The “previousness” of God, which I wrote about HERE, refers to the idea that God is already at work in the world before his people even get there. It refers to the fact that God doesn’t need to wait for us—God can begin his work well before we have even realized what God is up to.
We’ve already looked at examples from the Old Testament, but it isn’t only in the Old Testament that God is shown to be ahead of his people. We see it throughout the New Testament, as well. Here are a couple of examples.
Peter and Cornelius
When Peter is invited to the house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, Peter finds that the Holy Spirit has already been at work in Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:22). God didn’t send Peter to Cornelius; God sent Cornelius—a pagan—to Peter! As Peter begins to speak to the people in Cornelius’ home, he does little more than simply participate with what God is already doing. He watches with amazement while “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:45) is poured out on all those listening to him.
A little later, the apostles find that the Gentile city of Antioch is already full of Christians, thanks to “men from Cyprus and Cyrene, [who] went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). Apparently, God was already calling people to follow Jesus before the apostles even arrive!
The Council at Jerusalem
The existence of the church in Antioch raises all kinds of questions in the minds of the apostles. How can the church exist in a place we’ve never visited? Isn’t the church’s ministry up to us? Aren’t we the gatekeepers? And should we require Gentile Christians to submit to Jewish rites of inclusion, like circumcision?
These questions eventually lead to a significant meeting of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-4). After much wrestling over whether or not Gentiles should be required to be circumcised according to Jewish law (Acts 15:5-12), the apostles and church leaders ultimately decide, under the leadership of James, that since God has already given the Gentiles the Holy Spirit, then there is no reason to require circumcision (Acts 15:13-20).
Getting Out of God’s Way
Wow! What a ground-shaking conclusion!
That decision—to not require circumcision—was a crucial moment in the life of the church. The apostles chose not to get in the way of what they saw God already doing—in Cornelius’ household, in the city of Antioch, and in the lives of all Gentile followers of Jesus.
Since the apostles were open to seeing what God was already doing out in the world, they were able to make a critical shift. Rather than holding on to the gospel as something reserved only for Jews or Jewish converts, the apostles were able to welcome Gentiles into the church without any prerequisites. They were able to follow what God was initiating and adapt to what God was doing already.
What does this mean for the church today? It means that we must always be ready for the new thing that God may be up to. It means that God might surprise us. It means that we should probably not hold too tightly to the things that God might want us to let go of.
And it means that God’s invitation is coming soon. God’s invitation to join him in what he is already doing. God’s invitation to use our gifts, passions, skills, resources, and networks to get involved in the good work that He is up to in the world.
God is always up to something. Are we ready to jump into whatever that something is when God reveals it to us?