Many years ago during a small gathering where Karen and I had been asked to lead singing for a group of about 20 people, the Holy Spirit began to move through Karen and another woman in a beautiful spontaneous spiritual song (Ephesians 5:19). While they were yet singing, a man stood up and began to shout out a prayer of thanks for a Christian politician who recently had been elected. Oblivious to the Spirit’s moving, the man continued to pray over the top of the singers who began to heave as the Spirit song being birthed through them, was quenched. What beautiful message might the Holy Spirit have had for our gathering, had the man not run off the Holy Spirit by his selfish and long-winded prayer?
Many are the times we have experienced such an interruption of the Holy Spirit when believers gather together and the Holy Spirit is grieved (Ephesians 4:30) and quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19) by someone with an agenda. In fact, I can’t say for certain that I have ever been part of a larger assembly where that did NOT happen. Neither can I say for certain that I haven’t been the one who derailed the flow of the Holy Spirit with my agenda.
So why is it so difficult to flow freely with the Holy Spirit during a gathering of believers? Certainly I experience it regularly in fellowship with my dear wife, or with a brother over coffee. Karen is also blessed with such fellowship with a dear friend whom she meets for tea one afternoon a week. My beloved literally beams with the Holy Spirit whenever she returns from breaking bread with her friend. Together, Karen and I have occasionally experienced such such free-flowing fellowship in groups of 5 or 6; but never in a larger group.
This morning, the Spirit prompted me to read James chapter 3, in particular James 3:16 which says:
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
Barnes commentary* contrasts James 3:16 above with the spirit of peace which should prevail in the assembly of the brethren and also cites the following wonderful lyric from an old hymn:
The Spirit, like a peaceful dove,
Flies from the realms of noise and strife.**
These seem to go a long way toward explaining the Spiritual convulsions and revulsions that Karen and I witnessed during our brief foray back into man’s traditional church the fall of 2014. In fact, it was the habitual grieving and quenching of the Holy Spirit that ultimately motivated us to leave just 8 months after we arrived.
Within weeks of leaving, our relationship and marriage home is once again ruled by the Spirit of peace as we walk together in the light and freedom of His Truth (1 John 1:7). It seems like overnight that our conversation returned to talking about the Lord, sharing our experiences and the daily bread the Lord gives to each of us who ask Him. No longer is our Christ-centered marriage relationship hijacked with stressful conversations about “the church this … the church that…”.
And so this morning, I’m simply marveling at how it is when we cease striving and rest in the peace of the Holy Spirit, there is a conspicuous absence of all things “churchy”. Conversely, being thrust into the center of man’s religious kingdom building, our peace is lost, overcome by agitation of Spirit. The jealousy and selfish ambition inherent in man’s pastor-dominated traditional church, gives birth to disorder and vile practices which for us, always stirs up the gifts of discernment and prophecy in rebuke of man’s traditional church.
About all this, the difference between sweet fellowship with the Holy Spirit in small groups, compared with the jealousy and selfish ambition that runs off the Holy Spirit in larger groups where men often rise up to seize control of the gathering, has me wondering whether Jesus was in fact encouraging believers to meet in smaller groups, when He said:
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20 ESV)
Certainly “two or three” is very specific, as is the phrase “in my name”, which means to be caught up in the very person, character, authority and anointing of Jesus. Perhaps the inference is that in a smaller group, it is Jesus who shares through those who gather, whereas in a larger group, men begin to clammer for supremacy whereupon Jesus finds that He “can’t get a word in edgewise” and His Spirit becomes grieved and ultimately quenched.
In my observation, a small group of friends is better able to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), than a large group of strangers. Or perhaps small groups are intended as training in sensitivity and restraint to prepare us for assembling in larger groups. Certainly it was about sensitivity and restraint that Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth:
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:26-33 ESV)
I hope someday to experience the free flow of the Holy Spirit in larger groups, the way Karen and I have in smaller ones. But perhaps for us, the Lord is reserving the experience for when we go home to be with Him, when the flesh of men can no longer be a disruption to the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit.