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Prophecy and Tongues (Part 3)

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
March 13, 2023 2:00 am

Prophecy and Tongues (Part 3)

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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March 13, 2023 2:00 am

Join us as we continue our journey through 1 Corinthians with part 3 of a message on spiritual gifts in the church.


Holy Spirit, thank you for taking your Word and making it clear and powerful and edifying.

We lack wisdom, and you have invited us to ask for the wisdom we lack, and so we do that now. We ask that you would illuminate the meaning of this Word before us, enable us to spiritually discern things that can only be spiritually discerned. Teach us, we pray, Holy Spirit, that we might be, as Paul prayed, filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Lord Jesus, thank you for representing us before the throne of God. Thank you that your representation of us is grounded not in our obedience to the things God's Word has revealed, but in your obedience. Lord, we disobey, sometimes in ignorance, but often fully knowing what it is we're doing. Thank you that your righteousness covers both the sins we commit in ignorance as well as the sins we commit blatantly and intentionally and presumptuously. Father, we desire to be a church that glorifies you in thought and deed and attitude.

Help us to desire that more than we do. Enable us to pursue that faithfully that you might be honored and your name exalted as a result of the character and the grace of your people here at Grace Church. So, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thank you for hearing our prayer tonight. We ask all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Head, our Bridegroom. Amen.

You can be seated. Well, the last time we were in chapter 14 a couple of weeks ago, Paul had begun wrapping up his comments on spiritual gifts by giving Corinth some practical instruction. First, he gave instruction concerning tongue speaking. Next, he gave instruction concerning prophecy. Now we come to verses 33-35 in which Paul gives directives concerning women and their role in public worship. Now let me just take a moment and give the familiar defense of expository preaching speech that you've heard before.

Doug has made this speech. I have made this speech, so it's nothing new, but this is a good time for us to be reminded of why we approach the task of preaching the way we do here at Grace. Our goal at Grace Church is to know and believe and obey the whole counsel of God, not just certain pet verses, not just certain favorite passages of Scripture. And so to that end, we generally preach through whole books of the Bible. This forces us to address all of the biblical data and helps us avoid the very natural tendency of limiting our preaching to maybe just the easy verses or the fun verses or our favorite verses or the clear verses. Now this at times is a challenging approach to preaching, but I hope we can all see that the fruit of it's good. We don't want to be selective, do we, in our interaction with the Word of God. We want to believe all of it, right? We want to take into account everything that God has said. If we leave out huge swaths of Scripture from our system of doctrine or from our worldview, then we can have no assurance that our understanding of the Christian faith is Christian at all. God has spoken and we want to listen and take all of His Word into account. So this means that we're going to on occasion come up against certain biblical assertions that are difficult. They may be difficult because they're unclear or obscure. Sometimes they're difficult simply because they contradict our cultural sensibilities.

They don't play well with the values and priorities of a fallen world. But if we are to be people of the Word as we claim to be, then we must adhere to the Word all the way through and all the way across and all the way down, especially where that word contradicts the tastes and preferences of sinners. The fact of the matter is 175 years of feminism has grown and blossomed into a culture that today makes self the reference point of ethics and family and religion and politics and science and on and on it goes.

That is the cultural soil in which we come to grapple with passages like the one before us tonight. A passage that at our particular historical moment sounds extremely offensive to our ears. I mean, who does Paul think he is to suggest that women ought to keep silent in church? Why does he single out women? Doesn't he know that the Christian faith is non-discriminatory?

It's inclusive. That when it comes to Christ, there is no distinction between male and female? Well, actually, yes, Paul does know that. In fact, Paul was the one who wrote those verses in Galatians 3 about male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile. The reality is that we need to take all of Scripture into account when we handle any single portion of Scripture. We don't interpret verses in a vacuum. Whatever Paul says in one place aligns with what he says in another place. It even aligns with what another inspired writer may have said in other parts of Scripture.

If the Bible is without error, then all of its parts fit together in a way that is non-contradictory and in need of no updates or modification or adaptation to the changing tides of anything. I used to have a mentor who would frequently in his teaching and preaching hold up a Bible and he would say, this is the Bible. It is the Word of God.

And where what the Bible says is different from my beliefs, my attitudes, or my behavior, I will change by the grace of God. And church, that needs to be the manner in which we approach any and every passage of God's Word. So with this attitude of submission to the Word of God in mind, let's see exactly what Paul is exhorting us to do and to think here. And I'd like to go about this by noticing first the scope of Paul's instruction regarding women. The scope of Paul's instruction. In one sense, these verses, this instruction here is unlimited and universal, but in another sense it is limited and contextual.

So we want to look at both of those. First, in what sense is Paul's instruction with regard to women unlimited? Well, let's take note of Paul's opening phrase. He says, as in all the churches of the saints. In other words, what he's about to say is not unique to Corinth.

He's not singling them out. He's treating them like he would treat any congregation of believers. It's a universal principle or practice that he's about to set forth. Now, this is relevant because one of the primary explanations used to dismiss verse 34 is to say that Paul's instructions here were culturally unique to Corinth. This is how things were in Corinth, they say. And so Paul wanted the church to comply with cultural norms there. But now that those cultural norms have changed, so have the ethics that go with them.

So goes the rationale of those who would make this passage and many others like them relative to culture. But since Paul begins by framing his instruction in terms of something that is universally accepted in all the churches, it really removes the possibility of simply dismissing this as some sort of antiquated obsolete cultural feature of first century Corinth. So in this sense, Paul's words are unlimited in their application.

They're universal. So what is this practice that universally applies to all the churches of the saints? Here it is, verse 34. The women should keep silent in the churches for they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission as the law also says.

Now, there is no way that verse 34 taken in isolation and at face value is not confusing at best and offensive at worst to our modern ears. If Paul means to impose an unqualified unlimited silencing of all Christian women, well then for starters there is not a church on earth that has successfully complied with this with this standard. Now I would quickly add that if this is what Scripture is requiring, then the church's lack of conformity to it doesn't really matter. The standard is still the standard whether the church obeys it or not. Remember where what the Bible says is different from my beliefs, my attitude, my behavior? I'm the one who has to change, not Scripture.

But the question is a legitimate one. What exactly is Paul instructing us to do? Are there any limitations to this universal principle? And I think we can very clearly establish that yes, there are limitations the fact is this verse does not appear in isolation from other verses, other commands, other principles. It has a context. It fits in a place and that context, that place defines for us what Paul intends all the churches to do with regard to women.

So let's think about the limited context here. The first thing I would point out is that Paul himself assumes that women will speak in church. And he even gives instruction to that end. If we flip back to chapter 11 verse 5, we read a few sermons ago that women who pray or prophesy with their head uncovered dishonor their head. Paul's solution then is not to deny women the freedom to pray or prophesy.

His solution is to tell them to cover their head. He's assuming that praying and prophesying is going to be going on. We could go outside of Paul's letter to Corinth and learn even more over in Titus 2. Paul instructs women to teach. Specifically, the older women are to be teaching the younger women how to be godly women.

I think we could broaden this even more. For example, when Paul commands Christians in general to do things like sing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs to the Lord, surely he doesn't imply that merely the men are to be singing. It's safe to assume the whole congregation, men and women alike, is to lift its voice in praise to God. So if we have these examples and commands that assume certain situations in which women are clearly speaking in the church, we have to ask the question, what then does Paul mean by telling the women in all the churches to keep silent? Clearly, he doesn't mean silence without any sort of qualification or limitation. What then is the qualification, the limitation of the instruction here?

Well, again, the qualification is determined by the context. We pointed out last time how frequently Paul, here in chapter 14, instructs the Christians at Corinth to be silent. Not just the women, but other groups as well, to limit their speaking, to defer to others in speech.

Tongue speakers, for example, are to be silent if there is no interpreter. Prophets are to stop speaking when another prophet is given a more immediate revelation. Now he adds women to the list of people for whom there is a time and a place to be silent.

What is that time? Again, the context is our friend in answering this question. Notice what Paul says right before his instruction for the women to keep silent in churches, verses 29 through 32. These verses seem to be describing a scenario in which multiple prophets have something to say, something authoritative, something edifying for the church, and Paul exhorts them to speak one at a time out of deference to each other.

Now you'd think that would be obvious. Evidently it wasn't at Corinth. They had to be told to speak one at a time. Nevertheless, as each prophet in turn addressed the assembly, the other prophets were, verse 29, supposed to be weighing or evaluating what is said. Evidently this evaluating process was to happen in real time because Paul goes on to say, if a revelation is made to another prophet sitting there, let the one who's currently speaking sit down and stop talking.

So here's the situation. A prophet is prophesying in a corporate worship service. The other prophets are listening and evaluating what is being said, and if and when something is said that is inaccurate or unedifying or perhaps just incomplete in some way, that needed to be shared publicly. Correction needed to take place, and it needed to take place right then and there. It couldn't wait until next Sunday. Now I think it's important to remember that this was a unique time in redemptive history.

We talked about this a couple of weeks ago. It was unique, a unique time when new revelation from God was still being given to the church. The New Testament wasn't complete. It's not like people could go home and evaluate what the preacher said with their ESV Reformation Study Bible and 2,000 years of theological reflection on the meaning of the New Testament canon. It was critical that the correction and clarification be made in the moment.

Why? Because God is not a God of confusion but of peace. Now imagine with me a corporate worship service at Corinth in which all of this is going on, and suddenly one of the wives of the prophets no doubt in a sincere effort to help her prophetic husband makes herself a part of the way what is being said committee in verse 29 and begins asking all sorts of questions and making all sorts of comments and sharing all sorts of opinions. Imagine with me an even worse scenario in which a wife who out of spite has some bone to pick with her husband and begins using the situation in corporate worship to publicly call into question her husband's words. That would be a mess, wouldn't it? What a disrespectful tarnishing of her husband's position and authority and credibility, and that would reflect negatively on the church at large.

It would be disastrous. It's not the time or the place. It's not that a prophet in that situation could never be wrong or would never have sin issues in his life that need to be addressed. Of course, the prophets were sinners, but Paul had laid out the proper procedure for dealing with prophetic inaccuracies in public worship, and that procedure did not involve wives publicly in the heat of a moment calling into question the character or credibility of their husbands.

To do so would be a violation of another biblical principle of Christian ethics, one that we'll say more about here in a moment. And so in light of this potentiality, a potentiality that was evidently quite common at Corinth, Paul says women, and that could be translated wives, it's the same Greek word, keep silence. You're to be in submission to your husband. You're to demonstrate that submission in the way you relate to your husband in public.

So if you have a question about something he said in his prophesying to the church body in corporate worship, and maybe it's a sincere question of clarification, maybe it's a spiteful question that challenges some moral inconsistency in his life, you need to trust God's methods for dealing with those matters. Let the prophets do the work of the prophet, and instead if you have a question, ask your husband in the privacy and safety of your home. Don't use public worship as a platform in which to discredit and disrespect your husband. For one thing, wife, you could be misinformed.

You might have the facts wrong. But even if you're right, there are other avenues, biblical avenues, edifying avenues through which to hold your husband accountable. So in the church, be silent, ask your questions at home. If this is the context that interprets and limits Paul's instruction in verses 34 and 35, then what Paul is saying here, these instructions do not preclude a woman from asking a theological question in a Sunday school class. It doesn't forbid a woman from praying in a corporate prayer meeting. It doesn't prevent women in the church from teaching other women or singing in the choir or saying hello to a man at church. It's simply the next part of Paul's practical instruction for maintaining order and decency in corporate worship for the sake of maintaining an atmosphere that is edifying and not confusing, that is peaceful and not frenzied.

But this does raise a question. Why does Paul single out the women? Why doesn't he say generically that the women why doesn't he say generically the spouses should keep silent?

Why does he assume that all the prophets huddled together evaluating the preaching are men? Well, this brings up a broader scriptural principle that isn't directly explained and defended here, although Paul does explicitly assume this broader principle here in chapter 14. And if we don't understand and embrace this broader principle, then we're going to find Paul's specific application here and in other places to be confusing and jolting if not downright distasteful. I'm speaking of course of the biblical principle of authority. The biblical principle of authority. Back in chapter 11 verse 3, Paul lays out this principle.

Flip there for just a moment if you would. Chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians verse 3, Paul says, I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ. The head of a wife is her husband and the head of Christ is God. God in His wisdom created the world in such a way as to ensure that every human being is under someone's authority. To be under authority means simply to have a moral obligation to obey the authority. It means to yield to the one in authority. To surrender one's personal preferences and choices to the preferences and choices of the authority. To serve and honor and obey.

This is what it means to submit. Scripture says that even the second person of the trinity, Jesus Christ, when He took on flesh was under the authority of the Father. Christ under God, man under Christ, and woman under man. It's a structure that is built into the very fabric of the created order. Does this mean that every man has unlimited authority over every woman?

Absolutely not. The same Bible that establishes this principle of authority also establishes limitations and qualifications to the principle. For example, a woman is not told that she must submit to any and every man indiscriminately. She is told rather to submit to her own husband. Furthermore, she's not told to submit to her husband no matter what. Rather, she is told to submit to him in the Lord. Her loyalty and obedience and submission to God comes ahead of her loyalty and obedience and submission to her husband. This principle applies not just to the context of the home, but also to the context of church life.

But again, not without some serious qualifications. In 1 Timothy 2 12, Paul says that in the context of the church and the leading of the church in particular, he says, I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man. And Paul goes on to ground that command in the created order.

The reason for it is, for Adam was formed first and then Eve, and then Eve, which again makes this a universal directive, not just some temporary cultural accommodation on Paul's part. So the act of exercising authority generally and the act of teaching specifically are, according to Paul, subversions of an order in creation that God intends us to keep intact even within the church. This is why our church doesn't ordain women to the office of elder. The office of elder is primarily an office of teaching and ruling, the two functions that Paul explicitly prohibits women from engaging in over men. This is also why we don't ordain women to the office of deacon. Now there are churches who view the office of deacon as a non-authoritative office, and on those grounds they do allow the ordination of women to the office of deacon. These churches don't necessarily differ with us regarding the biblical principle of authority and structures and gender roles. They differ with us on the nature of the office of deacon. But we, however, in our church affirm that the office of deacon, just like the office of elder, is an authoritative office and therefore to be reserved for men who demonstrate the necessary qualifications.

Now in a world that mocks God's authority structures and caricatures those structures to the point of just reducing them to ludicrous shadows of what God intends them to be, I can hardly present the biblical principle of authority without clarifying what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that women are intrinsically less valuable than men. I'm not saying that women are intrinsically less capable than men. And to make those deductions is to actually betray a faulty logic because those assertions that we often hear simply don't follow the injunction that men and women have different roles in the created order.

Let me get silly for just a minute to make the point. If I were to say brownies are sweeter than hamburgers and you were to reply you're just being mean to hamburgers, I would have to ask you what in the world are you talking about? I haven't said anything mean or belittling to hamburgers because hamburgers aren't supposed to be sweet. They're supposed to be savory.

Their function, their purpose, their role is different. They aren't intended to be a dessert. If you were then to continue insisting that not letting hamburgers be a dessert is unfair to hamburgers, I would have to eventually conclude that you were the one who doesn't rightly value hamburgers because you have elevated the sweet above the savory to the point of belittling the purpose and the intrinsic value of the savory. Now maybe that's a silly illustration but I think it accurately demonstrates the flaw in this world's logic when it comes to gender distinctions. To say that femininity is belittled simply because it isn't treated like masculinity is actually to belittle femininity. And this belittling of all things feminine has been going on so long now and it has become so normalized in our thinking I'm afraid that we don't even notice the faulty reasoning anymore. God has roles for men in the church and roles for women in the church and they aren't the same and that's okay. When however we confuse those roles or obscure those differing functions, things go badly.

Things don't work. No doubt someone will say, but Eugene there are examples in scripture of women prophets and teachers effectively ministering to the covenant community and you're right certainly there are examples of that. There was Moses' sister Miriam in the book of Exodus identified as a prophet. There was Deborah in the book of Judges. In the New Testament we read about Philip's daughters who were said to have prophesied.

We read about Priscilla and her husband Aquila teaching the gifted preacher Apollos. To be sure these examples exist, but nowhere does scripture make these sorts of examples normative, nor does it even commend these examples. Scripture simply tells us that these exceptional examples occurred. The prophet Isaiah sheds some light on this for us when he concedes that yes there are times when women rule over men, but Isaiah indicates that these times are exceptional and they're actually indicative of judgment not blessing.

That's Isaiah 3 12. Praise God for Deborah's faithful leadership during the time of the judges, but the message of that narrative is shame on Barak for not being the leader that God had called him to be. This brings up yet another aspect of this principle that ought not go without saying, and it's this for women to usurp the authority of men in the home or in the church is not simply a failure on the part of women to fulfill their God-given role.

It is often a failure on the part of men to fulfill their God-given role. Where men fail to provide proper biblical leadership, women will fill the void, and so both men and women face the temptation to neglect the principle of authority to the detriment of everybody. Now I just want to pause here for a minute, and at the risk of maybe sounding patronizing or flattering, it's certainly not my intent, I want to say something about Grace Church. I have had affiliation with many, many churches over my lifetime, some of them stronger than others, some of them more missions minded than others or doctrinally sound or hospitable than others, but one of the qualities of Grace Church that is particularly exemplary because of its rarity in the contemporary church is your acknowledgement of this principle of authority, particularly as it relates to gender distinctions and roles. I honestly don't know of a church that honors and esteems this principle more intentionally and cheerfully. The men at Grace Church by and large embrace their God-given role to lead and initiate and protect and provide. The women at Grace Church by and large understand and value their God-given role to help and serve and labor alongside their men with respect and joy.

And brothers and sisters, this is a beautifully rare thing, and you are to be commended for it. There are precious few congregations where I could speak as candidly and forthrightly as I have tonight about this very sensitive subject and then not dread the backlash that would ensue. So praise God for His grace on us, particularly in this arena of gender distinctions, which is under such vehement attack in the world and in the church today.

And I say all of that to hopefully encourage you just not to grow weary in well-doing. It's not easy, is it, to be countercultural or to even counter our own flesh with its sin tendencies, but God's way is always the most secure path to joy. Well, very quickly then, Paul anticipates an objection in verses 36 through 38, an objection not to his instruction concerning women specifically, but to the whole idea of prioritizing edification and love over and above self-centeredness in how we use spiritual gifts. He says, Or was it from you, self-centered Corinthians, that the Word of God came?

Or are you the only one it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, and in so thinking is essentially placing himself above the rest of the body, above the authority of God's Word, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. The Word of an apostle and the written inspired Word of God takes precedent over any claim to personal revelation from God. So Paul is saying stop hiding your self-centeredness, covering up your lack of love for others, Corinth, behind these pretentious claims of having a miraculous sensational revelation from the Lord. And then Paul scathingly adds verse 38, If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. If you don't know your proper place and function, you have no place and function. Paul then concludes by reiterating the principle that has been the driving force behind everything he said about spiritual gifts and their function in the body, verses 39 and 40, So my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues, but all things should be done decently and in order. Notice these three final words of instruction. First, he says earnestly desire to prophesy.

Why? Well, because that is what most edifies the church. Desire not what will impress the most, but what will spiritually help the most. Secondly, Paul says do not forbid speaking in tongues.

Now, that's an interesting one, isn't it? Especially after all the correctives and the negative things he's had to say. You would think that after having to correct the abuses of the Corinthian Christians, Paul would steer as far away from the gift of tongues as possible, but he doesn't. And I think the lesson to be learned here is that biblical balance is always desirable.

Corinth had already demonstrated their tendency to go to unhealthy extremes in the direction of disorderly worship. They didn't need to then swing in the opposite extreme by forbidding even legitimate uses of spiritual gifts. They needed to be balanced. They needed to be biblical. They needed to be obedient, not reactionary, and controlling and extremist. And then thirdly, he says all things should be done decently and in order.

And herein again lies that overarching principle that defines the difference between edification and overreaction, between love and selfishness. Are we cheerfully pursuing the good of the body by humbly submitting to God's order? If we're not doing that, then our service to the church and to God's people amounts to nothing more than noisy gongs and clanking cymbals. May we be a church of cheerful selflessness and of edifying orderliness, which is to say may we be a church that loves well. Amen. Let's pray. Father, your love is perfect and ours is still imperfect. We ask that you would help us to imitate you by growing in our love for one another so that the world might see us and know that we are your disciples, your children, by our love for one another. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-13 12:18:09 / 2023-03-13 12:29:27 / 11

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