“Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor 14:40)
Two ideas come together in this short verse. They are the “what” and the “how” of what Paul has been talking about in 1 Corinthians 12-14. He’s trying to give practical principles for how to do church without resorting to a deadening legalism (Do this! Don’t do that!).
He talks about spiritual gifts of tongues, interpretation, prophecy, words of knowledge and wisdom etc (the “What should happen in church?”); then he moves in chapter 13 to the How these things operate (Clue: in love….).
Chapter 14 nails down some essential points, and this verse represents a summing-up. “What” should be done? “All things.” Don’t neglect a single thing. And “How” should they be done?
Decently and in order.
The word “decently” is the Greek word euschemonos. Other than this verse, the word euschemonos is only found two other times in the New Testament — in Romans 13:13 and in First Thessalonians 4:12. In both of these places, it is translated to do something honestly or to walk honestly. It carries the notion of something that is done properly as opposed to improperly. It has to do with intent and motivation more than outward action, although such a good intention always results in right actions.
The word “order” is the Greek word taksis. It carries the idea of something done in a fitting way or something done according to order. The Jewish historian Josephus used the word taksis when he recorded the orderly way in which the Roman army erected their camps — indicating their camps were orderly, organized, and well-planned. The commanders didn’t engage in last-minute planning. Their camps were not hastily thrown together but rather set up in an organized and thoughtful manner.
Josephus also uses the word taksis to describe the way the Essene Jews were respectful of others. These Jews would wait until others were finished speaking before they’d take their turn and speak out. In Josephus’ depiction of this behavior among the Essenes, he used the word taksis to picture people who were respectful, deferential, courteous, accommodating, well-mannered, and polite.
Taking these meanings into account, 1 Cor 14:40 could be translated:
“Let everything be done in a fitting and proper manner that is organized, well-planned, respectful, well-mannered, and polite.”