God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 14:32-33a Our God of peace
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, June 28, 2023
32 And the souls of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.
In this verse, the pneuma or “spirits” of the prophets are their own souls, and this must be the case because any angelic spirit would not be subject or subordinate to any man, for the angels are subordinate to Christ and receive their commands from him (John 1:51; Matthew 26:53). But the faith of one preacher is also subject to comment and correction from another preacher, as we see in the case of Peter and Paul at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-21). Paul used sharp language with Peter then, because Peter—undoubtedly a leader in the church from any point of view—was leading Christians astray with his actions. Paul had to tell him to his face, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). But Paul said that in an orderly way, confronting Peter personally and not in any sort of an attack. And here we come to the second part of the sentence: “God is a God not of disorder but of peace.” This is something we may apply to many walks of life, but which I want to address in five particular cases:
1, In the matter of ministers of the word of God.
Pastors must be able to correct one another’s errors without fear of retaliation or excommunication. “The prophet,” the Holy Spirit teaches, “along with my God, is the watchman over Ephraim, yet snares await him on all his paths” (Hosea 9:8). And Paul commands Titus: “Encourage and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). This doesn’t mean we need to attack and correct every single error a man makes. When one of our Synod’s People’s Bible volumes was published with certain historical errors, this was pointed out in a public article (both the author and the editor were pastors), but the errors were not doctrinal, and the volume was never corrected or recalled. Perhaps a second edition would have been wise, but it was never undertaken.
There are times when ministers are too hard on one another, and we must remember not to impugn one other’s faith. It is the divine call, not the scholar’s diploma, that makes the pastor. Luther knew that his companion Philip Melanchthon had his faults, but Luther would only say, “If Philip were not so afflicted (that is, with illness and weakness) he would have curious notions” (LW 54:378). Melanchthon made some errors after Luther’s death, but the church dealt with those things appropriately.
2, In the case of husbands and wives (where there is an unbelieving spouse).
God is a God of peace in marriage, even if one or the other spouse is an unbeliever. A husband (this goes for either spouse) should not quarrel with his non-Christian mate concerning belief or unbelief, nor separate from his wife if she permits him to lead a Christian life. “Each one,” Luther writes, “should leave the other to his faith and commend the whole matter to God. For no one can be forced to believe. Instead, God must draw him in grace, and so we should teach, admonish, and supplicate, not force. And so a Christian husband should conduct the outward forms of the married state peaceably with his non-Christian wife and not threaten or defy his partner either with running away or turning her away” (LW 28:38).
3, In the case of orderliness and disorderliness in the setting of worship.
This is the true setting and context of what Paul is writing about, but as we have seen there are many other applications. Something could be said here about the matter of fussy children in worship. In my opinion, pastors and ushers should leave parents of fussy children alone. If a mother or a daddy wants to take a baby out of a service to change, feed, or console a baby, let them. But if not, let them stay. I have read papers on this very subject in which the writer (an advocate of asking parents to remove fussy babies) also laments having only an older congregation, and one dramatically shrinking in its numbers. What does he expect? Will parents go where they are criticized, or will they go where they feel welcome? Certainly we want doctrinal purity to be on our people’s minds when they consider membership, but human nature says that when they are virtually driven out, we should not be surprised.
4, In the case of members in the church in dispute with their pastors over matters of doctrine.
We call our pastors to oversee the doctrine of the church; when a member has a question he must feel free to ask, and he should expect that the pastor will show him in an understandable manner through the scriptures (or the Lutheran Confessions, especially the Small Catechism if it touches on the matter) what God’s answer is.
If the pastor’s own doctrine is a concern, he should be questioned about it. If he maintains a position that is in error, another pastor, or the district president, should be consulted. Any pastor of our fellowship will be able to inform any member of our fellowship from any state or province who their district president is, and how to get in touch with him. If a member is mistaken about his pastor’s doctrine, we trust that another pastor can and will quietly explain the issue, and that the Holy Spirit, the God of peace, will reconcile and set aside any embarrassment or hard feelings and in their place fix a bond of mutual respect.
5, In the case of members of the church in dispute with the pastors over matters of indifference (adiaphora).
This has been Paul’s point throughout much of 1 Corinthians. A pastor will have his whole congregation’s good in mind. A member must understand this when he (the member) wants to push a new agenda into use in the church. We see this most often when someone desires a new kind of music, or wants to make some donation to the church that is not necessary. The church is not obligated to receive everyone’s gift in order to use it exactly as the member dictates. If this were not the case, there could be absurd or even disastrous consequences. A few years ago when I was serving as a circuit pastor, another pastor told me that two different families were trying to donate the same item. It was the sort of item that should not be duplicated, since having two of them would cause confusion, even doctrinal confusion. I suggested that the church buy one of the items and use the donated funds (a) to help pay for it, and (b) that extra donated funds simply go into the church general fund. My advice was not followed, and now the church has a confusing message in front of the membership every time they gather to worship. I have advised that they at least remove one of the items and move the remaining one to a new spot, to prevent hard feelings from the donors, but this hasn’t been done, either. It remains like a little thorn in the flesh of that poor church.
God forgive us, for we are flawed and fallible beings. Praise God that we have forgiveness in Christ, and let that forgiveness lead us to love each other, to be concerned about one another’s souls above all, and lives as well. And let us always love our little children. “Do not hinder them,” Jesus said (Matthew 19:14). Our preference for perfect quiet, our obsession with new forms of music, and our ungodly desire to be always entertained rather than to love must be set aside so that we may give glory to God in all things.
Pastor Timothy Smith