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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 14:40 In a proper and orderly way

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, July 4, 2023

40 But all things should be done in a proper and orderly way.

The term “a proper way” (or “decently”) is used by Paul a few times: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime” (Romans 13:13), and “conduct yourselves decently toward outsiders” (1 Thessalonians 4:12). It is related to the adjective “respectable, prominent,” as in “a number of prominent Greek women” (Acts 17:12).

“Orderly” is often used as a reference to a body of troops or even angels, or of the orderly composition of words or propositions in a book. The early Church Father Clement of Rome describes the good works God sets in our path as “the depths of the divine knowledge we ought to do, in order” (1 Clement 40:1).

Paul uses these words to describe our goal in worship; we must endeavor to avoid the riotous behavior of the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai, when “the people were running wild and Aaron had let them get out of control, and so became a laughingstock to their enemies” (Exodus 32:25). But it has become commonplace to use this verse in larger matters of the work of the church, as we confess in the Apology: “Although the holy Fathers themselves had rites and traditions, they did not regard them as useful or necessary for justification (being saved). They did not obscure the glory or work of Christ but taught that we are justified by faith for Christ’s sake, not for the sake of these human rites. They observed these human rites because they were profitable for good order, because they gave the people a set time to assemble, because they provided an example of how all things could be done decently and in order in the churches, and finally because they helped instruct the common folk” (AP XV:20).

Do we overuse this passage? I have heard it used in meetings to counter a proposal to do something in a different way; in that sense it can be abused. At the same time, it is often forgotten by our people who want to run ahead in a new project without consulting the pastor or the various boards of the church. When we quote this verse, we should do it correctly and with the right context in mind—which is surely how we should quote and apply all of the verses of the Bible.

Paul is summarizing his point about worship in general. What was happening in Corinth must have approached the “out of control” Israelites at Sinai. Therefore Paul has given at least a dozen cautions about the potential abuses to do with speaking in tongues, and he has called out four specific groups to remain silent in the churches. There is an axiom today in work groups: “When everyone is in charge, then no one is in charge.” This must not happen when it comes to worship. It is not everyone’s role to plan the service, to pick a preacher, or to plan something to say or sing. This is why Paul says: “All things should be done in a proper and orderly way.”

When we overstep this, we fall into sins against the Third and Fourth Commandments in particular, and perhaps others. Christ our Savior has offered us forgiveness for these sins, but let us recognize them as sins. Let us turn away from rebellion against the guidance of our pastors and those others who have been called to serve, from rebellion against the authority of the Word of God, and from rebellion against Christian worship when we think a change would appeal to us better. At the same time, our leaders must always carry the good of our people in their hearts, considering and praying for what is best in worship, where the Gospel will predominate, the people will participate, and our best gifts will be publicly used.

The forgiveness offered by Christ covers over all. It doesn’t miss anything, like a blanket that is too short to cover your feet, but it covers everything and warms and comforts us with Christ’s affection and grace, and brings us safely and snugly into everlasting life. “Love covers over all wrongs” between men (Proverbs 10:12), but Christ’s love covers every wrong and every sin of men before God.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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