“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
Abstain from every form of evil.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
There seems to be some controversy in church circles regarding prophecies and Spirit-quenching. I used to think that prophecies were just future predictions, and had no bearing in my day-to-day life. I knew from the Old Testament that false prophets were stoned if their words did not come to pass, and thus prophecy seemed like some weird old uncle you don’t want to spend much time with. But the good prophets, whose words were true and came to pass, were given their message by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:20-21 informs us: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. For no such prophecy was ever brought forth by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
God’s prophets spoke God’s words through the Holy Spirit at work within them.
You might remember that in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit “came upon” people, but also departed due to sin. Saul was anointed the first king of Israel, and God’s spirit came upon him, and he prophesied. And then Saul turned away from God, and the Holy Spirit left him. This is super important to remember, especially when David becomes king. When David confesses his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, he prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence; take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12) David knew how his predecessor’s sin jeopardized the presence of the Holy Spirit in that kingship, and David begged God to stay.
And the Holy Spirit stayed.
The Holy Spirit has always existed, He didn’t just arrive on the scene at Pentecost looking like a fiery tongue. In fact, the Holy Spirit is listed in the second verse of the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)
So the Spirit has always existed with God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And the Spirit speaks to people.
When Jesus comes to earth, one of the names prophesied about Him, from Isaiah, is “Emmanuel,” meaning “God with us.” And Jesus did, indeed, come to be physically with His people on earth–for a time. But before Jesus dies and is resurrected, He tells the disciples something mind-blowing: God will continue to be with you, through His Spirit, even after I leave. Jesus says:
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:15-18)
While Jesus is getting ready to complete His work on the cross, the Holy Spirit was getting ready to be poured out on all flesh, fulfilling the prophecy from Joel 2:28-29, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit.”
The old and young, male and female, slave and free…these are the people Jesus reconciled to Himself. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)
To be clear, there are still Jews/Greeks, slaves/free people, and male/female, as social categories in existence–but in Christ there is no distinction or advantage to their salvation except Jesus alone. And on all these people, regardless of social status, if they were baptized into Christ, would have the Holy Spirit poured out to them. Jesus kicked opened the door that said, “Jews Only” and welcomed in all who would receive Him–that is HUGE.
And Jesus continues to the disciples:
“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment… I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-8, 12-15)
In her book Don’t Miss Out: Daring to Believe Life is Better with the Holy Spirit, Jeannie Cunnion points out that the Holy Spirit is “to our advantage.” I know some people think that the Holy Spirit showed up for the original church-planters and then went radio silent, but that just doesn’t make sense. If Jesus still had more to tell the disciples, and was going to let the Holy Spirit do that, are we assuming they are the only ones who received special knowledge, and just for a time? Or does it make more sense that the Holy Spirit came to help equip the saints for the work of the ministry, from generation to generation, to help us stay on track until Jesus returns?
1 Corinthians 12, Paul lays out some very clear guidelines for why the Spirit is vital to church life. (Church, again, being the body of Christ, the community of believers who know Jesus and make Him known. Church is not supposed to be one weekly pastor with a passive audience.)
Paul tells the church in Corinth:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
To be clear: The Spirit of God is for unity.
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (12:7)
“For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
The Holy Spirit is busy! The Holy Spirit is empowering us, by God, for the common good of everyone we’re around. This is HUGE.
Then, after Paul tells the Corinthian church that while spiritual gifts are to be desired earnestly, he says he will show them a “more” excellent way to live (12:31).
1 Corinthians 13 is the famous love passage, but it’s sandwiched between two very important-to-remember concepts: First, spiritual gifts are good–but only if they’re done in love, and second, spiritual gifts are only for right now, while we wait to see Jesus face to face when He returns in glory.
“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away… For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12)
The Spirit is here to make more of Jesus in our lives, for us and for those around us. And prophecy is simply speaking what the Spirit tells you to speak, when He tells you to speak it.
Galatians 5 explicitly reminds us that the Holy Spirit is active and present and necessary for our spiritual growth. After reminding the Galatian church to not use their freedom in Christ as an opportunity for selfish personal gain, but instead to serve one another in love (5:13), Paul says:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for those are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these…” (Galatians 5:16-21a)
To interrupt really quickly–go back and read through that list. These are traits our sin-prone hearts desire. This is where we lead ourselves to. Maybe you’re not into orgies, but I guarantee every one of us is drawn to jealousy (me not you), fits of anger (I WANTED IT MY WAY not yours!), divisions (me vs you), and envy (me-me-me). And Paul adds after that list a sobering warning:
“I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21b)
Now here’s the really GOOD NEWS:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is
…against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:22-26)
Any love, joy, or peace in our lives is the result of the Holy Spirit at work within us.
Any patience, kindness, or goodness in us is because the Holy Spirit is working inside us.
Any faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control we exhibit is because the Holy Spirit is inhabiting us.
Christians don’t just “become” these things. If we belong to Jesus, we have crucified our flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, we need to walk in sync with Him, not one step ahead or two steps behind! He’s leading the way–don’t think you’re running the ship. We can’t just read this list and decide we’re going to be loving and patient and self-controlled. Have you watched anyone do “gentle parenting” without Jesus? IT DOESN’T WORK.
We can’t just read our Bibles and decide we can become who God wants us to be, without His help. That’s called striving in our own strength. That’s not what we’re called to do.
In her latest Conlectio Newsletter, Phylicia Masonheimer began with an uncomfortable headline: “Bible Study Doesn’t Change Your Heart.” As a theologian and Bible study teacher, she was not saying we shouldn’t study the Bible, but reminded readers that we can’t just hear or read something and walk away. We also have to obey, and the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We cannot become holy on our own, and even though we say we know Jesus is our holiness, we still need help living that out. We still need a Helper.
“…the only way to persevere into true life change is by the Spirit of God.
‘Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.’ (Gal. 5:16)
We cannot white knuckle sanctification.
Sure, you can become moral. You can become outwardly virtuous. You can do the right things. But you can do all of that and be hollow. You can do all of it and be resentful, bitter, empty, lost, and tired. Or…
You can be morally strong and spiritually free. Boldly convicted and completely at peace. Suffering greatly and full of joy. That kind of supernatural tension is not achieved through ritual. It is a mystery worked by the Spirit of God, the One who equips and comforts, convicts and leads, speaks and guides; the advantage of being Christian: the Holy Spirit. He applies the word of God, lights it on fire, activates it in our soul. He reminds us of the truth when we need it and speaks to us, telling us what way to go.”
And some people will say, “Well, the Holy Spirit can only tell you what’s already in the Bible.” I used to think that. I used to think the Holy Spirit was limited to what we’ve bound up in the Book.
But the more I read the Bible, the more I’ve heard a holy “ahem” where God’s been like, “Excuse me? Are we putting limitations on the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead?” Scripture itself originated with the Holy Spirit, speaking through men the words of God. Anything the Spirit says is of God, and won’t contradict what God has already said. Anything the Spirit says will, as Jeannie Cunnion put it, “make more of Jesus.”
When the Spirit prompts us, whether to act or speak, it leads us into the ministry of Jesus. When we feel that uncomfortable nudge to pray with strangers, or to say something painfully kind when we’re in a strained relationship, or to be generous with our finances…that is the Spirit making more of Jesus in our life.
The Spirit is to our advantage.
What is not to our advantage is saying that we, in our finite brains and limited faculties, decide that it’s our job to read the Bible, our job to guide our prayers, our job to know what we need to do–and when we need to do it.
That is quenching the Spirit.
When we ignore the gentle whispers, the subtle promptings, the unexpected opportunities, we say, “I’m in charge. I don’t need the Holy Spirit telling me what to do.”
When we quote Jeremiah 29:11 and hang up signs from Hobby Lobby that say, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…” And yet we aren’t listening to His plans, because we’re leaning on our own understanding, we’re quenching the Spirit. Yes, God does have good plans for us–but are we listening to know what those are?
(Also, for the context record, Jeremiah 29:11 was written to the exiled Jews in Babylon. God indeed knows His plans for all His people, but we need to be paying attention so we’re aligned with them. And the Spirit helps us with that!)
And one last thing: For all the verses reminding us to pray without ceasing, to pray in the Spirit for all things at all times…
Do we suppose that God just wants our monologues of heal-this, fix-this, do-this? Well, yes, He does want those. We are to give Him everything that concerns us. And as we pray, we listen for the Spirit to speak. “Prayer is talking with God,” we tell our kids. But if we’re talking with God, that implies God is doing some speaking, too. And He speaks through His Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is hard at work.
Are we burning out trying to outwork our Helper?
Don’t quench the Spirit. Let Him refresh you.
Let Him lead. Let Him speak. Let Him be to your advantage.