Open Up the Heavens (5): Our True Advocate

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God...And he told them, ‘Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!’” - Acts 7:55-56 (NLT)

Like Jesus’ office of High Priest and present ministry in heaven, the role of the Holy Spirit is also often misunderstood and minimized. Unfortunately, the third person of the Trinity carries a lot of unhealthy and misguided connotations based, I believe, on a limited amount of information about his role in the church and individuals.

The focus of this blog series has been on rediscovering the doctrine of the ascension; however, the next major event in the story of redemption was Jesus’ sending of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. As I have been preparing for and reflecting on this portion of my essay, the word economy keeps coming to mind. There is a holy economy in the way the Trinity functions.

Jesus came to earth and put on flesh. He lived a life as a carpenter, began his ministry, gathered his disciples, invested in them, died on the cross, made atonement for sin, rose from the grave to bring new life, and ascended to heaven to take his place next to the Father. His work on earth accomplished, his work and ministry in heaven continues. And one of his first tasks in his present role in heaven was to send the Holy Spirit. Luke records this promise at the end of his Gospel:

And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven (Luke 24:49).

Jesus is in a real body in a physical place called heaven. As we saw earlier, he is doing things in heaven. In terms of his priestly role, Jesus is praying and interceding on our behalf; he is our mediator and our true liturgist or worship leader; he is a heavenly architect, now preparing a beautiful place for us, a city which will descend to earth when he returns. However, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ presence and power with us here on earth. With this in mind, let’s go right to the Scriptures and discover the richness and variety of his roles.1

· He gives and restores life (Gen 2:7, Psalm 104:24-30; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Joel 2:28-32; Romans 8:9-11).
· He calls and commissions workers for the service of Christ (Acts 13:2; 20:28).
· He guides servants where and when he wants, to do as he desires (Acts 8:29; 9:15; 10:19-20; 11:12; 16:6; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:12).
· He inspired the writing of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), instructing the church in Christ’s message (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 12:3).
· He bears witness to the power of the Good News in signs and wonders (Acts 14:3; Hebrews 2:4), and teaches the truths of the bible to God’s people (Acts 1:16; Hebrews 9:8; 10:15-17; 1 Peter 1:11-12).
· He bears witness to Jesus and brings him glory (John 15:26; 16:14).
· He convicts people of their sinfulness and need for the Good News (John 16:8) and warns people against hardening of their hearts (Hebrews 3:7-11, 15).
· He bestows gifts upon God’s people (I Corinthians 12:4-11), and he energizes and equips them to share the Good News, serve the Lord, and work for the kingdom of God.
· He affirms believers’ salvation (I Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13) and their identity as children of God (Romans 8:9, 14:17).
· He gives Christians power over sin (Romans 8:1-4), power to live a fruitful life (Galatians 5:22-23), and power for ministry (I Corinthians 12:1-31).
· Believers are to be continuously “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), and though they experience the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, they can please God by yielding to the Spirit’s guidance and power (Galatians 5:16-18).
· He enables Christians to understand God’s thoughts and ways (I Corinthians 2:9-16).
· He gives spiritual gifts to believers to help the church grow (I Corinthians 12).
· He leads and empowers Christians’ worship as they use the gifts that the Spirit has given them (I Corinthians 14:26-33, 39-40).
· He guarantees that believers will receive all the blessings that God has promised (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14).
· He helps believers and prays for them in their human weakness (Romans 8:26).
· The goal of the Spirit’s work is to make believers like Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

Listing out all of these biblical references of the varied roles of the Holy Spirit greatly expands our understanding of this vital member of the Trinity. Unfortunately we often live without a true awareness or understanding of his empowering presence. I want to be more intentional about seeking the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I want to study and pray through this above list so that I am not missing out on all that God has for me and for the church, and all the various ways he desires to use his people as instruments for bringing his kingdom to bear on earth.

Clearly, when we gather together for worship we should come with an expectancy that God is going to make himself known, that the Holy Spirit will be among his assembled people in a special and powerful way.

Thinking back to the summer that I led worship at a church in my hometown, I remember that the people gathered each week with a sense of expectancy. Admittedly, at times it can feel like something is trying to be conjured up, but often there is a real sense of God’s presence and a freedom about the whole service. In more charismatic settings, the movement from one element to the next is not as neatly ordered as in other traditions and, at times, this openness offers the space for transcendent moments to occur.

I admire the churches that really try to remain true to what the apostle Paul has to say about corporate worship in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.
No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately.

Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people…So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues. But be sure that everything is done properly and in order (I Corinthians 14:26-33, 39-40).

It is interesting to note that among the early Christians, church meetings were not led by professional pastors or worship leaders like today. Instead, everyone shared with the others what God had given them for strengthening the church. I’m not necessarily advocating that we do away with church staffs! I like my job and would like to keep it! However, it is important to listen to this text and discern its import for today. In all the talk about worship in most of the circles in which I interact, I don’t think the topic of I Corinthians 14:26-40 has ever come up for dialogue; and yet, it is one of the most poignant and lengthy discussion about the dynamics of corporate worship in the New Testament!

These observations beg the question, “Why don’t we create more space for the Spirit to speak through the laity of the church, to hear a word from God for the people of God?” One of the roles of the Spirit that we articulated earlier is to lead and empower Christians’ worship as they use the gifts that the Spirit has given them. What would our worship services look like if we really took this text and this particular role of the Holy Spirit seriously?

In his commentary on 1 Corinthians 14, Simon Kistemaker offers some very practical considerations. He writes:

When Paul writes that something is revealed to one who is sitting in a worship service, he does not say that God verbally addresses this person. God works through his Spirit in the lives of his people at worship, home, or work; this is a truth to which every believer can testify. The Holy Spirit often instills within us either a firm conviction of God’s truth, a vivid impression of reality, or a distinct understanding of a current problem. The Spirit clearly prompts and guides us to speak and act so as to fulfill God’s purpose. This divine guidance is revelatory for the individual recipient. In some instances, however, the recipient wisely keeps the information to himself or herself because it is not meant to be proclaimed. At other times, he or she is able to share it with fellow Christians for their edification and the praise of God. Whenever the Spirit of God inspires us to do or to say something, he wants us to promote the cause of Christ. And he desires that we carry out our assignment in harmony with his revealed will.2

I think Kistemaker well articulates the way the Spirit speaks to us through a firm conviction of God’s truth, or as a vivid impression of reality, or as a distinct understanding of a current problem. I think it is also significant that he points out that sometimes that revelation is kept to oneself, but sometimes it is to be shared in order to edify others and promote the cause of Christ. I appreciate the clear stance on spiritual gifts communicated by Sovereign Grace Ministries:3

In addition to giving us increased boldness and effectiveness in witness (Acts 4:31), prompting worship and thanksgiving in our hearts (Ephesians 5:18-20; Acts 10:46), increasing our growth in godliness (2 Corinthians 3:18), and strengthening our relationship with other believers (Ephesians 5:18, 21), the Holy Spirit also imparts supernatural gifts for the edification of the church and for works of ministry in the world.

1. All believers have and receive spiritual gifts.

[1 Corinthians 12:7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”]

2. All of the gifts are supernatural. In Scripture, all of the gifts, from seemingly “natural” ones like mercy and serving to “supernatural” ones like healing, are all viewed as being from God and empowered by the Spirit.

[1 Corinthians 12:7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”]

3. All of the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in the church of the first-century are available today. Scripture suggests that the gifts are given to the church until Christ’s return, and there is no indication anywhere in Scripture that any of the gifts were intended to pass away with the early church.

[1 Corinthians 1:7-8: “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”]

4. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are vital for the mission of the church and are to be earnestly desired and practiced.

[1 Corinthians 14:1: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”]

5. The purpose of the spiritual gifts is the glory of God and the edification of other believers.

[1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”]

[1 Corinthians 12:7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”]

When we really look at what Scripture has to say about spiritual gifts, one gets the overriding sense that the gifts are meant to bring edification for the common good. I think it is so ironic that the very gifts that are meant to edify often bring about division.

I think it is time for a fresh, sincere, biblical analysis of what the apostle Paul is trying to convey to the first-century church and apply those principles to our worship and ministry today, particularly for churches within the Reformed community. I think there is much to learn from Scripture on this subject as well as from other traditions within the body of Christ who have taken clear, bold, and biblical positions on this controversial topic.
In the next post we will look at how heaven and earth come together in the context worship.

1 NLT Study Bible, “Theme Notes” (Carol Stream, Ill: Tyndale House, 2008) 1834, 1945.
2 Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commenary, “Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1985) 510.
3 Jeff T. Purswell, Empowered by the Spirit: Room for Differing Views, “Strength for the Journey,” (Sovereign Grace Ministries, 2003) 20-21.


Steve said…
You might find the following blogs of interest about C.J. Mahaney and the group he leads, Sovereign Grace Ministries:

They tell another side.

Hope this helps.

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