Today, with almost a tad of reluctance, I will navigate through the waters of contextual error once again. Why reluctance? Well, the contextual dilemma that we confront today is one that has been utilized in various and sundry fashions but, for the most part, has been falsely wielded as an authoritative phrase that dictates a degree of ministerial control.
Now, it is important to understand that the broad majority of men and women throughout the realm of the church have been guilty, at some time or another, of being the guilty contextual culprit. At some point, all of us have, either through ignorance or through repetition, corralled the Word of God into a fence that it was never meant to be contained within. That being said, it is crucial that we know the scriptures and refuse to reduce our efforts in grasping those said scriptures down to the lowest common denominator. So, let’s get started.
The Spirit of the Prophet is Subject to the Prophet
To start this off correctly, we need to first understand how the Scripture has commonly been utilized. For this, I will give an example that has been repeated throughout many churches in our nation. Take for example the five-fold ministry and it’s unique structure that includes the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor/teacher (Eph. 4:11). Often times, though erroneously applied, these offices are viewed from a “top-down” structure. In other words, some men come to believe that certain of those offices are higher than other offices, thus carrying with them a higher degree of authorized authority.
The elephant in the room, of course, is that this is typically seen in the office of a pastor as it relates to those other offices. While the pastor indeed functions as the highest, God-ordained office with the local church, this does not automatically elevate the pastoral office above the other visiting offices of the five-fold ministry. There are always exceptions to the rule but this moves into a realm of spiritual authority; a concept that would demand a much lengthier dissertation.
However, one can never diminish the shepherding role of the local pastor which, in the Greek, ποιμήν (poimen), directly connects to the commitment of a man to shepherd a flock. This means, regardless of the equality within the five-fold ministry, that the local pastoral ministry is to be deeply respected and ultimately deferred to by others within the five-fold ministry who may come visit and minister to that local flock. Again, within the realm of spiritual authority there are always exceptions, but we do not have time to delve into those topics.
All of this being said, leads us to the contextual error of the scripture in question. Due to the common misunderstanding of spiritual authority and/or the five-fold ministry within our churches, the phrase, “the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet” is typically homogenized to reflect those common misunderstandings. For example, many men feel that, in the course of a church service, they can trump or shut down another individual within the five-fold ministry by citing, “the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet.” In other words, too many men have falsely identified the scripture as being a means to control or dominate the operation of other ministries, citing the said Scripture as a validator of their absolute, spiritual authority. This, my friends, is completely unmoored from the rational interpretation of scriptures. Let’s take a look.
1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (KJV)
26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
What is the context of vs. 32? This is crucial to getting this right! Well, if you are familiar at all with I Corinthians 14 then you will understand that Paul is dealing with a church that is wildly out-of-control as it relates to the gifts of the Spirit and the order of the local church. To put it mildly, the church is out-of-order! Everyone has a special song! Everyone has a prophecy! Everyone has a word from God! Everyone has a revelation! Everyone has a tongue interpretation after the gift of tongues has operated! Absolute chaos! When you digress toward the beginning of the chapter you see this gradually unfolding narrative that reveals this total chaos.
I. Paul starts the chapter by commending prophecy and the operation of the Spirit among the people.
1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (KJV)
1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. 2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. 3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
II. Paul Gives Caution to Tongues without Interpretation which could lead to confusion
1 Corinthians 14:6-14 (KJV)
6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? 7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. 11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. 12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
III. Paul Encourages the End Means of Edification
1 Corinthians 14:15-20 (KJV)
15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? 17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. 20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
IV. Paul Encourages that Everything be Done for Edification
1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (KJV)
26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God….
Here, we arrive at the portion of scripture in question. What has the context been thus far? Edification and order. Paul is hammering down the need for order and decency within the church. However, Paul is also hammering down the need for everything that is done within the church serve the purpose of edifying the church as opposed to edifying self! Thus, having navigated through the common problem of everyone singing over everyone, prophesying over everyone else, and declaring doctrine, revelation, and interpretations over everyone else. Just prior to dealing with the prophets, Paul admonishes those who receive interpretation of tongues, “let all things be done unto edifying!” Two or three at most give the tongue, by course, (not competing to give their tongue), then let one interpret. However, if there is no interpreter, just be silent….
Does this silence concept sound familiar? Absolutely! We typically skip past the prophet discourse that follows and address the admonition that “women are to keep silent in the church” (vs. 34). Again, because we misinterpret the portion about the prophets we misinterpret the portion about the women. The context of this chapter is dealing with order and decency! It’s dealing with a group of people that have no restraint and show no obvious concern for those around them. Instead, the gifts of the spirit, questions, worship, preaching…everything has become (to some degree) self-serving (fails to edify others) and total pandemonium.
Thus, when Paul admonishes the prophets, the context is still the same.
29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
Notice what Paul is saying here, similar to those with tongue interpretations in the preceding verses. Let’s break it down:
- Let the prophets speak two or three
- Let the other judge
- If any thing be revealed to another that sits by, let the first hold peace (be quiet!)
- Prophecy in order (one by one) that all may learn and all be comforted
- THE SPIRITS OF THE PROPHETS ARE SUBJECT TO THE PROPHETS
In big, bold letters I will sum up the underlying gist of Paul’s admonition to the prophets (and everyone else in the church)….PREFER YOUR BROTHER! Hey, I know you have a word from God, but if you notice someone beside you has one as well, be quiet and let them speak first. Control yourself! Oh, this could really help young preachers who always feel they have to take that microphone and give their special word from God. A sure sign of immature ministry is the obvious need an individual feels to seize control of a service and give “their special word” over the word and ministry of others.
Paul is telling the prophets that they control their own spirits, not the spirits of others. Nothing in this scripture is authorizing authoritative action of one man over another. Quite contrary! In plain English, SHUT UP GUYS! Prefer the others around you by controlling your own spirit! Let your gifts serve to edify the church, not your ego!
1 Corinthians 14:33 (KJV)
33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
Now…in context, you can then apply this to the final portions of this chapter after correctly interpreting the context of women keeping silence in the church…
1 Corinthians 14:36-40 (KJV)
36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Do you think you are the only one God can use? “Come on,” Paul was declaring, “if you want to be ignorant…be ignorant!” However, “covet those gifts, but just let ALL THINGS BE DONE DECENTLY AND IN ORDER!”