Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. – 1 Corinthians 14:29-33
Should a preacher teach in series? Should he prepare a sermon? Should he wait until he steps in the pulpit to “get a thought” or should he be prepared? Can he preach through a book of the Bible from beginning to end or does that quench the Spirit?
The above text from 1 Corinthians 14 (giving practical insight into preaching decor, if you will) seems to answer these questions and many more. The ministry (in this text, the prophets) has been given some discretion over what they teach and how they teach. The context of 1 Corinthians 14 is not “subject matter,” but Paul’s instruction is based on a principle principle that can apply to the topic a man preaches or the way we approach a subject.
A minister should indeed seek to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. We are called of God. We are enabled of God. We should also be led of God. But where in scripture does it say that God only moves at the last minute? Where does it say a man doesn’t get his message for Sunday morning until Friday afternoon? Simple. It doesn’t. The idea that preparing a sermon or preaching a series is wrong is alien to the Scriptures.* It is a tradition of men.
The language “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” indicates that a preacher has some authority to use common sense and wisdom in the presentation of a message and even the subject matter at hand. We have all acted in this manner whether we realize it or not. How many times has a thought “struck our mind” that pertains to a tension within the bodies we serve? More than likely, we were reacting to our circumstance. The words subject to teach subjection. As a wife is subject to her husband and as the church is subject to Christ, so are the spirits of the prophets subject to the prophets. Paul’s words – not mine.
It’s common to preach “what’s on my mind” but, as men, we all have our favorite doctrines. Some have hobby horses or axes to grind. Yet, Paul preached the whole counsel of God and held back nothing profitable (Acts 20) and we should do the likewise.
Simply put, a man can govern his behavior in the pulpit. We aren’t puppets on a string. In fact, were I controlled via Divine robotics, I imagine my sermons would be much more precise and effective. (Hold the ‘Amens’ please.)
My thoughts usually develop in such a way that one hour is not enough. No surprise – we are learning an infinite topic, an Eternal God. Judging by my experience in the pew, this is common. How many sermons have you heard where there was much less time than subject matter? A great number, I would suppose. Because of this, I break down subjects into parts and slow down to explore things more deeply.This isn’t an attempt to force my habits on another; I am only sharing what has been helpful to me.
Another way to ensure a thorough consideration of God’s will is to preach, study, or read cover to cover throughout a book of the Bible. This forces us out of our habits, God’s word bursting forth with concepts we might not pick of our own volition. It is also something which was done in the first century, making it distinctly Primitive (Colossians 4:16). In my brief seven years as a pastor, we have studied through James, Hebrews, Proverbs, 1 Corinthians, 1 John, Matthew’s Kingdom Parables, and the Acts of the Apostles. My meager efforts in dissecting these books have proven to be very beneficial to me and also to the flock I am attempting to serve. I feel comfortable in saying this practice forces me into preaching all the counsel of God.
In studying Acts, you begin to see a pattern develop in Paul’s ministry. He had a “manner.” In fact, Acts 17:2 tells us Paul’s manner, upon entering a new city, was to target the local Synagogue in attempt to spread the truth. Point being – Paul had a manner about him. A method. A strategy. He wasn’t random or haphazard. Further, when asked of the Gentiles in Acts 13 to return unto them the following week and preach the same “words” he had spoken unto the Jews, Paul complied.
In a word, God has given us some degree of discretion. Discretion is defined as “the freedom to decide what should be done in a given situation.” We are stewards, not puppets. Let each prayerfully seek to serve his Lord with the talents God has given him, to the glory and honor of Christ.
Ben Winslett, November 2013
*This doesn’t mean that God can’t give a man a message “on the fly.” Certainly He has and does, especially when confronted with unexpected circumstances. Yet, this should not be the normal experience in the pulpit.