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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 14:36-39 The Lord’s Commands

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 3, 2023

36 Or did the word of God first come out of you? Or are you the only ones it came to? 37 If anyone claims to be a prophet, or to be spiritual, he must recognize that what I am writing to you are the Lord’s commands.

These two stinging questions are really the conclusion of Paul’s words about women speaking and preaching in the churches, as the words “Or… Or” show. Paul has said, “It is shameful for a woman to speak (that is, to preach or to question a preacher) in the church.” Now his addition is: Are you Corinthians the source of all of God’s holy Word? They cannot make an exception to any of the points the Holy Spirit has made, as if God doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Now, Paul is not the source of God’s commandments, either. God is. Paul has been used as the pen that brought some of God’s word to the churches through his letters, but it is still the word of God and not the word of Paul.

There is a lingering question here, however. What about a congregation where there are no men who can preach? Especially in ancient times, or the Middle Ages, when communication was sometimes scanty, and there were isolated corners of civilization. What if there was no man, just some elderly men who were entering their senility and a few boys. Could a woman preach then? Luther has a typically practical and godly answer: “Paul forbids women to preach in congregations where men are present who are skilled in speaking… Paul did not forbid this out of his own devices, but appealed to the law, which says women are to be subject… Therefore order, discipline, and respect demand that women keep silent when men speak; but if no man were to preach, then it would be necessary for the woman to preach” (LW 36:151-152). That is to say, she would preach until a man could be called into service by that church. This does not make exceptions for those church bodies that embrace women pastors, as if to say, “None of our men have come forward, therefore the women must.” The call of a new pastor (a man) would end the temporary status of the woman who had been serving.

Is it the case that there are some members of our churches who merely “tolerate” our “backward” doctrine in this matter, secretly disagreeing with the doctrines of the church? On the one hand, this is nothing new. But at the same time, it may reflect a problem with our preaching and teaching. When our people have questions about the Scriptures, do we open the Scriptures wide enough, broadly enough, thoroughly enough, to show our point?

One of our most respected professors at the seminary was in the habit of telling our class about a sad Bible class he and his wife once attended. The pastor opened up his school dogmatics notes and read from them in a monotonous way for the handful of people who were there. (Dogmatics is the thorough study of all doctrines using almost all possible Bible verses that apply; it often involves long quotations from German and Latin sources.) The professor thought that those few people were the most patient saints in the world for enduring that. Unfortunately, I know that some of my classmates (and me, too, for a while) took away the wrong message from that anecdote: They treat dogmatics as a hidden subject, but they still tend to be tiresome and monotonous in their presentation of a Bible study.

If we were to allow frequent dives into the deep, refreshing pools of dogmatics and doctrine, our people would be better equipped to say, “This is what the Lord most definitely says. This is most certainly true.”

38 If anyone disregards this, he is to be disregarded. 39 So, my friends, be eager to prophesy and to speak—not forbid—tongues.

Those who think Paul’s words in this chapter are not the word of God must beware. He just said, “What I am writing to you are the Lord’s commands” (verse 37). And now he adds: “If anyone disregards this, he (or she) is to be disregarded.” Someone who fights against the word of God is no prophet of God. If he had a call, he has forfeited the divine call. If he is not called, he should not speak as if he does. He is to be ignored and even silenced: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him” (Titus 3:10).

In conclusion to all of this, Paul steps back through all of his concerns about speaking in tongues and draws two conclusions. First and most importantly, “Be eager to prophesy,” that is, to preach God’s word. Second, at least do not forbid speaking in tongues. The grammar of the last phrase is unusual and I have tried to bear this out in my translation, but I’m sure many can do better.

Preaching the word of God has first place in our churches. Let’s be clear why this is the case:

  • We receive the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake through faith alone. This is how the unrighteous are made righteous (Galatians 3:11; Romans 3:20-22).
  • We receive this gospel in regular worship. Our Confession states: “If there is to be a church, if there is to be a Christian Creed, it is necessary that there should be the preaching and doctrine by which consciences are not made to rely on a dream or to build on a foundation of sand, but from which the pious may receive the sure hope of salvation” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession IV:119).

Since tongues are a gift from God, they are not to be forbidden. But those who abuse the gift must be stopped from their abuses (and Paul has given at least twelve cautions about such abuses, as we have seen). The other issues surrounding preaching, such as who should be silent while it takes place (two or three cases of men and one case of women) need to be remembered as well. Paul has one final thing to say, one last verse to our chapter, but we will wait here for a moment and let these things sink in.

In everything we do, let the gospel predominate! Our sins are forgiven; this is the motive for our lives of faith. “Be glad, O people of Zion! Rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the Teacher of Righteousness” (Joel 2:23).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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