God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 14:29-31 That all may learn
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, June 27, 2023
29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should carefully consider it. 30 But if a revelation comes to another man sitting there, the first man must be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
How strange our worship would be if we followed the pattern laid out here, when in the middle of one man’s sermon, another might raise his hand, stand up, and continue on from there! What chaos Paul must have encountered among the Corinthians, that such a pattern would be at least preferable to what was already happening! Paul has moved on from his longer thoughts about speaking in tongues to the orderliness of worship in general. He has four main points to make about who should be silent. In these verses we have the third of these points, but I think that I have not yet listed all four, so here they are:
1. If a man wants to speak in tongues but there is no one to interpret, he should be silent for the sake of the church (14:27).
2. If more than one man wants to speak in tongues, the others must be silent and speak in turns (14:28).
3. If a man is preaching (‘a revelation comes’) and someone else stands up to preach, the first man should sit down and be silent (14:29-30).
4. Women should also be silent in the churches. A woman should not be allowed to speak or preach (14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12).
Regarding today’s point about silence (the third), Luther compared what seemed to be the preaching arrangements in Corinth with the practice he knew at Wittenberg and which we still use today:
“I would not be in favor of restoring this custom [1 Corinthians 14:29, where any man who likes can stand and preach in turns] and doing away with the pulpit…. For St. Paul is not so rigidly concerned about the one method, but he is concerned about order and decent procedure, and gives this method as an example. We had better keep our custom in preaching since it more than the other keeps order among our simple folk. In the days of the Apostle the custom of prophets sitting alongside each other was possible…. It would hardly do to restore the practice.”
The purpose of the silence Paul insists upon here among the men is to maintain good order and discipline in the services. To use an illustration from the days following the exile: if Haggai is preaching, Ezra should not interrupt him. But if Haggai is preaching and Zechariah receives a revelation, he should motion to Haggai or say so at a convenient moment, so that Haggai may sit down and Zechariah may rise and preach (Ezra 5:1; Nehemiah 8:4-8).
One cannot help but agree with Luther: This would not be a wise practice with our people, whether they are simple or learned. The disorder, I fear, could easily lead to the church falling into a sin of despising the ministry and preaching, which is a sin against the Third Commandment. That it was better than what was happening in Corinth is only a testimony as to how bad things were there, not that there might be a better system than the one handed down to us. Luther was very fond of the saying: “It would neither be good or prudent to take matters into our own hands because we could and would easily be defeated” (Sayings in Which Luther Found Comfort, LW 43:171).
Finally, it must be admitted that there is no single form of worship that is correct above all others. But unless there is good reason for omitting the confession of sins and the forgiveness, or for omitting the creed, or the lessons, or the general prayers, or the Lord’s Prayer, or preaching, let this be proved through the Scriptures. Our path of worship is a good one, imperfect though we are as we walk it together. In our worship, we give glory to God, we are reminded of the gospel, and we are blessed with God’s holy word and promises. Let this be a blessing to us, always, “so that all may learn, and all may be encouraged.”
Pastor Timothy Smith