The Holy Spirit, His Ministry, and the Preacher of God (Part 2)
One final, yet crucial aspect of the Holy Spirit's ministry, which must be considered in relationship to the preacher of God, is that of power. Lloyd-Jones in his book entitled, Preaching and Preachers defines this power or unction1 as, that which God gives the preacher, " . . . in order that he may do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes the channel through whom the Spirit works."2
The concepts of "Spirit" and "power" regularly go together in scripture. Several passages bear this out:
Isa 11:2, "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 of the fear of the Lord.
Mic 3:8, "But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, And of justice and might, To declare to Jacob his transgression And to Israel his sin.
Lk 4:14, "Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region."
Acts 10:38, "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him."
Rm 1:4, "and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."
Rm 15:13, "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Rm 15:19, "in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached Christ."
Eph 3:16, "that he would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through the His Spirit in the inner man."
In addition, the Holy Spirit is said to empower his people for works of service. Several examples in Scripture illustrate this:
Judges 3:10, We read concerning Othniel "The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel."
Judges 6:34, "But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him."
Judges 11:29, "Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon."
1 Sam 16:13, We read concerning David's consecration for the work of His kingly office that "Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward."
In Luke 24:49, as our Lord Jesus Christ is preparing His disciples for the great task of worldwide evangelism, He tells them that Spirit-wrought power is crucial for the success of the gospel. Jesus says to His disciples, "Behold, I send you the Promise of my Father upon you, but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (emphasis mine).
The promise mentioned in the passage is the promise of the Holy Spirit, which was to be given at Pentecost. These words find their fulfillment in Acts 1:4-8. After Jesus reviews this promise with the disciples in verses 1-5, they ask Him in verse six, thinking that the end of the age was upon them, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of God?" Jesus replies to their question by saying, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (v. 7). Then in verse eight, Jesus, in sharp contrast to their question about political power, says, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (emphasis mine).
Here our Lord Jesus in His response to His followers wants to help strengthen and encourage them for the work at hand. This verse sets forth the fact that the coming of the Holy Spirit upon his people will give them the ability they need to be useful witnesses for their Lord. Commenting on the use of this text for those who would preach God's Word, Arturo Azurdia III remarks,
The implications of Luke 24 and Acts 1 are obvious. The evangelical emphasis is to govern the message of the apostles and their subsequent followers. Moreover, a particular method is to dictate the predominant communication of this message. All of this, however will amount to nothing apart from the sovereign manifestation of the necessary means. If the aim of Christian preaching is more than intellectual enlightenment and moral reformation, but is, instead, the thorough-going trans-formation of people dead in trespasses and sins, then the Christian preachers must rest their dependence solely upon the Spirit of the living God because such a transformation requires a power of an altogether supernatural kind. Stated simply, the power of the Holy Spirit is the sine qua non of gospel preaching, the one thing without which nothing else matters."4
Two other passages must be considered in this regard.
Consider first, 1 Corinthians 2:4. The Apostle Paul, in contrasting his ministry with the work of the popular philosophers and orators of his day, says, "And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
The Apostle here uses the strong Greek adversative (alla) "but" to show exactly what his preaching was, and what it was not. Negatively, it was not, "with persuasive words of human wisdom" but positively, it was, "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." F. W. Grosheide rightly says, "This does not mean that Paul in his preaching displayed spirit and power, but rather that the Holy Spirit and the power of God (1:18, 24) manifested themselves in his preaching.5
The Apostle Paul in this verse sets forth an important element to his effective ministry amongst these Corinthian believers. He says, in essence, you came to faith in Christ, not because of the cleverness of speech or any well-polished oratory skill that I had, but rather because when I preached, I did so with the Holy Spirit's power upon me. David E. Garland, commenting on this verse writes,
Paul did not win them over as the perfect master of the art of oratory. Instead, they were confronted with divine proof, "the demonstration of the Spirit and Power." What is clear is that Paul attributes the Corinthians' conversion to the powerful intervention of the Spirit. . . .
. . .The proof of this power is not the audience's round of applause for the preacher's oratorical art but their changed lives and the formation of a new community."6
Consider secondly, 1 Thessalonians 1:5. The Apostle Paul in this verse is setting forth the external proof of the Thessalonians' election in Christ when he writes, "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sakes."
Paul in writing this verse says that there are two things that were true of his preaching to these Thessalonian believers. First, his preaching came to them in human words. In other words, the gospel was not communicated to them by some means other than by a human being, namely Paul. Secondly, he wants the Thessalonians to know that his gospel did not come to them in human words only, "but also in power and in the Holy Spirit." Again, Paul uses the strong Greek adversative (alla) "but" to stress a point of sharp contrast. Yes, these believers should be assured of their election by God because of their reception of God's Word. But right alongside this truth, they need to understand that the gospel message which they believed was not simply received because of the great speaking powers of a man. Rather, it was believed because when this man preached, he did so in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the blessing of God, so that it was received in "much assurance."
Paul makes it clear in this passage that the preaching of mere man unaccompanied by the Holy Spirit's power will prove ineffective in the lives of those who hear it. Commenting on this passage, D. Edmond Hiebert writes, "The objective fact is that the message came in 'power,' with a spiritual dynamic that proved that divine power was operative. As they spoke, the preachers were keenly conscious of the presence of this supernatural power behind their words, which power produced spiritual persuasiveness and penetrating conviction."7
Clearly all of the aforementioned passages make it plain that if preachers are to expect anything good to result from their preaching, then they need the Holy Spirit's assistance and power to rest upon them. If in fact, our preaching is going to be accompanied with a felt sense that God is of a truth among us, ministering His Word to us, then this power of the Holy Spirit must be our portion. In commenting on this point, Dr. R.C. Sproul is right when he says, "A close link between the preacher and the Holy Spirit must be maintained for effective preaching. The Spirit is the energizer, the dynamite (dunamis) of powerful preaching. We need the unction, the anointing of the Spirit, lest our words, eloquent or otherwise, bounce off recalcitrant hearts and evaporate.8
Also, since in and of ourselves we are utterly incapable of producing any good, and lasting change in the lives of those who hear us, perhaps nowhere is this need for the Holy Spirit's power more keenly felt if sinners are to be saved and saints sanctified. Spurgeon rightly says,
If there is to be a divine result from God's Word, the Holy Ghost must go forth with it. As surely as God went before the children of Israel when He divided the Red Sea, as surely as He led them through the wilderness by the pillar of cloud and fire, so surely must the Lord's powerful presence go with His word if there is to be any blessing from it9
John Piper concurs when he says,
How utterly dependent we are on the Holy Spirit in the work of preaching! All genuine preaching is rooted in a feeling of desperation. You wake up Sunday morning and you can smell the smoke of hell on one side and feel the crisp breezes of heaven on the other. You go to your study and look down at your pitiful manuscript, and you kneel down and cry, "God, this is so weak! Who do I think I am? What audacity to think that in three hours my words will be the odor of death to death and the fragrance of life to life (2 Cor.2:16). My God, who is sufficient for these things?"10
Perhaps another reason why preachers of God's Word need the Holy Spirit's heavenly power is because we are so feeble and carry about us much native physical inability. I doubt there are few who have preached the Word of God for any length of time, who have not felt their utter sense of physical limitation as a preacher. Paul himself could say, "Who is weak, and I am not weak?" (2 Cor 11:28). Physical weakness in and of itself is not a bad thing, if it gives room to acknowledging our need of divine help and power from above (2 Cor 12:9b).
How Can Preachers of God know more of the Holy Spirit's Ministry?
Having considered who the Holy Spirit is and some key aspects of His work in relationship to the preacher of God, the final question that needs to be asked is, "How can we have more of His ministry in our lives?" That we need Him is plain, but how we can know more of His work in our lives is not always so plain. That many people, in attempting to answer this question, have done so wrongly is apparent from what we see throughout the history of the church.11 For one to stay clear of many of the errors that men have fallen into, he must be careful to build his practices firmly upon the Scriptures. If we are to know more of the Holy Spirit's ministry, then according to the Word of God there are several things, which must be done. This brief survey will outline three key relevant aspects.
First, negatively, if we are to know more of the Holy Spirit's ministry resting upon us as preachers of God's Holy Word, then we must be sure that we are not grieving Him. Ephesians 4:30 says, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by which you were sealed for the day of redemption." That the Holy Spirit can be grieved proves again our initial assertion that He is a person. The word "grieve" here means to cause pain, sorrow, and mourning. The context of verses twenty five to twenty nine and verse thirty one bear out for us how we might grieve the Holy Spirit, namely by lying, exhibiting unrighteous anger, stealing, speaking corrupt words, harboring bitterness, wrath, malice, etc. In addition, surely He is also grieved when we do not acknowledge who He is and how desperately we need Him in our lives. These sins and others, including, pride, lust, dishonesty and all uncleanness, must grieve Him as well. We must remember that the Spirit is the Holy Spirit, and that He will not be present where sin unconfessed and unrepented of is found. In short, any moral or ethical controversy which we have not resolved with God or men will cause a breach in our communion with the Holy Spirit and will hinder His ministry from being powerfully at work in our lives and upon our labors.
Secondly, negatively, if we are to know more of the Holy Spirit's ministry resting upon us as preachers of God's Holy Word, then we must be sure that we are not quenching Him. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, "Do not quench the Spirit." Of course, we cannot "quench" the Spirit so as to completely "extinguish Him" because He is God, as we have seen. Nonetheless, we can certainly quench Him in the sense of hindering or stifling His presence and ministry among us, in the corporate gathering of God's people. The word "quench" here means, "to put out," as one puts out a fire.12
Perhaps the best way to get the sense of what the Apostle is here commanding us not to do is to translate the verse as "do not pour water on the Holy Spirit's fire."13 As in the passage considered in Ephesians, no doubt, sin in our lives would surely be one way of quenching the Spirit's ministry amongst us. In addition, it might be said that the quenching of the Spirit occurs when we hinder His work among us by ignoring or not welcoming His person or presence when we come together as local churches. Perhaps as various commentators have noted, we have here at Thessalonica an opposite problem to that of Corinth. In Corinth, the people were overemphasizing the Spirit; at Thessalonica, they were underemphasizing Him. In Corinth, Paul had to restrain excesses, in Thessalonica he had to forbid repression.
Pastor John Reuther highlights yet another way we might quench the Spirit, when he says that the meaning of the phrase is that "we are not to prohibit the Spirit's working, or stand in the way of the Spirit's operations. We are to let the Spirit work, in the sense that we are not to stand in the way or become an obstacle to what He is doing in any way."14
Thirdly then, positively, if we are to know more of the Holy Spirit's ministry resting upon us as preachers of God's Holy Word then we must be sure that we are asking God for the Holy Spirit Himself. Since the Holy Spirit is the one who illumes the Word of God to us, fills us and gives us boldness and power from on high, we must be sure that we are daily asking God for fresh measures of the Spirit. Luke 11:13 says, "If you then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" Our Lord Jesus in this passage is making an argument from the lesser to the greater to prove a point. Since according to Jesus, in the previous two verses, when a son asks his father for a piece of bread, a fish, or an egg, that father does not give his son a stone, or serpent or scorpion, Jesus argues, "how much more" then if we, being evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, will our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.
The great incentive to ask for the Holy Spirit is imbedded in the center of our Lord's words. He makes the comparison between us, who "are evil," and God, who is not, and then says, ask, and He will give the Holy Spirit. Based upon our Lord Jesus' words, the continual giving and supply of the Holy Spirit is for those who ask. Therefore, this is what we must do, brethren. We must ask! We must continue to ask! We must never stop asking!
Preachers of the Word of God who would be the most useful for our Lord Jesus Christ and His church need to prepare themselves for their calling as Christian ministers. This fact certainly is true. If they are going to be the most effective preachers of God's holy truth, then no doubt they must do everything they possibly can, humanly speaking, to equip themselves to be men of God who "need not be ashamed." Nevertheless, as necessary and important as this may be, the minister of God must never forget that his most crucial need as a preacher is that of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit's ministry upon him and all of his pulpit labors. In the words of Robert L. Reymond,
We in the gospel ministry may have the highest academic and professional competence, but the work of our ministry cannot be sustained by an aggregate of natural gifts, however splendid. . . .
. . .No, my beloved yoke-fellows in the ministry of the gospel, God honors that ministry that blazes with the passion and fire of a Spirit-filled heart, and pours out his power upon that ministry."15
If the preacher is convinced of this, he will be a man that lives uprightly all of his days because he understands the connection between how he lives and the Holy Spirit's blessings upon him. If he is convinced of this, he will be a man who never opens his Bible to study it without first crying to the Lord for help saying, "Send the Spirit to me that I may know your Word aright." And if he is convinced of this, whenever he goes to the pulpit he will frequently say with John Calvin of old, "Come, Holy Spirit, come."
Brothers, the preacher who does these things can be assured of God's richest blessing upon all that he does. May God grant that we might be such men!