Friday, February 12, 2021

Not now, not here

1 Corinthians 14:27–33 presents us with some scenarios that should surprise us, if we're paying attention. In the first, we have someone in the assembly who wants to speak in a tongue, but there is no interpreter. So he is told to speak to himself and to God, but not out loud (1 Corinthians 14:28). In the second, we have someone who is prophesying – giving a word from the Lord – but someone else rises to speak, so he is to sit down and let the other person speak (1 Corinthians 14:30). And then we're given a remarkable statement, "spirits of prophets are subject to prophets" (1 Corinthians 14:32).

What's surprising here is that the text treats both the tongues-speaker and the interrupted prophet as having a legitimate thing from God. Neither one is treated as "out of order" in what they would say, but they would be "out of order" to say it at that time, in that place.

In other words, we are responsible to assess the situation, see how it lines up with 1 Corinthians 14, and then possibly refuse to say what the Spirit of God has given us to say. It's entirely possible that He will give us something to say, and then expect us not to say it, according to 1 Corinthians 14:32.

The first few times I experienced this, I tended to echo the disciples in John 9:2, "Who is in sin? Is it me for thinking I had something from the Lord? Or is it that other guy who stood up third, so now I can't?" But I've come to understand it might be more like the Lord's answer to the disciples, "Neither you nor he sinned, but this is the for the glory of God" (John 9:3).

There is a story in the Old Testament that seems appropriate to bring up here. David had a genuine exercise to build a temple for the Lord (2 Samuel 7:1–2). Nathan the prophet recognized it was a genuine exercise from the Lord, and told him so (2 Samuel 7:3). But the Lord spoke to Nathan, and told him that it would be David's son, not David, who would build the temple (2 Samuel 7:4–17).

So I've become a little more comfortable with the idea that I've gotten a genuine exercise from the Lord, but it wasn't ever His intention for me to be the one to act on it.

I'm not saying that third guy who stood up to speak in the assembly wasn't wrong to do so. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. I confess there are a lot of times someone stands up and I am quite convinced they had nothing to say. But to be honest, there are a lot of times someone else stood up, and it was a great act of love for me not to roll my eyes... but then someone else would tell me afterwards that they felt the Lord gave them something they really needed in that message. In other words, He knew much better than I what was best for the assembly.

And that's the big lesson in 1 Corinthians 14. There is real responsibility in the assembly, but at the end of the day, the Lord doesn't need me. He is perfectly capable of doing what is best for the believers there without my help. 

Underneath a whole lot of what we do is the fear that if we don't intervene, things will go sideways. That's not even close to what Scripture teaches. God who raises the dead might well use me, but He certainly doesn't need me.


Rodger said...

This is an intriguing post, Mark. Looking over the whole biblical history, do you think there are other examples of this principle at work in the ways of God?

Your last paragraph reminds me of something that Darby, Kelly, etc., used to teach: that if we make arrangements to preempt every exigency we actually stand in the way of the exercise that God wants to put us through, and deny the Holy Spirit His free activity. Wish I had some extracts for that...

HandWrittenWord said...

Well said, Mark.
I do have one question:
I am unfamiliar with the use of the word, "exercise",
as in "David had a genuine exercise to...", etc.
Please clarify (and forgive my ignorance!).

clumsy ox said...

I'm sorry, I allowed a little brethrenese to slip into that post! I didn't even realize I had done it until I read your comment.

"Brethren" use the term exercise to mean prompting of conscience, presumably by the Holy Spirit. I think (but I'm not positive) it's an allusion to Hebrews 5:14 – "full-grown men, who, on account of habit, have their senses exercised for distinguishing both good and evil." I've also known people to say they "have a conscience" about something or other. It seems to me when someone says they have an exercise, they feel like the Lord is leading them to something. When someone says they have a conscience, they're not claiming it's from the Lord per se, it could well be they recognize it's a Romans 14 issue.

Actually, this is leading into an interesting discussion that might be better as part of another post.

In this case, my point is that David perceived God's intent, whether because the Holy Spirit was leading him to it, or perhaps he was just spiritually in tune with God. Either way, he understood what God intended. And he made preparations for the work too, even though he wasn't himself doing it.

HandWrittenWord said...

Very helpful. Thanks!