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Life in the Spirit
‘I felt ablaze with a desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Saviour: and had it been possible, I was willing to pay God for doing so.’ So wrote Evan Roberts, the man at the centre of the Welsh revival of 1904–1905. He spoke about how the Spirit of God gave him an overwhelming experience of God’s love. He was filled with compassion.
We live in the age of the Spirit. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came on particular people at particular times for particular purposes. We see an example of this in today’s reading in Isaiah, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the prophet (Isaiah 61). This event was a foretaste of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus (Luke 4:14–18), as well as of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all Christians, from the day of Pentecost onwards.
In the Old Testament passage for today, we read more about what living in the Spirit means. The book of Proverbs anticipates what life in the Spirit should look like. Then, in the New Testament, we see its fulfilment: the full extent of what life in the Spirit should mean for an individual and for the church.
1. Live according to the Spirit of wisdomProverbs 23:19-28
What does a wise lifestyle look like? How do we ‘become wise’ and point our ‘lives in the right direction’ (v.19, MSG)? The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of wisdom (Isaiah 11:2, Ephesians 1:17). Living according to the Spirit of wisdom and understanding means re-evaluating:
- What we eat and drink
‘Don’t drink too much wine and get drunk; don’t eat too much food and get fat’ (Proverbs 23:20, MSG). We are to be neither ‘drunks’ nor ‘gluttons’ (v.21, MSG).
- Whom we listen to
‘Listen with respect to the father who raised you, and when your mother grows old, don’t neglect her’ (v.22, MSG). Respect for parents is the mark of wisdom. Wise children should make their parents proud of them (vv.24–25, MSG).
- How we learn
An inquisitive mind is the mark of the Spirit of wisdom: ‘Buy truth ... buy wisdom, buy education, buy insight’ (vv.23, MSG). The Spirit of wisdom gives us a hunger for truth and knowledge.
- What we think about
What we think in our hearts we become. ‘My child, give me your heart’ (v.26a). This is where everything starts. We need to guard our hearts and minds.
- What we look at
‘Let your eyes keep to my ways’ (v.26b). Watching what we look at is one of the ways to guard against promiscuity and immorality (vv.27–28).
Lord, help us to live according to the Spirit of wisdom, to be careful about what we eat and drink, whom we listen to, how we live, what we think about and what we look at, that our lives may be honouring to Jesus.
2. Grow in maturity in a healthy church in the unity of the SpiritEphesians 4:1-16
What are the characteristics of a healthy church? Paul tells us how the church can grow up ‘healthy in God’ (v.16, MSG).
The Holy Spirit unites the church (v.16). The church is one: ‘There is one body and one Spirit – just as you w ere called to one hope when you were called – one Lor d, one faith, one baptism ; one God and Father of all, wh o is over all and through all and in all’ (vv.4–6).
However, the church does not always appear to be united in practice. Paul urges us to ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (v.3). We need to strive for unity at every level: within every local church, between churches, and with all denominations.
Jesus prayed that the church would be one in order that the world might believe (John 17:23). Of course, unity should never be at the expense of truth. As John Stott writes, ‘Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth.’ We must continue to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). However, the visible unity of the church should always be our aim. We should never rest until it has been achieved.
But how can we achieve this? The apostle describes the characteristics that aid in unity: ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love’ (v.2).
Unity does not mean uniformity. The Holy Spirit brings both unity and diversity. Paul goes on to say, ‘But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it’ (v.7).
Jesus has ‘ascended higher than all the heavens’ (v.10). But he has also returned to the earth in the person of the Holy Spirit, through whom different gifts are now given to the church.
‘He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work’ (vv.10–12, MSG).
Every single person in the church is a minister (vv.11–12). The word for service means ‘ministry’. We are all given different gifts.
The purpose of these gifts is that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, becoming mature as we attain the complete measure of the fullness of Christ.
There is a difference between getting older and growing up. Paul urges us to grow up in spiritual maturity through growing in the knowledge of Jesus.
Healthy children grow. Healthy churches grow. Church growth should be natural. This is a beautiful picture of how we each play our own part in the growth of the body of Christ. ‘Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work’ (vv.15–16).
Lord, help us to be a healthy church. May we make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. May there be unity in our local church. May there be unity in the church of the United Kingdom. May the church of Jesus Christ worldwide be united in love.
Help each of us in the body of Christ to exercise the gifts that you have given us. Help us to release every member of our congregation into the ministry to which you have called them. Help each of us to grow into a mature knowledge of Jesus in a healthy, growing church.
3. Pursue the manifesto of Jesus with the anointing of the SpiritIsaiah 60:1-62:12
Jesus set out his manifesto for his ministry. This is the manifesto of the kingdom. It should be the manifesto of every Christian and every church.
Jesus went into the synagogue in Nazareth. He was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling it, he found the place in today’s passage (Isaiah 61:1–2) where it is written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18–19).
He said to those there, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (v.21). It appears that this section of Isaiah was the basis of the manifesto of Jesus. What does his manifesto involve?
- Transforming lives
When we encounter Jesus, a great exchange takes place in our lives. He takes our sin and gives us his righteousness. He gives freedom to the prisoners, sight to the blind and release for the oppressed (Isaiah 61:1–3). He bestows on us ‘a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair’ (v.3).
- Transforming relationships
Jesus uses the analogy of marriage: ‘As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you’ (62:5b). Marriage is meant to point people to relationship with God. A strong society is built on strong families. Strong families are built on strong marriages.
- Transforming culture
Cities tend to be the source of culture. Isaiah declares, ‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations’ (61:4). The manifesto of Jesus involves the transformation of the mountains of influence: the market place, government, education, media, arts and entertainment.
- Transforming society
A transformed society will involve dealing with issues of poverty. Jesus came to preach good news to the poor (v.1b).
It will also involve issues of justice. So much of the world’s suffering is caused by injustice. ‘For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity’ (v.8a).
- Transforming leadership
Leadership is key in any society. ‘You’ll have the title “Priests of God,” honoured as ministers of our God’ (v.6, MSG).
Lord, thank you so much that you anoint each one of us by your Holy Spirit to pursue the manifesto of Jesus. Help us to bring good news to the poor. Help us to bind up those who are broken hearted and proclaim freedom to those who are held captive by addiction. Help us proclaim release from darkness for those who are prisoners – both literally and metaphorically. Help us comfort those who mourn. Help us to see lives transformed from ashes to beauty, from mourning to gladness and from despair to praise.
'Be completely humble...' Now there's a challenge.
'...do not despise your mother when she is old'
I need to remind my children of this verse!