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The Holy Spirit #11: The Spirit of Power for Ministry
We have seen how the Holy Spirit has a number of different roles in the life of believer. First we saw His role in bringing us to be born again in the first place. Then we saw His ministry of promoting Jesus Christ in our hearts, then as the sanctifier of the human soul (producing the fruits of the Spirit in us), then as our Helper, our Paraclete, then as the Spirit of adoption, moving us to cry out "Abba, Father" to God. And last month we talked about the issue of the leading of the Holy Spirit and saw how the Spirit leads us to do that which is righteous and Christ-like and leads us away from that which is of the flesh. In this article we will talk about the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of power for ministry, in other words, the Holy Spirit’s work in moving us to care about and reach out to others in the love of Christ.
It should not surprise us that it is the Holy Spirit who equips us for ministry for it was the Holy Spirit who came upon Jesus at the Jordan when it was time to begin His public ministry.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Perhaps the first thing that comes to our minds (and, for some, strikes fear into the soul) when we think of the Holy Spirit equipping us for ministry is the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let’s reflect on some of the things the Bible tells us about the gifts of the Spirit:
God wants us to know about spiritual gifts. In 1Cor.12:1 He tells us through Paul, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant."
Gifts of the Holy Spirit are given by the Spirit (1Cor.12:4) to every believer for service to the body (1Cor.12:7 "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.").
They are given by the Holy Spirit exactly according to the purposes of God (1Cor.12:11 "One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills." and 1Cor.12:18 "God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.")
No one who can say he doesn’t need the gifts of others (1Cor.12:21 "The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’")
No one can say that his gift isn’t needed (1Cor.12:15-16 "If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.")
There is no spiritual gift that everyone has. (1Cor 12:29-30 "All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?" and Romans 12:4-5 "We have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function.")
What a privilege it is that God in His grace has given each of His children at least one gift, a gift that we are given to use to love and bless one another! "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (1Peter 4:10)
Empowering Us to Witness in the World
But the Holy Spirit is also very much involved in empowering us to be witnesses of Christ in the world. One significant change from the OT to the NT was the opening up of God's covenant activity from exclusively Israel to "all mankind" (Acts 2:17). God, having restricted His old covenant to Israel, now, in the new covenant pours out His Spirit on all men, Gentiles as well as Jews (see Eph. 3:4-6). Once the promised Messiah has come, it is not enough that the Israelites alone worship Him. His greatness demands an international hearing. In Isaiah 49:6 God the Father says to His Son Jesus, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Before the ascension, Jesus, speaking of Pentecost, laid out this agenda: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witness both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Notice how this proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth is integrally connected with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost (see also Gal. 3:14, Acts 2:17, 38-39; 3:25-26). On the day of Pentecost, God Himself highlighted this aspect of the newness of the covenant by speaking in a wide variety of languages, thereby showing that He is now ready to speak His word to men of every tongue and bring men from every nation, tribe and tongue together as one in the new covenant. (Presumably, this is why God had the NT written in Greek, the universal language, instead of Hebrew, which was the language of the Jews and of the OT.) The distinctions between men are abolished when people enter into the new covenant:
"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal.3:26-28)
"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." (1Cor.12:13)
But not only did God show at Pentecost that He was now speaking the languages of all men, He also showed that it was through the mouths of His people that He was going to speak to all men. By putting His tongue (of fire) upon them and then speaking through their tongues, He shows us the means He has ordained by which the truth of Christ will go forth into the world (Ac 2:3-4). This is just what Jesus told the disciples beforehand in Acts 1:8: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Cf. Luke 24:46-49) (Even though this was directly spoken of the apostles, it certainly has application for us as well.)
The Holy Spirit does the work of turning men into missionaries. And not just some men. God calls every one of His people to be missionaries wherever He places them. God doesn’t just empower us to enjoy His salvation. He empowers us to spread His salvation. We need a zeal not only to be but also to be used. Evangelism is never mentioned as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Eph.4:11 lists "evangelists" along with apostles, prophets and pastor/teachers. But there is a lot of evidence to show that this word "evangelist" here is being used as a technical term to refer to an apostolic delegate, and not to a church member who is good at evangelism. This is a task that belongs to us all.
How Does the Holy Spirit Empower for Ministry?
In order to empower us for ministry the Holy Spirit moves in our hearts, giving us love and compassion for others, filling us with the love and fear of Christ so that we don’t fear men. He puts in us an increasingly Christ-like attitude, an attitude that wants to do good, that values others, an attitude that doesn’t just look past people, but recognizes each person as having been made in the image of God and in need of love. This attitude causes us, when we come in contact with another person, to not just see him/her as a person who is there to take my money and give me a receipt, or a person who has come to fix something in our house. He teaches us to look at others in the same way Christ looked at others. The Holy Spirit is the One who puts love in our hearts: love for Christ, love for Christ’s kingdom, love for the lost. And there is power in love — love will drive you to do things that could never have been done otherwise. "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of power and love and discipline." (2Tim.1:7) God is the One who grants us, "according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man." (Ephesians 3:16)
We said earlier that Christ is too great a Savior to be worshiped only in Israel. Isn’t that true for us, as well? Christ is too great to be worshiped only by us. We must tell all men of His greatness and call all men to worship Him. Should not those who are Christ's be more courageous than those who fight to oppose Him?
Weakness and Boldness
This is what we ought to be. But this is not generally what we are. Most of us don’t feel very bold or very loving. I know that I personally feel like a miserable failure in the area of outreach and boldness and love. But the Scriptures give us encouragement when it comes to this. Acts 4:29 records the prayer of a group of God’s people after Peter was delivered from prison by the angel: "And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence." The answer comes in v.31: "And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness." Why did they pray for boldness? Because they were feeling so bold? No, because they tempted to wilt in the face of the threats. It was because they felt so weak but they knew they were supposed to be strong. In the face of opposition they didn’t avoid the activity that got them in trouble, but instead they prayed for even greater boldness. Notice what Paul asks prayer for in Eph.6:19-20: "pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." We see clearly again here that even those who are filled with the Spirit still have a sense of weakness and timidity that they feel within them. But they resist it by pleading with God to give them the strength to fulfill their duty to be bold. The Holy Spirit doesn't necessarily change the way we feel, sometimes He only changes the inner determination we have to do what God wants irrespective of how we feel. This isn’t the power of feeling strong. It is the power of feeling weak. Paul begged his friends to pray for boldness. This is where it must start. We must pray for revival in our souls and ask our friends to pray for us as well. Please pray for revival in my own life. I want to be like this. And I hope you do too. We need more prayers that God would fill us with His Holy Spirit. Jesus said, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" (Luke 11:13)
Acts 8:1-4 is a marvelous example of Holy Spirit power in spite of human weakness: "...on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles... Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." This is an amazing story. Think about what these people were going through. They had left jobs and homes, they had grabbed only a few things before they left town. And now they were displaced, homeless, without provisions. And yet as they scattered, they preached the gospel. For one thing, they weren’t all caught up in worrying about worldly things. On the other hand, they were able to be concerned about others even when they were in great need. Picture this scene. A few Christian families come into a town, fleeing from persecution. The people of the town have houses, they have jobs, they have food to eat. Do the Christians think of themselves as the needy ones? No, they recognize that it is the people who have homes and jobs and food that are the needy ones. Why? Because they do not have Christ. The fact that they were fleeing persecution meant that they had a hearing that they could never have had otherwise. It is hard to imagine that part of the openness of these hearers was not the attitude of the people who were bold and joyful in spite of being hated and hunted and homeless. If they had not accepted the persecution as from God, they would never have taken advantage of this opportunity to plant churches and proclaim the gospel. Wouldn’t our first inclination be to get depressed by the displacement and the stress of fear and persecution? What a ministry we can have through interpreting troubles as divine opportunities to testify to those who otherwise we would never had contact with and who would have been much less willing to listen!
A while ago a number of us went out door-to-door into the neighborhoods around the church. My partner and I went down Cerro Gordo Rd., where some of the houses are simply palatial, and the yards immaculate and breath-takingly beautiful. And I was tempted to think, "Why would these folks be interested in us or in our church? Here I am driving up to their house in a sixteen year old car and our church building looks more like a warehouse than like a cathedral. But, you know, we must learn to see that all of our circumstances are opportunities and callings from God. One of the things that rich people need most is to see that happiness does not come from material things. They need to see that I have a richness far greater than their richness, because I have Jesus Christ. This only comes from the Holy Spirit. How else can the weak say, "I am strong!"? How else can the poor say, "I am rich."? (James 1:9)