares and presents a message so the entire body can benefit.

-Paul did this, as did Apollos, Peter

*This is a very useful practice in the church.

-We don’t all have to put in, say, 10 hours work each week on a message…I could do that…and save maybe 5000 man hours (10 X 500)…those hours can go elsewhere.

-Teaching is more conversational, it’s less “sit and get”…this is what we do in small groups…there the entire body can add their experiences and insights to the conversation.

*But the main topic in groups is the Bible…the Word of the Lord…not cultural this and that…personal this and that…But what does the Bible say?

Sure…we engage with cultural and personal issues…but we are the church…so we major on the Bible because it is the Word of the Lord.

And we need to hear from God to know how to deal with cultural and personal issues.

Same idea with tongues:  If someone were to have some sort of “spiritual language” pour forth in small group.

Well, there would be the need for an interpreter…Paul says as much.

-That interpretation would have to align, again, with the NT.

So, in a sense…what’s the point?

We have the NT…let’s just start there and apply it to our lives.

So clearly there is not as much need for this kind of specialized delivery of God’s word to the church now that the NT is complete and readily available.

God, can of course, do whatever he wants.

If you have had an experience with a sort of “prayer language” in your personal time with God…great.

But don’t think it makes you more spiritual because it doesn’t’, and remember the gifts can be counterfeited by the enemy…and often are.

So…be humble, be biblical in the use of any gift.

With all this background in place, I’m going do my best to explain chapter 14 using a summary style.

Verse 1 is Paul’s segue to this section of his letter is “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts…especially the gift of prophecy.

Love is priority, desire spiritual gifts but with that priority in mind…they are for others not for me.

So, for instance, Prophecy is priority over tongues…because it has to do with objective truth that speaks to the mind…it is for others to understand and obey.

Tongues, Paul indicates, are mostly for self-edification.

Tongues that are translated by someone else into a “word of the Lord”…well, they have turned into prophesy.

Speaking a word of God for the people.

Prophesy, Paul said…the speaking of the Word of God…is for Strength, encouragement, comfort

Three things we all need on in ongoing fashion.

Paul asked…If I speak in tongues but don’t bring some objective truth what good am I to you?

He said that even lifeless things that make sounds…flute, harp…don’t make music (something our minds can grasp and enjoy) unless there are distinct notes.

Jumping to another analogy…If the trumpet blows and soldiers can’t clearly understand with their minds what is being played then the implications are huge:

-“I think I just heard the call to attack”

-“No, I think it was retreat”

“Look we either we retreat or attack…someone could die here”

“I think we need a new bugler.”

Paul said “There are lots of languages in the world but they all have meaning; they have the ability to pass on understanding.””

If I don’t grasp the meaning of what someone is saying I can have no relationship with them…I am a foreigner to them and them to me.

Foreigner is translated from the Greek word “Barbaros” we get our word “Barbarian” from this.

In the Greek this word was onomatopoeic (on nama peeick)…which is forming a word by imitation of a sound…like “bark” or “moo”

This was someone whose speech sounded like “bar bar”

Which were meaningless syllables.

So since you are so eager to have spiritual gifts…excel in gifts that build others up and not yourself.

Gifts that form relationships rather than divide people…making them foreigners to one another…and to God.

Paul is not opposing the gift of tongues…he had the gift himself…but he said, and this is very telling.

“I’d rather speak 5 words that instruct others (speak to their minds)…than 10,000 in a tongue that merely has emotional content.”

He is spending so much time on this because they were so enamored with “tongues”…it was, for them, a sign of being super spiritual…spiritual maturity.

Yet, in their eager desire for this particular gift…they remained spiritual children.

  1. V. 20: “Stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants (be inexperienced in evil.) But in your thinking, be adults.”

In your thinking…grow up.

Tongues might be a sign to unbelievers that God is at work here…especially in that culture where this kind of stuff was seen to be the evidence of the supernatural

But without clear information about the gospel…they won’t ultimately be saved from their sins by these showy signs.

But if a non-believer or believer for that matter…hears the objective truth of God spoken in clear language they will both be helped…the non-believer will be convicted the believer instructed.

Then in verses 26-40 he gives some general instructions for what this might look like in their setting.

What he describes “ought to be happening in their worship” clearly was not.

Their worship was chaotic…lots of self, lots of emotion, no order

Everyone had something to say or sing, people were speaking over the top of one another, there was unintelligible speech…but often no translation.

Then in verses 34-35 Paul addresses some behavior of wives in their meetings that was disruptive…and also, culturally way out of tune.

I’ve read at least a dozen commentaries on this chapter…and there are at least ½ dozen different views.

Here Paul says that women should remain silent in the churches, if they want to inquire about something going in worship…they should ask their own husbands at home.

What does this mean in context?

In chapter 11 he gave instructions on how women were to pray and prophesy in worship.

Now it appears he is contradicting himself…but of course he is not.

He is a smart guy…he hasn’t forgotten what he just wrote in the very same letter…and this was not an email.

He didn’t type it up before breakfast and fire it off without re-reading it.

This was carefully considered, planned…thought through…probably over many weeks.

And also, it is God-inspired speech…so there is no contradiction.

You are of course free to have your opinion about what Paul meant by his words in chapter 14.

I think it is most likely, I could be wrong, that in context, he is referring to a situation in an already chaotic, unhelpful worship setting.

Emotions are flying high, people are all speaking out…

Remember during communion meals which was likely at every worship service…people were getting drunk, gorging themselves on food…separating into the haves and have nots.

Remember this was also the same church…where a guy was sleeping with his mother in law, where they had divided into cliques, where they were suing each other in court…it was a mess.

In this chaos they called worship….maybe some husbands were speaking in tongues, or prophesying…and their wives were shouting back at them.

“My husband means this” or “Don’t listen to him, he’s a hypocrite, you should have seen him last night.” “Hey Bill…what does that mean?”

To get hung up, in my opinion, on the issue of tongues or women speaking or not speaking in worship…is to completely miss the point.

The context here is immature chaos…masquerading as worship.

Remember what he wrote in 11:17?

“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.”

Here’s another clue to the emotional chaos of their so-called worship.

29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

This was not happening…otherwise he would not waste his time telling them that it should be happening

What was happening was that they were getting drunk, all emotionally charged up, everyone doing their own thing…but they staying were baby Christians…why?

They were not learning truth about God and what it meant to be God’s people.

They were infants playing at worship with their emotions…but failing to mature in their thinking.

They likely believed… “I can’t help it…the Spirit comes on me…and I just lose control.”

“Wrong!” Paul said

 “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets.”

God has given you the ability to control yourself…shut up and sit down and listen.

Don’t blame your own lack of self-control on God…God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

*We have had people, a couple of times over the years…stand up in worship and say or do something that draws attention to themselves.

-I have had to call them on it.

“But Terry, maybe it was of the Lord.”

No…it wasn’t…we were focused on the Lord in worship.

And suddenly everyone’s attention has been diverted from Jesus to this person…that, I am certain, is not the point of worship

The opposite of disorder, Paul said, was not order…but peace

Since their emotionally charged worship was largely void of objective content…the result was a lack of peace between them…they were not learning truth.

To use Paul’s language…they had 10,000 words that no one could understand…and the result was they didn’t get along.

Paul would rather them settle down and hear and take to heart a few words of instruction like… “But the greatest of these is love.”

There is no peace without clarity of thought.

He concludes this section with some correction and instruction.

36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

I’m a visitor to this church from the community…I have heard of this Jesus and came to check things out…EXPLAIN WHAT I SEE.

But then Imagine over the chaos

Someone says…“Hey, I got a letter from Paul.”

They look up from their playground games and their food fights and  their “bar bar” noises and…and they get still and they listen…and I listen.

We here the truth spoken with words we can understand with our minds.

I now I am interested and I am challenged as I hear someone read… “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not rude, it is not proud, it is not self-seeking.”

We hear, truth given by a God inspired human in rational words and thought…that allow us to move towards Christ.

You in fact…I read this very passage, 1 Cor. 13:4-7, this week, to a friend who is not yet a believer..he was moved by the beauty and power of the words…and by how they applied to his situation.

I’m unbothered by the complexities of God’s word…because I am continually challenged by the simplicity of it.

It is, as I would expect it to be…sometimes hard to understand, but overall…clear and challenging in the practical matters of faith and life.

Willard, again, on the Bible…

“The Bible is, after all, God’s gift to the world through his Church, not to the scholars.  It comes through the life of his people and nourishes that life.  Its purpose is practical, not academic. An intelligent, careful, intensive, but straightforward reading—that is not one governed by obscure and faddish theories or by a mindless orthodoxy—is what it requires to direct us into life in God’s kingdom.”


Paul was a passionate man.

Jesus was of course a man of great passion…his death on the cross is called “The Passion”

But Paul was a man who loved truth…objective truth…facts of faith.

Jesus, said that he is the “Truth”

God, through his word, the facts of faith…brings order…order to minds, hearts, lives, communities…worship.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

Then God said “Let there be light” and there was light…and there was night and day…order is coming.

Then water and land…order is coming.

Then vegetation, after its kind…more order

And animals and birds…according to their kind…even more order.

God “spoke” and brought order to chaos.

God still speaks and brings order to chaos.

Paul’s intent for this church…was that they would abandon their self-inflicted chaos and let God’s objective word bring order to their lives.

If they would stop embracing chaos…then God would show them, tell them…how to grow up into maturity.

God’s word has this power in our lives…it can bring order to our chaos.

But don’t be mistaken…this will not make us people without passion but rather people whose passion is deep and abiding and not tossed around by the emotional winds that blow in and the changing cultural winds that blow around us.

Mere emotion needs only feelings as fuel…but it doesn’t survive long does it?  It form no basis for a lasting hope.

Deep abiding mature passion feeds on the facts of faith….it builds hope.

And it is to the foundational fact of the resurrection that Paul takes us to next

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