As we take another important step in our discussion of the work of God’s woman in the Lord’s church, especially in the times when the church gathers for worship, please keep the principle stated in Galatians 3:26-28 in front of you. “For in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Any interpretation of other text that violates the principle here stated is a misapplication. If we were to go to some of those text that gave instructions on how to live as a slave or slave owner who is a Christian and try to justify slavery today because of those text it would be a gross misunderstanding and misapplication. If we took some text that discussed the Jews as God’s people and used that to justify the notion that God makes a distinction today between the physical Jew and the Gentile it would miss the whole point of Scripture. That same principle stands for anything said about God’s woman in the church.
The Holy Spirit led Paul and others New Testament writers to both lay down principles that were intended to last forever and to give instructions on how to live as some things were being worked out over time. God gave the seeds to end slavery. But it would take a long time to see it actually come to a conclusion and it still goes on in some parts of the world. He gave the seeds to end the separation between Jews and Gentiles, even declaring that now there is “No difference” (Romans 10:12) and that the wall between them has been torn down (Ephesians 2:14-18). Yet there are text to explain how to treat each other as that system of prejudice is changed.
In I Corinthians 14 Paul takes the teaching about spiritual gifts explained in chapter 12 and the teaching in chapter 13 that God’s greatest gift is love, with faith and hope not far behind to apply what has been said to the time the church gathered for worship. Other gifts would come to an end but these would keep going. But during the time when the gifts were still available in the church, how were they to be used inside the local church gathering for worship? One major principle was laid down at the beginning of the chapter and kept coming up all through the chapter. “Everything should be done to build up the church.” It wasn’t whether something like speaking in tongues was right or wrong, but would the speaking in tongues build up the church in the assembly? Certainly their use might build up the individual. But if that is the purpose, use the gift in private where you can be built up and not in the assembly where the church as a whole isn’t built up. For a thing to build up the body, it had to be clearly understood. If people there couldn’t understand what was being said, they wouldn’t be built up and there wouldn’t be anyone who was lost having their hearts pricked to cause them to see God and change their life.
Paul being guided by the Spirit made these applications to the point. “Each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (I Corinthians 14:26-27) Is there anything wrong with people coming to worship with a song they want to lead or have led? No, it isn’t wrong, but if we become so set on what we want we lose sight of the building up of the whole body we are hurting the church and destroying the worship time for God. Use some common sense and good judgment in the matter.
What then about tongue speakers in the gathering? If there is no interpreter for the language you would speak in to the church, “Keep Silent in the church.” The church can’t be built up if they don’t know what you are saying no matter how well you say it. It might build you up to be able to speak powerfully in a different language but to do so would be selfish and of no benefit to the body. Instead it would discourage people from coming since they couldn’t understand what was going on.
What about prophets who receive revelations that want to deliver to the church? Two or at the most three can speak in any one gathering and that by turn. Let the others prophets judge what the speaker is saying to be certain it is really from God. If one is speaking and God gives a revelation to another, let the first Keep Silent and the new one speak so the church will be built up. If everyone tries to speak the church will be frustrated rather than built up so don’t do that. Does that mean that today if we have an assembly where we have four different people speak for a short time on some specific point we have violated God’s law or will? No, the point was to take care that we not try to have too many or it will become tedious and do harm instead of good.
Before making his next application he laid out a vital point. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” While the first two applications were certainly ones that were for the purpose of bringing peace and building up in the body, the final application had even more potential both for confusion and ultimately for peace. This principle was that in the church there, as in all the churches of the saints women should Keep Silent in the church. “For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (Verses 34-35) Notice that just as he told tongue speakers who had no interpreter to “Keep Silent” and the prophet who wasn’t one of the two or three prepared to speak that day to “Keep Silent” he now used the exact same phrase about these women. They are told to “Keep Silent in the churches.” Why was the command given? Because if they were to speak it would keep the church from being built up and that would be wrong.
There are some basic things in this that need to be clarified. First, what does it mean to “Speak in the churches?” This wasn’t about saying anything or making some announcement. It wasn’t about passing the communion plates or singing praise to God. It was about being the one speaking to the church. If you worshiped with us at Central this past Sunday and had been asked on Monday morning, “Who spoke at Central yesterday?” you wouldn’t start listing the person who made an announcement, the song leader who said something about a song or the elder who prayed for the sick. You would tell people that “Leon spoke yesterday” because to speak means to preach or lead the congregation.
Some fifty years ago, Brother C.R. Nichol wrote a book entitled “God’s woman” in which he argued that this wasn’t about women in general but was specific to the wives of the prophets who were interrupting the worship time with questions for the prophet who was up preaching. His command to keep silent and ask their husband at home would then make sense since it was their husband speaking at the time. If this were just the women generally then there might be a large percentage of them who had no husband at home or whose husband if asked would have no idea what the answer was. I believe Brother Nichol was right then and still is right.
This principle wasn’t just true for the church there in Corinth but in all congregations of God’s people. It is vital that God’s woman be able to submit to the man even if it is her husband when they are speaking before the church. Some things that are right normally aren’t right in the assembly. It is right to ask questions at home but wasn’t always right at church since it would negatively affect the building up of the body.
What does it mean when he said, “As the Law also says?” Normally when Paul mentions “The Law” it is a reference to the Old Testament law, the torah or the writings of Moses in particular. But if that is the case here, it isn’t clear what law from the torah he had in mind. If there was such a law it is interesting that the writers like Moses didn’t see any violation when Miriam led the women to sing and play the Tamborine as a triumph song after crossing the Red Sea. Deborah serving as the prophet and judge of the people didn’t seem wrong or prophetess’s such a Huldah didn’t show up as a violation. In this case, it seems more likely that “The Law” refers to some law in Corinth or in the Roman code at the time.
How is it a shameful thing for a woman to speak in church? In the context it seems most likely to refer to the fact a woman speaking before the body as the preacher or leader of the assembly would be a violation of the submission being taught. It should be kept clearly before us that the principle driving the whole point is about what does and doesn’t build up the church. If something looks and feels in such a way that it leaves people going from the assembly believing they have wasted their time rather than being in the presence of the Lord, then the worship occasion has been of no benefit to the people.
From this passage our biggest question should be as we look at whatever topic for the church gatherings, “Does what we are doing build up the body and does it lead the unbeliever in the crowd to see their sin, recognize God’s presence and to repent of the sin?” If these two things aren’t being accomplished the gathering isn’t what God intends for the worship to be and it needs to change immediately.