"If therefore the whole church be come together" - 1 Corinthians 14:23

- Elizabeth Sullivan -

According to the historians, Paul wrote First Corinthians, probably in AD 54, from Ephesus, in response to a letter from the Corinthian Christians.

In 1 Cor. 12:1-14:40, Paul begins an explanation of the place and significance of spiritual gifts. "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant" (1 Cor. 12: 1). Paul goes on to say, you must understand "that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor. 12:3). In 1 Cor. 12:4- 11, Paul states there is diversity of gifts but of the same Spirit. Paul illustrates the unity in diversity by a discussion of the body as one, having many different members, yet is still one body (1 Cor. 12:12-26). Paul sums up the above by telling the Corinthian brethren, 1) God gave the gifts, 2) To whom they were given, and 3) what the nature of the gifts were. "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues" (1 Cor. 12:28).

In 1 Cor. 13:1-11, Paul begins to counsel them about these special gifts. Paul said they are of no profit without love (v. 1-4), whereas with love they build a character that is able to endure all things (v.5-7). Paul then declares "charity never faileth," and addresses those who have special gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge, stating "it shall vanish away" (v.8). "For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (v.9), that is to say, you have just the beginning part of the message and the method God has chosen for imparting the knowledge of His plan of salvation to mankind. "But when that which is perfect is come" (v.10a), that is, God's perfect, completed message and method of imparting His plan of salvation, which is Holy writ, dictated by God, written and preserved for all mankind, for all time, then, "that which is in part shall be done away" (v. 10b). The method of imparting God's plan of salvation, in confirmation with special spiritual gifts, will be done away. The message itself that has been proclaimed, and will be proclaimed, shall never be done away (Matt. 5: 18). Nor does it have any hint of imperfection. The Corinthian brethren had the perfect message themselves and Paul was writing them on how to make the best use of these special spiritual gifts to impart the gospel. Paul reveals that faith and hope abide, but only love will remain to sustain mankind to carry the message of God into eternity (1 Cor. 13: 13), and that message is the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

As Paul closes his advice on how to use spiritual gifts to teach the gospel (1 Cor. 14:23-40), he immediately opens 1 Cor. 15 with a reminder to the Corinthian brethren of what the gospel is (1 Cor. 15: 1-4). "Moreover brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which ye also received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scripture; and he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."

To prepare the Corinthians to use these spiritual gifts for the greatest impact, Paul places a value on one gift above another. "But he that prophesieth [a synonym for teacher] speaketh unto men to edification and exhortation and comfort" (1 Cor. 14:3). "He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself but he that prophesieth [teacheth] edifieth the church (1 Cor. 14:2).

Beginning in 1 Cor. 14:23-40, Paul depicts "An Assembly in Action". "If, therefore the whole church come together in one place [that is, all the Christians in Corinth] and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned and unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad" (v.23)? In what they were doing there was no edification for others (1 Cor. 14:4). "But if all prophesy [teach] and there come in one that believeth not or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all. And thus the secrets of his heart are manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God and report that God is in you of a truth" (v. 24,25). "For the word of God ... is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart" (Heb. 4: 12b).

Paul advised, "brethren when ye Come together", regardless of diversity of gifts, "Let all things be done unto edification" (v. 26). Paul continues to assert the lesser value of speaking in the "unknown tongue" by limiting the number of speakers, and that by course (one by one). Also, if there is no interpreter, let him keep silence and speak to himself and God [v. 27-30).

However, Paul places great freedom of speech on the gift of prophesy (teaching). He states, "For ye may ALL prophesy [teach] one by one, that ALL may learn, and ALL may be comforted" (v. 31). In verse 32, he warns them to check on the spirit of the prophet (teacher). See I John 4: 1-6.

Paul's instruction for women to keep silence, as also saith the law (v.34), is a reference to Gen. 3:16 which specifies the husband/wife relationship. Paul further expands this statement, "Let them ask their husband at home" (v.35). Suffice it to say, women do not keep silence in the church today: Question: Literally speaking, when a woman has been added to the church by God (Acts 2:47), can she ever speak another word outside .the church, unless she becomes reprobate concerning, the faith (II Tim. 3:8)? She makes confession of faith, sings, and teaches (Col. 3:16). None of this is done silently by women in the church. It is not intended to disregard the order of 1 Cor.11:1-3, but it should not be said that women keep silence in the church when in fact they do not.

Paul concludes his instruction to the Corinthian brethren by saying, "If any man [mankind] think himself to be a prophet [teacher], or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37). "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40).

The men conducting this "Assembly in Action" had spiritual gifts that were later lost by the attrition of death as outlined in 1 Cor. 13:9, 10; but according to the commandment from Paul (1 Cor. 14:37), they left in place the method on how to open the understanding of others to the truth of God.

Paul, counseling Timothy sometime later, gave him the same advice he gave the Corinthian brethren, to use the grace of God for ALL. "Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus and the things thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (I Tim. 2: 1,2).

In searching the scripture, it is only in 1 Cor. 14,23-40 that we find a description of "An Assembly in Action". This is narrated by Paul the apostle, who was completely qualified to instruct the Corinthians on how to impart the word of God to the believers, the unbelievers, and to the unlearned.

Even though the special spiritual gifts have expired, we still have left the instruction on the method. Paul wrote to the Corinthian brethren, namely, a group of Christians together, sharing their knowledge with the unlearned and the unbelievers, thus teaching to convince them of the truth of God. Therefore, finding out the secrets of the heart so that they will worship God and report that God is in you of a truth. Let all things be done to edifying. The writer of the Hebrew letter (AD 70) was still expounding on this theme, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and unto good works" (Heb. 10:24), and the number one good work is teaching the gospel. For ALL may teach one by one that ALL may learn and ALL are comforted (1 Cor. 14:31).

Over time, mankind has corrupted the method of 1 Cor. 14:23-40 until presently we open the door to church buildings and close the door to participation.

There is no indication of an in-house preacher, holding a captive audience, expressing his view of the scripture without challenge; and in fact it was the opposite. Note this: Paul an apostle speaking to another apostle said, "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed" (Gal. 2:11). He (Peter) walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel and Paul chastened Peter before them all (Gal. 2: 12-14).

In 1 Cor. 14, it is a discussion-type assembly where non-Christians and Christians may ask (one by one) whatever question they have and have them answered on the spot by whomever has the knowledge of the scripture to answer; by elderly Christians in particular. Also, all Christians present have the opportunity to identify and follow-up with additional help that may be needful, whether spiritual or otherwise. An example of this: "They [Aquilla and Priscilla] took him [Apollos] unto them and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly" (Acts 18:24-26).

Paul makes it clear in his writing to the Corinthian gathering that they were to use special spiritual gifts for the purpose of convicting the unbelievers and the unlearned of God's truth so that they may also worship God, and also to edify and comfort the believers. It was and is a teaching/learning method with all people present participating. Paul's method, as recorded under the direction of Christ, has not changed. It was an open forum for the edification of the saints (1 Cor. 14:12). In nearly all instances today, it is the hired professional that does the preaching and teaching and not the saints.

In view of the above, consider some other things that have been added to the "Assembly in Action" in Corinth. Some very important additions are: In-house preachers, In-house plant operations, In-house ongoing collection of money, In-house confessions of sins by Christians, In-house withdrawal of brethren over the public address system, the autonomy of each individual to God, and the compulsory attendance of "come to worship".

Anyone accepting the authority of an apostolic example cannot escape the facts set forth in Paul's discourse to the Corinthian brethren regarding what to do when Christians come together for mutual edification.

THINK AND REMEMBER: We have an eternal stake in the outcome.