Lest the original audience of 1 Corinthians miss Paul’s main point in chapter 14 of the epistle, the Apostle concludes his directions on worship and the exercise of spiritual gifts in the corporate setting by restating his two chief points. One last time, he calls for the church to esteem prophecy and to do all things “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:39–40).
The first point may seem difficult for us to apply today since we have seen that the gifts of prophecy and tongues have ceased. There is good biblical witness for this position, but there is also ample historical evidence. Very early in church history, the church fathers noted that the gift of tongues had passed away. Moreover, groups that claimed to possess it, at least in the first few centuries of the church, were invariably heretical. The passing of prophecy is a bit more complicated. The same early church fathers understood that prophecy in the sense of an infallible, divinely inspired utterance also passed away. However, they came to understand biblical preachers as standing in the line of the prophets in a lesser way. This actually makes good sense, since the chief work of the biblical prophets involved applying the law of God with its promised blessings and cursings to the circumstances of the prophets’ contemporary audiences. The faithful preaching of God’s Word in the new covenant church does the same thing through fallible men, so while the gift of prophecy has ceased, the Lord continues to raise up men to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2). Thus, although we cannot desire to prophesy in the sense of looking for the spiritual gift of prophecy, we can earnestly desire the faithful teaching of God’s Word in our churches.
Before moving on to his next topic, Paul concludes today’s passage with a final admonition to do all things decently and in order. This is vital for faithful church ministry and the edification of God’s people. Perhaps no one applies this point better than Matthew Henry: “Manifest indecencies and disorders are to be carefully kept out of all Christian churches, and every part of divine worship. They should have nothing in them that is childish, absurd, ridiculous, wild, or tumultuous; but all parts of divine worship should be carried on in a . . . composed, and orderly manner. God is not to be dishonored, nor his worship disgraced, by our unbecoming and disorderly performance of it and attendance at it.”