In this passage, Paul gives instructions on how the church service was to be run. And the main thing to him was that there was to be order, not chaos, in the church.
For that reason, if someone spoke in tongues, only two at a time could do so, and there had to be interpretation. If there was no interpretation, they were to pray in tongues silently. In short, if they weren’t building people up during the service, they were to be silent.
There was also to be order concerning prophesy. Only one person could speak at a time and what was said had to be weighed carefully. Weighed by what? First and foremost by scripture. Is what was said consistent with what scripture teaches, for God will never contradict himself. Second, the inner testimony of the Spirit by those who hear. And third, if what the prophet said is actually true or comes true.
In addition, as with tongues, there shouldn’t be a bunch of people speaking out prophesies all at the same time, lest there be confusion as to what is said.
Then we have this thing about women being silent. There are numerous different interpretations on the passage. I don’t think it’s saying women have to be completely silent for two reasons. For one thing, we already saw in chapter 11 that Paul takes for granted that women pray and prophesy in the service. Second, when Paul elaborates on his meaning in this passage, he speaks specifically of women asking questions about what is being taught.
In church services today, a pastor or teacher speaks uninterrupted. That’s taken for granted in this day and age. Apparently, this was not the case for the Corinthian women. Some have speculated that the men and women were sitting apart from each other as they did in the Jewish synagogue and that women were calling across the room to their husbands asking for an explanation.
Whether that’s true or not, it does seem that the women were interrupting what was going on. So Paul specifically says,
If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home. (35)
He mentions nothing about women praying or prophesying or anything else, just inquiries. On the other hand, Paul had just said that everyone should bring something, a hymn, word of instruction, etc, in order to strengthen the church. (26)
So what can we get from this? Some people were apparently disrupting the church by speaking in tongues without interpretation. Others seemed to be shouting down what others were saying because “God led them,” to speak. Others were interrupting the Word of the Lord by their constant questions. And all of this hurt the strengthening of the church.
We may not face these problems now, but are you doing things that are hurting the strengthening of the church? Instead of praying for people’s problems, are you gossiping about them? Instead of encouraging others, are you constantly criticizing them? Are you, because of your pride, refusing to help others with the same gifts as you, for fear that they might surpass you?
Are you hurting the strengthening of the church by your negative actions? Are you doing nothing for the strengthening of the church because of your passivity or selfishness? Or are you actually contributing to the strengthening of the church? I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to be the latter. Which of the three describes you?