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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

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Verses 1-40

1 Corinthians 14:1

In his letter to the Governor of Edinburgh Castle (12th Sept. 1650), on the Scottish preachers' objections to lay preaching, Cromwell asks: 'Where do you find in the Scripture a ground to warrant such an assertion, That Preaching is exclusively your function? Though an Approbation from men hath order in it, and may do well; yet he that hath no better warrant than that, hath none at all. I hope He that ascended up on high may give His gifts to whom He pleases.... You know who bids us covet earnestly the best gifts, but chiefly that we may prophesy; which the Apostle explains there to be a speaking to instruction and edification and comfort.'

References. XIV. 1. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 156. A. J. Palmer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 36. XIV. 2. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 83. XIV. 3. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 271. XIV. 7. H. S. Holland, A Lent in London, p. 230.

1 Corinthians 14:8

The eighth aphorism in the preface to Bacon's De Augmentis Scientiarum is: 'Certainty is so essential to law, that law cannot even be just without it "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" So if the law give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare to obey it? It ought therefore to warn before it strikes.'

References. XIV. 8. Penny Pulpit, No. 1653, p. 265. XIV. 10. Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 369. XIV. 11. W. M. Sinclair, Words from St. Paul's, p. 69. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 113. XIV. 12. George Matheson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 155. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 437. XIV. 13. H. S. Holland, Vital Values, p. 192.

1 Corinthians 14:15

The human mind stands ever in perplexity, demanding intellect, demanding sanctity, impatient equally of each without the other.


References. XIV. 15. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses (2nd Series), p. 19. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, p. 124. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 34. XIV. 19. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 355.

The Childlike Character

1 Corinthians 14:20

'Be not children in understanding.' This text may seem by some of us to be not quite in key with a great many passages of Scripture with which we are familiar. The Apostle may even seem to be out of sympathy with his Master. Jesus said: 'I thank Thee, O Father, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes'. And He took a little child and set him in the midst of them as the type of the true Christian. 'Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.'

What is the reconciliation of the two instructions to be children and not to be children?

I. Let us then begin by asking, What did Christ mean by saying that we are to become like children? It is not the goodness of children which our Lord praises. It is certain natural qualities of children that have a sad way of vanishing as we grow older, but which, if they are lost, we must do our best to recover. What are those qualities? If we recall the circumstances in which our Lord spoke about children, we shall at once see that the prayer, 'I thank Thee that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes,' was uttered after His rejection by the chief priests and elders, and of His acceptance by the band of Apostles, and it must refer to that And I would ask you, Is not one of the most characteristic and delightful qualities of children their habit of looking straight at what is before them and judging it to the best of their power, without prejudice or fear of consequence, on its merits? A child's candour and simplicity sometimes, by clashing with our polite conventions, causes momentary annoyance, but it is, in essence, a most valuable quality, as we cannot deny even while we suffer from it. And it is this childlike quality in the Apostles which distinguishes them from the Pharisees and enables them to receive the new revelation of Christ.

Now this sincerity, this true thinking and plain speaking, which is natural to children, often tends to be worn away as we leave childhood behind us, by the proper and natural desire to stand well with the little world of society, politics, or religion in which we happen to move, and, if so, it must be recovered, and we have to set it before us as a virtue to be attained; we have to turn and become in this respect once more like little children.

II. And the second childlike quality which also we must labour to get back again is absence of self-importance. You will remember that our Lord's putting the little child in the midst followed upon the wrangling of the Apostles as to their order of precedence. Children are not, as a rule, concerned with themselves in such a way as that; they look away from themselves. And this self-importance brings in its train vices which are objectionable to others and excruciating to ourselves, one of which the Apostle notices in the text Malice. Do not be malicious: children are not. Malice springs out of jealousy, and jealousy is the other side of self-importance.

III. And that word brings us back to the other part of our text 'In understanding be men'. Common sense, wisdom, comes as near as we can get to what St. Paul is here urging upon the Corinthians. He is not exhorting them to any great effort of intellect, nor to accept the foundations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. St. Paul is always telling them that the Gospel appeals to the child more than to the grown man. In the apprehension of the message it is the child in us that comes into play the frank outlook, the instinct for goodness, humility all childlike qualities. It is to them the Gospel appeals. And so St Paul is not contradicting his Master; he is urging that, when the Christian faith has been received, there is room in our religious life, as much as in any other life, for the exercise of a man's faculty of judgment, common sense. And, if you think about it, the child's virtue of sincerity and the man's faculty of judgment are very closely allied, and one is really the outgrowth of the other. I dare say you have often remarked the judgments of Christ. Those judgments of His which enraged the Pharisees, and almost His own disciples, were simple judgments of common sense, guided by sincerity. Is it not enough that we the clergy, or you the laity, should be as 'harmless as doves,' if we are not also as 'wise as serpents'. It is not enough to be children in malice; let us also 'in understanding be men'.

1 Corinthians 14:20

'When, by what test, by what indication, does manhood commence?' De Quincey asks, in the thirteenth chapter of his Autobiographic Sketches. 'Physically by one criterion, legally by another, morally by a third, intellectually by a fourth and all indefinite. Equator, absolute equator, there is none. Between the two spheres of youth and age, perfect and imperfect manhood, as in all analogous cases, there is no strict line of bisection. The change is a large process, accomplished within a large and corresponding space.... Intellectually speaking, a very large proportion of men never attain maturity. Nonage is their final destiny; and manhood, in this respect, is for them a pure idea.'

References. XIV. 20. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 258. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons, p. 96. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 268; ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 31. XIV. 21. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 406.


1 Corinthians 14:23

What was the policy of the great-hearted Apostle? It was that everybody should at some point or other be able to come into the service of the Gospel, the worship of God, and should in some degree at least find the supreme blessing. There is a lesson to you, church leaders, preachers, and persons concerned as you suppose yourselves to be in the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. In the degree in which you are so concerned heaven's blessing cannot be withheld from you; but let us take care lest we become mere botanists or geologists or astronomers, lest we cultivate some favourite science of things, and lest, above all, we raise ourselves up and say, this place was not made for the unlearned; as for the unbelievers, turn them out. We must not do so. And the greatest man will be the first to say that in the Church of Christ there ought always to be at least one mouthful of bread for the very poorest soul that has crept into the Father's house.

I. The question which the Apostle put to the Corinthians is the question of all days. The Apostle Paul looks in upon the churches, and in the name of Christ says, What kind of preaching have you here? are you preaching to men, sinful, awful, shameful; or do you never refer to these things, but take the evil of the world for granted and leave it in the hands of the devil? That is poor preaching, poor praying, and poor singing. We are wrong, we are failing in duty, if we do not say in the construction of every service and the building up of every plan of operation, Now how will this fit the unlearned? what shall we say to the unbeliever if he challenge us at this point? We have made many churches, comfortable places, we know where we begin and how we continue and where we end, and if so much as a little child were to cry out in the middle of our perfunctory service we would be quite startled and wish the little angel to be cast out. You know nothing about the Church if that is your view; the cross you have never touched if you despise the unlearned; and if you cannot stop to explain your faith to the earnest, simple-minded inquirer or unbeliever you have not experienced the evangelising and redeeming spirit of the Cross.

II. We must, in thinking of the congregation, think of every one, of the great and the small; and, blessed be God, I repeat that when a man is truly great he is always willing to wait for the slow and the crippled and the infirm. He says, the preacher is now speaking to a class of persons of whom I am not one, but my not being one does not destroy the class of persons especially contemplated, and there must be something in the discourse for that class. So the sermon should be high as heaven and low as the ground we tread, balmy as the air we breathe, friendly as the sunlight that plays around us.

III. The great purpose of coming together in the church is edification, building up; so we must have as much as possible of intelligence that can be appreciated; not intelligence that moves itself right away from the tracks of the people, but that truer and more intelligent intelligence which says, Now where can we begin? where are these people prepared to make an opening? let us bring the Gospel into their civilisation, into their language, classical or unclassical, and give them to feel that there is something in the Gospel for the building up of their hearts and lives. That is right. Heaven bless the thought.

There is one other aspect to be looked at, or the preacher would sit down without having completed his purpose. We must not expect any one man to absorb the whole service to himself alone. Even the unlearned man must not come into the church and say to the well-informed man, You have no business here, because all this church arrangement is for the unlearned and ignorant man; so withdraw, if you please. No! A man is not bound at a great civic feast to eat up the whole banquet; I do not know any law by which a man attending the great civic feast should be compelled to eat up the whole bill of fare. I should recommend him not to do so; let him take what suits him, let him take exactly what he wants or what he needs, and be content with that. But, remember, that the lines you omit may be the very lines that will suit some other man. So it must be in the setting up of the religious service. There should be something for everybody. No man should find fault with the portion of another; he should say, This is not the portion that I immediately care for, but my brother will relish it, his very soul will be in an ecstasy of thankfulness and delight.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. IV. p. 107.

1 Corinthians 14:23

In his essay on Unity in Religion, Bacon observes that the fruits of unity are towards those within and also towards those without the Church. In the latter case, 'The Doctor of the Gentiles (the Propriety of whose Vocation drew him to have a speciall Care of those without) saith: If an Heathen come in, and heare you speake with severall Tongues, will he not say that ye are mad? And certainly, it is little better, when Atheists and prophane Persons do heare of so many Discordant and Contrary Opinions in Religion; it doth avert them from the Church and maketh them to sit downe in the Chaire of the Scorner.'

References. XIV. 24, 25. T. Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, p. 212. XIV. 25. Archbishop Benson, Singleheart, p. 1. XIV. 26. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ. p. 59. H. C. Beeching, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 444. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 273; ibid. vol. ix. p. 87; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 380. XIV. 28. Ibid. (5th Series, vol. vi. p. 268. XIV. 29. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. pp. 395, 462.

1 Corinthians 14:33

In men who have risen to wide-reaching power we generally observe an early preponderance of one of two instincts the instinct of rule and order, or the instinct of sympathy. The one instinct may degenerate into bureaucracy, the other into sentimentalism. Rightly ordered, they make the master or the leader of men.

F. W. H. Myers, Modern Essays, p. 21.

Reference. XIV. 33. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life (2nd Series), p. 68.

The Rights of Women in the Church

1 Corinthians 14:34

Do the Scriptures forbid women to speak? I have deliberately chosen for consideration the strongest text I could find in the Bible on this subject, which plainly settled the discussion so far as women in Corinth were concerned, and settles it for us, also, if the deliverance of the Apostle were final, and universal in its application. No doubt there are those among us who are ready to say: 'We take God's word as our rule, and if we find a precept in it as plain as this we do not wish to go any further'. But others lightly dismiss this view as being a private opinion of Paul's, which he would have been wiser to keep to himself. I take neither of these views. I believe that the Apostle spoke under the guidance of the Spirit of truth, and, therefore, with a Divine authority which his readers were bound to obey. But while I accept the New Testament as my rule of faith and practice, I can only do so when its meaning is fairly interpreted in the light which would naturally illumine it in the eyes of those who first read it. And when I focus all the stray beams of that light, and concentrate them on this precept, I do not hesitate to say that as an absolute prohibition it was transient and local, that it was necessary for that time and place, but is neither necessary nor desirable as the final dictum of Christianity to the world at large, for all generations. I will now give some reasons for this position.

I. First let me call your attention to the fact that the New Testament does not attempt to regulate procedure for all ages and peoples. It lays down principles, but leaves procedure to be determined by the teaching of Him of whom Jesus said: 'He shall abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth'.

II. The condition of women under the old dispensation, and in the early Christian Church, was not one of universal silence. There is nothing in the Gospels, or the Acts, or in any Epistle addressed to Jewish Churches, which puts the smallest restriction on the rights and liberties of Christian womanhood.

III. There were good reasons for making this precept a distinct and definite rule in the Christian Churches which were found in Greek cities.

IV. There are other laws which, in their strict application, we regard as local and transient.

V. We hold, then, that inspired womanhood should not be debarred by artificial rules from Christian speech, or song, or prayer. We believe that woman is fit to take such part in the service of God as the result of Christianity itself, which has made many things natural and right which were formerly inexpedient or wrong.

VI. It need hardly be said that in the use of such liberty the Church must be guided by sanctified common sense.

A. Rowland, The Burdens of Life, p. 225.

References. XIV. 36. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 273. XIV. 37. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 253.

1 Corinthians 14:40

The love of order I the thing receive

From reverend men, and I in part believe

Shows a clear mind and clean, and whoso needs

This love, but seldom in the world succeeds.


References. XIV. 40. F. C. Spurr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 92. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 165. H. C. Beeching, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 444. J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 126. XV. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 137; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. pp. 403-416, 491-504.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-corinthians-14.html. 1910.
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