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1 Corinthians 14:36–38

“Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”

Spiritual pride was clearly a problem for the first-century Corinthian believers. They prided themselves on being more spiritual than others based on their association with particular teachers (1 Cor. 1–3). They questioned the authority of the Apostle Paul, thinking him less spiritual than they (chs. 4; 9). They measured authentic spirituality by the possession of spiritual gifts, elevating certain gifts such as the gift of tongues as the markers of the truly godly (12:1–14:35).

In today’s passage, Paul argues once again that the spiritual pride of the Corinthians was misplaced. Lest they think that they were too spiritual to heed the Apostle’s instructions concerning proper conduct in public Christian worship, Paul points out in a series of rhetorical questions that they are not the only spiritual people on the planet. That is, they are not the only individuals who have heard the Word of God (14:36). The Apostle implicitly refers back to 14:33, where his guidance for women’s speaking in the church comes in part from the practice of “all the churches of the saints” (see also 11:16). The Christian faith is a public faith, which means that no single Christian congregation should think it unnecessary to learn from the practices of other churches. Unhealthy spiritual pride results in a church’s believing that it has gotten everything right and that it cannot learn anything from other congregations. Churches that believe such falsehoods are puffed up with spiritual pride and must return to humility.

Paul then says in 14:37–38 that one of the marks of the truly spiritual person is that he understands that what he writes is a command of the Lord. Here is testimony to the nature of Apostolic authority. What Paul, Peter, James, and the other Apostles have written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit are the very commands of the Lord Jesus Himself. Paul, certainly, is referring most directly to what he has just said about corporate worship, but it can be extended to all exercises of Apostolic authority. As Charles Hodge comments, “What is true . . . of this chapter is no less true of all apostolical instructions; because they all rest on the same foundation.” The inspired words of the Apostles are no less than the words of Christ Himself, and we cannot have Christ if we do not also have His appointed Apostles. Let us therefore pay heed to what these Apostles have written to the church.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

If we are to avoid unhealthy spiritual pride and be true followers of Jesus, we must pay careful attention both to what God has taught other Christians but especially to the words of the Apostles. If we ignore the Apostolic teaching of the New Testament, we are ignoring Jesus Himself. All the words of Scripture have equal authority, and all must guide Christian faith and practice.

For Further Study
  • Jeremiah 1:1–2
  • John 14:26
  • 2 Timothy 3:16–17
  • Revelation 21:9–14

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From the June 2021 Issue
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