Don't put out the Spirit's fire
Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire
1 Thess. 5:19
19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.
Many of the works of God are unstoppable and immutable. In creation, in resurrection, in judgement. Nothing can stand in the way of such works – and they give us cause for awe and amazement. But some of His works are of a different kind. He moves amongst His people with a gentleness and unobtrusiveness that also surprises us.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is sometimes like those first works of God – such a work was the coming of the Spirit at Penetecost – but mostly “His ways are ways of gentleness and all his paths are peace”. He comes quietly up to us and, like the time he spoke to Elijah on Horeb, He speaks with the voice of a gentle breeze. You might almost miss it.
In a way that does not surprise us – because we look at our Lord Jesus and we see how the Spirit came upon him and his ministry was described:
Matthew 12:17-21 (NIV)
17 This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. 19 He will not quarrel or cry out; no-one will hear his voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. 21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”
If you ask some people about the ministry of the Holy Spirit they will want to tell you about those gifts that are most evident – tongues, prophesying, interpretation, healing… Such gifts cannot be ministered without us noticing. But others will speak of a quiet INNER working of the Spirit – a personal awareness of the presence of Jesus brought to the believer by the Spirit of God.
In the verse before us this morning both kinds of ministry are suggested – but I want you to think in particular about that gentle ministry – almost unobtrusive – in which the Spirit brings “Christ to every soul, and mine”.
But Paul is most concerned that that ministry is being extinguished!
His words are literally : “Stop putting out the Spirit’s fire.”
It might seem to some of us rather strange that The Holy Spirit can be frustrated in His desire to bring us the voice and message of God. We might wonder that He does not burst in on our consciousness and make us listen – but that is not His way – and it is sadly, and actually possible that we – like the Thessalonian Christians are “putting out the Spirit’s fire”.
This is a truly awful prospect – that God is communicating with us – and we are ignoring His words or treating His utterances with contempt.
I believe that we have to face up to this very serious possibility so that we can put it right and receive His ministry without hindrance.
I would like you to consider the following three aspects of this teaching:
Putting out the Spirit’s fire means that I am turning my Back on God
Putting out the Spirit’s fire means I am allowing myself to drift
Putting out the Spirit’s fire means I am affecting the spiritual life of others
As we do that we shall begin to realise that this can happen in a variety of ways.
§ Sometimes we make a deliberate choice to turn away from God’s Spirit
§ Sometimes we begin to ignore His pleadings in our lives
§ Sometimes we say “Yes” but we actually procrastinate
§ Sometimes we do it and seem not even to realise that we are.
But the effects are always the same – we grow cold, we become uncertain of the way to go, we begin to drift into ways that do not please God at all. We need to recognise how serious a matter it is.
On Pentecost – the birthday of the Church – this teaching is especially relevant.
1. Putting out the Spirit’s fire means that I am turning my back on God.
In ordinary everyday conversations that happens – doesn’t it? We are distracted for a moment and we turn our back on someone we are talking with. They feel snubbed perhaps – or grieved (another word used in this context!). We did not intend to spurn them – but that is what happens.
Paul is writing to the Thessalonians about Spiritual gifts in particular.
He goes on to talk about prophecy treated with contempt
testing everything and keeping to the truth
and avoiding every kind of evil
We may feel that some aspects of the Spirit’s work are for other Christians only. We may have very definite ideas about how He works amongst His people. We may be worried about a freedom to explore His other works.
Sometimes we are cautious because we are unsure – but there is always a risk that by being selective we are “putting out the Spirit’s fire…”
We are worried about the church being split by such ideas – we forget that the Holy Spirit is surely to be trusted – He knows the mind of the Father!
So it is possible that we turn our back on God in respect of certain gifts that He still gives to His church.
We put out the Spirit’s fire – by denying His effective working in our lives – this is DISREGARDING THE SPIRIT
Secondly we turn our backs on God by hearing His word – knowing what He wants us to do for Him and for each other – and we frankly REFUSE TO OBEY
Again – perhaps because we know that the COST IS HIGH
Or because we are OTHERWISE PREOCCUPIED
Knowing what God wants and not doing it is turning your back on God. It is putting out the Holy Spirit’s fire.
Thirdly we PUT IT OFF – we know He is calling us to a deeper faith, a greater love, a special work – and we say “Yes Lord – but not now!”. We PROCRASTINATE.
How must this make Him feel? He sends a clear message “God does not matter that much in my life…”
No wonder we feel cold and listless!
Let’s look a little closer at how this works out in our own lives:
2. Putting out the Spirit’s fire means allowing myself to drift.
In the second part of the paragraph – v21 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. Paul is teaching a level of carefulness and attention to our spiritual life that never assumes on matters of truth, and always pursues what is good.
We need to notice how insidiously the extinguishing of the Spirit’s fire affects us:
Like any untended lamp or fire – it begins to flicker, to sputter and then to die down – until all that is left is a few embers – and finally just ashes.
It is an inexorable process that begins with CARELESSNESS IN MATTERS SPIRITUAL.
I may not set myself up as an authority – and say categorically that I no longer believe these things – I simply find them less and less appealing.
Does the Scripture move us as it once did?
Does worship feature high on our list of “must haves”?
Does prayer mean more than a sporadic outburst in time of need?
As we said to children you can blow out the candle, or deliberately snuff it out – but you can also walk away and leave it to burn out.
No wonder Paul instructed Timothy to keep it burning: 2 Tim 1 v 6:
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
Fire spreads, warms, empowers, purifies, lights, consumes what is dross.
Is that work of God’s Spirit active in my life? Or am I drifting – quenching the Spirit?
And finally we need to see this warning in the context of Church life – for it is not only something that affects my personal life – I can quench the work of god in OTHERS!
3. Putting out the Spirit’s fire means that I am affecting the life of others.
I am sure you have noticed how a group of people behave differently than the strongest characters in that group. Noticed that one member can have a VIBRANT effect upon others – and another can have a DAMPENING effect on others.
We do not live to our selves – we are part of a family.
Family means SHARING – sharing the good times – and sharing the bad times too.
What sort of effect do you have – do I have – on those around me in the fellowship?
I want to ask you what kind of Christian you want to be. Do you want to be a constant source of ENCOURAGEMENT – or a constant cause of CAUTION?
A flame that ignites – or a snuffer that puts out the smallest flame?
Consider how easy it is for us to dampen the enthusiasm of others.
It may stem from theological differences – or from selfish desires to be the main force in the group. It may masquerade under the guise of spiritual correctness – when in fact it is questioning every new initiative and every fresh idea.
Of course it is not always INTENTIONAL – that’s how insidious it is. A chance remark, a throw away word of criticism – an unkind glance – a questioning look when someone suggests an new venture or a new way forward?
But the effect is DEVASTATING – anything from a temporary falling out of friends – to a lasting self-doubt in a another believer.
Yes! Concentrate on the quenching of the Spirit in the individual life – and your own especially – but have a thought for the way you quench the tiny flame in someone else who has just discovered a new truth from God. And you knew it a long time ago so your word or your expression DAMPENS it in them.
Such FAMILY FIRE EXTINGUISHING is highly effective – and for all the wrong reasons!
“Oh I wouldn’t do that … read that … go there …listen to that teaching …” – and because they value your opinion they never get exposed to the burning lamp of the Spirit that may set their hearts ablaze.
Preachers are particularly prone to this problem. A throw away remark – or a hobby horse ridden in the pulpit can wreak havoc in sensitive hearers.
Our aim should – as we have seen in our studies in Ephesians – be the BUILDING UP of the fellowship. But often we major in DEMOLITION.
I like to think that there is a special reward for SPIRITUAL WET BLANKETS – for those who discourage or ask questions designed to stop a new project or a new idea. And it isn’t either warm or dry!
WE are putting out the Spirit’s fire – in others!
(In the context of our church need for a new Pastor – this is a role we can do without! Look for the best – the positive – the forward looking – rather than constantly looking back and pouring cold water on faintly glowing embers.)
What the Church needs are – matches – tapers already lit – firelighters – hands round a small flame encouraging it to grow!
Such people encourage the Spirit to en-flame their hearts and then seek to spread the spiritual glow to others.
Remember our Lord? He did not quench the smoking flax…
But His disciples often do : “Send them away…” “the disciples kept the children away”
It is a failing particularly among the PRACTICAL believers – the ones who depend more on their own skills than on the Spirit’s fire.
So what shall I do about this?
1. I will pay attention to the ministry of the Spirit in my life. I will endeavour to maintain the flame in His power – and that first in my own life.
2. I will make sure that by careful tending of the embers, or small flames, or by seeing that the fuel is constantly replenished I make sure that I am never short on Bible Study and Prayer – and an OPENESS to the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit.
3. I will actively consider the effects of my words on younger and less confident believers – making sure that I fan the flames and don’t exercise the ministry of a wet blanket. I will try to ENCOURAGE not CRITICISE counting the spiritual growth of others more important than the spiritual correctness of my little group.
Above all – I will seek the Holy Spirit’s gifts for my life – as far as possible without prejudice and without constant reference to the “good old days” –
I WILL NOT PUT OUT THE SPIRIT’S FLAME!
But there is a final and important application that must not go unheard:
It may well be that I speak this morning to someone who has been extinguishing the Spirit’s flame – not as a believer – but as someone who has been listening to the Word of God – hearing the message of the GOSPEL for a long time.
You have effectively been quenching the Spirit for some time. Each time the preacher, or a friend has mentioned the love of Christ for you, the necessity to trust in Jesus and in Jesus only – you have sidestepped the issue – turned your back on the Spirit’s voice.
I do not know how long God will remain patient with you. He warns us that His Spirit will not always strive with people.
You need to open your heart to the work of the Spirit TODAY – to confess that you are indeed a sinner and that you need the Saviour. To pray to God in repentance – to turn your back on your old ways and trust in Him.
Who knows that if you put out the flame this time – there will be no further opportunity.
Do not quench it – turn your back on it – snuff it out – the Saviour offers you life – why chooses the coldness and darkness – embrace His love and grace.
DON’T PUT OUT THE SPIRIT’S FLAME!