Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Holy Spirit

 The May Newsletter Article

The Holy Spirit

May is the month of flowers and warming weather, of struggling with lawn mowers and recovering from the damage the winter has done to your home and yard, and of Ascension and Pentecost.  Since Pentecost is the festival of the Holy Spirit, and the celebration of the day that God kick-started the church, it seems right to focus a little on the silent member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Okay.  I admit it.  The Holy Spirit is not silent.  We just don't hear much that is true about Him in the church today.  We talk about Him at Pentecost, and sometimes at the Reformation – and some pastors like to talk about Him at confirmation time.  We hear a lot about the Spirit from the enthusiasts, whether they are like Lutheran Charismatics or belong to some traditionally Pentecostal group.  We hear a lot from them, but most of it is not Scriptural, and what they draw from Scripture is often used contrary to sound exegesis (that means that they don't understand what they are reading).

Think of how many Sundays you see red paraments on the altar.  Those are the days of the Holy Spirit, and He is usually not the primary focus on those days, either.  We usually focus on something else, something He does.  The Holy Spirit is not silent.  In fact, He is the voice of Scriptures: "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."  Jesus even teaches us that the Spirit was the author of Scripture when He says, "David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT THINE ENEMIES BENEATH THY FEET."'" The Holy Spirit and not human creativity caused David to speak.

But it is appropriate that the Holy Spirit receives so little attention from us.  He should get the attention we give to Him, but not a significant amount more, because the purpose of the Spirit, and of all His work, is to bring all glory to God the Father through Jesus Christ.  He isn't the One who draws the attention.  He is the One who focuses it.  He creates faith through the Word proclaimed.  He teaches us through the Word.  He guides us and shows us what to do by the urgings in us drawn from the Word.  And He causes us to speak, giving us the very words we should say, when we should say them.  "And when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit."

Of course, He doesn't necessarily wait for extreme circumstance to give us the words to say.  He plants the words in us by memory-work and learning, and then calls them forth when we need them.  He doesn't need our help.  He could make it all happen without any learning or preparation, as He did sometimes with the Apostles (if you ignore that three year course of preparation with Jesus).  He generally doesn't do it that way, though.  He plants what He needs through our learning (which He drives us to do), and then when it is needed, He prompts it from our memories and to our lips.  That is why your Pastor made you memorize all those passages when your were young.

As I said, the Holy Spirit doesn't need our help, but I suspect that if we were unwilling to read the Bible and learn things, He would count us as not His people, and not be busy working in us and through us.  Once it is in there, though, He can summon it out into the front of your mind, even if you don't remember learning it.  He works on us in the Sunday service, teaching us through the liturgy and the hymns, and He is particularly direct when the Pastor preaches a Biblically faithful sermon.

We don't celebrate the Holy Spirit much, as an individual, because He shows us the love of the Father in sending us the Son, and teaches us to believe the Word and marvel at the Son doing all that He had to do to redeem us.  The fact that we believe is the testimony to the work of the Spirit.  He doesn't seem to be working to any other purpose than that.

Some get excited and claim that the Spirit is giving them powers or "gifts".   He certainly is able to.  The question is, is it real?  From the outside, it is difficult to deny what anyone is says that they are feeling or experiencing.  But far too often, the actions and words of those who proclaim their own gifted-ness suggest that their "gift" is more wishful thinking than actual gift.  Healers claim they have a gift to heal, but they cannot use it unless you believe in them strongly enough.  That never seemed to be a condition required in the Bible.  When they had the power of the Spirit, the Apostles could even raise the dead.  Modern healers (so-called) do not possess the power to repair broken and withered limbs, let alone raise the dead – and trust me, many have gone to their disgrace trying.

The most common gift claimed is the gift of tongues.  Again, from outside, I cannot speak to whether they have a gift of tongues or not.  I can say that Scriptures do not promise all of us that gift.  Paul actually appears to speak against it.

That's 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul says that tongues are a sign to unbelievers, while clear preaching (Paul calls it "prophecy") is a sign to believers.  He says that he would rather speak 5 words with his mind, that he may teach others than ten thousand with a tongue.  Then he quotes a passage from Isaiah, addressed to scoffers and the unbelieving in ancient Israel in verse 21.  Here is the Old testament passage:  "For He says, 'Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.'"  Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue, He who said to them, "Here is rest, give rest to the weary," And, "Here is repose," but they would not listen.  So the word of the LORD to them will be, "Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there," That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared, and taken captive."

This is a passage of condemnation and judgment, in which God says, "Since you wouldn't listen to my Word clear and plain and comforting, here it is in a foreign tongue, and not comforting at all."  Paul's use of it is saying, quite plainly, that to hear the Word of God spoken to you, and not understand it, is a sign of the condemnation of God on you.  Therefore, tongues are a sign to unbelievers, and not to believers.

    In my experience, those who claim a tongue have nothing new to say – nor would I trust it if they did.  Scriptures is my authority, and my security blanket.  If I stick with Scriptures, I will not go too far wrong.  I do know that many who claim the gift of tongues use it in a way that Scripture discourages.  They use it to draw attention to themselves, and then they teach things contrary to Scripture.  Those who have a real tongue should use it as Scripture provides - privately, for prayer and personal edification.

No, I am content to praise the Holy Spirit for the real miracle He works, dragging a sinner like me - by nature spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God - to the foot of the cross and teaching me to believe, and then holding me in faith against my nature and the allure of the devil, the world, and my own sinful flesh.  Sure, I would like to see something really snappy, like tongues of fire on my head, just like He did at Pentecost with the Apostles, but I will be content with the knowledge of my salvation, and the forgiveness of my sins, and certain hope of everlasting life, which He has worked in me through the Word.   How about you?

Yours in the Lord,
Pastor Fish

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