In some ways this is the Presbyterian chapter. If you look at vs. 40 you will find that it is a verse that is often repeated within the church. We are people who like to do things decently and in order. But, when we do things decently and in order, then they sometimes take more time than we want. But it is time well spent. I’ll never forget a member of our church who ran for judge, and was eventually elected, had a town hall meeting in our church and someone asked: As a Christian, how can you put up with things taking so long at the judicial level. He answered using this verse reminding us that we are a people who like things done decently and in order. When things are done too quickly, especially in the field of law, then people can be easily overlooked. If mistakes are made, they could be made in a way that might sacrifice the future of an individual. This is not acceptable. That is why we do things decently and in order, but slowly.
This is a very long chapter, I recognize that, and Paul covers a whole bunch of different topics here. For some reason he says some unkind words for those who speak in tongues. It seems to me that there was a problem in the church where people would stand up and speak in tongues and there would be confusion. He gives very specific instructions on how people were to speak in tongues. They were to stand and speak one at a time only if there was someone there to interpret. If there was not someone there to interpret then they were not to speak in tongues. If there was not an interpreter then they were to stay silent and in the quiet of their house they could speak in tongues. Okay, wait, what? What do you mean speak in tongues? Some are given a gift to speak in tongues which allows them to freely and without restrictions speak to God in a personal way. Even Presbyterians are given this gift. The key is that it is in a personal way and it does not serve to build up the community, but rather the individual. I do not have the gift of speaking in tongues. I have never seen someone speak in tongues in a church the way it is supposed to be done. I have seen an individual speak in tongues in their own, in the quiet of their privacy, the way it is supposed to be. But that was only one time. We should never quench the Spirit (I Thessalonians 5:19), but we should not take advantage of the Spirit to put forward our own desires and wishing to puff ourselves up.
Paul here as a foil uses prophecy as the ideal to show the differences between the two. Prophecy, Paul states, builds up the community, tongues instead, builds up the individual. Okay, now you are getting really weird. What do you mean prophecy? Have you forgotten that we are in a Presbyterian church? We don’t speak in tongues and we certainly don’t pretend to prophesy. What is prophesy? Prophesy is not a prediction of what the future will hold, but rather a word of caution or advice in regards to how the Lord is going to act. The book of Revelation does not predict the future, but rather allows us to understand that Jesus is coming, and when he does we have to be ready and the best way to be ready is to not compromise. The prophesy in Revelation is not predictive, but rather prescriptive. We are given everything we need to prepare ourselves for when the ends times come. It is written to prepare us. So Paul here states that the words that people speak within the church that prepare us for the future are words that need to be heard.
When we had our gathering of young families we heard words not of desire, not of preferences, but really words of prophecy that told us: we must allow the children to come unto us and not necessarily on our terms, but on theirs. I love that prophetic word that was spoken as the parents were trying to bring their children to Jesus and the disciples tried to prevent it. I never, ever, want to be in the place of the disciples who were preventing the children from getting to Jesus. I also love the way in which Paul attributes words of prophecy, or words of warning or preparation to the church, to the mind. Jesus came to take our sins away, not our minds. That is a very Presbyterian statement. We value highly the intellect, sometimes at the cost of the heart. But at least it seems that Paul takes our side on this issue.