1 Cor 14:26-33

Growing in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
1 Cor 14:26-33
Intro: Paul has finished explaining why prophecy (along with other modes of understandable revelation and teaching) should be preferred over tongues in the gathered church. He now turns to offer some general guidelines about how the Corinthians’ worship meetings should be conducted.

This chapter, and indeed the whole letter of 1 Corinthians, is correction, not just instruction. Ch. 14 is not a “how-to-do-church” manual.

Today’s text sketches a picture of a somewhat free-flowing church gathering under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in which “each one” contributes something to the mix. Clearly there could not have been a fixed order of service or printed bulletin for the worshipers!

Surprisingly, Paul seems to expect all the members to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, taking turns in offering their gifts for the benefit of the assembly, deferring to one another. The danger, of course, in such a spontaneous meeting is that the worship will become chaotic or that some members will dominate the time for speaking. So Paul outlines orderly rules for the congregation.

In this section on conduct in worship, Paul insists that all the parts of worship meetings should pave the way for the church to be instructed and built up. All the commands in this text are in the present tense indicating to the church that we must constantly supervise the aspects of our church services.


1 Cor 14:26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

This verse is very important because it gives us an intimate look at one form of early Christian worship.

It is not complete, of course. Strikingly, there is no mention of worship leaders or reading of the Scriptures. Instead, each one who attends brings something to encourage the other saints.

Here is what is mentioned: songs, teachings, revelations (prophetic words) and both tongues and interpretation of tongues.

Are all these spontaneous, or are they thought about and prepared beforehand? It could be a combination.

Songs and teachings were likely prepared or rehearsed before the meetings while revelations and tongues happened in the moment.

The Holy Spirit and human reasoning are not incompatible. They work in tandem often. Both spontaneity and reflection are parts of a God-ordered worship service. Perhaps “ordered spontaneity” captures the essence of this balance.

The image presented is of a real act of the body, not just the performances of a talented few.

We need not press “each of you” as though it meant that every member of the church always had something to contribute. But it does mean that any of them might be expected to participate in the service.

Paul’s point is that there is time for a number of people to participate in the time of building up the body.

Clearly their services were more spontaneous and perhaps a little less structured than what we have come to expect in a church meeting.

One person may sing a hymn, while another who has the gift of teaching instructs the congregation. Someone who has the gift of prophecy may bring a revelation. Speaking in tongues is also legitimate if it is accompanied by an interpretation.

Were the meetings of the Corinthian church typical of the other congregations at that time? We have no way of knowing. But it cannot have been very far from the norm, or else Paul would have said so.

Paul, then, restates his rule: “Let all things be done for edification.”

Edification exists when believers receive instruction. What builds up the body of Christ is the supreme consideration.

1 Cor 14:27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.

This verse surprises us, not with the note that tongues must be followed by interpretation, but by a new regulation. He limits the number of people who may speak in tongues in a church gathering. He makes a math problem!

There must not be a long line of people preparing to give messages in tongues.

Tongues enthusiasts tend to go on and on, but there is a limit to what a congregation can take!

Apparently, the Corinthians were accustomed to a glossolalia free-for-all where not only were there many speaking in tongues in their assemblies, but they were making it the mark of spiritual maturity.

This new directive must have been like a punch to the stomach for this church. It was a direct blow leveled at their insensitive and discourteous meetings.

This shows that we are not to think of “tongues” as the result of an irresistible impulse of the Spirit, driving the person haphazardly into ecstatic speech.

The person with the gift of tongues could keep quiet. He could seek out an interpreter before he spoke in tongues.

From then on, the Apostle expected that one or two but no more than three people would deliver messages in a tongue to the congregation. These messages must be interpreted, or no one would be edified.

What if there was no one present with the gift of interpretation of tongues?

1 Cor 14:28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

Paul is correcting abuses and revising their bad worship habits with these new guidelines.

illus: It was conventional in the ancient Greco-Roman world to command silence when a religious act was about to be performed. At state sacrifices the herald would give the age-old command in Greek: “check your tongues.” There was widespread silence except for the steady music of the flute player, who was employed, at times of solemn prayer, to drown out extraneous noises. The priests cover their heads with the folds of their togas and take up a square platter heaped with sacred flour mixed with salt for the sacrifice…

Not much has changed over the centuries or beyond the hemispheres! We still expect church to be more or less a quiet place when others stand to address the congregation. “Check you tongues” still applies.

1 Cor 14:29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.

Likewise, with the gift of prophecy, we should not pile up prophetic words in church meetings. It does not edify to overload the minds and hearts of the saints in a gathering.

Paul suggests maybe 2-3 words for the congregation to receive followed by the weighing or sifting of the messages by the “others.”

Tongues must be interpreted, and prophecies must be evaluated.

The utterance of someone who claims to give a prophetic word is therefore not to be received uncritically. It is to be tested and scrutinized in the appropriate way.

1 Thess 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit.
1 Thess 5:20 Do not despise prophecies.
1 Thess 5:21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.

The command to “let the others judge” is necessary because the prophetic word may be part inspiration (from the Spirit) and part imagination (from the person).

It was not like OT prophecy which was to be received and applied without scrutiny. OT prophecy carried a “thus saith the Lord” authority.

OT prophets were judged as either true or false; NT prophecies are judged as either consistent with Scripture or originating in the imagination of the person. This distinction must be recognized.

This discipline of submitting the prophetic word to the community’s discernment is an outward and visible sign of the message that Paul is pressing on them: the gifts are there to serve the church; the church is not there to serve the gifts.

The one who prophesies does not thereby become highly exalted in the church, since all the members have been given of the one Spirit to drink (12:13).

The NT gift of prophecy has an authority of general content only. Remember, “we prophesy in part” (13:9).

The evaluating here should not be confused with the required OT judging of false prophets. Here, it is the prophecies, not the prophets, that are being weighed.


1 Cor 14:30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.

According to v.30, the prophetic person who was exercising his/her gift would do so while standing.

If a revelation suddenly came to a different prophetic person who was seated, the one standing was to cease speaking and yield the floor.

This guideline suggests that perhaps the first prophet was to take it as a sign that his/her speaking was outrunning its inspiration if another prophet stood up to speak.

The implication being that it was more crucial to receive this fresh word from God while it was being transmitted to the one sitting.

Paul appeals to both self-control and deference – both marks of maturity.

Just as those speaking in tongues had the ability to keep silent when they chose, so it is with prophetic words. It is not an irresistible compulsion from heaven that comes upon the person with the gift of prophecy. He/she can easily control it.

What is the point? The gift of prophecy was for the purpose of comforting, encouraging, exhorting, and edifying the congregation.

Therefore, it was the group’s honor that was to be protected, not the prophet. No one’s words were too important to be interrupted or judged.

1 Cor 14:31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

Prophecies should be given one at a time for the sake of good order because worship should reflect the character of the God who was being worshiped.

Paul’s point was that the biblical God, was a God of both order (not chaos) and peace (not competition for airtime), unlike the pagan deities of the Greek world.

When Paul writes “you can all prophesy,” he is not giving permission. Instead, he is acknowledging a heavenly power given to all by the one Spirit. As always, he stresses that this power is given for the benefit of the body of Christ.

Hardly anywhere can we see a clearer expression of Paul’s desire that all the members of the church grow up into spiritual maturity.

That maturity will display itself when the members begin to fully participate in the church’s meetings.

Prophecy done well results in learning and encouragement.

1 Cor 14:32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

Here is the definitive word that the gift of prophecy is not some kind of ecstatic utterance that cannot be controlled.

The Holy Spirit does not “possess” or “overpower” the one who delivers a prophetic word. There is no seizure here, no loss of control; the speaker is neither frenzied nor a babbler.

Prophetic people can cease prophesying whenever it is required.

There are no definite articles in the original text, so the verse reads like a proverb: “Spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.”

There is an element of urgency to speak, but it is not an uncontrollable urgency.

Prophecy is a means of divine illumination, but “it is for prophets to control prophetic inspiration” (NEB).

1 Cor 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Paul sees the character of God as a guarantee against such disorder.

The word “confusion” is a strong term. It indicates a great civil disturbance or public disorder, or even insurrection/revolution.

Luke 21:9 But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."

2 Cor 6:4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses,
2 Cor 6:5 in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings;

Paul is concerned about unregulated worship that might lead to disorderly conduct and belie the God of peace who has called them to be orderly.

James 3:16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

God, because His is the kind of God He is, will produce peace, not disorder or chaotic meetings.

Vibrancy and order are not enemies, they are friends.

If disorder appears in the assembly of the church, it has been caused by some agent other than God. It must never be blamed on the Holy Spirit.

In this verse, the opposite of disorder is not “order,” or “silence,” or “propriety,” but “peace.”

Orderly worship brings “peace” resulting in the solving of other issues/concerns in the church.

The Corinthians has been marching to the beat of their own drums; Paul is urging them not only to conform to the character of God, but also to get in step with the rest of His church.

For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.


By and large the history of the church points to the fact that in worship we DO NOT greatly trust the diversity of the body. It is no great credit to the historical church that in opting for “order,” it also opted for a silencing of the ministry of many believers through their spiritual gifts.

Is it necessary for “peace” and “order” to mean high church and stale ritual? Is the mark of the Holy Spirit’s presence a somber silence? Is joyless seriousness to be preferred over infectious gladness?

The overall picture that emerges from these instructions is a church in which the Holy Spirit is palpably present, flowing freely in the community’s worship through the complementary gifts of different members.

In Paul’s vision for Christian worship there is neither stiff formality nor undisciplined frenzy: the church’s worship should be more like a complex but graceful dance or a beautiful anthem sung in contrast.