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December 2023

As we have seen in our study thus far, the Holy Spirit was certainly active in the Old Testament. Before we look at His ministry in the present age after Pentecost, it might be a good idea to look at His ministry in the New Testament before Pentecost. What was His ministry like before and during the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry?

At the very beginning of the New Testament period we read that an angel appeared to Zechariah with a message while he was performing his duty in the Temple. The point of that message was to announce the coming of a son to Zechariah and Elizabeth, a son to be called John (the baptizer), and to give his parents instructions about how they were to care for him. As a part of that message, the angel said that the child would be “great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15, ESV) Six months later, the angel Gabriel was sent to tell Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. When she inquired how that could be, the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35, ESV) Then, when Mary went to visit Elizabeth, we read, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,” (Luke 1:41, ESV) After John was born we read regarding Zechariah, “And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,” (Luke 1:67, ESV) Three times in these verses we read that someone was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and once that the Holy Spirit would come upon someone. In the October installment of this series we saw instances where the Holy Spirit was said to come upon someone for a time to enable them to accomplish unusual things. In later installments we will look at instances where people are said to be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Suffice it to say at present that I believe the primary idea is control.)

Not long after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph brought Him to the Temple to offer the appropriate sacrifices. Luke tells us, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,” (Luke 2:25–27, ESV) As in similar phrases seen previously, I take these to mean that the Holy Spirit had a temporary ministry with Simeon in which God let him know that he would see the Christ/Messiah and that the Holy Spirit sovereignly got him to the Temple at just the right time to recognize Jesus and utter a prophecy regarding Him.

We hear of nothing more of the Holy Spirit until we begin to read of the adult ministry of Jesus. That account begins with the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism of Jesus by John. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21–22, ESV See also Matthew 3:16, Mark1:10 and John 1:32) The next record of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus is in His temptation by Satan. “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1–2a, ESV) Immediately after the record of His temptation, Luke tells us, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.” (Luke 4:14, ESV) With the very next event recorded, Luke writes of the beginning of Jesus’ active ministry beginning in Galilee. Early in that ministry He went to Nazareth, His home town. On the Sabbath He went to the synagogue and read from the scroll that was given to him. The scroll was Isaiah, and the passage He read was from Isaiah 61:1-2: ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”” (Luke 4:18–19, ESV) I take “the Spirit of the Lord” to refer to the Holy Spirit. “And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”” (Luke 4:20–21, ESV) Jesus is claiming that His ministry was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah including the fact that the Holy Spirit was at work in Him and was directing His ministry. At a later time in the ministry of Jesus, Matthew quotes another passage from Isaiah, saying it was fulfilled by Jesus: ““Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 12:18, ESV) When Peter began to preach the gospel to the household of Cornelius, he said, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38, ESV) When the seventy-two, whom Jesus had sent out, returned to Him we read, “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21, ESV) The Holy Spirit was certainly active throughout the life and ministry of our Lord.


Part 2 November 2023

In the October installment of the GPS we began to look at the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. This month we will continue that study. In the December issue we will conclude the Old Testament part of our study and also look at a way in which His ministry in the Old Testament differed from His ministry in the New Testament.

Another ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was His involvement, one way or another, in the process of giving revelation. In the case of Ezekiel, He changed the physical position of the prophet so he could receive revelation more efficiently, and in some cases He actually spoke to him. (Ezekiel 2:2; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1) In other instances it appears that the Holy Spirit so overcame people that He seems to have controlled the very words that came out of their mouths. Balaam is one example (Num. 24:2). Micah claims that, in contrast with the false prophets, he is controlled by the Holy Spirit. “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.” (Micah 3:8, ESV)

The New Testament confirms the ministry of the Holy Spirit in communicating revelation in Scripture in three passages (Acts 1:16; 4:25; 2 Peter. 1:21).

A few passages tell us that the Holy Spirit was with the Israelites through the Exodus and wilderness wanderings.

Isaiah looks back at that period and describing Israel’s behavior, he says, “But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.” (Isaiah 63:10–14, ESV) Regarding the same period, Nehemiah records a time when several Levites exhorted the people to praise the LORD for what He had done for them. They actually gave them the words they should use in their praise. Speaking of the days of the Exodus, the words included: “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst.” (Nehemiah 9:20, ESV) A few verses later we read, “Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.” (Nehemiah 9:30, ESV) Haggai adds his testimony to the same time as a part of his words encouraging the returnees to continue the rebuilding of the Temple. “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.” (Haggai 2:4–5, ESV) During the entire time of the Exodus, the wilderness wandering and the entrance into the land the Holy Spirit was working with the nation.

The Old Testament also has passages that prophetically relate the Holy Spirit to the ministry of the Messiah. Isaiah says the Spirit will rest upon Him. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:1–2, ESV) Later in Isaiah the Messiah prophetically claims that that prophecy has been fulfilled in Him. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1–3, ESV) In the New Testament, Jesus claims that this prophecy was fulfilled in Him. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”” (Luke 4:16–21, ESV)


Part 1 October 2023

In July’s edition of the GPS I began a series of studies on the Holy Spirit. In the July and August editions of the GPS we looked at the Biblical information about the person of the Holy Spirit, His personality and then His deity. In September we took a break to look at an unrelated topic. In this month’s edition we will begin to look at the work of the Holy Spirit, to see what He does. We will start with His work recorded in the Old Testament. [I am greatly indebted to Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology for the content of this section.]  

The first two references to His work in the Old Testament are Genesis 1:2 and 6:3: “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 1:2, ESV) The Spirit had something to do with creation. “Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”” (Genesis 6:3, ESV) Rather than “abide in,” the NASB has “strive with” and the NIV has “contend with.”  In either case, the Holy Spirit was actively doing something related to people, for the text says that He would discontinue doing whatever it was. In both verses the exact nature of the work of the Holy Spirit is uncertain, but the fact that He is mentioned as active in both cases is clear. We will turn now to passages in the other sections of the Old Testament in which the nature of His work is clearly stated. It should be noted that in all of these cases His ministry is to specific individuals as opposed to the entire creation or to mankind as a mass. 

The Holy Spirit provided skill to people enabling them to perform various activities. Later in Genesis we read that the He provided skill in the area of administration. For example, it was obvious to Pharaoh that Joseph had great administrative ability because “the Spirit of God” was in him (Gen. 41:38). Then, during the days in the wilderness, when Moses needed help in governing the people, God took “some of the Spirit” that was on Moses and placed it on the seventy chosen to assist Moses and they prophesied as a result of that anointing (Num. 11:25). During the same period we see other aspects of His ministry. The Holy Spirit provided construction skill to Bezalel, a man who was largely responsible for work on the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:3-5; 35:31). Interestingly, about seven hundred years after the Exodus, Isaiah also mentions the Holy Spirit three times in connection with the wilderness wanderings in 63:10, 11, 14.  

Many years later, the entire process of constructing the Second Temple was a result of the work of the Holy Spirit according to Zechariah 4:6. During the period of the Judges we read that the Holy Spirit equipped various people with skill to perform military exploits. This was explicitly stated of Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (6:34), Jephthah (11:29), Samson (13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). This same ability was given by the Spirit to Saul early in his life. Samuel prophesied that the Spirit of God would come upon Saul and that he would become a different person (1 Samuel 10:6). This happened as Samuel had predicted (10:6). Sometime later, when Saul heard what the Nahash the Ammonite threatened to gouge out the right eyes of all the men of Jabesh-gilead, the Holy Spirit “rushed upon Saul” and he led a victorious attack delivering the people of Jabesh from the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:6).  

The action of the Holy Spirit during the transition from the reigns of Saul to David is very instructive. After Saul was rejected by the LORD from being king, Samuel was told by the LORD to anoint David to be the next king. So, Samuel went to do as he was told. “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Samuel 16:13–14, ESV) Sometime later, when Saul was trying to kill David, Saul heard that David was in Naioth. “Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.” (1 Samuel 19:20, ESV) When that did not work, Saul, himself went to try to capture David. “And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah.” (1 Samuel 19:23, ESV) In this case, the Holy Spirit sovereignly kept Saul from harming David. Later in David’s life, after he repented of his sin with Bathsheba, as a part of his prayer in Psalm 51 he said, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11, ESV) I assume that he was thinking about what had happened with Saul and did not want that to happen to him.    Next month we will conclude our survey of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and look at a difference between His ministry in the Old Testament and the New. 


August 2023 GPS

In July’s edition of the GPS I began a series of studies on the Holy Spirit. My goal in that issue was to show that the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force. I began there rather than with the issue of the deity of the Holy Spirit because it is with the question of His personality that most people struggle. Still, I would be remiss in my responsibility if I did not examine what the Bible says about His deity, so that is the topic for this month’s installment.

The deity of the Holy Spirit is referred to as God. “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”” (Acts 5:3–4, ESV) To lie to the Holy Spirit was to lie to God. In Acts 28:25-27, Paul reprimands some Romans, who refused to believe what he had said about Jesus, by quoting a passage from Isaiah 6:9-10. He introduces that passage by saying, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers.” However, Isaiah 6:3 & 5 clearly identify the one speaking there as the LORD (Yahweh) of hosts. The Holy Spirit is identified with Yahweh. The writer of Hebrews does the same kind of thing in Heb. 10:15-17. There he quotes Jer. 31:33-34 by introducing that quotation with, “the Holy Spirit also testifies to us.” Three times Jeremiah identifies the speaker as LORD (Yahweh) and once as God (Elohim). The Holy Spirit is identified with Yahweh and Elohim.

He is associated with the other members of the godhead in a way that only makes sense if He is deity. The Great Commission reads: ““Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19, NASB95) That instruction about baptism would be passing strange if the Holy Spirit were not God. Imagine the instruction reading, “Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Apostle Paul.” Paul was a great man but it would be heretical to identify Paul in such a way. The same thing can be said about the reference to the three members of the godhead in 2 Cor. 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14, ESV) We see this same truth in something Jesus said to His followers not long before His death. In his fine book, Foundations of the Christian Faith, James Boice wrote: “One of the clearest indications of the full divinity of the Holy Spirit is found on the lips of Jesus when he promised to send the Spirit to the disciples to be “another Counselor” (Jn. 14:16). Here the important word is another. In Greek there are two different words for another. There is allos, the word used here (meaning “another just like the first one”), and there is heteros (meaning “totally different”), from which we get our word heterodox. Since the word allos rather than heteros occurs in this text, Jesus is saying that he will send the disciples a person just like himself, that is, one who is fully divine. Who is the first Counselor? Jesus. He had been the disciples’ strength and counsel during the years of his ministry among them. Now he is going away, and in his place he will be sending a second Counselor who is just like him.” (emphasis mine)

His attributes are those of deity. He is omnipresent. David asked, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7, ESV) Then he uses terms that denote the idea of everywhere in creation. The Spirit of God is also said to be omniscient. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit: “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.” (John 16:13, ESV) Paul elaborates a bit on this when he wrote regarding things God has prepared for us: “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10–11, ESV) He is also omnipotent. “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35, ESV) Notice that “the Holy Spirit” is parallel with “the power of the Most High” indicating that the two references are to the same being.

What is the practical value of the doctrine of the deity of the Holy Spirit? What difference does it make? (That question will be partly addressed in this article, but in future editions of the GPS, as we look at the works of the Holy Spirit, we will see a much more complete answer.) Because He is omnipresent, we need to remember that we can never get away from Him but that also means we never need to worry for fear He may be unreachable for us. He will never leave us or desert us. He will always be there for us. Because He is omniscient, He knows everything. He knows our needs, our weaknesses, our temptations, our sins, our fears, our thoughts and our motivations. He also knows our past as well as the future and what we will face. All of this knowledge perfectly equips Him to help, strengthen, guide, comfort, teach, exhort, convict and equip us for every challenge. Because He is omnipotent, there is no challenge too great for Him to enable us to meet and overcome it. Because He is deity all of the other attributes of God are His attributes. He is love. He is good. He is faithful. He is merciful. He is gracious. He is true. He is holy. How can we see more clearly how these attributes are manifested in our lives? I plan to explore that matter in the months ahead. God willing, we will gain a greater appreciation for this wonderful Person and experience a closer relationship with Him as a result of our study.


July 2023 GPS

In the past few months it has come to my attention, through various questions and comments, that there is both a general ignorance of, and a desire for more information about, the Holy Spirit, especially in comparison to similar information about the other two members of the Trinity. For that reason, I plan to devote my articles for the next six months or so to some studies on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. My hope and prayer is that these studies will not just be intellectually useful but that they would also be of genuine spiritual benefit to all of us.   

I will begin our study with an examination of the Biblical evidence for the personality of the Holy Spirit. By that I mean passages that show us that the Holy Spirit is not a “thing” or an “impersonal force” but a real person with all of the qualities that we associate with a person as opposed to a thing such as intellect, emotions and a will. All of these qualities are attributed to the Holy Spirit in the Bible. His intellect can be seen in 1 Corinthians: “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:10–13, ESV) That He has emotions can be seen in Ephesians: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, ESV) His will can be seen in 1 Corinthians where Paul speaks about the provision of spiritual gifts: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:11, ESV)   

Furthermore, He does things that only persons (not things) can do. He guides and speaks: “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.” (John 16:13, ESV) He convicts. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:8, ESV) He intercedes. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26, ESV)   

He is said to be the recipient of actions such as we

only associate with being directed to persons. For example, He can be obeyed: “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?”” (Acts 10:19–21, ESV) He can be lied to: “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?” (Acts 5:3, ESV) He can be resisted: ““You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51, ESV) He can be grieved: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, ESV) He can be outraged: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29, ESV)    Why is the personality of the Holy Spirit important other than to provide further evidence for the Trinity? Does the doctrine of the personality of the Holy Spirit have any real spiritual value? Maybe it would help answer that question if we thought about things versus people in our lives. Our dining room table comfortably seats four or six people without the leaves being inserted. If we plan to have more than six people at that table we insert one or two of the leaves which are otherwise stored out of sight. We only think of them and use them on rare occasions when they are needed. That is not a problem because they are “things.” If we treated “persons” like that we would be the worst kind of manipulators. Because they are persons, we talk to them and listen to them, not just when we need them, but all of the time. If we have any kind of significant relationship with them, we care about how they are doing, what they are thinking, how they relate to us and how we relate to them. We are interested in their plans and hopes. We want to share our lives with them and participate in their lives as well because we probably rely upon them to some degree, depending upon the relationship we have with them. That is the kind of a relationship we should have with the Holy Spirit because He is a person. In the coming months I hope to discuss more fully what the Bible says about our relationship with this wonderful Person. 


(Part 9)

May 2023 GPS

The responsibilities we will look at this month are closely related to each other. They are the duties of instructing, teaching and admonishing one another. The verses that allude to these responsibilities are: “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14, ESV) “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16, ESV) We will look at the meanings of the words underlined above and then at the verses in which they are found. The three different English words in the above verses, “instruct, teach and admonish,” come from only two Greek words.

The Greek word behind “teaching” in the Colossians passage is the normal word for that activity, and it is used about 200 times in the New Testament, with the of giving instruction to someone. Undoubtedly the teaching in any of these cases was intended to affect the behavior of those receiving the instruction, but the word itself focuses attention on the act of imparting information to someone rather than on correcting or warning against wrong behavior. The Greek verb translated “instruct” in Romans 15:14 is the same Greek verb translated “admonishing” in Colossians 3:16. It is used only 8 times in the New Testament, and the ESV translates it as “admonish” 5 times, “warn” 2 times, and “instruct” once (in Romans 15:14). It focuses attention on correcting or warning against wrong behavior not just imparting information. We can get a feel for the meaning of this term by looking at two of its usages in the New Testament. 1. When Paul was saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he said, “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:31, ESV) Paul was seriously concerned about the spiritual welfare of his Ephesian brothers and sisters. His tears were evidence of his profound concern. To caution or warn would certainly be more accurate synonyms for the activity in which Paul had been engaged than “instruct”. 2. In 1 Corinthians, after Paul had scolded his readers for their attitude toward him, he wrote, ““I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” (1 Corinthians 4:14, ESV) Again, the idea is close to warning or cautioning people about a wrong behavior. One of the two verses in the introduction of this study puts the two responsibilities together. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16, ESV)

Having looked at the words for teaching and admonishing, we will now see what we can learn from the contexts in which those responsibilities are found. The sentence in which we find Paul’s comment about instructing (or better admonishing) one another is significant. He wrote, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14, ESV) Paul was satisfied (better convinced) that because the Roman believers were “full of goodness” and “filled with all knowledge” they would be able to do the instructing/admonishing that needed to be done. Notice that he did not say that they merely “had” goodness and knowledge but that they were “full” or “filled” with them. There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that they were equipped to do what was expected of them.  If we remember that this epistle was written about 57 AD and that the church in Rome was probably founded by Jews who had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover in 33 AD and had experienced the events of Pentecost before returning to Rome and that as far as we know no Apostle had gone there to establish the church, Paul’s confidence in them is a powerful testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his readers during those 24 intervening years. If they were equipped to do this work, surely we are as well.

The sentence in Colossians 3:16 is also enlightening . “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16, ESV) Actually, the instruction is, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” The participles (verbs ending in “ing”) that follow it simply state results that should flow out of the word of Christ dwelling richly in God’s people. ““The Word of Christ” does not exclude the Old Testament but includes the additional Word that Christ gave to his apostles who were to transmit it to the church. Although it was as yet only partly written, the New Testament was abundantly transmitted orally. “Let it dwell in you richly in all wisdom” = let it inhabit you as if you were the house and home of this Word, let it do this in a rich way by filling every nook and corner of your being with its blessed, spiritual wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge in the right and the wise way.”1 If God’s Word really does permeate our hearts and minds controlling our thoughts and wills, the result will be the kinds of activities which this verse describes.

Generally we do not want anyone telling us what we should or should not do. For that reason we are reticent to do this for others. The problem is that there are times when all of us need correction. Will our behavior be governed by the spirit of the age or by the Word of God? 

1 Lenski, R. C. H. (1937). The interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (p. 177). Lutheran Book Concern.


(Part 8)

April 2023 GPS

The responsibility we will look at this month is that we are to submit to one another. It is very closely related to that of serving one another, which was the responsibility we looked at last month. The passage which states that obligation is in Ephesians 5: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, ESV) This phrase is a small part of a larger sentence, and it comes at the end of that sentence. The whole sentence reads: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18–21, ESV) There are two commands in this sentence. The first is negative: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” The second is positive and is presented in contrast to the first: “be filled with the Spirit.” Three things should be noted about this instruction. In this article I would like to look at all three of them. The first two items come from the immediate context and the third comes from the way the word, “submit,” is used throughout the New Testament. (Before I get into the meat of this study I think it would be wise to note that this admonition, like the one we looked at in March, is very pertinent to our day, because freedom to do whatever one wants is often seen as the chief goal for all of life. “No one is going to tell me what to do” is the motto of many people in our society today. Every one of us is told that we are the most important people around and that satisfying our own desires is our first responsibility.)  

Now, let’s take a closer look at the instruction for this month. First, from the immediate context, the command to be filled with the Spirit is followed by five participles (in bold type above) which give examples of actions that are results that flow out of being filled with the Spirit. All of these activities are results of a person’s being filled with (controlled by) the Holy Spirit. The first three have to do with music. The fourth has to do with giving thanks always. The fifth is the one we are studying: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”. We will look below at the meaning of this phrase, but now I would like to consider the relationship between the five participles and the command that governs them. Our behavior is not to be controlled by [something like] alcohol. It is to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. The verb “be filled” is in the present tense (here indicating an action that is continuous). In other words, this “filling” or control is to be the continual experience of believers. Furthermore, the verb is in the passive voice (indicating that the subject is receiving the action). It is not an action accomplished by us but by someone else, in this case, the Holy Spirit. Since He is the one performing the action, our responsibility is to make sure we do not obstruct Him in His work but rather cooperate with Him. That is consistent with admonitions we see elsewhere such as: “Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19, ESV) “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, ESV) “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, ESV) In other words, the life of one who is continuously seeking to submit to the control of the Holy Spirit will include actions like the ones enumerated in those verses.  

Second, also from the immediate context, the submission is to be done “out of reverence for (or fear of) Christ.” The NASB gives a very literal translation: “in the fear of Christ.” The preposition “in” in Greek (translated “out of” in ESV) that begins the phrase in Greek is extremely broad in its meanings. Here I take the reference to be something like the sphere in which the submission is to be rendered. In other words, we are to submit to one another “because of,” “in a way that is governed by” or “that reflects the character of” or “reverence for” Christ. The primary motivation for this submission is not to be found in the one we are submitting to or the consequences that will come if we are not submissive. The primary motivation is to be to honor, please, or imitate the Lord. (Obviously, that would eliminate any submission that would violate His precepts as in Acts 5:29.)   

Third, the way the word “submit” is used throughout the New Testament is also significant. It is used 38 times in 31 verses in the New Testament, and each time it reflects submission to a God constituted authority or God designed situation. Examples are wives to husbands, children to parents, slaves to masters, citizens to governmental authorities, church members to their leaders, and everything and everyone to God. It does not indicate anything about intelligence or ability. The idea is to fit in with the plans of another in a way that is helpful, assuming that those plans do not violate Biblical guidelines. It means that we follow the leadership of those whom God has placed in authority over us rather than demanding to get our own way. The greatest example of this was the behavior of our Lord toward Mary and Joseph: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51, ESV) If He could be in submission to them, can we not be in submission to other humans? 


(Part 7)

March 2023 GPS

The admonitions we will look at this month and the next, like those of the previous months, call us to do good for others, but they also address the matter of the attitude which is to govern what we do for one another. In today’s social climate these admonitions are especially needed. The one we will study this month is that we are to serve one another.  

The call to serve one another is found in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13, ESV) The context of this verse helps us to get a better understanding of what it means. Paul has been talking about how in one sense we are no longer under the Mosaic Law code. Here he reminds his readers that they were not to use that freedom to satisfy their own personal desires. Rather, they were to use that freedom in a way that would serve one another. The culture in which we live in America today encourages us to think of ourselves first. From a song taught to children years ago that said, “The most important person in the whole wide world is you,” to today’s commercials that encourage us to buy items because “you deserve these things,” we are bombarded with the message that we are to think of ourselves first. We are even told that we cannot love others unless we love ourselves, so self-love is a morally positive responsibility. That mindset shows how countercultural it is to teach that we ought to serve others. In contrast to this mindset, Paul admonishes us: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3–4, ESV) Elsewhere he writes “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:2, ESV)   

This instruction was to be applied in all kinds of interpersonal contexts. In the New Testament world where slavery existed everywhere, Paul wrote, “Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things.” (1 Timothy 6:2, ESV) In relation to a totally different kind of relationship Paul wrote, “But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” (Philippians 2:22, ESV) I find it interesting that the Greek noun related to the verb “serve” is the word for “slave.” I am not suggesting that we are to attach all of the associations of being a slave to the meaning conveyed by “serve,” but I am suggesting that the mindset we are to have when we think of our relationship to other believers ought to be to minister to them rather than to satisfy our own desires.  

Our Lord called His disciples to manifest this same attitude by reminding them that He had set the example Himself. “But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be and served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Matthew 20:25–28, ESV) In his letter to the believers at Philippi Paul reminded his readers of this fact when he wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5–7, ESV marginal reading) Since our Lord, God incarnate, came to earth not to be served but to serve, and since that service involved the great sacrifice that it did, and if we claim to be His followers, is it asking too much for us to make it a habit of life to seek to serve others rather than to be served, especially if they are fellow believers?  

One other phrase in our Galatians passage needs to be noted as part of Paul’s instructions about serving one another. Galatians 5:13 says that this service is to be performed “through love.” It is not to be done with a resentful or resistant attitude but out of genuine love. Paul emphasizes the importance of love two more times in this context. The very next verse says: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Galatians 5:14, ESV) Earlier in the same section he said: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6, ESV) We are called to serve others through love. When something is said to be done “through love,” I understand that to mean that acts or expressions of love are the means through which we are to serve others.  Jesus said, ““A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV) If we truly love, we will also serve.  


(Part 6)

February 2023 GPS

 This month we continue to study what the Bible says about how we are to treat one another as believers. We will do so by looking at two more general, less specific instructions about the way we are to do this. In a sense these instructions describe the overall goal for which we are to exercise the more specific commands like the call to bear with one another.  For example, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote:  “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15, ESV)  

The context of this verse sheds a bit of light on its use in this passage:  “Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 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.” (1 Thessalonians 5:13b–22, ESV) Notice that this admonition is located in the middle of a number of very brief general admonitions which are to guide our behavior as part of the family of God. Furthermore, this set of instructions comes at the end of this epistle. It is as though, having dealt with the primary topics that were the reason Paul wrote this epistle, he felt the need to quickly include a number of miscellaneous but important instructions for the Thessalonian believers whom he loved. It is what we might do when we come to the end of a letter to a loved one that we had written to address one or two important issues. We are about to conclude our letter with the normal end greetings but then remember a few matters that are too important to remain unsaid so we jot them down in brief at the end. That is what Paul is doing in these verses. All of his instructions are important but apparently he is not able to spend more time explaining each one of the responsibilities which he mentions. Still, they are too crucial to be omitted entirely, so he gives them in brief form.  

The content of the verse is especially relevant for us because it is counter intuitive to the natural man. It talks about how we, as believers in Jesus, are to respond when evil is done to us. In that situation, the natural reaction is to get even, to return evil for evil. As believers, however, we are to do what is good for the person who has wronged us. It is insightful to notice the personnel and frequency included in the instruction in this verse: “no one,” “anyone,” “always,” and “everyone.” In other words, there is never a person or situation in which we are not called to do good things, even when we are wronged. This all-inclusive terminology is repeated in the other admonitions in that paragraph. Our whole lives as Christians are to be characterized as those who do good things. I think it is interesting that a pejorative description that is sometimes used to describe certain people today is that they are “do gooders.” In today’s usage it is not meant as a compliment! Still, this is how we are to live.  

A nearly synonymous instruction to returning good for evil is found in a verse which we considered last month in another connection. That instruction is: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV) The act of being “kind” in that verse seems to be very closely related to being “tenderhearted” and willing to forgive those who have mistreated us. That is one way we can return good for evil. God, Himself, is the model we are to follow in being kind to those who have been unkind to us as He forgives those who have sinned against Him. That understanding of the word may be may be seen in two other passages. On one occasion Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” (Luke 6:35, ESV) Notice the sorts of people to whom God is said to be kind: the ungrateful and the evil. In Romans, Paul reflects on this same attribute of God when he warns unbelievers to repent and not to assume that the kindness of God will continue indefinitely.  “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV) God’s kindness in this passage is directed to those who have done wrong in His sight. His judgment will come in time if there is no repentance, but His forbearance and patience are manifested in the fact that He does not execute judgment quickly but rather waits, giving time to repent. 

God calls us to do good and to be kind to one another. We are to behave this way at all times. It is true that in the verses we have looked at in this installment the applications were specifically addressed to situations in which we have been mistreated. I believe the reason for that is that those kinds of instances provide us with the greatest challenges to be kind and to do good. If we do good and kind deeds in those situations, we are certainly to behave the same way in less challenging circumstances. Do others see the character of our heavenly Father in the deeds of goodness and kindness we perform? 


(Part 5)

January 2023 GPS

This month, as we continue to study what the Bible says about how we are to treat one another as believers, we will look at our responsibility to “bear with one another” and “forgive one another.” These two responsibilities are addressed in three passages. The first one is in Ephesians: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV) This passage reminds us that a “walk” or behavior that is worthy of our calling as Christians will include “bearing with one another in love.” If we do not walk/live that way we are not walking worthy of our calling as Christians. Furthermore, it remind us of the kinds of attitudes (humility, gentleness, and patience) that are to be the atmosphere in which we bear with one another. Finally, it tells us that a goal that is to be in the minds of such believers is that they will be eager (not just willing) to maintain the unity produced by the Holy Spirit. That unity is damaged when we do not bear with one another. Clearly, bearing with one another is an important responsibility. Exactly what does it mean “to bear with” one another? One New Testament dictionary defines the word translated “bear with” as meaning to “have patience with in regard to the errors or weaknesses of anyone.” It is to be done “in love” not bitterness or resentment. We see an example of Jesus doing this very thing in Matthew 17 when He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John. “And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”” (Matthew 17:14–17, ESV) Jesus was saddened by the lack of peoples’ faith. Still, He cured the boy, explained to the disciples why they had not been able to produce a cure in this case, and continued to work with them. 

The second passage, also in Ephesians 4, deals with the responsibility to forgive one another: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV) Similar to the case with the previous verse in Ephesians, this one notes that the kind of heart out of which the responsibility being commanded flows is characterized by kindness and tenderheartedness. Furthermore, the example which is set before us to follow in forgiving others is the way “God in Christ forgave” us. That should lead us to consider what the Bible says about the way God has forgiven us. In David’s description of God’s love for us he wrote, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12, ESV)  

Immediately after a verse in which God describes the sins of His people, He says through Isaiah, ““I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25, ESV) In Jeremiah’s beautiful elaboration of the terms of the New Covenant, the LORD says through the prophet, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:34, ESV) Our Lord applied this same principle to the way we are to forgive when He answered Peter’s question. “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21–22, ESV) In essence Jesus was saying, “Forgive by forgetting.” If we keep track of wrongs done to us, we are not forgiving as God in Christ has forgiven us. 

The third passage addresses both our responsibilities to bear with one and forgive one another. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:12–13, ESV) Here, Paul calls us to behave as people who have been chosen (called) by God. That will mean “putting on” hearts characterized by kindness and humility and meekness and patience. Hearts with those qualities will be recognized by the fact that they bear with one another, and when they have a complaint, they forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven us. If we do not forgive in this way, it shows something about the condition of our hearts. Humility, gentleness, patience, kindness, tenderheartedness, compassion, and meekness are at least to some degree missing. One more thing should be said about this general topic. Although we are called to bear with one another and forgive one another, that does not mean we are to ignore sin when we encounter it. What are we to do? We will look at that responsibility in next month’s installment. Although I suppose one could bear with others or forgive them via electronic media, it is hard for me to believe that the kind of a relationship that is being described by these actions could be carried on without real personal contact. 

                                                        -Pastor Robert Spicer1 Zodhiates, S. (2000). In The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). AMG Publishers.