The Leading of the Spirit
Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland
THIS IS A PHRASE which many associate only with the Holy Spirit guiding believers as to what part they may take at the Lord's Supper, in a prayer meeting, or at an 'open conference', as though these were its only expression. We do well, therefore, to examine its occurrences in the New Testament in order to find out its meaning, and to learn its true application to the gatherings of the saints.
The term 'led of the Spirit' is used four times altogether, twice of the Lord, Matt. 4. 1; Luke 4. 1, and twice of believers, Rom. 8. 14; Gal. 5. 18. In no instance is it applied specifically or exclusively to the functioning of the believer at the breaking of bread meeting, or at any other gathering.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE LORD
Notice first the leading of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. We are here on holy ground, and must tread softly - one person of the triune God leading another! But we can learn much from the temptation of the Lord in the wilderness of what is implied in being led by the Spirit. Note the three expressions used of the Lord's going into the temptation - Matt. 4. 1, He was 'led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil'; Mark 1. 12, 'the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness'; Luke 4. 1, 'Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost was led by (R.V.M. in) the Spirit into (R.V. in) the wilderness'.
Matthew's account stresses the Lord's submission to the Holy Spirit, and co-operation with Him. Jesus was led for a special task - 'to be tempted of the devil'. The word Mark uses - 'driveth' - suggests the force and strength with which the Holy Spirit was able to direct the movements of the Perfect Servant. From Luke's account we notice that the leading goes side by side with being full of the Spirit. Note, too, that Luke says Jesus was led in (R.V.) the wilderness. Not only was the initial move indicated by the Spirit, but every succeeding step was directed by Him. The verb in Luke is in the imperfect tense. He was constantly being led. Even after the temptation the Lord returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, Luke 4. 14.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE BELIEVER
Let us apply the Lord's example to the believer today. As the Holy Spirit directed the Lord to the wilderness so does He teach the believer His will. To be assured of His leading one should be filled with the Spirit, continually seeking to walk under His control. The Spirit's direction will be easily appreciated if one is constantly listening for it. A readiness to co-operate with the Holy Spirit is essential, even though the task be difficult or to the flesh unpleasant. Not only will the Spirit indicate when one should commence an undertaking, but He will continue to support and direct in that task. Consider now the other two references to the leading of the Spirit. First, that in Rom. 8. 14 is in the middle of a section which teaches that though those in Christ Jesus are not under condemnation, yet in them are two conflicting powers - the flesh and the Spirit. The believer is either 'after the flesh' or 'after the Spirit'. The former is opposed to God, and submission to it cannot please God; the believer ought not to walk after the flesh but after the Spirit. Paul gives a threefold reason for this :
1. Those who are after the flesh are dead as far as communion with God is concerned, v. 13.
2. Those who are led by the Spirit manifest the dignity of sons of God, v. 14. The Son of God was led by the Spirit, and so may the sons of God be.
3. Those who are born again have received the position of adopted sons, v. 15. The believer should rejoice in his dignity as a son, manifesting it by submission to the leading of the Spirit rather than to the dictates of the flesh.
The last reference is in Gal. 5. 18. In 5. 13 Paul envisages the believer as one freed from bondage - of the Law in the case of the Jew, 4. 3, and of idolatrous practices in the case of the Gentile, 4. 9. Both of these were fleshly activities. Paul was concerned lest the Galatians should be again entangled by the flesh in submitting to legal ordinances. If they walked by the Spirit they would overcome the tendency to fleshly desires, for the flesh and die Spirit are irreconcilable opposites in their lives. Walking by the Spirit means that the whole round of the Christian's activity is directed by the Holy Spirit. One who willingly submits to being led by the Spirit is controlled by a different power from that of obedience to the Law. A picture of this is seen in the life of Rebekah. When she placed herself under the control of Abraham's servant for the wilderness journey she was no longer under the compulsion of the law either of her family, or her city. Gen. 24.10.
Thus the leading of the Spirit takes us out of the realm either of fleshly desires or legal impositions. We must dispense with these. Instead of engaging in fleshly activities we should produce the fruit of the Spirit. Paul sums up in a practical way in 5. 25, 26. Seeing that we have life through the Spirit we ought also to keep step one with the other, each controlled by the Spirit. This will prevent self-seeking or envying others.
When His guidance is sought the Holy Spirit leads in every department of our lives. The Lord who told Peter where to find fish still enables His children to make business decisions. The Spirit guides in family matters, Gen. 24. 40; He advances those who put God's kingdom first, Dan. 6. 28; He gives directions in church matters, Acts 13. 2.
HOW IS GUIDANCE GIVEN?
The question will now be asked, How is the leading of the Spirit known? Paul deals with this in 1 Cor. 2. 9-16. It is spiritually discerned, a faculty that comes with conversion. It is comprehended by faith. He who unreservedly casts himself on the Holy Spirit for His leading will ultimately recognize that he has been so led. Note the testimony of Abraham's servant, 'I being in the way, the Lord led me', Gen. 24. 27. It can be asserted after the event has taken place, not when it is taking place.
This guidance is never at variance with the Word of God for the Holy Spirit will not contradict Himself. He speaks through the Word, Heb. 3. 7, and leads in accordance with what is written therein. For example, the Holy Spirit will not lead a believer into an unequal yoke with an unbeliever, in view of 2 Cor. 6. 14. A mind stored with the Word of God will know how the Spirit is likely to lead, and will be quick to discern His guidance.
In Acts 16. 6-10 divine guidance is illustrated. Note the expressions, 'the Holy Ghost forbade', v. 6, 'the Spirit of Jesus (R.V.) suffered them not', v. 7, 'they came down to Troas', v. 8, 'a vision appeared to Paul', v. 9. How they came to know God's call is indicated in the words 'assuredly gathering' (lit., joining things together). Thus the confluence of circumstances can point to the Spirit's leading.
What must one do to expect the leading of the Spirit? It is given in response to prayer, as David requested, 'Let thy good spirit lead me', Psalm 143. 10 (R.V.M.). In Luke 11. 13 the Lord said that the Father would 'give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him'. This is explained by comparing it with the parallel passage in Matt. 7. 11, where Matthew uses 'good things' instead of 'the Holy Spirit'. The gift of Luke 11. 13 is the 'good things' that pertain to the Holy Spirit -His guidance and His instruction.
Again, those will be guided who are filled with the Spirit, and live in the conscious enjoyment of His presence. As the Spirit is opposed to the flesh the believer cannot expect to be led by the Holy Spirit if he seeks the lusts of the flesh. These must be eschewed. The flesh - the old sinful, selfish nature in us - has been crucified, and must be constantly reckoned so. The desires to which the natural appetites impel us must be subdued.
THE BREAKING OF BREAD MEETING
Let us now consider a particular leading of the Spirit -that pertaining to the Breaking of Bread meeting. Here we do well to inquire whether or not it is scriptural for several to take audible part at this gathering, necessitating the direction of the Spirit. Our knowledge of the functioning of a Remembrance Feast is confined in Scripture to two portions, Acts 20. 7-12 and 1 Cor. 11-14.
In Acts 20 Paul appears to have been the sole speaker. This was, however, a special occasion, when the company desired to obtain the maximum benefit from the apostle's visit. The Holy Spirit was using one with an outstanding gift-who could edify the church, and who did so for its profit. The circumstances guided them as to the Spirit's leading.
Chapters 11-14 of 1 Corinthians are concerned with the normal functioning of the Lord's Supper, and arc left for our present-day instruction. The frequent use of the expression, 'when ye come together' in chs. 11 and 14 indicate that both chapters refer to the same meeting. Thus, at the Lord's Supper in Paul's day there was an opportunity for the exercise of various gifts by several brethren, 14. 16-29. All gifts were not resident in one person, 12. 24.
Now the question arises, How did a brother know when to take part? How did they avoid confusion? Whilst there is no mention of the Holy Spirit in ch. 14 it is reasonable to suppose that He who had led the believers during the week would not desert them at the Lord's Supper. The Spirit leads in the gatherings of the saints precisely as He does in every-day living. His guidance is not a supernatural prompting; not an emotional crisis; not a sudden impulse. It comes not through feelings, but out of an intelligent assessment of what is suitable for the occasion; it is an exercise of the understanding, 1 Cor. 14. 20; it is the consequence of coming to the meeting with a full basket - a mind stored with God's Word, a heart filled with God's worship. God prepares the heart and mind before the meeting. He may or may not provide the opportunity at the meeting to use what He has given. The leading of the Spirit will take hold of the opportunity when it presents itself.
Praying, singing, thanksgiving and speaking are all functions of the believer's spirit. This is under the control of the man himself, i Cor. 14. 32, but is the sphere of the Holy Spirit's operations, Rom. 8. 16.
How the Holy Spirit controls the spirits of the saints in these exercises is seen in 1 Cor. 14, where several principles are given as to when one should take part.
1. His exercise should be for the profit of all - to their edification, v. 26.
2. He should seek God's glory, v. 25.
3. Several should take part, v. 29.
4. There should be waiting one for another - 'one by one', v. 31; no undue haste; no unseemly rushing, 11. 33.
5. There should be nothing done that would lead to strife or confusion, but rather that which harmoniously fits in with what has already gone, v. 33, if that bears the marks of being Spirit-led.
6. A brother who, after commencing, realizes that he is not being helped by the Spirit should quietly take his seat again, that another whom the Spirit is guiding may find room, v. 30.
7. Each one must be activated by love - love that desires to profit others, 13. 1; love that does not envy another, 13. 4; love that seeks not her own, 13. 5.
The Spirit's guidance at the Breaking of Bread meeting will be more readily appreciated if the believer has been consciously led by Him throughout the week; if he has not been walking after the flesh. How is the Saturday evening spent? If one is not then walking by the Spirit he cannot expect His leading on the Lord's Day. Hatred, wrath, strife and envying amongst brethren arc works of the flesh, and prevent the discernment of the Spirit's leading. Such a brother would do well to obey the Lord's injunction in Matt. 5. 24. A conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit is essential, recognizing one's own unworthiness and inability. A brother wanting to take part must learn to distinguish between the leading of the Spirit and the promptings of the flesh. His own glory must not be considered - not what credit he can get out of what part he takes. Nor must he be bound by traditions -'We have always done this', 'This is the best way to do it'. Circumstances will often guide the believer as to what part, if any, the Holy Spirit would have him take.
Thus does the Spirit lead in the assemblies of God's people. Ever seek to walk by the Spirit, to be so led by Him in the secular life that church life will be but a continuance of that control. Thus in all things God will be glorified.
We hope to follow the above article with a series of four by R. Forrest-Hall, of Tunbridge Wells, under the general heading The Holy Spirit and the Believer.