1 Corinthians 14:20–40 (NKJV)
20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.
21 In the law it is written:
“With men of other tongues and other lips
I will speak to this people;
And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord.
22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.1 Corinthians 14:20-25
This passage addresses order in the church when it comes to the gifts of the spirit. This letter to the Corinthians was written by Paul in response to messages he had received about certain problems in that local church. Therefore, some of what Paul writes speaks specifically to those issues. In this particular section, Paul addresses the problem of hyperspirituality, and a form of competition to see who could appear the most spiritual. There was an abundance of individuals either speaking in tongues almost the entire meeting, or at times individuals would give messages in tongues and then interpret for themselves if no one else did in an effort to appear super spiritual and exercised in the gifts. This was not God’s way, so Paul is trying to correct that with the instruction to pursue prophetic giftings more so than speaking or giving messages in tongues so often. He continues in the next section with instructions on how to operate in the gifts.
26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.1 Corinthians 14:26-40
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Paul here specifically addresses the hyperspiritual atmosphere in the church and gives rules for messages in tongues and interpretations, prophetic utterances, and other spiritual actions in church. He makes clear the fact that God is not the author of the confusion that pervades the church services, but in fact is the author of peace, which seems to be lacking in the church. Paul then makes a statement that has likely been misinterpreted by many when he says that women are not permitted to speak and should be silent in the church. While the cultural conventions of the day may have played a small part in this statement, the more egalitarian nature of much of the early church’s actions would deny that this was just in response to the societal norms of the first century world. Scholarship nows records some of the letters that would have come to Paul concerning this particular issue. It appears that the normal setup of the church meetings had men and women segregated on opposite sides of the room. When a wife did not understand the meaning of something that the speaker would say, she would call across the room to ask her husband for a more clear understanding. This created confusion and disruption of the speech or sermon, and made the operation of the service difficult at best, and perhaps impossible at worst. Therefore, Paul gives the instruction for the women to not interrupt the service with her questions, but rather to ask her husband at home for the explanation, thus keeping the flow of the service going. This was not meant to be a prohibition of women’s participation in the worship service, but rather an instruction to restore order in the services. He goes on to reestablish his role in the churches as an overseer, telling them that these instructions are the commandment of the Lord. He supports both prophecy and speaking in tongues, and then commands that all things be done decently and in order.
Today’s church is not a segregated arrangement. Men and women sit together in church, especially families. The principal, though, is still true. Don’t disrupt service unless it is truly from the Holy Spirit. That disruption is no disruption. It is a divine visitation, and it will seem decent and orderly, because God is in it. However, do not interrupt the flow of a service just to be heard or seen. The worship service is not for personal aggrandizement, but for the worship of Almighty God. Behave in a way that fosters that purpose, and none other. Order in the church is not meant to quench the Spirit, but rather to allow Him to be in control, not men and women. Be spiritual, but with respect for God and the others with whom you worship. Oh, and as Paul says, don’t be ignorant. Learn and be wise so that you may glorify God in His church.