Decently and in Order

I’ve learned over the years that most Christians have a favorite Bible verse.  If I were to go around the room this morning and ask you what your favorite verse is, some of you might say, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Others might say, Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord, to those who are called according to his purpose.”

            But, if I were to go around the room and ask you, “What is your least favorite verse in all the Bible?”, I would guess that most of you wouldn’t have a response because most Christians don’t a “least favorite verse.”  But Sueanne does.  And this morning, we’re going to take a look at her least favorite verse in the Bible.  It’s found in I Corinthians 14:40 which says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

            Which doesn’t sound like such a terrible verse, so perhaps I should explain.  When we were in college together at Freed-Hardeman, our president at that time quoted this verse almost every time we came together for chapel services – five times a week.  And while it may not have been his intention, what it seemed to us that he meant by that was, “Worshiping God should never have any expressions of joy or excitement.  It should always be somber, serious, and very much like a funeral service.  So, let’s do things decently and in order.”

            And so, hearing that verse quoted 4 or 5 times a week for three years resulted in it becoming Sueanne’s least favorite verse in the Bible.  So, I’m going to see what I can do to change that this morning, but I’m not sure I can undo all of those deeply implanted memories.

            Last week, we took a look at the first half of chapter 14, and this morning we’re going to look at the last half.  And if you were here last week, we will recall that Paul spent a lot of time comparing two spiritual gifts – the gift of prophecy (which was speaking a message from God) and the gift of speaking in tongues (that is, speaking in other languages).

            And Paul said that the gift of prophecy was greater than the gift of tongues because it was helpful; it helped people to better understand the things of God.  But speaking in tongues didn’t help anybody because nobody could understand what they were saying.  And we saw that Paul said over and over that the gifts that God has given us should be used to build up and encourage and comfort the body of Christ.

            This morning, we pick up in verse 20: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

            As Paul has indicated several times in this letter, the Corinthians were not acting nor thinking in a mature manner.  They were acting like children.  Now, being like children is not necessarily a bad thing.  Jesus himself said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3).  But Jesus was talking about the innocence of children.  And so, Paul says, when it comes to evil, yes, we need to be like children.  But, when it comes to understanding, we need to act like adults.

            And I think part of what Paul meant by that is that children are very self-centered.  They tend to think the world revolves around them.  If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night hungry, he or she will not think, “You know what?  I’m hungry, but Mom and Dad had a rough day yesterday, and they haven’t been getting a lot of sleep lately, so I think I’ll just lay here quietly so that I don’t disturb them.”  No!  You know good and well that’s not what happens.  That baby says, “I’m hungry and you need to feed me.  I don’t care how tired you are.  I don’t care how early you have to get up in the morning.  You need to take care of me!”

            And that sounds awful when you put it that way, but it’s okay.  That’s how God designed children to be.  They need to be self-focused.  Everything for a child is all about me.  But we need to grow out of that when we get older.  But Paul said the Corinthians were still stuck in that childish, selfish way of thinking.  Their attitude in worship was, “I’m going to do whatever makes me feel good.  I want to sing the songs that make me feel good.  I want a sermon that’s gonna make me feel good.  I like to speak in tongues, so I’m going to speak in tongues.” 

            But Paul is trying to get them to think in a more mature manner that’s focused on helping everyone else around them.  He wants them to develop an attitude that says, “What can we do in worship that will help everyone else to draw closer to God?”

            Verse 21, “In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’  Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.” (I Corinthians 14:21-22)

            Paul quotes from Isaiah where God said that he would speak to the people of Israel in a strange tongue.  The foreign language he was talking about was the Assyrian language. God allowed the Assyrians to invade the unbelieving Jews in order to conquer them, in hopes that it would get their attention and they would listen and turn back to God.  So, Paul says that “tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers.” (vs.22a)

            In the same way, the New Testament gift of tongues was a way that God used to attempt to communicate to unbelievers, in hopes that it would get their attention, that they would listen, that they would recognize the great power of God, and they would believe.  And, of course, as I pointed out last week, in Acts chapter 2, that was exactly the result of the tongue speaking on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 unbelievers repented and were baptized into Christ.

            So, tongues were intended to be a sign for unbelievers, but “prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.”  Prophecy (or preaching) is primarily for Christians.  That’s why we bring a message from the Word of God every week.

            Verse 23, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?  But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (I Corinthians 14:23-25)

            When the church gathers, we gather as the people of God.  Our time of worship together is primarily for those of us who are Christians.  But while we are focusing our attention on God and giving our praise to God, it is possible for an unbeliever to walk through those doors and get a sense that God is here, and that can lead them to repentance and conviction and the worship of God.

            So, Paul says the gift of speaking in tongues was intended to be a sign to unbelievers, but when an unbeliever walks into the church and there’s all this babbling going on and no one can make any sense out of any of it, they don’t get the impression that God is in this place.  If fact, it seems to them like everybody’s gone crazy.  And the result is that instead of being attracted to the gospel, they are “turned off”.  And so, the gift of tongues has the opposite effect of what God intended.  In that particular situation, it didn’t function as a sign to draw people to God.  It pushed people further away from God.  

            But Paul says if someone stands up with the gift of prophecy and proclaims a message from God, that message may be directed toward Christians.  But, if an unbeliever walks through the door and he or she hears those words of God, those words may speak to them in such a way that it may touch their heart.  They get the sense that this is from God, and it leads them to repentance; it leads them to a worship of God.  

            Now, again, we don’t argue so much today about which is better, the gift of prophecy or the gift of tongues, but what we should be concerned about is this – what kind of impression do unbelievers get when they walk into our worship assembly?  Do they go away saying, “It’s obvious that God was in that place”?  Or do they go away with a negative impression of what Christianity is all about?

            When unbelievers hear a message from the pulpit, do they say to themselves, “It’s obvious that God is with these people”?  When they hear the way we sing out our praise to God, do they say to themselves, “It’s obvious that God is with these people”?  When they see the way that we greet them before and after worship, do they say to themselves, “It’s obvious that God is with these people”?  

            Don’t get me wrong.  Our worship should not be designed to impress people when they walk through the door.  But if our worship of God doesn’t make God more attractive to the people who visit with us, then we’re doing something wrong.  People should be able to say, “I feel the presence of God in this place.”

            For the Corinthians, what they were doing wrong was they were worshiping in chaos.  And if everything is chaotic, that’s not going to bring anyone to God.  So, our worship needs to take place in an orderly fashion to make it easier for people to learn about God and be drawn to God.  So, Paul laid out several rules for the Corinthians to follow in their worship service.

            Verse 26, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.  Let all things be done for building up.  If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.  But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.

            “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.  If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.  For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.  For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (I Corinthians 14:26-33)

            Basically, Paul’s rules boil down to this – you need to take turns and make sure that everybody understands what you’re saying.  If someone speaks in a language that nobody can understand, that’s just confusing.  So don’t speak in another language unless someone can interpret what you’re saying. 

            Having two or three people speaking all at the same time, that’s just confusing.  So, give your message from God one at a time.  Why?  “So that all may learn and all be encouraged.” 

            Our goal is not to show everybody what we can do.  Our goal is not to show everybody that my gift is better than someone else’s gift.  Or goal is not to compete for the limelight.  Our goal is build one another up, to help everyone know God better, to help everyone to live more like Jesus, to help everyone be better prepared to live in a world that wants to pull us away from God.

            We come now to verse 34, “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak.”  Wow, I don’t know where the time went.  I’d love for us to look at this verse, but it looks like we’re all out of time!  No, we’re going to take a look at this, and I think you’re going to find that this passage is not really all that difficult to understand.

            Let me say a couple of things before we get to the verse itself.  In the church, we are sometimes guilty of doing the same thing that we accuse everybody else of doing.  We are very quick to criticize other groups for taking verses out of context.  We tell everybody that context is important.  You can’t just quote one verse and build an entire doctrine on that.  But then, we come to this verse, “Women should keep silent in the church”, and we have built an entire doctrine without considering the context.

            Now the larger context of this passage is what the Bible as a whole has to say about women’s roles, but we’re not going to have time to do that lengthy study in one sermon.  But we do have time to look at the immediate context, and once we do that, I think there are some things that will become very clear.

            There are two key words in this verse and I want to take a closer look at both of them.  The first is the word “women”.  This is the Greek word “gune”.  It’s the word from which we get our English word “gynecologist”.  Gune appears 215 tyimes in the New Testament and it can be translated as either “woman” or “wife” depending on the context.

            For example, in John chapter 4, we read about the Samaritan woman.  She wasn’t the Samaritan wife; she didn’t even have a husband.  She was simply a woman – a woman from Samaria.

            But, in the vast majority of scriptures, the word gune is better translated as “wife”.  In Luke 17, Jesus referred to Lot’s gune, his wife.  In Ephesians 5, Paul said, “Wives, submit to your husbands.”  The word “gune” is used there but Paul’s not referring to all women; he’s obviously only referring to women who were wives.  In Mark 10, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his gune for any reason?”  Again, the word “gune” there is obviously referring to a wife.

            And we could look at all 215 verses that use the word “gune”, and in most of those verses, we can tell very clearly from the context whether it refers to a woman in general or to a woman who is a wife.  And one word that will always make it clear is the word “husband”.  If you have a gune and a husband, then it’s very clear that you’re talking about a wife.

            So, what does the context in this passage tell us?  First of all, we know from our study back in chapter 11 that there was a problem in the church of Corinth with wives disrespecting their husbands.  Paul taught in that chapter that the husband is the head of the wife.  Not all men are head over all women, but the husband is the head of the wife. 

            And there were wives in the Corinthian church who were praying and prophesying with their heads uncovered which in that culture was a sign of disrespect to their husbands.  It showed that they were not in submission to their husbands.  And so, Paul rebuked them for that and told them that they had to wear a head covering to show respect.  So, as we come to this passage in chapter 14, we already know that the wives in Corinth were behaving in a disrespectful manner toward their husbands.

            And here in verse 34, we have evidence that the same thing is happening.  Let’s read this verse again and add verse 35.  “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.  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.”

            Remember that the word for “woman” here is the Greek word “gune”.  Paul says the gune should keep silent in the churches. For they, the gune, are not permitted to speak, but they, the gune, should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they, the gune, desire to learn, let them, the gune, ask their husbands at home.”

            Whoever these gune are, they are supposed to be in submission.  But we’ve already seen that all women are not in submission to all men.  The only women who are supposed to be in submission are wives, and they are to be in submission to their husbands.   And so, these women Paul is talking about, if they have any questions, they are supposed to ask their husbands at home.  Who has a husband at home — all women, or wives?

            The context makes it absolutely clear that Paul is talking about wives in this passage.  A better way to translate this passage would be this: “Married women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.”

            But, of course, that raises the question – why would there be a restriction only on married women?  And the answer is found in what we studied back in chapter 11 – the married women were acting in a way that was disrespecting their husbands, and showing an unwillingness to submit to them.

            Apparently, the married women were speaking up in church and asking questions of their husbands in such a way that it was putting their husbands down.  In fact, I this this relates to verse 29 where Paul said, “Have two or three prophets speak, and have the others pass judgment.” (I Corinthians 14:29, NASB).  There may have been some wives who took that as an opportunity to stand up and say, “I’ll be glad to give you my thoughts on what my husband just had to say, and I’ve got a few questions I’d like to ask him.”

            Which is why Paul says, “If you’ve got questions for your husband, then ask him at home.  You don’t need to do it in a way that’s going to publicly embarrass him.  It’s wrong, it’s disrespectful and it shows that you’re not in submission to your husband, as the Law teaches you should be.”

            So, you married women need to “keep silent” in the church.  That’s the second word that we need to take a closer look at.  If “keep silent” means to keep your mouth shut, then that would contradict what Paul said back in chapter 11 when he said that married women could pray and prophesy as long as they covered their heads.

            So, what exactly does it mean to “keep silent”?  The Greek word used here is “sigao”.  It can mean to be silent or to hold one’s peace.  Paul actually uses this word three times in this chapter.  In verse 28, Paul said if you have something to say in a foreign language and there’s no one to interpret, then you should “keep silent”.  He’s not saying, “Sit in your seat and don’t say a word.”  He’s saying, “Don’t be disruptive. Hold your peace.  Don’t speak up and cause confusion.”

            In verse 30, Paul says, “If you’re bringing a revelation from God and someone else has a revelation, then be silent.”  He’s not saying, “Sit in your seat and don’t say a word.”  He’s saying, “Don’t be disruptive. Hold your peace.  Don’t continue speaking while someone else is speaking because it will only cause confusion.”

            And in verse 34, Paul says to the married women, “If you’re doing something that is showing disrespect to your husband, you need to keep silent.”  He’s not saying, “Sit in your seat and don’t say a word.”  He’s saying, “Don’t be disruptive.  Hold your peace.  Don’t give anyone the impression that you are not in submission to your husband.”

            When we put all these pieces together, we see that this is what Paul is saying, “Married women should learn to hold their peace in the churches. For they are not permitted to question their husbands in public, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.”

            Why?  Because our worship service is not the place to be disruptive.  Whether it was people wanting to speak in tongues, or several people all wanting to speaking at once, or women trying to embarrass their husbands, worship is not the place to be disruptive.

            Verse 36, “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.” (I Corinthians 14:36-38)

            Paul basically says, “You’re not the only people who have a message from God.  These instructions that I’ve given you, I’ve received these from God, and if you’re truly spiritual, you’ll recognize that it’s the truth.”  And he says, “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”  Which is pretty strong language!  

            Paul says if anyone dismisses the commandment of God and says, “Oh, that’s just Paul.  We’re going to do it our own way”, then that person needs to be dismissed, because that is not a person who is spiritual. That is not a person who is manifesting the Spirit of God.  

            Verse 39, “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  But all things should be done decently and in order.” (I Corinthians 14:39-40)

            Once again, Paul says that speaking in tongues was okay in certain situations, but prophesy was always better because it builds up the church.  But, whatever you do, just make sure you don’t do things in such a way that your time of worship becomes a place of chaos. 

            Let all things in our worship be done properly and in an orderly manner.  Because our goal is not just to worship God and go away feeling better.  Our goal is to help one another draw closer to God.  And our goal is to show anyone who walks through that door that our God is real, our God is alive, and our God is with us in this place.


  1. Almost a year later… Since I am doing research on the use of the text about things done in order, I landed on this site. Reading through the text, it took me a while to get to the actual statement.
    That journey was interesting, to say the least. I wonder how speakers get 1 Cor 11 into the text about the assembly, since Paul clearly draws a “line” between the headship etc. section and then about some of the things he has heard. There are 2 chapters between the headship section and the “being silent” section.
    What I also wonder about is how one comes to the conclusion the women in question are wives, and even closer, wives of the prophets.
    As I read the text, in Greek, English, Dutch, French and German, there is no such clearness to be found. (Just as there is a lack of clearness in ch 11 that the praying and prophesying of women took place in the assembly, for that matter).

    I am glad to see, at least, that you are not trying to move passages around, as other commentators do.

    Anyway, my reason for the research on the “all things done in decency and order” is a statement made that we all are in one of two camps: Either David Lipscomb, or his opponent in the writing in Gospel Advocate in the end of the 1800’s. Should you have any information on that debate, I would appreciate hearing from you!

  2. In regard to the Lipscomb debate, I have no information on it. Sorry.

    In regard to your statement, “What I also wonder about is how one comes to the conclusion the women in question are wives”, I can respond. To me, it’s obvious in the text (no matter what language you read it in):

    “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they (those women) are not permitted to speak, but (those women) should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them (those women) ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

    I don’t know of any women who have a husband to ask except for wives. I also don’t know of any women who are to be in submission to any men except wives. Context always determines whether “gune” refers to women in general or wives, and I believe the context is clear here.

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