Quiet Lessons

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2018
Lesson 42: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

Quiet Lessons

I’m sure you’ve all heard the Americanized version of the old children’s rhyme:

“Sugar and spice and everything nice, That’s what little girls are made of.
Snakes and snails and puppy-dog’s tails, That’s what little boys are made of.”

Of course that doesn’t mean that boys don’t enjoy sweets, or the right blend of spices, and it certainly doesn’t mean that girls always do everything nice. In fact the original early 19th century poem started with the boys and it’s believed it said they were made of “snips of snails” .. not a very flattering component. But it says in a simple way something that’s clear even to children: generally, there are differences between boys and girls that are more than just physical.

God made us that way from the very beginning. It was part of his plan. But in our fallen condition things have gotten confused. All through history there have been those who can’t accept God’s plan for the genders.
– Some want to deny any real differences – though it’s hard to deny the obvious physical ones.
– Some have exploited the differences and have taken advantage of one or the other.
– Some have switched the roles around confusing the distinctions God intended.
– And some have tried to deny their own gender and tried to switch to the other one.

It’s amazing that something so plain can be so hard to accept. The struggle to understand one another has produced some best seller books like, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, by Dr. John Gray, or Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, by Allan and Barbara Pease. Some consider that recognizing gender differences as discrimination, while they discriminate against those who disagree with them. And our tax dollars have funded countless studies designed to figure out what the real differences are.

God had very specific purposes in mind when he made us different. But the roles of the genders are confused today. They’re poorly defined, re-defined, totally denied, and the pressure of political correctness keeps us from talking meaningfully about it. The plain fact is that God intended specific differences in the roles of men and women. And those differences even extend to our duties and conduct in worship.

1 Corinthians 14:34-36 makes a specific command:

34. the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.
35. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?

That women should be silent isn’t just a passing comment. Paul states that rule three times. Women are to keep silent in the churches, they are not permitted to speak, and it’s shameful for them to speak in church.

But didn’t he just say in chapter 11 that they should pray and prophesy in the churches there? “but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.”

But this was a warning against the extreme offense of praying or prophesying with their heads uncovered. In their culture it was a sign of open rebellion against their husbands. They saw it as an intrusion into the duties God assigned to men, and a rejection of their role as women. Paul was explaining why this extreme was so bad.

We suspect that women participated in worship then, the same way they do now. When the congregation was led in prayer, they prayed along in their hearts just as the men did. When songs of praise were sung, they sang along with everybody else. When God’s prophetic word was preached, they listened and prayed for their own understanding.

The restriction here in chapter 14 is that women should not take a leadership role in the worship of the congregation. This was nothing new. In the most ancient times, God gave men the responsibility of leading in worship.
The patriarchs Noah, Job, and Abraham led their families. When Israel became a nation after the Exodus, only the men could serve as Priests or Elders. This wasn’t just a tradition, it was directly commanded by God.

This is what Paul told Timothy when he wrote to him as a church leader in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

The kind of silence Paul is talking about was learning submissively as opposed to being teachers of the congregation. God called the men to exercise authority and be the teachers in the church. The women certainly taught their children and helped others (men and women) understand God’s word. There are biblical accounts where women taught other women.

In the congregation during worship they should be students and let those appointed to teach do that job. The submission here is respect for God’s commanded order. It does not mean that women are in any way inferior.

It’s not a total ban on women saying any words in worship. We would expect all believers to pray along when the congregation is led in the Lord’s Prayer, to sing the hymns of praise, and to recite the creeds with conviction.

There are different views about what exactly the the problem was with the women in Corinth. But Paul gave a very general answer so that it could apply in all situations in all times. The ancient rule still applies: women are not to speak out as leaders of the congregation in worship.

There was an orderly way for them to learn when they had questions:

35. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?

Learning by both men and women was obviously encouraged by Jesus. Luke 10:39 tells about what Martha’s sister did when Jesus came to visit. “And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

Priscilla and her husband Aquila both taught the great teacher Apollos outside of the worship setting in Acts 18:26, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”

But women in Corinth were told to ask their questions outside of worship, in their homes. Very likely this was an abuse there — as were so many other things. Since the context is about public worship, it probably has to do with calling out questions during the service. There may have been a time during the service when this was allowed for the men, but since it was to clarify teachings it was not for the women to take part in it at that time.

To maintain God’s ordering of worship, they were to go to their husbands as the spiritual leaders in their homes. They should bring up their questions there showing respect for his responsibility before God. The husband ought to do his best to teach the family at home as their first source of instruction. Respect needed to be shown for God’s division of duties between men and women.

The Bible here calls it shameful (improper) for a woman to violate this creation order. Those who were doing this showed a contempt for what the Scriptures taught. Paul was concerned that by making a show of their questions in public worship some were trying to become teachers, questioning those God called to be his ministers.

So instead of speaking out in the worship service, the women should respect their husbands in accordance with God’s Law. But what law of God says that?

God’s word gives the reasons why this principle is so important.

Rather than just quoting one passage, Paul made a general reference. In this letter he often referred to the verses about the roles of men and women.

The main reference is Genesis 2 where it tells ua that God made man first, then he made the woman. Back in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 Paul explained it this way, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”

When God made the animals, he made them male and female at the same time. But with humans he made only man first. Then when Adam realized he was incomplete in himself, God made Eve. It says he made her to be a fit helper for him.

Adam’s being created first didn’t mean he was superior or had more worth or value. Both men and women are said to be made in the image of God. But unlike the animals, humans were made to specially represent God in the world. From the beginning the differences in male and female wouldn’t be only for producing children. They were to reveal God’s grace and show his special love in their homes and marriages.

Chapter 11:11 goes on to say, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman;” There was no inequality or inferiority in this. The two complement one another. They were needed by one another, and were mutually important to one another. But clearly they would have different roles in reflecting God’s glory and in fulfilling his plan.

In 1 Timothy 2:13-14 Paul gave us a little more information, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

Now, in all fairness both Adam and Eve were deceived about the benefits of sin. They both thought that eating the forbidden fruit was the best thing to do.

But Eve did something in defiance of the role in life God assigned to her. She took the lead in the deception and yielded to the deception first. She was the one who led her husband into sin .. it was a reversal of the roles God gave them. Eve defied God’s assignment of headship to the man.And Adam let her lead him. He should have objected and helped her make a right choice. Together they distorted the picture they were supposed to show of God’s role toward his people.

God’s judgment shows the struggle women would have over this headship principle. In Genesis 3:16 God said to the woman, “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ ”

The Hebrew here means that women will have a strong desire, a craving, toward their husbands. She would want his role of headship and despise her role of being a vital helper. Since this male/female role was reversed it’s understandable that God’s curse would reflect the struggle of the damaged relationship

Sin didn’t cause male headship. His headship was assigned by God before the fall into sin. But because of Eve’s part in the sin, women will struggle with their own conflicting desires. They will find it hard to accept their husbands headship. We’ve seen that all through history.

In Ephesians 5:22-25 Paul tells us what this headship and submission ought to be. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,”

Male headship was never meant to be self-serving. It was meant to represent Christ’s headship of his church. Since Christ loved his people and gave himself for them, that’s what headship in the home means. Men aren’t to abuse their wives, or be dictators to get their own way. Their role is to lead in a way that lovingly gives of himself for his wife’s benefit and enrichment. His headship is to reflect Christ’s care of his church.

The woman’s submission isn’t to be a slave or to be degraded. She shouldn’t be forced to do things God says are wrong. Her quiet help is to be an example of how the church is blessed and cared for by Christ. Believers, like the wife, should use their talents and abilities as helpers in the work of God’s Kingdom.

It’s a subordination without inferiority or superiority. Men and women are equals who carry out different duties in God’s Kingdom.

Some degrade women by misunderstanding 1 Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” But “weaker vessel” means, “like a fragile vase”, something a great value.

This is the tragic confusion that mars the roles of men and women today. Men aren’t to be rulers because they’re better or deserve to get their way. They’re to be caretakers of their families as Christ cares for his church.

To be successful some think that women have to succeed in the things God gave men to do. But the work God gave them shouldn’t be so degraded. Women don’t have to be like men to be important.

God made them to have different roles so they present the full picture of his loving relationship with the church. They had to be reminded that it was God who gave them life and showed them mercy. God sent his word to them from the prophets and the Apostles. They weren’t the ones who were to come up with their own customs and standards.

There’s a profound lesson in the silence of the women in worship.

Unlike the fallen word, our goal shouldn’t be to get power, wealth, and recognition. So many lives are ruined not because they get those things, but because they mistake them for the greatest ways to be blessed.

Something is very wrong in this world God made to display his glory. Headship has become perverted into oppression and a lust for power and personal glory. Submission becomes slavery when it’s perverted into degrading those who serve.

But God didn’t make it to be that way. That’s not how it ought to be among God’s people. It’s our duty to stop the confusion and restore things to the way God says they should be.

We each need to take our God-given duties seriously. Men need to lead responsibly and lovingly for the benefit of their wives and children. Good headship is hard because it demands a self-sacrificing love that goes beyond anything the fallen heart can imagine. But it’s not beyond what we can be in Christ when we follow his lead as Good Shepherd.

Women should help humbly in recognition of the authority God gave to the men. They aren’t less because they submit to God’s ways. They should show themselves to be strong because this is hard too! Together and only together, each doing his own part well, we can show God’s wonder.

But there can’t be any leadership without those who follow. You can’t have shepherds without sheep following them. If sheep try to lead it becomes a chaotic flock that can’t survive. The glory of leaders and of those who help is in their union together for God’s glory.

When each accepts his role in life, we will see something amazing emerge. The loving leadership of Christ and the humble love of his church back toward him will be clearer to us because we are doing our part to practice that relationship in our homes and spiritual family.

That’s the quiet lesson, when both halves of humanity, males and females, responsibly enjoy being what God calls them to be. We see the love of Christ for his church and the believer’s loving service to God modeled among us and displayed for the world to see.

But there’s even more benefits that come of it. Our homes and personal relationships will be happier and more stable. God will bless them and our love will grow — perhaps a love that hasn’t grown for awhile.

When God promises a blessing for obedience, we can count on him keeping his word. And the God who made all the heavens and the earth, certainly can transform the most lost and rebellious life .. it’s not too hard for him.

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies in 1 Corinthians

Comments are closed.