Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:36–40 The last word on worship

1 Corinthians 14:36–40

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

In 1 Cor. 14:36, Paul echoes a statement from the start of the letter: “To the church of God in Corinth . . . together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). He emphasizes with his penetrating questions that the Corinthians are not free to make their own rules, independent of all other believers.

The final three verses of chapter 14 represent the conclusion of Paul’s arguments about manifestations of the Spirit and worship in Roman Corinth. David Garland says:“[The conclusion] emphatically drives home the point, with no beating around the bush. It is short and not necessarily sweet. The polite speech with which Paul begins in chapter 12 is now put aside for direct, blunt speech.”[1]

He begins with a new definition of what it means to be “spiritual”; those who have the Spirit will agree that Paul’s commands come from Jesus (1 Cor. 14:37). In case anyone says otherwise, Paul issues a red-hot threat: “They will themselves be ignored” (1 Cor. 14:37). Garland explains, “It means that the Lord will say to such persons, ‘I do not know you’ (Matt. 7:22–23).”[2] Anyone to whom Jesus says that will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

In verse 39, Paul strikes the exact balance he wants for all churches. Prophecy is to be emphasized, and tongues are not to be eliminated but must be limited. The principle that governs all is: “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” The phrase translated “orderly way” has a military background; we can imagine troops lined up in orderly ranks. In this way the church will be built up and unbelievers will be confronted with their need to commit themselves to Jesus Christ, who alone can save them.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 674.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 674.

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