As you may know if you read my blog regularly, my Bible study for last week’s post was a bit too large to fit in one article. Hence, part 2 about the role of the Holy Spirit as revealed in the Book of Acts. All the intro is in last week’s post, so without further ado …
Filled With The Spirit
Several times when the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the book of Acts, it talks about people being “filled with” the Spirit. Sometimes it is referring to an individual’s character and relationship with God, such as Stephen (Acts 6:3,5) and Barnabas (Acts 11:24), and sometimes this filling with the Holy Spirit occurs after a specific event. For example, here’s what happened after the disciples prayed in Acts 4:24-30 following Peter and John being arrested and forbidden to speak in Jesus’ name.
And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
It seems that God gave an extra dose of His Spirit when the disciples asked for strength to keep going through persecution. Notice also that the Spirit prompted them to speak, giving them the strength they needed to continue preaching in Jesus’ name (we’ll get back to that in a moment).
A similar thing seems to have happened in Acts 13:51-52, when Paul and Barnabus showed up in Iconium after being expelled from Antioch. The disciples here “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit,” though I’m not clear on whether this was new disciples receiving the Holy Spirit because of Paul and Barnabus’ preaching or established followers of Christ being giving an extra measure of the Holy Spirit as a result of persecution (any thoughts?)
Speaking By The Spirit
In several cases, being filled with the Holy Spirit precedes speaking. Take, for example, Peter and John before the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:8, as they witness to the life and power of Jesus Christ. This puts me in mind of Luke 21.
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. (Luke 21:12-15)
The Holy Spirit also inspires prophetic utterances, such as when Agabus predicted a famine (Acts 11:28) and when Isaiah spoke in the Old Testament (Acts 28:25). The thing I like to note here is that no one questioned that the Holy Spirit could and would do this sort of thing — the disciple’s response to Agabus was to organize relief efforts for the predicted famine (Acts 11:29).
Another important thing to note is what people say when speaking by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 4, Peter and John spoke God’s word boldly, bearing witness to Jesus Christ. In Acts 7:55-56, Stephen said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” In Acts 13:9-10, Paul spoke out against a sorcerer who was “perverting the straight ways of the Lord.”
The common thread here is presented in 1 Corinthians. In short, the test for answering the question, “Is someone speaking by the Holy Spirit?” is to look at how they talk about Jesus Christ.
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:3)
Getting The Holy Spirit
We generally assume that, with the exception of the the remarkable Pentecost in Acts 2, baptism of the Spirit accompanies baptism in water, as it did for Saul/Paul in Acts 9:17-18. Similarly, believers at Ephesus “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:5-6).
The situation is similar in Samaria, but with a greater time between the two baptisms. The new disciples here were “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” but did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John came and “ laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-17). Not sure why this is — was it to help establish the apostles’ role in the early church? Set a precedent for laying on of hands?
Another thing we can learn from this story is how not to get the Holy Spirit. The sorcerer Simon tried to buy the power to give God’s Spirit with the laying on of hands and was told, “your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:18-21).
God can also give the Holy Spirit without laying on of hands or water baptism. This was done in Acts 10 to prove that “God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18).
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. (Acts 10:44-48)
God can give His Spirit to whomever He pleases, whenever it suits Him. It’s not something that follows a set formula or automatically comes with water baptism (see Simon’s story above). This gift is much more complicated and wonderful than something that just happens to accompany being dunked in water.
Roles and Actions of the Holy Spirit
Here’s where we get into what the Holy Spirit is credited with doing in the early church. I think the easiest way to organize this is just to go through them chronologically.
- Acts 8:29 “the Spirit said to Philip” to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch
- Acts 8:39 “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more,” and Philip found himself at Azotus.
- Acts 9:31 the Holy Spirit acts as a comforter, as was promised in John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7.
- Acts 10:19-20 the Spirit told Peter to go with Cornelius’ messengers and to doubt nothing.
- Acts 13:2 “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” Since the Holly Spirit itself does not call people, I think it safe to assume God was peaking through the Spirit. Still, they were hearing the Holy Spirit clearly enough to record a line of dialogue.
- Acts 15:28 the letter to Antioc read, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us” — collaborative letter writing with the Spirit?
- Acts 16:7 “after they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.”
- Acts 20:23 “the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations” await Paul. Two examples of this: Acts 21:4, 11.
- Acts 20:28 speaking to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God”
This is not at all how we interact with the Spirit today. we don’t hear it talking to us (and would we listen if we did? or think we were going mad?). We don’t act like it’s real and tangible enough to physically move us from one location to another if God had good reason. We credit it with inspiring messages and study, but that’s about it. Why is that? Are we so frightened of the supernatural that we shoot ourselves in the foot when it come to using the Spirit God has given us?
Grieve Not The Spirit
There is a very real danger in not giving God’s Spirit the respect it deserves as a gift from Him and an aspect of His power. Ananias and Sapphira dropped down dead when the lied to and tempted the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-9). Stephen told his murderers, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51). Resistance to the Holy Spirit was their legacy — we do not want it to be ours.
We are told, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30), “do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thes. 5:19), and “do not neglect the gift that is in you” (1 Tim. 4:14), which could refer to the Spirit itself or to one of the Spiritual gifts (2 Tim. 1:6; 1Cor. 12:1-11). We have been given something incredible, and should not undervalue it.