Today’s read of 1 Corinthians 11-14 continues Paul’s instructions to the church and provides wisdom about spiritual gifts. When we come to faith in Christ, the Spirit of God takes up residence in us. We become part of the body of Christ, and as members, each one of us is given gifts. Gifts are distributed among the body according to God’s plan: “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.” (12:18)
Paul spends a lot of time talking about unity, and that every member is important. No one is more or less valuable in God’s kingdom. We are all very different, but we are all equally important. We have one mission (the spread of the gospel), one Head (Christ), and are gifted for one purpose (to edify or build up/encourage the body, the church).
I find it interesting that Paul brings up a controversial topic towards the end of his discussion. He spends an entire chapter teaching us that while tongues may be an exciting gift to have, it’s more important to prophesy (defined as those who “speak to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort”). Prophesying (I do not believe) is limited to a pastor who gets up to speak from a pulpit. The church was encouraged to prophesy to one another, to speak words of wisdom from God, so that each individual member would grow spiritually. Both men and women prophesied (11:5). But then Paul says those words that will “stir the pot” for our 21-century mindset: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (14:34-35)
We must interpret this scripture in context. Paul has already said women can prophesy, and that all (men and women) are gifted spiritually, and that every member is equally important. He is not saying a woman can never speak or teach, but that it should be done properly, with a submissive attitude, under the authority of the elders of the church (those men set apart as spiritual leaders). 1 Timothy 2:11-15 expands on this, referring to the original order of creation. The man was designed to lead the woman; we have different roles, and this same principle works in the church. Women are instructed not to set themselves in authority over men. If there were disagreements or questions, they should be handled outside the worship setting, at home. Men were accountable to lead spiritually, both at home and in the church.
This is a “hot topic” for some, but if we keep it in context it doesn’t have to be. God desires orderliness and peace in our worship, not chaos, division or debate. Just as we don’t “compete” and “compare” in our spiritual gifts, we don’t “compete” as men and women. Instead, we serve one another humbly, appreciating our differences and the beauty of how God has created the body to function – each part important and valuable, fulfilling the roles and exercising the gifts He has given us. If this is an issue for you, I encourage you to read these passages in context. Paul’s heart is that the church is edified and built up and that every member, man or woman, finds the place and passion to serve that best glorifies God.