Prayers of the Apostle Paul
(Commentary + Life Application)
compiled by Greg Williamson (c) 2019

  • ACTS
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  • 1-2 COR
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  • 1-2 THESS
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• Acts 13:2-3 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 14:23 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 16:25 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 20:36-38 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 21:5-6 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 22:17-21 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 28:7-10 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 1:8-10 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 8:26 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 10:1 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 12:12 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 15:30-33 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Cor 7:5 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Cor 11:4-6, 13 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Cor 14:13-15 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Cor 1:11 - Comm + Life App
2 Cor 9:14-15 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Cor 13:7-9 - Comm + Life App
• Eph 1:15-19 - Comm + Life App
• Eph 6:18-20 - Comm + Life App
• Phil 1:3-5 - Comm + Life App
• Phil 1:9-10 - Comm + Life App
• Phil 1:19 - Comm + Life App
• Phil 4:6-7 - Comm + Life App
• Col 1:3-4 - Comm + Life App
• Col 1:9-10 - Comm + Life App
• Col 4:2-4 - Comm + Life App
• Col 4:12-13 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Thes 1:2-3 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Thess 3:9-10 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Thess 5:16-18, 25 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Thess 1:11-12 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Thess 3:1-2 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Tim 2:1-2 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Tim 2:8 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Tim 4:3-5 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Tim 5:5 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Tim 1:3-4 - Comm + Life App
• Phm 1:4-7 - Comm + Life App
• Phm 1:22 - Comm + Life App


1 Corinthians 7:5

a. "Do not deprive one another." What Paul indicates in the first clause of this sentence is that some married couples in the Corinthian community are actually depriving each other of their marital rights. Out of modesty, he omits the direct object for the verb to deprive but expects the reader to complete the thought. The verb connotes stealing or robbing an individual of his or her possessions (compare 1 Cor 6:7-8), or in this instance, of one's rights (see 1 Cor 7:3; Exod 21:10). Paul tells his readers to stop doing so and commands married couples (second person plural you) "not to defraud your spouse." Indeed, he becomes unusually personal in these intimate matters. He instructs the Corinthians that their slogan not to touch a woman (1 Cor 7:1) does not apply to married couples.

b. "Except perhaps by mutual consent for a specified time that you may have time for prayer." Paul allows abstinence from marital relations on three conditions: first, if both husband and wife agree to do so; next, if both concur that abstinence is for a limited period; and third, if both use this time for prayer. Paul permits this exception to the rule but forbids anyone to impose involuntary restrictions on his or her spouse.

The phrase by mutual consent stresses the equality of the sexes in respect to intimate relations. Both the husband and the wife should be fully convinced that abstinence is desirable and in their best interest. Paul immediately adds the second restriction that abstinence be temporary, because a permanent arrangement might lead to a ruined marriage and divorce. Divorce is not only contrary to the institution of marriage (Gen 2:24; Mark 10:2-9) but it defeats the very purpose for which abstinence is intended: to lead a holy life.

Daily prayer is the hallmark of every sincere Christian. But in married life, a husband and his wife at times face crises that call for special prayer. When financial, social, spiritual, or physical problems appear to overwhelm them, they flee to God in prayer. At such times, they may voluntarily and temporarily abstain from marital intimacy.

c. "Then come together again, lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control." Translators interpret the verb to come as a command. Paul tells the believers in Corinth that when the period of prayer has ended, married couples should resume their normal functions. Let no one say, "Temporary abstinence is good, but permanent abstinence is better." Should this be the case, it would be advisable not to marry. Paul alerts his readers to the presence of Satan, who seeks to exploit human weakness by tempting either the husband or the wife into committing adultery. To pursue permanent restraint within the bonds of matrimony is contrary to God's gracious provision of marriage and his marvelous gift of sexuality. Marriage is a protective shield that should be employed effectively against Satan's subtleties (Eph 5:11). Refusal to use the protection God provides is a sin for which the individual is held accountable.

Practical Considerations in [1 Cor 7:4-5]
When God had created Adam, he declared, "It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (Gen 2:18). From one of Adam's ribs he created Eve. God showed that although Adam was a perfect creation, he was incomplete until God had made Eve to be Adam's counterpart. Calvin pointedly remarks, "The man is only the half of his body, and it is the same with the woman." God has made us so that in marriage the man complements the woman and the woman complements the man. In addition, both man and woman have been created with sexual needs that find true fulfillment in matrimony, which God has instituted. For that reason, Paul states that the husband has authority over his wife's body and the wife has authority over her husband's body.

If God made male and female, created them sexual beings, gave to each one power over the body of the other party, and instituted marriage, then forced and permanent abstinence within wedlock is contrary to God's design. In short, when one partner defrauds the other, he or she violates God's creational ordinance (Gen 1:28; 2:24) and, instead of being spiritual, is sinful.

- Simon J. Kistemaker [ref]

Few christians today advocate total abstinence from sex as an ideal for all believers. Our problems parallel those of the hedonistic wing of the Corinthian church far more than those of the ascetic wing. So any application of 1 Corinthians 7 must proceed with the caution that these changed circumstances dictate. Perhaps the closest analogies to this sexual asceticism remain in traditional Roman Catholic circles, which still insist on celibacy as a requirement for priests and various religious orders. Neither Paul nor any other biblical writer justifies this across-the-board requirement. Protestants, however, often continue to overreact against this extreme by inappropriately denigrating the single life. Some churches will not hire pastors if they are not married! Even single lay adults regularly testify to feeling like second class citizens in the church. The recent boom in singles groups has helped to allay much of their loneliness, but it is questionable if these groups have succeeded in integrating singles into the larger world of married adults and families in the church.

The specific problem of advocating celibacy within marriage (1 Cor 7:2-7) also seems quite foreign to our modern experience. Yet some Christians continue to view sex as inherently dirty, and others use it in inappropriate ways in marriage (as a reward or punishment). Studies consistently suggest that married couples engage in sex much less frequently (usually about once a week or less often) than the three-to-four day cycle of peak desire, which at least younger and middle-aged adult men and women regularly experience. Given the numerous opportunities in our modern world to gratify sexual desires illicitly, Paul's concern to guard against temptation (1 Cor 7:2, 5) remains equally appropriate. The option of temporary abstinence for the sake of spiritual devotion provides yet another example of how different Paul's world seems. Yet moves are afoot to recover an emphasis on the spiritual disciplines, particularly prayer, and places need to be made for this option of unusually intense communion as well.

- Craig Blomberg [ref]


1 Corinthians 11:4-6, 13

1 Corinthians 11:4
Paul begins his argument with the men. Although they may also have been involved in a form of "dress" that was breaking down the distinctions between the sexes, that seems unlikely, since the argument in each case, and especially in this one, is directed toward the women (1 Cor. 11:5-6). Rather, Paul seems to be setting up his argument with the women by means of a hypothetical situation for the man that would be equally shameful to his relationship to his "head" as what the women are doing is to theirs.

Thus he asserts, "Every man," meaning every Christian man, "who prays or prophesies having down the head dishonors his 'head.'" The two verbs "pray and prophesy" make it certain that the problem has to do with the assembly at worship. One may pray privately, but not so with prophecy. This was the primary form of inspired speech, directed toward the community for its edification and encouragement (cf. 1 Cor. 14:1-5). The two verbs are neither exhaustive nor exclusive but representative: they point to the two foci of Christian worship -- God and the gathered believers -- speech that is either Godward or humanward, that is, praise, prayer, adoration or information, instruction, exhortation.

The "head" that would be shamed is man's metaphorical "head," Christ. Several things make that clear: (1) the asyndeton (no joining particle or conjunction) gives the sentence the closest possible tie to the preceding "thesis statement" (1 Cor. 11:3); (2) Paul uses the personal pronoun "his" rather than the reflexive "his own"; (3) for Paul to refer to himself in this way compounds metaphorical usages without warning; (4) otherwise the preceding theological statement has no place in the argument whatever. Therefore, Paul is asserting that if the man were to "have down the head" when praying/prophesying, he would bring shame to Christ in some way, or at least to the relationship established by Christ's being his "head."

The question, of course, is what "having down the head" means, or to put that in another way, "having what down the head?" Some have argued that this refers to having long hair "down the head," a position that has been refined by Murphy-O'Connor, who has shown that disdain for long hair on men was usually in conjunction with homosexuality, where longer hair was artistically decorated to resemble a woman's. The problem with this, however, is that these passages always refer to hair, and never remotely resemble the language Paul uses here. If Paul had intended long hair, this idiom is a most unusual way of referring to it. On the other hand, although Paul's idiom is somewhat unusual, it is not without precedent. In the book of Esther, Haman is said to have "hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered" (1 Cor. 6:12 NRSV). The LXX translators had rendered this last phrase kata kephalēs (= "down the head"). So also Plutarch speaks of Scipio the Younger as beginning to walk through Alexandria "having the himation down the head," meaning that he covered his head with part of his toga so as to be unrecognized by the people. Almost certainly, therefore, by this idiom Paul is referring to an external cloth covering.

Beyond that, everything is more speculative. There is almost no evidence (paintings, reliefs, statuary, etc.) that men in any of the first-century cultures (Greek, Roman, Jew) covered their heads. Since at some point in time the cloak prescribed in the Law (Deut. 22:12 [LXX, peribolaion]) and mentioned by Jesus (Matt. 23:5) came to be used by Jewish men as the tallith ("prayer shawl"), it is tempting to see in this another disavowal by Paul of Jewish customs that divide Jew and Gentile (cf. 1 Cor. 7:19; 10:26, 27). This is especially attractive in light of the reference in his next letter to Moses' "veil" still remaining over the hearts of Jews when the Old Covenant is read (2 Cor. 3:12-18); however, in that passage the "veil" is used figuratively of the blindness of God's ancient people, and the issue has to do with the face being uncovered, not the head. But the greater problem is that the evidence for the use of the tallith in prayer is much too late to be helpful to establish Jewish customs in the time of Paul. There are other options: since men, as well as women, covered their heads for mourning, one could shame Christ by praying or prophesying in the sign of mourning; since the prophet in the Isis cult wore a head covering, this may be some kind of prohibition against appearing before God in a manner resembling the mysteries. In the final analysis, however, we simply have to admit that we do not know. In any case, whatever it was, Paul's usage is hypothetical; and whatever it meant, he would expect the Corinthians to agree that such a covering for men would bring shame to Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:5
By way of contrast Paul now addresses the women with a sentence that is in perfect balance with what has preceded (1 Cor. 11:4), except for the differences in appearance. In place of "having down the head," a woman brings shame on "her head" if she prays or prophesies "uncovered as to the head." As before, "her head" must refer to "the man" in the thesis statement (1 Cor. 11:3). Although this could mean that she thereby disgraces her husband, more likely, in light of what was just said and the ensuing analogy (1 Cor. 11:5-6), as well as the argument that follows (1 Cor. 11:7-9), this probably refers to bringing shame on "the man" in terms of male/female relationships. That is, their action disregards this relationship by breaking down the distinctions.

But as before (1 Cor. 11:4), it is extremely difficult to determine what she was doing in being "uncovered" that would at the same time shame her "head" in this way. The situation here is complicated in several directions: (1) The true opposite of the man's example would seem to be an external covering; but since removal of this in the assembly brings about shame either to the male/female relationship in general or to her husband in particular, the problem lies in determining what is customary that would have caused such shame. In this case, even if we were sure of prevailing customs, we would need to be able to distinguish between Greek, Roman, and Jewish customs as well as differences in geography, how one dressed at home, outside the home, and in worship, and differences between the rich and poor. This diversity is well illustrated in the various samplings in Goodenough. But it is also this very diversity that makes one wonder how Paul would consider the discarding of the (presumably) customary covering to be the same thing as being shorn (1 Cor. 11:5).

(2) This has caused some, on the basis of combined evidence both from the LXX and from prevailing hair styles, to argue that the adjective akatakalyptos ("uncovered") refers to "loosed hair," that is, long hair flowing loose down over the shoulders and back. The word akatakalyptos occurs only once in the LXX (Lev. 13:45), where it translates a Hebrew idiom that says the leper's "head shall be unbound." More significantly, a cognate verb is used in Numbers to translate "he shall loosen the hair of the woman" (Num. 5:18), indicating that the suspected adulteress must wear loosed hair as part of her shame. Since the evidence from Paul's era shows that women did not appear in public with long, flowing hair, it seems altogether possible that "loosed hair" is the "uncovering" that caused shame. The difficulties with this view lie primarily with the concluding word about the woman (1 Cor. 11:15), which implies that long hair is a woman's glory and therefore a good thing, and with the imperative "let her be covered" (1 Cor. 11:6; cf. 1 Cor. 11:7 : the men should "not be covered"), which does not easily lend itself to the connotation of putting her hair up. It is also true that this does not appear to be the precise opposite of the man's activity in the thesis sentence (1 Cor. 11:4); the contrast, however, possibly lies in similarly "shameful" actions, not in precise opposites, since that is not demanded by the context.

As with the man's situation, one must finally admit that we cannot be certain as to particulars. On the basis of what is said twice of the man (1 Cor. 11:4, 7), it seems more likely that some kind of external covering is involved; nonetheless, the linguistic ties with the LXX and the parallels from pagan ecstasy offer a truly viable alternative in favor of hairstyle. But in either case, her action (1) must have been deliberate, (2) must be understood to bring shame on her "head," and (3) probably had inherent in it a breakdown in the distinction between the sexes. Thus Paul wants her to return to what is customary, and will so argue in what follows.

1 Corinthians 11:5-6
Picking up on the theme of shame, Paul offers a nice piece of logic to support his contention, finally spelled out without ambiguity in the final imperative, that the woman "be covered." The common denominator of shame to which he appeals is that of a woman's having her hair cut short or her head shaved. Either of these apparently would constitute such shame that they would be unthinkable actions. The shame in this case would seem to be her own; however, since the argument is by way of analogy, Paul probably intends it to carry over from the preceding "thesis statement" (1 Cor. 11:5). In any case, the shame seems clearly to be related to her becoming like a man with regard to her hair, thus by analogy suggesting that the women were blurring male/female relationships in general and sexual distinctions in particular.

On this common predicate of shame in a woman's having mannish hair, Paul builds a simple, clear argument. First, he asserts that to pray or prophesy "uncovered" makes her (lit.) "one and the same thing with her that is shaven" ( 1 Cor 11:5). He then drives that point home with a pair of conditional sentences, the first of which repeats the point of the "thesis sentence" (1 Cor 11:5) in light of its accompanying assertion (1 Cor 11:5). Thus, "If a woman does not cover herself" (1 Cor 11:5), which means that she is bringing shame on her "head," "then let her also be shorn" (1 Cor 11:5), that is, let her go the whole way to shame by having her hair like a man's. Finally, with a second conditional sentence he brings all this together specifically in terms of shame: But if it is a disgrace for a woman either to have her hair cut short (1 Cor 11:6) or be shaved (1 Cor 11:5) -- and it obviously was -- then let her be covered (1 Cor 11:5). This final imperative, which ordinarily implies an external covering, creates special difficulties for the "put-up hair" view.

This is the closest thing to rhetoric that one finds in the present argument. The point is made by way of analogy. One kind of action (being uncovered) is just like another (having mannish hair). If the latter is shameful, so too is the former. This kind of argument makes one wonder whether the Corinthians sensed the shame of their own actions. In any case, the analogy seems to suggest that the problem lay ultimately with a breakdown in sexual distinctions, which fits the Corinthian theology well.

Although various Christian groups have fostered the practice of some sort of head covering for women in the assembled church, the difficulties with the practice are obvious. For Paul the issue was directly tied to a cultural shame that scarcely prevails in most cultures today. Furthermore, we simply do not know what the practice was that they were abusing. Thus literal "obedience" to the text is often merely symbolic. Unfortunately, the "symbol" that tends to be reinforced is the subordination of women, which is hardly Paul's point. Furthermore, it would seem that in cultures where women's heads are seldom covered, the enforcement of such in the church turns Paul's point on its head, by calling unnecessary attention to the women that should be reserved for God alone. In any case, the fact that Paul's own argument is so tied to cultural norms suggests that literal obedience is not mandatory for genuine obedience to God's Word, and in many cases might create an opposite, attention-getting response.

1 Corinthians 11:13
In a way similar to the argument against attendance at temple meals (1 Cor 10:15), Paul turns at the end to appeal to their own judgments. Although he is certainly trying to get them to agree with him (the nature of rhetorical questions has that built in), the appeal is to their own sense of propriety, as that is further illustrated by "nature" itself. Once they have thus "judged for themselves," of course, Paul expects them to see things his way.

Also as before (1 Cor 10:15-16), the appeal to their good sense is followed by a rhetorical question. But the rhetoric is not sharp. The issue is one of propriety: "Is it proper to pray to God with her head uncovered?" The question itself clearly picks up the language of the primary assertion at the beginning (1 Cor 11:5), thus indicating a return to the problem as it was addressed there. The nature of the argument does not differ greatly from the opening appeal to "shame" (1 Cor 11:4-6), although in that case the shame was given a theological basis (1 Cor 11:3) and accrued to one's "head." Here the propriety (1 Cor 11:13), disgrace (1 Cor 11:14), and glory (1 Cor 11:15) are assumed to have a more universal basis. Whether the Corinthians themselves would have thought it not "fitting" is a moot point, especially since some apparently were doing otherwise.

- Gordon D. Fee [ref]

The freedom afforded to the members of the congregation in worship was scandalous in that culture. Women were encouraged to pray and prophesy. [1 Cor. 11:5] assumes this: "every wife who prays or prophesies." This was in contrast to Jewish synagogue worship where women were not considered full members and were required to sit behind a veil. In the Christian church, women were to be full congregational participants in the worship service -- unheard of. Christianity recognizes the full equality and interdependence of the sexes. Both were made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 tells us: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Paul calls on the Corinthians to recognize this interdependence in [1 Cor. 11:11-2]: "in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God."

This understanding of interdependence and equality would have been scandalous and unheard of. It was a challenge to a hierarchical society in which women were understood as less than. The equality and interdependence of the sexes afforded the Corinthians scandalous freedom in worship. Christians today enjoy this same freedom as they worship God in a diverse, unified community. Together Christians approach him without regard to age, ethnicity, class, or gender. However, it is possible that an overemphasis on liberality may threaten "traditions" (i.e., apostolic, Biblical teaching; 1 Cor. 11:2). It is possible to embrace these Scriptural truths and yet ignore some of the clear teaching of Scripture. That is what the Corinthians were doing -- they were neglecting the scandalous order of worship.

- Stephen T. Um [ref]

Clearly, head coverings send virtually no sexual or religious messages in contemporary Western societies. Perhaps the only exception is in those few extremely conservative churches that still insist on women wearing hats, scarves, or hairnets. And the message these churches usually send to the culture at large is that they are hopelessly out of touch with modernity! For them it would be best to abandon the practice at once, so that they could better implement Paul's principle of being all things to all people in order to save as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:19-23). In other cultures, however, head coverings often continue to carry great significance. Christian workers in Muslim lands will have to consider seriously whether or not it will promote their witness if their women wear some kind of veil. At the very least, they will have to avoid causing the offense that is almost universally created when women's shoulders are not covered with appropriate attire. For many Muslims, bare-shouldered women are sexually promiscuous; the practice is almost tantamount to bare-breasted women in this country.

In Jewish circles, Christian men should be prepared to wear the yarmulke or skull-cap when entering holy places. This does not violate [1 Cor. 11:4] precisely because it fulfills the same function that not wearing a head covering did in Corinth -- it prevents people from thinking that a person is deliberately worshiping a false god or dishonoring the one true God of Israel. Interestingly, the Jewish practice of covering a man's head during worship did not become widespread before the fourth century A.D., though it "seems to have been innovatively tried in the Jewish synagogues of Paul's time," and may have actually arisen in response to Paul's commands, to differentiate Jews from Christians.

Whenever Christianity enters a new culture, the hermeneutical principles at stake here will need to be discussed. Charles Kraft, for example, tells the story of his missionary work in Nigeria in which new believers could not understand why Western Christians "obeyed the Biblical commands against stealing and not those about head-coverings." That the one practice is inherently immoral and the other not may seem self-evident to us whose laws have been deeply informed by the Judeo-Christian tradition but may not be at all transparent to other, quite different peoples.

Hairstyles too are generally seen as morally neutral these days. Since the 1960s we have watched men's hair grow long and short again, and we have seen teens of both sexes fall in and out of love with punk styles. New generations will doubtless bring still different fashions and resurrect others tried in the past. To the extent that people's grooming or dress deliberately flaunts authority and social convention, such actions cannot be condoned by Christians, because it gives us an unnecessarily bad reputation among non-Christians. No doubt some of this occurred in the 60s and with punk. But wise Christians, like wise parents, will choose their battles carefully. We should not get overly upset by a person's outward appearance when there are more fundamental theological and ethical issues to be concerned about in our society.

Exceptions to this principle involve dress or hairstyle which in certain contexts is likely to communicate misleading sexual signals. Men should not wear dresses, since this suggests transvestite behavior to most onlookers. Women should not wear the excessive make-up and revealing clothing typical of prostitutes "on their beat." Less dramatically, both men and women should avoid any clothing that would prove unnecessarily seductive, particularly in settings where God is to be worshiped and participants should be free from such distractions. More specifically, husbands and wives should carefully guard against sending signals that suggest they are not married or are disloyal to their spouses. In some contexts, it would be misleading and inappropriate not to wear a wedding ring if one is married. Flirtatious conversation or behavior with someone other than one's spouse also puts one in a position of asking for trouble.

Dress and grooming do not usually send misleading religious signals today. But still there are exceptions. An unwise application of [1 Cor. 9:19-23] could actually convince non-Christians that one had converted to a non-Christian religion or sect. It would not be good, for example, for believers to don the garb of the saffron robes and shaved heads of the Hare Krishna, just for the sake of relating to them. Certain combinations of long, disheveled hair, tattoos, and other self-mutilation in certain circles would suggest that one is the member of an occult or even Satanic group. It is even arguable that this passage hints at the inappropriateness of distinctive clerical garb, at least to the extent that it fosters unbiblical notions about clergy and laity as somehow qualitatively distinct. And to the extent that such dress is valid in certain places, it would certainly be inappropriate for one who is not a member of the clergy to wear garments that deceive others into thinking he or she is. In general, one should not seek to defy social fashion and convention merely as an expression of one's own freedom; to do so is to deny Paul's concern to put others above self.

- Craig Blomberg [ref]


1 Corinthians 14:13-15

1 Corinthians 14:13
The strong inferential conjunction "for this reason" indicates the close relationship between this sentence and the preceding one. It functions both to conclude what has preceded (1 Cor. 14:6-12) and to apply the principle of "building up the church." Its content, therefore, comes as something of a surprise. In light of the total argument to this point, one might have expected, "For this reason let the one who speaks in tongues seek rather to prophesy." But prophecy is not Paul's concern, intelligibility is; thus he moves toward that concern by urging that "the person who speaks in a tongue" should pray that "they may interpret what they say." The point is that made above (1 Cor. 14:5). The interpretation of what is spoken in tongues makes it an intelligible utterance; therefore it can satisfy the preceding concern, the edification of the church. As before, the Corinthians' practice of uninterpreted tongues is what is being challenged, not tongues as such. This is further confirmed a bit later (1 Cor. 14:27-28), where again Paul disallows uninterpreted tongues, but otherwise regulates the expression of the gift when there is interpretation.

In times when charismatic utterances experience something of a revival in the church, this paragraph is especially important to those in such a renewal. The point of everything in corporate worship is not personal experience in the Spirit, but building up the church itself. Much that comes under the banner of charismatic or pentecostal worship seems very often to fail right at this point. However, it is not so much that what goes on is not understood by the others, but that it fails to have Paul's concluding sentence (1 Cor. 14:12) as its basic urgency. The building up of the community is the basic reason for corporate settings of worship; they should probably not be turned into a corporate gathering for a thousand individual experiences of worship, although the end result will include that as well.

1 Corinthians 14:14
With this sentence Paul begins the specific application of the preceding argument against unintelligibility. He does so, as he will again at the end (1 Cor. 14:18), by referring to his own experience of speaking in tongues. But the specific concern of this sentence is less than certain. Probably he is using his own experience to point up a basic principle, which will be elaborated in the following question and response (1 Cor .14:15) and then applied specifically to their community at worship (1 Cor. 14:16-17).

This seems to make the best sense of what is otherwise a very difficult sentence in the middle of this argument, made the more so by the addition of the explanatory "for" found in the majority of, and thus later, witnesses. Paul is not arguing that the tongues-speaker should also interpret for the benefit of one's own understanding. That would be a considerable "rock" in the middle of this argument for the edification of others through intelligibility. It would also tend to contradict what has been said earlier (1 Cor. 14:2, 4) and intimated in the following question and answer (1 Cor. 14:15), that the one who speaks in tongues is edified by their own communion with God through the Spirit, without the need of perceptual understanding. Paul's point is a simple one, and one that they themselves should fully recognize: When I pray in tongues I pray in the Spirit, but it does not benefit my mind -- the implication being, as he will go on to argue (1 Cor. 14:16-17), that neither does it benefit the minds of others.

As suggested before, in the present context the difficult wording "my spirit prays" seems to mean something like "my S/spirit prays." On the one hand, both the possessive "my" and the contrast with "my mind" indicate that he is here referring to his own "spirit" at prayer. On the other hand, there can be little question, on the basis of the combined evidence of three other passages (1 Cor. 12:7-11; 14:2; 14:16), that Paul understood speaking in tongues to be an activity of the Spirit in one's life; it is prayer and praise directed toward God in the language of Spirit-inspiration. The most viable solution to this ambiguity is that by the language "my spirit prays" Paul means his own spirit is praying as the Holy Spirit gives the utterance. Hence, "my S/spirit prays."

As the following elaboration (1 Cor. 14:15) makes certain, Paul does not mean that praying in the Spirit is a bad thing because it does not benefit his understanding; rather, this states the way things are. What he does go on to say is that he will do two things, one apparently for his own sake, the other for the sake of others.

1 Corinthians 14:15
Paul now elaborates the preceding principle with an eye toward turning it into the application to follow (1 Cor. 14:16-17). In light of the simple reality just stated, he asks rhetorically, "So what shall I do?" His answer is that he will do both. On the one hand, "I will pray with my S/spirit," meaning, as the preceding sentence and one to follow (1 Cor. 14:19) make certain, "I will pray in tongues." Although this is obviously not Paul's present concern, it joins with Paul's own personal thanksgiving regarding speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:18) in suggesting that such was his regular practice and that he was edified thereby, even if his mind (= understanding) did not enter into such praying. On the other hand, the combination "but also" indicates that the emphasis now lies here, "I will also pray with my understanding," meaning "I will also pray and praise in Greek for the sake of others."

Although it is not explicitly stated here, this contrast between praying and singing with my S/spirit and my mind ultimately aims at relegating the former to the setting of private praying, while only the latter is to be exercised in the assembly. This is implied both in the sentences that follow (1 Cor. 14:16-17), where he allows that the tongues-speaker is praising God all right but to no one else's benefit, and especially at the end (1 Cor. 14:19), where this distinction is made explicitly.

To "praying" Paul adds "singing with the S/spirit" and "with the understanding." Singing was a common part of worship in Judaism and was carried over as an integral part of early Christian worship as well, as the coming description (1 Cor. 14:26) and Col. 3:16//Eph. 5:19 illustrate. The evidence from Colossians and Ephesians suggests that some of the singing was corporate; the language of these passages further indicates that besides being addressed as praise to God, such hymns served as vehicles of instruction in the gathered community. Furthermore, both passages, as well as this one, indicate that some of the singing might best be called "a kind of charismatic hymnody," in which spontaneous hymns of praise were offered to God in the congregation, although some may have been known beforehand. The present passage, as well as the later one (1 Cor. 14:26), indicates that some of this kind of singing was "solo." This text also adds a dimension to our understanding of "speaking in tongues." Not only did one pray in this way, but one also praised God in song in this way. Hence the verbs in the next sentences (1 Cor. 14:16-17) that pick up this theme are "bless" and "give thanks."

- Gordon D. Fee [ref]

"I will," says Paul. This is where many people have a terrible time with the prayer language, or tongues. They say, "If this is for me and if it will edify my spirit, I'm open to speaking in tongues." They might ask for the laying on of hands. They might be in a position where they are sincerely waiting on the Lord. But nothing happens. "I just want to express my love to the Lord in this unique way, but nothing's happening," they say in frustration -- as though they believe that somehow they're going to go into a trance, their eyes will become glazed, they'll quiver and shake, and their tongue will begin moving against their will.

Paul simply says, "I will pray in the Spirit. It's a choice I make."

When we teach our kids or new believers to pray, we don't say, "Sit there until something happens. If you're really supposed to pray, you'll pray." No, we set an example for them and give a model to them. Many times, I'll have someone repeat after me, "Dear Jesus, come into my heart…" as a simple prayer of salvation. Does the fact that they're echoing my words make their prayer ineffective or insincere? No. They're just learning how to pray, and that's where they're at in their development.

So, too, I suggest that praying in the Spirit is a lot simpler than we make it. It's just saying, "I will pray right now with words I don't understand, trusting the Lord is inspiring these words and partnering with me in the process." Praying in the Spirit is not a feeling I feel. It's a decision I make. And once I begin to do this, it's so simple.

I'm not on a tongues-speaking kick by any stretch of the imagination. But it's a beautiful expression for me personally to say, "I don't know how to pray with understanding about this. I'm frazzled and fried mentally. So I'm going to pray in the Spirit." As I do, my spirit is edified. The prayer language is available to anyone, to everyone who simply believes.

- Jon Courson [ref]

... In [1 Corinthians 14] ... we find remarkably clear and detailed teaching that bears directly on one of the most divisive issues in the church today -- the debate over the so-called charismatic or more supernatural gifts.

The charismatic movement is known for emphasizing the value of speaking in tongues. To many in that movement, Paul would surely say today that greater emphasis is needed on the more immediately intelligible and more cognitive gifts. Many sermons in charismatic or Pentecostal circles lack consistent, clear exposition of texts of Scripture. The recent neo-prophetic movement has heralded something of a shift away from tongues to prophecy. But it tends to conceive of the latter in a very narrow, highly supernatural sense and often does not submit its revelations from the Lord to the evaluation of a congregation and a duly recognized group of church leaders. Decision-making in the charismatic world often seems highly subjective, as people explain their actions with little more than the rationale, "The Lord told me to do such-and-such." But how do they know for sure what they heard was from the Lord or, if it was, that they interpreted it entirely correctly? Authoritarian leaders within this movement can at times rule ruthlessly and without fear of contradiction because those under them believe everything spoken "in the name of the Lord." It would probably be good if no Christian today ever said, "The Lord told me…" lest God get blamed for human error, but rather preface their remarks with, "I believe the Lord has told me…"

Noncharismatic churches too are increasingly moving away from solid instructional messages based on biblical content. Many favor a more entertainment-oriented style of worship, and "seeker-sensitive" messages, often with the worthy motive of attracting the unbeliever or church-hopper who judges local congregations on the value of many services they provide other than preaching. Such churches recognize the need to avoid Christian "jargon," in-house or theological language that outsiders find strange and difficult to comprehend. But if large-group worship services take this form, then it becomes crucial that the church stress that its members become involved in additional activities that provide detailed instruction in the Bible, Christian doctrine, ethics, and the like. These can take the form of Sunday School, special seminars, or small groups.

The value in both charismatic and noncharismatic circles of a clear proclamation of God's Word over and above more unusual phenomena like tongues remains indisputable. In Paul's world, at least the more exotic phenomena reminded people of analogous practices in other religions, so that they were not entirely foreign. In our modern day, many unbelievers seeing glossolalia for the first time will be all the more convinced that Christians are "out of their mind" (1 Cor. 14:23). Indeed, the excesses of the charismatic movement, especially through televangelism, are one of the major reasons all conservative Christianity has been caricatured, stereotyped, and rejected as weird and out-of-touch with reality by many contemporary Westerners, especially in the media.

When the charismatic church experiences large numbers trusting in Christ, it is more often in spite of their more exotic phenomena than because of them, since, to its credit, this movement has done more than any other wing of the church in modern times to recover the patterns of worship and fellowship outlined in [1 Cor. 14:26], often accompanied by sincerely warm and loving interpersonal relationships. Some of the fastest-growing charismatic churches today have caught on and play down the role of tongues to such an extent that most services do not contain them, and a majority of members have never spoken in tongues in public.

A much more positive use of tongues continues to appear in Christians discovering a private prayer language. Testimony after testimony describes how the Spirit intervened to liberate some frustrated individual from his or her fruitless quiet time, lifeless worship, or inconsistent walk with the Lord. Indeed, the winds of the charismatic movement seem to have blown freshest and most purely in the middle of dead, formal, traditional churches, where it has given to congregations such "radical" ideas, by no means distinctively charismatic, as singing choruses, using musical instruments besides piano or organ, clapping or raising hands, sharing praise items and prayer requests, and conversational prayer.

- Craig Blomberg [ref]


NOTE: All material is quoted verbatim. Most of the material in the COMMENTARY section is taken from one of the top Bible commentaries as listed at