The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

What does it mean to grieve the Spirit?

In recent months, I have seen the “grieving of the Holy Spirit” to mean the denial of the spiritual gifts, or resistance to intimacy with the Holy Spirit by being “too intellectually” or “intellectually proud”. But is this the correct understanding? How does the Bible present the grieving of the Holy Spirit? To be sure, the only reference to grieving the Holy Spirit is Eph 4:30. However, there are other offences that are made against the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:32 and 1 Thess 5:19). So, it’s worth considering these alongside Eph 4:30.

Ephesians 4:30

The command not to grieve the Holy Spirit comes in the context of personal conduct (4:25–5:2), which in turn comes from character – a central concern in the New Testament. Here, there are instructions to put away falsehood (v. 25), not to sin in anger (v. 26), refrain from stealing (v. 28), and not engage in corrupt talk (v. 29). To engage in such conduct is to act contrary to reconciliation in the gospel, of which the Holy Spirit is an agent. Not only are believers to put away conduct that is contrary to reconciliation, but they are to put away the conditions that that give rise to that conduct – bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and slander along with all evil (v. 31). Instead, believers are to speak the truth to one another (v. 25), work honestly (v. 28), look to build up others with their speech (v. 29), be kind, compassionate, and forgiving as they imitate God’s forgiveness (v. 32). In sum, therefore, to grieve the Holy Spirit is to adopt an ungodly character. The concern, then, is for believers to adopt a godly character.

1 Thessalonians 5:19

This verse is probably the closest to how the phrase “grieving the Holy Spirit” has been used. Here, believers are instructed not to “quench the Spirit”. For in the next verse believers are instructed not to despise prophecy (v. 20). This would very much sound like a denial of a spiritual gift. It’s understandable where spiritual gifts have been misused or abused some may seek its disuse. Such an approach to spiritual gifts is wrong. Leaving aside the nature of prophecy, however, the acceptance of prophecy is not without qualification. For believers are to test everything (v. 21). There clearly were some false prophecies doing the rounds concerning the day of the Lord (2 Thess 2:2). For this reason, they were to holdfast to the traditions they were taught by the Apostles (v. 15). This means that believers were to engage in an intellectual process comparing what they were hearing as prophecy with what they already knew from the Apostles. So, while it may “quench the Spirit” by denying spiritual gifts, in this case prophecy, it is most certainly not to grieve the Spirit to critique that prophecy. Anyone who uses the charge “grieving the Spirit” to silence criticism is to be regarded to be outside the instruction of God’s word. Neither does the presence of a spiritual gift demand its use. Instead, the benefit of the church is to be sought (1 Cor 15:26–33a).

Matthew 12:32 [//Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10]

The third verse to consider is Matthew 12:32 [//Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10]. Because the Matthew reference comes within the context which combines the teaching of Mark and Luke, the Matthew reference will be addressed last. Here, Jesus teaches that anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. So, what does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit?

In Mark’s account, the teaching comes when the Jewish scribes come down from Jerusalem to investigate Jesus’ activity. Now, Jesus had been casting out demons from people, and Mark depicts Jesus as being driven by the Spirit (1:10, 12; 2:8). Therefore, the activities of Jesus are also the activities of the Holy Spirit. Yet, instead of recognising Jesus activity in the casting out of demons to be the activity of the Holy Spirit, the Jewish scribes attribute the activity to Beelzebul, the prince of demons (3:22), which, as Jesus points out, is nonsensical (vv. 23–26). In other words, they are attributing the activity of the Holy Spirit to demons. Given that Jesus is the sole agent of salvation and forgiveness, there can be no forgiveness for those who continue to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus to demons.

In Luke’s account, the meaning of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” isn’t clear. Howard I. Marshall in his commentary surveys several possibilities before settling on the meaning of apostasy.[1] This accords with the context which refers to “acknowledging the Son of Man [Jesus] before men” (Luke 12:8), and “being brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities” (v. 11). For this to be true, for a believer to deny Jesus is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit which teaches the believer what to say at those times (v. 12). Yet, if this is correct, then on what grounds is Peter forgiven after he denies knowing Jesus (Matt. 26:69–75 [// Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–62; John 18:16–18, 25–27)? Notice that the verb to blaspheme (βλασφημέω) appears in the participle form, which may suggest that in view here is not one who merely blasphemes but is identified as a blasphemer and shows no remorse for their actions. This accords with the usage of simple verbs to refer to the one who speaks against the Son of Man (12:10). While Peter denied knowing Jesus, he did not have those actions as part of his identity. Instead, Peter “wept bitterly” over his actions (22:62 [// Matt 26:75).

In Matthew’s account, both perspectives from Mark and Luke are combined into the one teaching. However, the Pharisee’s opposition to Jesus’ ministry is explicit and made all the more vivid by their pre-conceived conclusion which was in contrast to the crowd’s amazement (Matt 12:23–24). In other words, the Pharisees are not even open to the possibility that Jesus’ ministry is being driven by the Holy Spirit. Instead, inasmuch the Pharisees recognise the supernatural character of Jesus’ ministry, they are simply out to oppose him, attributing the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ ministry to demonic forces. Ultimately, by opposing Jesus’ ministry, they are opposing the purposes of God. This, then, forms the basis for Jesus’ warning (vv. 31–32).

In conclusion, then, to grieve the Holy Spirit (and by extension, to quench and to blaspheme against) is a very serious charge indeed. It is not a charge to be wielded about lightly. The New Testament uses this charge in specific circumstances. As we have seen, the charge is made in relation to conduct and character that is contrary to godly living, in relation to the denial of prophecy (though this not to forbid testing of that prophecy), and in relation to attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to demonic forces and the denial of Christ. To charge a person or group of persons with grieving the Holy Spirit because they refuse to adhere to the words of a person who believes that they are led by the Spirit is to go beyond the authority of Scripture. If such a person is led by the Spirit, and considers themselves in a position to offer encouragement, rebuking, and correction to God’s people, then let them acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit among God’s people. Let them acknowledge the authority of Scripture that the same Spirit inspired and breathed into being, and let them not deny the careful, yet humble, inquiry into it.

[1] Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC, (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978), 517–519.

July 3, 2021 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Religious | , | Leave a comment

Being led by the Spirit – John 16:12-15

John 16:12-15

This sermon was preached at Wesley Church, 26th May 2013. A fuller text of the sermon is provided below.

In a news article I read recently, a mother and her daughter in North Carolina were found walking down the street naked. When stopped by police, the mother informed them they were walking down the street naked because God had told them to.[1]

In another article, a South Boston made was charged with disorderly conduct for ‘train surfing’. He later informed police that God told him to do anything he wanted.[2]

In a much more disturbing article, a mother accidently suffocated  to death her 3 year old daughter believing her daughter had a demon, and that God had told her to exorcise the demon. She was committed to a state mental health institution for six months.[3]

News articles like theses may well see us asking: what does it mean to be led by God, or by his Holy Spirit?

As Christians, we have experiences which we may describe as being led by the Holy Spirit. We may particularly seek out guidance by the Holy Spirit when buying a house or a car. Or searching for a job. Or considering a marriage partner, or whether to marry at all. And I don’t wish to put the legitimacy of those experiences into doubt. Even I, myself, sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to which passage I should preach on today. I was given a choice of 4 passages by this church, and I felt led to preach on John 16:12-15.

But these experiences do not define the norm for what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit. For if we keep pushing this kind of thinking, we will end up seeking the Holy Spirit over which breakfast cereal we should eat – which is just ridiculous. For if that is how we think of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, there’s not much, if anything, that separates us from those in the news. So, we are still left asking: what does it mean to be led by the Holy Spirit?

Can I say from the outset, that the work of the Holy Spirit is not to diminish our responsibility, but to enhance our responsibility as followers of Jesus. To understand how the Holy Spirit does this, we must understand who the Holy Spirit is, where he and his authority comes from, and what he actually does. Once we have done this, we’ll be in a much better position to know what it means to be lead by the Holy Spirit.

Before answering those questions, we may wonder why is the Holy Spirit needed? In John 16:12, we find the disciples suffering a bit of ‘information overload’. When you consider that this is one of the longest single discourses of Jesus we have recorded, it’s understandable. But this is not the main cause of the information overload. It starts way back in chapter 12 with the celebration of the Passover.  In 14:8, the discourse takes on a sharp focus with Phillip’s request for Jesus to show them the Father. In other words, Phillip is asking Jesus for a fuller, richer experience of what it means to be his disciple. They’re about to receive that experience in 1 week’s time when they witness Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But they’re not going to understand it. That’s why they can’t bear what Jesus is saying to them now. Their eyes are glazed over, and nothing Jesus is saying is going in. How are they to continue on in the absence of Jesus, especially when they’re so thick?

The answer is the Holy Spirit referred to as ‘Spirit of Truth’ in v13. It’s not the first time he’s been mention in this discourse. So to find out more about him, and how he solves the problem, we’re going to look at other parts of this discourse.

So, who is he?

In 14:17, he is again referred to as the ‘Spirit of Truth’. There, we learn he is not of this world. He does not blend into this world. He cannot be received or recognised by the world. Why? I suggest it’s because his agenda is different to the world’s agenda. He does not entertain worldly passions. Do you want the Holy Spirit to lead you to that nice sports car, or that luxury yacht because your workmate has one? I suggest it’s not going to happen. The Holy Spirit’s concern is different from the world’s concerns.

In 14:6, 26 and 16:7, the Greek word used to refer to him is paracletos, and is usually translated as ‘helper’ or ‘counsellor’. I suggest another helpful word might be ‘coach’. He coaches us in our relationship with God. A sports coach doesn’t play the game for you, nor tell you what to do at every single point in the game. But he does point you in the right direction, and equips you to play the game well. Don’t expect the Holy Spirit to do your decision making for you. But look to him so you do make good decisions.

Where does the Holy Spirit and his authority come from?

In 14:26 we learn that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father in Jesus’ name. He is sent by the Divine Father who has been revealed by the Divine Son. This should give us a clue as to why he is not of this world, and cannot be engaged by the world. Because he is of God, and is God he is engaged in God’s work. His concerns are God’s concerns.

That’s why in 16:13, we learn that he has no authority is not his own. He takes what is God’s and what belongs to Jesus, and makes it know to us. So if you find the spirit is saying one thing, and the Jesus is saying another in the Bible, I suggest to you whatever spirit your listening to is not the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit does not speak of his own authority, but only the authority of the Father and the Son. And we know what the Father and the Son have said, because it’s been recorded for us in the Bible. There’s no guess work for us!

So, what does the Holy Spirit do?

In 14:26 we learn that the Holy Spirit reminds and teaches us what Jesus said. In 16:7 we learn that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is in direct relation to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’˜ ministry was to make atonement for sin in his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit applies that ministry to us. That’s why Jesus says in 16:7, “if I don’t go, he wont come”. Jesus was going to make atonement for sin, and unless that happened, they’d be no atonement for the Holy Spirit to apply. And if there’s no atonement to apply, there’s no work for the Holy Spirit to do. Follow??

In 16:13, we learn that the Holy Spirit guides us in all truth. Does this mean that Christians don’t need to study for exams? I can’t see any of my former lectures at Bible College being convinced of that kind of thinking! The force of what is said here is that the Holy Spirit will immerse us in everything Jesus has said. The disciples hardly understood anything Jesus said to them. But it was still truth. It was still relevant. The disciples needed to be immersed in that truth by the Holy Spirit so they could understand it with their minds, and have it seep into their hearts, and out through their bodies as they lived out that truth.

We also learn that the Holy Spirit declares the things that are to come. Does that mean that there’s more revelation to come? For us, no. For the disciples, yes. Remember, in 1 week’s time, they will see their beloved Lord crucified, buried and resurrected, and though they may believe, they will not understand. In 20:8-9, Peter believed but didn’t understand. In v13, Mary Magdalene thought someone had moved Jesus’ body. And in v25, poor old doubting Thomas needed physical proof!

It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came that they understood why Jesus had died, and was resurrected. The Holy Spirit reminded them of everything Jesus had taught, and made known to them the meaning of his death and resurrection. That when he died, he was taking their punishment, in their place, for their sins against a Holy and Righteous God. That they were no longer their own to do as they pleased, but they now belonged to God, PURCHASED by the precious and pure blood of Jesus for eternity. That they no longer belonged to this world with all of its selfishness, all of its lust, and all of its greed. But they now belonged to a new order, a heavenly order, where the good of the other is sought in love, and God the Father and his Son Jesus are worshipped alone, and are made known.

The same is true for us. We need to be immersed in that glorious truth by the Holy Spirit. The truth that we have been PURCHASED. We no longer belong to this world, so why on earth do we insist on living like it? We belong to God, and we live according to a heavenly order. The Holy Spirit guides us and enables us to do that. We owe Jesus praise and worship, big time!

It’s no wonder, then, that in 16:14 we learn the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus. The Holy Spirit keeps pointing back to Jesus. There is nothing more to know about God apart from Jesus. Jesus says, “Everything the Father has is mine…” Everything! … Everything concerning God, who he is, what he’s doing, what he will do, it’s all found in Jesus. All that the Holy Spirit talks about is Jesus. This is why Jesus says in v15, “… he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Are you starting to notice a pattern here? Being led by the Holy Spirit is not about our activity, and God responding to our small-time ideas. It’s about God’s saving activity in Jesus, and us responding to God’s ideas for eternity!

Being led by the Holy Spirit is about Jesus. Knowing Jesus and glorifying Jesus. There is nothing else to know or to be revealed apart from Jesus, because everything concerning God has been given to Jesus.

Therefore, being led by the Holy Spirit involves much more than our decisions. It involves our thoughts and our attitudes. We are to look for ways where we can be immersed in the truth about Jesus, growing in our knowledge of him, and glorifying him.

So, when it comes to buying a house, or a car, ask yourself, “How will this glorify Jesus?” When looking for a job, or a marriage partner, ask yourself, “Will this help me grow in my knowledge of Jesus, or is it a distraction?”

And if you really can’t make up your mind between Cornflakes and Cocoa Pops, there’s a very easy solution – have both! God gave us food to enjoy. Don’t make it any more complicated than what it has to be!

Being led by the Holy Spirit means growing in the knowledge of Jesus, and glorifying him in all we do.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2013

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Bible, Sermons | , , , , , | Leave a comment