Various kinds of meetings
In the previous message we covered the principles of the meetings. In this message we will cover the practice of the meetings. According to the Bible, there are generally five different kinds of meetings — the gospel meeting, the bread-breaking meeting, the prayer meeting, the meeting for the exercise of the gifts, and the meeting for the preaching of the Word. The Bible shows us these five kinds of meetings during the apostles’ time. Today, if the church is to be strong, it must have these five kinds of meetings. We must know how to meet in a proper way in each kind of meeting. If we do, we will receive the profit from these meetings.
I. The gospel meeting
In the four Gospels, Acts, and the beginning of church history, the gospel meeting was always a very important meeting. After the church had become degraded, by the third and fourth century, the gospel meeting gradually lost its place and was replaced by teaching meetings. In order for the church to be strong, it must recover the place of the gospel meeting.
The church exists on earth not only for the purpose of building up itself but also so that others might know Christ. As far as the building up of the church is concerned, the gift of the evangelist can be relegated the last place. However, as soon as the church starts to spread out, the gift of the evangelist becomes the first gift. Philip’s journey to Samaria in Acts 8 is a strong proof of this. God first sends evangelists out to gain people to Himself with their gifts. We must change our old habit, the habit of meeting only for listening to messages. Instead, we must pay much attention to the gospel meeting.
If a brother learns to participate in the preaching of the gospel immediately after he believes in the Lord, he will not pick up the habit of sitting in pews and listening to messages. Instead, he will pick up the habit of preaching the gospel. In the gospel meeting everyone should participate actively in the work; no one should sit passively to listen to the message with little concern for the salvation of others.
The gospel meeting is a time when the whole church is mobilized. Every brother and sister has his or her responsibility. Everyone should pray much before the meeting. Those brothers who are more advanced in life and prominent in gifts can serve as the oracles for the gospel. The rest of the saints should pray in one accord for the speaking brothers, that the latter may release the gospel with power. It is possible to have two or three brothers speaking at one meeting. But do not try to have more than three. When there are too many speakers, the audience will be confused.
How should a brother or sister come to a gospel meeting?
First, everyone must be clear that the gospel message is not for themselves but for the unbelievers. This may sound simple. But many brothers and sisters who attend the gospel meeting forget that the testifying brother is not testifying to them but to the unbelievers. Never come as a spectator, and never come to the meeting in a cold or uncooperative way. We do not have to be concerned whether the speaking is good or bad. Our goal is to save people and to cooperate with the meeting.
Second, if possible, all the brothers and sisters should attend this meeting. Do not think that since you are saved you no longer need to go to the gospel meeting. It is true that you are saved. But there are things you can do in the gospel meeting. You should go to the meeting not to listen to the gospel but to work. No one should be lazy in the gospel meeting. Some brothers and sisters say, “I already understand everything about the gospel. I do not need to come to such a meeting.” But coming to the gospel meeting has nothing to do with whether or not you already understand the gospel. You already understand everything about the bread-breaking meeting. Why then do you still go? You must go to the gospel meeting because you need to help the meeting. You also need to go because you have a part in it.
Third, every time there is a gospel meeting, you must bring some people to it. Send out invitations to your friends and relatives. Invite them a few days ahead of time or one to two weeks before the meeting is to be held. Sometimes God will give you the grace, and you can bring ten or twenty people to the meeting. If you have that many, ask others to help you take care of them. Take care of three or four yourself and ask others to take care of the rest. You should not bring any people to the meeting without taking care of them properly.
Do not arrive at a gospel meeting at the last minute. All the ones who attend the gospel meeting must be well prepared ahead of time. Make clear to the ones whom you have invited where you will wait for them. Perhaps you should go to their house and escort them to the meeting. Always give yourself a little more time. Avoid the situation where the meeting has started and yet your friend has not arrived.
Fourth, after bringing a friend to the meeting, take care of him during the meeting.
A. Sitting beside him
An unbeliever does not know where to sit when he comes to the meeting hall. You must let him know where he should sit. If the ushers in the hall have made an arrangement already, you must cooperate with them. If you bring one person to the meeting, you must sit beside him. If you bring two, sit between them. If you bring three or four, sit with one or two on each side of you. Do not take care of more than four people; you will be busy enough taking care of four. If you bring more, ask other brothers or sisters to take care of them. Keep two persons at the most on each side. The way we sit is very important. In the meeting we have to sit beside the invited ones.
B. Looking up the verses and the hymns and explaining the terms
There are many things to do while sitting next to gospel friends. You have to help them find the verses when the Scripture is quoted in a message. If the speaker mentions a word or term that requires explanation, you have to explain it to your friend softly. You have to pick up what the speaker misses. Your voice must not be loud. Speak softly but clearly. A brother once preached the gospel to a big audience. He began by saying, “You all know the story of the Israelites coming out of Egypt.” Another brother went over to him and said, “These people do not know who the Israelites are; nor do they know anything about Egypt.” This shows us that it is best for the speaking brother to avoid words that unbelievers do not understand. At the same time, the brothers and sisters who are sitting in the audience should help fill up the lack. If they come across this situation, they should explain to the gospel friends immediately and in a very simple way that the Israelites are Jews, that Egypt is a country, and that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, but later they came out of Egypt. Explain these things to your friends in a simple way.
You must also look up the hymns for your friends. Many hymns have chorus lines that need to be repeated. You must help your friends repeat these lines.
C. Paying attention to your friends’ response and praying for them
You have to be watchful before the Lord concerning your friends’ response. If you feel that the response of the one sitting beside you is not good during the preaching, you can pray in secret, saying, “Lord, soften his heart.” If you feel that he is proud, you can pray, “Lord, break his pride.” The success of a gospel meeting in the church depends on the condition of all the brothers and sisters. If all the brothers and sisters attend the gospel meeting and if all participate in the work together, there will be a free way for the gospel to spread. You must pay attention to the new ones and observe their response to the message. These are the ones you have brought to the meeting; you know their condition. Your eyes must be fixed on them, and you must pray for them, saying, “Lord, move his heart and make him understand. Lord, touch him. Take away his pride so that he can hear and receive Your word.” Sometimes you may feel that the brothers on the podium should say certain things. You may feel that they should talk about certain subjects. You can pray, “Lord, cause the brother to speak such a word to meet this man’s need.” Many times the brother on the podium will say the very words that you have prayed for, as if he has heard your petition. It is important for you to take care of the ones beside you by praying for them.
D. Helping them to receive the Lord
Once you feel that they are touched by the message, you should help them to receive the Lord. You have to usher the word of the Lord into their hearts by prayer. You have to carry God’s word to them and capture their heart by praying, “Lord, let him hear this word. Lord, let this word hit him hard. Lord, let this word shine so that he may see.”
When the speaker starts “pulling in the net,” that is, sounding the call, we must encourage them to respond, saying, “Please do not miss this opportunity. I hope you will receive the Lord.” We must give them a push when we see that they are touched but are hesitating. Since Satan is doing his best to hold them back, it is wrong for us to shy away from pushing them. Satan works in men’s hearts to hinder them from receiving the Lord, while we are trying to push them to believe from their heart. In the gospel meeting we need to help our friends receive salvation. When the brother at the podium invites people to receive the Lord, we have to observe our friends’ reactions closely. If they are touched at all, we have to do our part by saying, “You should believe and receive the Lord now. If you do not receive, you will suffer in eternity.” Our tone should be serious and sober. This will have an effect on them.
Please remember one principle: In trying to save people, do not analyze whether or not they will be saved. Do not analyze whether or not they are predestinated by God. Our hearts and minds should be set on their receiving salvation. We have to bring them to the Lord and not let them go until they are saved.
E. Helping them to write down their names
After the meeting, help them write down their names if there is the need for them to leave their names. Help them write if they do not know how to write. If some ask why they should leave their names, say, “We want your name so that we can come and visit you.” Write out their addresses clearly. Mark down the area, the street, and the street numbers of their homes so that others can find them when they want to visit them.
F. Leading them to pray
You have helped them up to this point. But your job is not completed yet. You still have to lead them to pray with you. If you cannot make it by yourself, ask other brothers or sisters to help you pray with them. Never be careless. Work on them until you feel at peace to send them home.
G. Bringing saints along to visit them until they are saved
After your friends have gone home, you have to visit them. The first time you visit, you should bring one or two brothers or sisters along with you. This is part of your job. When the church arranges for visitation, you have to accompany the brothers and sisters to your friends’ house and talk to them. It is not enough for certain people to hear the gospel once. You have to invite them a second and third time until they are finally saved.
May the Lord help us take the way of recovery. We should consider the gospel meeting a very important meeting. In this meeting every brother and sister has something to do. Everyone is living; no one is lazy. Everyone is active. Once such an atmosphere is raised up, the church will have a great turn, and the gospel meeting will become a working meeting for the whole church.
If the number of people in a local church is small and the format of the meeting simple, one does not have to follow all the details given above. But in principle, every brother and sister should have great regard for the gospel meeting. Everyone is responsible, and everyone should actively advance the gospel and bring people to salvation in one accord.
II. The bread-breaking meeting
In 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 the Bible speaks of two things concerning the bread-breaking meeting. When Paul speaks of the bread in 11:24, he refers to the Lord’s physical body, saying, “And having given thanks, He broke it and said, This is My body, which is given for you; this do unto the remembrance of Me.” Christ’s body was given up for us. Through this our sins were forgiven, and we obtained life. The basic thought in this verse is to remember the Lord. First Corinthians 10:17 provides another view, saying, “Seeing that there is one bread, we who are many are one Body; for we all partake of the one bread.” The bread in chapter eleven denotes the Lord’s physical body, while the bread in chapter ten denotes us. In other words, chapter eleven emphasizes our remembrance of the Lord, while chapter ten emphasizes our fellowship among God’s children.
Hence, we see two significant aspects of the bread-breaking meeting. One is upward towards heaven; we remember the Lord. Another is centered on the bread on the table, which signifies us, the children of God, having fellowship with each other. Each one of us has a part in this bread. We are all part of this one bread. You have received the Lord and so have I. This entitles us to the same fellowship in the Lord. Hence, the breaking of bread signifies our coming to the Lord to fellowship with Him, as well as our coming together in fellowship with the children of God.
Every bread-breaking meeting should have two sections, because there are two parts to our salvation. In the first part of our salvation, we discovered that we were sinners, destined for judgment and death. But the Lord had mercy on us. He came to this earth and died for us. The Lord saved us and shed His blood to forgive us. Our sins were forgiven once we accepted the Lord Jesus’ blood. This is the first part of our salvation. But salvation does not stop here. After we are saved, the Lord Jesus becomes ours and we belong to Him. He brings us before God and makes His Father our Father. The Holy Spirit within also teaches us to cry, “Abba, Father!” (Rom. 8:14-16). This is the second part of salvation. In other words, the first section of salvation has to do with the Lord, and the second section has to do with the Father. In the first section we are forgiven. In the second section we are accepted by God. When we are saved, we become related to the Lord; this is the first part of the story. In the second part we become related to God. We approach the Lord from the position of being a sinner, and through Him we come to the Father. First we meet the Lord, and then we meet the Father. This is why the Bible says, “Everyone who denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). Salvation has to do with the Son; it is something to do with the Lord. Salvation also has to do with the Father; this is something that has to do with God. No one can come to the Father except through the Son. First we have to come to the Lord. First we must come to the cross to receive forgiveness, to have the righteous One take the place of the unrighteous, before we can be brought by the Lord to the Father. Hence, we do not come to the Father to receive salvation. Rather, we come to the Son to obtain salvation. Then we come to the Father. First we are forgiven, then we are accepted. We must see this clearly.
The bread-breaking meeting is for remembering the Lord. Since the Lord’s salvation consists of two parts, the bread-breaking meeting should also have two parts. Before breaking the bread, we remember the Son. After breaking the bread, we turn our attention to the Father. The part before breaking the bread is for the Lord, and the part after breaking the bread is for God.
When we come to the Lord, we find out that we were sinners. We were sons of disobedience, sons of wrath under God’s judgment. We had no way to save ourselves. But because the Lord Jesus shed His blood for our redemption, we can come before the Lord to receive His life. When we were sinners, we came to the Lord. When we saw how our sins were forgiven, we also came to Him. Hence, during the first part of the bread-breaking meeting, all our hymns, thanksgiving, and praises should be directed toward the Lord.
When we come to the Lord, we should offer thanksgiving and praises to Him. Strictly speaking, we should not do anything other than offer thanksgiving and praises. It is improper to petition for anything in this meeting. We cannot ask the Lord to shed His blood for us. This has already been accomplished; there is no longer any need to ask for this. We just have to praise and give thanks. Whether it is through praying or singing, we should only thank and praise Him. Thanksgiving is directed at the Lord’s work, while praise is directed at the Lord Himself. We give thanks for what He has done, and we praise Him for what He is. At the beginning there is more thanksgiving. But gradually we turn to praise. As we give thanks we also praise. We see what a wonderful work He has done for us, and we also see what a wonderful Savior He is. After we have offered up enough thanksgiving, we should begin to praise. When our praise reaches the peak, then is the time for us to break bread.
The second part begins after we break bread. The Lord does not want us to stop once we have come to Him. We must receive the Lord, but it does not stop there. It is wonderful that the Father received us when we received the Lord. We have to be clear about this. Through the gospel, we receive the Lord, not the Father. The Bible does not say that we should receive the Father. It always says that we should receive the Son. Nevertheless, we ourselves are received by the Father. Because we receive the Son, the Father considers us acceptable. To receive the Son is the first half of salvation. When the Father receives us, salvation is complete. The Son is the One we receive; this is the first half. God is the One who receives us; this completes the other half. Hence, after breaking the bread, we go to the Father. We have received and met the Lord. Now He brings us to the Father. This is the second part of our bread-breaking meeting. We should go to God and praise Him in this part of the meeting.
Psalm 22 has two sections. The first section is from verse 1 through verse 21, which speaks of how the Lord bore our shame, how He suffered pain, and how He was forsaken by the Father. This section refers to the Lord’s death for us on the cross. The second section begins from verse 22 and continues until the end. This section speaks of the Lord leading His many “brothers” in their praise to God in the midst of the assembly. In other words, the first section is our remembrance of the Lord, and the second section is the Lord bringing us to the Father to praise Him.
On the day the Lord Jesus resurrected, He said to Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17). In earlier chapters in the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus addressed the Father as “My Father” or just “Father.” But here He says, “My Father and your Father.” When we receive the Lord’s death and resurrection into us, His Father becomes our Father. The three parables in Luke 15 show us the good Shepherd and then the loving Father. The good Shepherd comes to seek us, whereas the loving Father waits for us at home. The good Shepherd left His home to seek the lost sheep, but the loving Father accepts us at home. We have met the good Shepherd. Now we are going to meet the Father. Therefore, during the second part of the meeting, all hymns and prayers should be directed toward the Father. We meet the Son during the first part of the bread-breaking meeting. During the second part, the Lord brings us to the Father. The Holy Spirit is the One who conducts the meeting, and He always conducts us this way in this meeting. The leading of the Holy Spirit will not go against the principle of salvation. We need to learn to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. If we give Him the freedom, He will lead us in such a way.
Hebrews 2 shows us that the Lord Jesus is bringing many sons into glory. When the Lord Jesus was on earth, He was the only begotten Son of God; He was the only One. But He died and resurrected. Now we have received Him and have become God’s sons. The Lord Jesus is the firstborn Son, and we are the many sons. Verse 12 says, “In the midst of the church I will sing hymns of praise to You.” The meeting spoken of in Hebrews 2 is the meeting of the firstborn Son with the many sons singing praises to the Father. The second part of the bread-breaking meeting is precisely this meeting of the firstborn Son with the many sons. We should learn to raise our spirit to the peak in this part of the meeting. The second part of the bread-breaking meeting is the best time on earth for us to sing praises to the Father. We need to learn to raise our spirits to the height in this section of the meeting.
God is enthroned “upon the praises of Israel” (Psa. 22:3). The more the church of God praises, the more it touches the throne. The more a person praises, the more he knows the throne. Let us read together one stanza of a hymn:
Father, to Thee a joyful song we raise
With all Thine own;
And in Thy presence sound a note of praise
To Thee alone;
Bro’t nigh, bro’t home to Thee — O wondrous grace,
That gives us now with Thine own Son our place.
This is a very good hymn. It touches the sentiment of the Son leading many sons to the praise of the Father. It is difficult to find another song like this one.
The meeting spoken of in Hebrews 2 is the best meeting. Today we are learning a little. One day, when we are in heaven, we will meet to our delight and satisfaction. But before we enter into glory, we should experience the firstborn Son leading many sons to praise the Father and experience praising the Father in the midst of the church. This is the highest peak that a church meeting can ever reach. It is something very glorious.
III. The prayer meeting
The gospel meeting and the bread-breaking meeting are important meetings, and the prayer meeting is also important. Every kind of meeting has its own characteristic and place. The prayer meeting can be considered as both an easy meeting and a very difficult meeting. New believers should learn some lessons in this matter.
A. Praying in one accord
The basic requirement for brothers and sisters to pray together is to be in one accord. In Matthew 18 the Lord tells us to be in harmony, that is, in one accord. The prayer in Acts 1 was also a prayer in one accord. Hence, the first condition for carrying out a prayer meeting is to have the one accord. No one should come to the prayer meeting with a different mind. If we want to have a prayer meeting, we must ask in one accord.
“If two of you are in harmony on earth concerning any matter for which they ask, it will be done for them from My Father who is in the heavens” (Matt. 18:19). This is a very strong word. In Greek the word harmony refers to music. Consider three persons — one playing the piano, another playing the accordion, and the third playing the flute. When they play together and one plays out of tune, the sound will be very irritating. The Lord wants all of us to pray in harmony, not with different tunes. If we can be in harmony, then whatever we ask, God will accomplish. Whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. The basic condition is to be in harmony. We must learn to be in harmony before God. We should not pray capriciously with everyone still holding to his or her own idea.
B. Being specific
How can our prayers be in harmony? Perhaps the biggest problem in our prayer meeting is that we bring up too many subjects. Once there are too many subjects in the prayer meeting, it is impossible to have harmony. Some prayer meetings have so many subjects that the meetings are an all-inclusive bazaar. We cannot find such a meeting in the Bible. What we see in the Bible is men praying for specific matters. When Peter was imprisoned, the church prayed for him fervently (Acts 12:5). They did not pray for many things but for one specific thing. When the subject is specific, it is easy to pray in harmony.
It is better to pray for only one thing in every prayer meeting. We may pray specifically for a brother or a sister, or we may pray specifically for sickness among the brothers and sisters. In these cases, it is better to pray for one brother’s or one sister’s sickness or to just pray concerning sickness among the brothers and sisters. We should not mention other subjects in addition to sickness. At other times, we may pray specifically for the brothers and sisters who are in need, or we may pray specifically for the brothers and sisters who are spiritually weak. If there is only one subject, it is easier for us to be in one accord.
If there is still time after we have prayed thoroughly over one subject, we can bring up another subject for prayer. But we should never mention more than one subject at the beginning of our prayer. It is confusing when there are too many subjects. The responsible brothers should only mention one subject at a time. If there is more time later, they can mention other subjects. We should pray for only one thing at a time. The greatest need in the prayer meeting is to have a clear subject.
According to Acts 1 and 2, Pentecost was brought in through the power of prayer. Please remember that the cross was the work of the Son of God, while Pentecost was the work of the children of God. How did such a great work occur? It came through prayer in one accord. Let us learn to concentrate our prayer on specific subjects, not on many items.
If we want to be specific, everyone who comes to the prayer meeting should come with some preparation. We should try the best to inform the brothers and sisters ahead of time concerning the items for prayer. Let them receive the burden first before they come together to pray. First we need to have feeling and burden. Then we come together to pray.
C. Being genuine
Another basic requirement is to be genuine in our prayer. I am afraid that many words in the prayer meeting are spoken in vain. Many people pay attention to the nicety of the words and care little whether or not God listens to them. It seems to be of little consequence to them that God does not listen to their prayers. Such prayers in the prayer meeting are often artificial and vain.
Genuine prayer is the result of a desire that comes from the heart. It is something that flows out from our inner being. Genuine prayer is not made up of flippant and nice words. Only genuine words that flow out from the deepest part of the heart can be considered as genuine prayer. The goal of our prayer should be an answer from God rather than pleasing the brothers and sisters.
If we are not genuine in our prayer, we cannot expect the church to be strong. In order for the church to be strong, the prayer meeting must be strong. In order for the prayer meeting to be strong, all the prayers have to be genuine; no prayer should be artificial. If we are not genuine, we cannot expect to receive anything from God.
Prayer is not a sermon; it is not a speech. To pray is to ask the Lord for something. We do not need to speak many words before God in the prayer meeting, as if God knows nothing and needs to be informed of all the details. We do not need to make a report or preach a message to Him. We pray because we have a need and because we are weak. We want to receive spiritual supply and power through prayer. The amount of genuine prayer we have depends on the amount of need that we feel. If we do not feel any need, our prayers will be vain prayers.
One basic reason for vain prayers is that a person is too conscious of others in the prayer meeting. As soon as we pay attention to others, our prayer is easily filled with vain words. On the one hand, our prayer in the prayer meeting is offered on behalf of the whole meeting. On the other hand, we have to pray as if we were alone before God; we have to pray to God in a genuine way according to our needs.
The more urgent our need is, the more genuine our prayer will be. The Lord Jesus once gave an illustration. A man had a visitor to his house, but he ran out of bread. So he went to his friend for bread. The need was urgent; he had no bread. After asking persistently, the other friend gave in to his need. The Lord Jesus then said, “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened” (Luke 11:10). If the need is urgent and we ask properly, it shall be given to us.
D. Being short
Our prayers must be genuine, and they must be short. Almost all the prayers in the Bible are short. The prayer taught by the Lord in Matthew 6 is quite short. Although the prayer offered by the Lord in John 17 before He departed from the world is quite long, it is much shorter than the prayers of some of God’s children today. The prayer in Acts 4 was the prayer of the whole church; it also was quite short. The prayer in Ephesians 1 is very important, yet it is short. One does not need five minutes to finish that prayer.
Many prayers in the prayer meeting are vain and unreal because they are too long. Perhaps two or three sentences out of the whole prayer are genuine, but the rest are redundant. Those two or three sentences are for God, but the rest are for the brothers and sisters. These prayers drag the meeting on. New believers should forget about the long prayers of the old-timers. They should offer short prayers instead. Not all the brothers and sisters can pray long prayers. If we continue to pray long prayers, the church will suffer great loss.
D. L. Moody once reacted in a very wise way to a sister who was offering a very long prayer in the meeting. As her prayer consumed the patience of the whole congregation, Moody stood up and said, “While our sister is still praying, let us sing hymn number so-and-so.” A long prayer saps the strength of the prayer meeting. Suppose you pray five minutes longer than you should and another does the same thing. When more and more people pray long prayers, the meeting drags on and is weighted down. Charles Spurgeon once said that the most improper thing for anyone to do is to ask God for forgiveness of shortcomings in the midst of a long prayer. Mackintosh also put it well when he said, “Do not try to torture God’s children with your prayer.” There are many people who whip others, not with a whip, but with long prayers. The more they pray, the more uncomfortable others become. We should learn to offer short and genuine prayers whenever we meet together.
E. Not offering prayers that exceed our individual prayers
Another principle in the prayer meeting is to not offer prayers that go beyond our personal prayer. This is a good principle. The way you pray in the meeting should be governed by the way you pray at home by yourself. Of course, prayer in the meeting is a little different; it should not be exactly the same as your personal prayer. But in principle do not allow your public prayers to exceed your private prayers. The way you pray in the meeting should be almost the same as the way you pray in your private prayer. Do not pray one way in your private prayer and another way in the meeting. Actually, it is difficult to have artificial private prayers, but many prayers in the meeting are artificial. If you go to a prayer meeting and constantly use words that you do not use in your private prayers, your prayers are bound to be artificial.
As far as accomplishing anything is concerned, the prayer in the meeting is always more effective than private prayers. God answers the prayer of the church more readily than He answers individual prayers. But today we receive more answers to private prayers than assembly prayers because there are too many false and vain prayers in the meeting. Actually, there should be more answers to corporate prayers than answers to individual prayers; there should be not only more but very much more. If God’s children come together, and everyone prays in a simple, specific, genuine, and harmonious way, there will be more answers to our prayers.
IV. The meeting for the exercise of the gifts
The gifts found in every local church are different. God gives certain localities the gift of prophecy, words of revelation and teachings. Sometimes He adds speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. In some localities God gives only the gifts of the teachers but not miraculous gifts. In other localities He gives both miraculous gifts and the teaching of the word. We cannot dictate what God should do in the church. However, the principle of meeting is always the same — God wants all His children to exercise their gifts in the meeting. We cannot function according to what we do not have; we can only function according to the gifts that we do have. For this reason, a locality cannot insist on having a meeting for the exercise of the gifts; nor can it imitate other churches in any way. It can function only according to the gifts the brothers in that locality possess. This is the kind of meeting spoken of in 1 Corinthians 14. We should follow the Scripture in conducting this kind of meeting for the functioning of the gifts. The sisters should not open their mouths (v. 34), and the brothers should be restricted (vv. 32-33). If there is any prophesying, let there be only two or three. Some may ask questions and seek mutual building up and enlightening from the Lord. In such meetings there should not be the speaking in tongues unless there is the interpretation of tongues. Tongues are for the building up of individuals before God. Speaking in tongues plus the interpretation of tongues equals prophesying. If there is only speaking in tongues without the interpretation of tongues, the mind will be unfruitful, and the church will not be built up. This is why Paul said, “If there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church” (v. 28). He did not forbid speaking in tongues, but he forbade any speaking in tongues that was without interpretation. Simply put, in this kind of meeting, whether one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation, all things should be donefor building up.
We have to pay particular attention before God to remind all the gifted brothers who serve in the ministry of the word to not become passive in this meeting. The brothers who are gifted in the ministry of the word often become spectators in this meeting. They become passive and allow others to speak. This is wrong. Not everyone can speak in such meetings. Only those who are gifted can speak. We disagree with one man speaking, but we also disagree with anyone speaking. It is wrong to permit only one man to speak. It is also wrong to permit just anyone to speak. Only the speaking of the gifted ones will render supply to the brothers and sisters; not everyone can do the same thing. Only those who have the word can speak. Those who do not should keep quiet. Unfortunately, the gifted brothers who have the ministry often have an improper attitude towards such meetings. They think that every brother and sister can open their mouth in this meeting, and so they sit back. Actually, this meeting is for every brother who is gifted and who has the ministry to stand up and speak. How can we expect to have a good meeting if all those who are supposed to be the mouths do not speak, hoping instead that the hands, legs, and ears will speak? In such a meeting, all the gifted brothers should bear the responsibility to seek before the Lord for something to speak. Once they have the word, they should speak.
Such meetings do pose some difficulty for the new believers; they do not know whether they are gifted or not. They have little to do with the ministry of the word. They have just believed in the Lord, and there is little they can do. How can they participate in this meeting? I hope the mature ones will not shut up the younger ones’ mouths. We should give them an opportunity to speak. We should tell them, “We do not know whether or not you are a gift. We do not know whether God has given you the ministry of the word. So in the beginning, please be simple as you are learning to speak.” You must give them an opportunity, but you should not give them too much opportunity. You will bury their gift if you do not give them the opportunity. But if you give them too much opportunity, they will spoil the meeting. Let them open their mouths, but tell them to be brief and simple. If they are gifted, you must tell them, “You can speak longer next time.” To certain ones you need to say, “Your speaking is too long. Please be shorter next time.” You must encourage the gifted ones to go on and somewhat restrict the ones who are not gifted. In this way the meeting will become strong without shutting the mouths of any brothers. New believers should learn to be humble. They must open their mouths more when they are being encouraged and open their mouths less when they are reminded to stop. They should follow the leading of the more mature brothers.
The responsible brothers in the church must not only perfect the more advanced ones but also constantly look for new gifts. How do you discover a gift? The gifts are manifested in the meeting through the functioning of the gifts. In this meeting, open your eyes to those who have a mark of the Lord’s operation. You have to learn of the condition of these ones. Encourage them if they should be encouraged, and restrict them if they should be restricted. As a consequence, the new believers will not only be helped but also be able to help others in such a meeting. You will then guide the meeting onto the proper course.
V. The meeting for the preaching of the word
The fifth type of meeting may not be as crucial as the other meetings, but it is used equally by God to release His word to the saints. If an apostle passes through our place or if we have apostles, teachers, prophets, or ministers of the word permanently residing among us, we should have a meeting for the release of the word. We are not saying that this kind of meeting is unimportant. We are saying that this kind of meeting is the simplest of all meetings. A meeting where people come to listen to the word is the simplest kind of meeting, but like other meetings, there is much to be learned. Do not be late for the meeting and cause others to wait for you. Obey the ushers, and sit where you are told; do not choose your own seat. If you have some physical handicap in listening or seeing, explain to the ushers so that they can choose a suitable seat for you. Bring your own Bible and hymnal.
On the spiritual side, your heart must be open when you come to such meetings. Prejudiced ones need not come to this meeting, because the word will be useless to them. If a man shuts up his heart to God, he cannot expect to receive any grace from Him. Every listener of the word should pay attention to this matter. Half of the responsibility of a message rests with the speaker, and the other half rests with the listeners. It is impossible for a speaker to try to deliver a message to closed hearts or to those who purposely reject the message.
The spirit, as well as the heart, needs to be open. It is important for the spirit to be open in such a meeting. When a genuine minister of the word speaks, his spirit is open. But if he touches more open spirits in the meeting, his spirit will become strengthened when it is released. If the spirit of the meeting is stifled, indifferent, or closed, the spirit of the speaker will be like the dove outside the ark, flying around the ark only to return to it later. The spirit of the meeting needs to be open, and the spirit of the minister needs to be released. The more open the spirit of the meeting is, the more released the spirit of the prophet will be. If the spirit of the audience is not open, the spirit of the prophet cannot be released. We need to learn to be pliable and to open up our spirit. Let the Holy Spirit be released. We should not surround ourselves with cold and stubborn opinions. We should be a plus to the meeting instead of a hindrance to the spirit of the meeting. Our spirits should draw out the spirit of the speaker instead of frustrating it. If every brother and sister would learn this lesson, our meeting would become stronger and stronger.
These are the biblical patterns of the different kinds of meetings. We have to learn how to behave in every one of these five kinds of meetings. We should not be loose. May God have mercy on us!