The Irony of Doing All Things Decently and In Order
But be sure that everything is done properly and in order.
1 Corinthians 14:40
As a Presbyterian, I have heard someone quote 1 Corinthians 14:40 perhaps five hundred times. Seriously. This verse is beloved by Presbyterians, though usually in its King James Version form: "Let all things be done decently and in order." Presbyterians tend to crave decency and order. It's in our genes, our churches, our worship services, our committee processes, and just about everything we do as a church.
Now it's true that Christians who follow biblical teaching should, in fact, do everything "decently and in order." That's what 1 Corinthians 14:40 tells us to do. Christian gatherings, though inviting participation by all members, should not be a madhouse of embarrassing chaos. Rather, they should reflect a God who gives order to the world and expects us to do similarly.
But there is a great irony in the Presbyterian love for 1 Corinthians 14:40 and its demand for decency and order. This irony can be seen in the fact that among the five hundreds times I have heard this verse quoted by Presbyterians, I've almost never heard anyone include the prior verse. In context, here's what 14:40 actually says, "So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don't forbid speaking in tongues. But be sure that everything is done properly and in order" (14:39-4). Did you catch that? The "everything" of verse 40 refers quite specifically to the gifts of the Spirit, especially prophesy and speaking in tongues.
Now we Presbyterians love decency and order, but we can be quite a bit squeamish about spiritual gifts, in particular gifts like prophecy and tongues. Some Presbyterians even believe that those gifts are not to be exercised in today's church. Most Presbyterians acknowledge the possibility of tongues and prophecy today, but we're rather glad that these gifts seem to be reserved for other denominations or people in far away places. So, it's terribly ironic that the verse so beloved by Presbyterians is, in context, actually calling for the exercise of spiritual gifts, including those that we do not especially love.
If we allow the Word of God to speak plainly to us, then we are challenged to be open to everything that the Spirit of God wishes to do in us and through us. God wants to use and empower us in ways we have not yet imagined. Yet, as we experience the indwelling power of the Spirit, we are to be sure that our exercise of any gifts happens in a way that truly serves people and builds up the church. Thus we must be careful to do all things "decently and in order."
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How does decency and order contribute to the building up of the body of Christ? Are you open to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life? Why or why not?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, as a good Presbyterian, I am rather fond of decency and order. I am not comfortable with spontaneity and unpredictability. And, to be fully honest, I am not comfortable with gifts that are largely foreign to my Christian experience.
Yet my desire is to be taught and guided by your Word. I sense that I need to be more open to you than I have been. I need to be willing to be stretched in new ways of ministry. And I need to be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to do in and through me what the Spirit chooses to do. So help me, Lord, to make myself more available to you, without fear or hesitation.
At the same time, help me to discern how best to minister in the power of your Spirit, doing all things "decently and in order." Give me greater sensitivity to the people around me and to the organizations in which I am called to serve. Help me to be a peacemaker in my relationships and institutions, even as I am a channel of your power. Amen.