Silence must fall (1 Corinthians 14:26-40 – Orderly Worship)

After School Club -excitable kids want to play with the toys, run off steam, tell us all about their days and what is going on.  Sometimes very chaotic and we have to work hard to get some peace and quiet in which they can listen.

Could church life get a bit like that too? Everyone learning to use their gifts, excited, wanting to be heard.

Added to that, there’s all the other noise in our lives, the worries about paying the bills, the decision about an elderly relative’s care, the difficult conversation you need to have with a colleague, boss or employee, University applications to get in etc.

In the noise and chaos

Is God glorified and honoured?

Is God’s word heard?

Are we encouraged and built up?

The imagery seems very appropriate for Corinth.  So this section on gifts and worship closes with the important message that all is to be done in order and with decency (v40) so that all will learn and be encouraged.

And I want to suggest that the key thing this week is about making sure we hear God.

  1. What this meant for the Corinthian Church

Each person was to come ready to use their gifts – to share and contribute in the life of the church (v26)

Three instructions on speaking and being quiet /keeping silent

  • Tongue speakers – 2 or 3 and then there should be interpretation. If no-one is able to interpret then you are to keep silent and pray to God in your heart. (v 27-28)
  • Prophets are to prophesy 1 by 1 but kept to two or three, discerned – and when one is talking the other(s) are to be silent (v 29-33)


Note – they are not out of control – self-control and awareness of others.

It’s not just about them using their gift to show off -there will be times to stop, give way, listen.



Checking the truthfulness of the message

Checking the truthfulness of the speaker’s character and motives


A practical Bearwood example – I try to share my preaching notes in advances with others on the preaching team, elders and others in the church (especially if I am about to touch on something controversial).


  • Wives -are to keep silent and speak with their husbands to learn at home (v 34-40)


Pause – Brethren error was to put these words with 1 Cor 11 and end up with women wearing head coverings in church and remaining silent – not participating.


The mistake – is to join the dots wrongly -take a bit from one place and stitch it together somewhere else.  Result -you crush the force of 1 Cor 11 that women are to be participating, praying, prophesying, speaking up in church life.  This happens within the context of everything else Paul has to say. In brief


  • – Paul’s concern is primarily for marriage as a portrayal of Christ’s relationship to the church -this means mutual submission with husbands as spiritual heads un the home (Ephesians 5:22-32)
  • – That the home is reflected in the assembly/church (spiritual household) – and this means men and women leading and speaking (see Romans 16) but within the context of male elders (see 1 Timothy and Titus).


But here -something else seems to be in mind.  It’s clearly not the leading, speaking, praying, prophesying bit that Paul has in mind.


Consensus view of cultural context  -men and women would sit separately.  Note in Greek the same word can mean women or wives -and here the focus seems to be on wives and husbands not men and women generally.



  • Note the sense of chaos/disorder in Corinth. If women and men sat separately it’s possible that there is calling, shouting out across the room
  • Suggestion that some of the questions were aimed at undermining the speaker -would be seen as unseemly especially if it was a wife to husband
  • The pagan oracles usually prophesied in response to personal questions e.g. will I have a son or daughter, will I have good fortune.  Looking outside of the family for affirmation and personalising the nature of the prophecy instead of listening to what God has to say to all


Question -is your aim genuinely to learn, love and encourage -then think about the right way to do that. In Corinth the context is -save up those questions until an appropriate point -such as back in your own home.


Little note -we try to build in places for question and discussion such as Engage, Sunday Night Church, home groups, opportunity to approach those who spoke and ask etc etc.


  1. What does this mean for us?

I want to come back to that big question -about our church life and how we individually interact with each other.  Do we give space and time for God to speak to us so that we are all built up.

  1. This does mean that I should not hold back from using my gifts.

Practically – lots of contexts to do this….

–          We can hold back out of humility -I don’t think I’ve much to offer

–          Fear that others will criticise  and put me down

–          Fear that I will be seen as showing off

–          We’re not exactly sure what the gift is.

But …. by me holding back, it may be that we are all missing out on something beautiful and good.

2. But I must also take time to listen to, enjoy and be built up by others’ gifts.

…practically – it’s why we have plural leaders and preachers.

A note from personal testimony.

I was first given the opportunity to preach by a little church in Bradford.  We should be grateful to a small Gospel Hall with just 20 people being willing to take that risk and put up with a young 20 year old’s failings.  It enabled me to discover, test and start to develop a gift and a potential future calling.

I went to Rochester after Uni.  I kind of thought I’d walk into the preaching team (as you do when you’re 22). I didn’t. I wasn’t given the opportunity to preach for several more years.  At first I resented it. I wasn’t the best of church members!  But if I and we look back with thanks to that little church in Bradford, we should also look back in thanks to the church in Rochester too. You see, I needed to be silent for a time and not try to use a gift just because it had been available to me at another point.


  1. God wanted to teach me things – I needed to hear him and that meant I needed to shut up!
  2. There were others who God was calling and equipping and growing in those gifts
  3. Those were the right people at that time that the people in that Congregation would hear God speak through
  4. God had other gifts he wanted me to learn to use for his glory -so that others would hear him speak who would not have heard through me preaching

So -if God gives you the opportunity to share your gift then bring it

But -if at times you are not able to use a gift – maybe there isn’t an outlet for it, or others are already covering it, maybe personal circumstances such as work, health, family, language constrain – then take time to see what God is doing and hear what God is doing -and use all the other gifts he has given through you.


Our prayer should be that as we grow together and use our gifts in worship then not only will we be encouraged as we hear God speak but that this will be a church where God’s name is glorified.

[1] See Ciampa and Rosner for discussion