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Category Archives: Life in the Spirit

I have a generic hearing loss. A few years ago I was finally diagnosed. I got hearing aids. And I came to really appreciate what I had been missing.

The loss I had experienced had been so gradual, over time, that I had simply made adjustments to how my ears weren’t functioning. That is, until I had restored, in one “fitting,” what I had lost.

And that has given me a renewed appreciation for “parts of the body” working well–even though I have artificial parts now. When the battery goes out in a hearing aid (or you have a “technical difficulty” like I have been having over the past few weeks), it’s really obvious. Some part is not fully functioning! And because the loss is substantial and in a short window of time (rather than gradual over a long period of time), the loss is dramatic. It’s not that the loss I had prior to the hearing aids was not dramatic–I just hadn’t realized it.

I wonder how much the body of Christ is “under-experiencing” the life Jesus wants for us because some parts are not fully functioning. Typically, that loss of body function is an over-time kind of loss. Under-appreciated, under-utilized, loss of perspective, insufficient equipping–some members of the body stop functioning at optimum Holy Spirit enabled capability. And if that loss has been a long time coming or has just gradually crept into the life of the church, we might not realize how profoundly incapacitated we have become.

All these thoughts were prompted by a single sentence Paul tacked on to the end of his letter to the Colossians. There, in drawing the letter to a close, he wrote:

Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17)

We know very little about Archippus; he is mentioned only here and one time in Paul’s letter to Philemon. In Philemon, Paul identifies him as a “fellow soldier” (Philemon 2). But there are some things implied in this single sentence in Colossians that could really be of benefit to us.

Take heed to the ministry . . .” Paul is calling Archippus to be attentive to, to notice, to get his eyes on his ministry. Why does Paul have to do this? Because it is really easy for us to lose focus, become distracted, get our eyes off of what really matters.

“Take heed to the ministry . . .” Paul wants Archippus to not merely look at his own life, but specifically look at the ministry he is to have. Ministry is a word that refers to the “work of service” that he has been gifted and en-graced to carry out. Whether he is or is not in “vocational ministry,” as a part of the body Archippus does have a particular part to play for the good and growth of others (1 Corinthians 12:7; Romans 12:4–6). And this is true for each of us as well.

“. . . which you have received from the Lord . . .” This thing that Paul wants Archippus to attend to is not an office he ran for or a natural talent he was born with or a skill he learned in trade school or a career he learned to master over the years through education and hard work. This ministry that Paul calls Archippus to give attention to is nothing short of an amazing grace gift granted to him by the Lord. Grace not only saves each of us, but grace gifts us for a purpose as well.

” . . . that you may fulfill it.” Paul seems to think that there is more to Archippus’ ministry than just keeping himself busy. Paul wants him to attend to this grace-given ministry to (literally) “make it continually full.” We get a sense of what Paul has in mind by how he has used this language earlier in this epistle. In 1:25, Paul writes that he was called to “fully carry out the preaching of the word of God”–all in, fully in, every opportunity. In 2:10, Paul asserts that Christians are made “complete” in Jesus–he is all that they need or will ever need. So Paul’s encouragement to Archippus to “fulfill” his ministry is a call to keep on maxing out what he is designed–by Jesus and through the power of the Spirit–to be and to do. And there are echoes in that word to Archippus for each follower of Jesus as well.

We can’t let our part in the life of the body slip away. It would not be good for the body for it to be deprived of the gifts and grace and benefit of what each one of us provides. Ultimately, the body does suffer . . . even if the loss has been nearly imperceptible.

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When the subject of gifts, or the manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7), or signs, or miracles comes up, conversations tend to polarize. Some insist that such things only happened in the early days of the church for the purpose of authenticating the foundational ministry of the apostles and those who gave us the Scriptures. On the other end of the spectrum are those who insist that all such things are for the church today and tend to argue for certain gifts (think, in particular, tongues) are for everyone and that if one is not exercising certain specific gifts or participating in a particular manifestation of the Spirit that one’s Christian life is sub-standard.

There does seem to be a growing group of followers of Jesus who are seeking to settle into theological ground somewhere between these two polarizing camps. Longing for the reality of the Spirit’s presence and power while not insisting on particular manifestations as the only proof. Anticipating that Jesus’ intention has always been for his followers to join him in his own ministry, regardless of how far (in time or geography) they might be separated from him.

Among those who resist the idea that gifts, and sign, and wonders, and the miraculous could or should or might be part of the heritage of the followers of Jesus in our day and age, a common argument raised is that these things only happen “at the hands of the apostles” (picking up the language of Acts 5:12). They seek to make the case that there is a whole category of manifestations of the Spirit–seen in the life of Jesus–that was intended only for the apostles. And, when the original twelve passed off the scene, so did such manifestations. In other words, such things did happen at one time, but they are not for everyone . . . for all who follow Jesus. But is that really what the Scriptures picture?

It is true that the apostles were personally commissioned by Jesus and had direct “marching orders” from him. But if we give attention to the Biblical evidence, it seems hard to come to the conclusion that the gifted ministry we are thinking about was restricted to the twelve alone.

The twelve were sent out to heal and cast out demons, backing up the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom with a demonstration, through the Spirit’s power, of the reality of that present kingdom (Mark 6:7-13). But then notice . . .

The seventy were sent out to heal and cast out demons, backing up the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom with similar manifestations of the Spirit’s presence and power (Luke 10:1-17). Stephen and Philip–who apparently were not part of either the seventy or the twelve–carried out ministry that included healing the sick and casting our demons, backing up the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom with similar manifestations of the Spirit’s presence and power (Acts 6:8; 8:5-8). Paul, along with Barnabas, neither of whom were counted among the twelve or the seventy, participated in ministry that included things like healing and deliverance, backing up the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom with signs and wonders (Acts 13:46-14:3).

It seems clear from what Paul wrote to them that within the community of faith in Corinth there were experiences similar to the manifestations of the Spirit seen in the apostles–healing and signs and miracles and prophecy (1 Corinthians 12-14). Paul acknowledges the presence of miracles among the churches in Galatia (Galatians 3:5). Neither the community in Corinth nor the churches of Galatia were made up solely of those who would have been numbered among the apostles (or the seventy).

It would seem that the kinds of the things that were seen in Jesus’ own ministry were replicated, by the Spirit, in the life of the believing community. Not every individually doing all the same things, but the same kinds of things happening in and through the lives of those who were part of the community of faith. Healing and deliverance, signs and wonders, manifestations of the Spirit similar to Jesus’ own ministry, were evident in an indiscriminate way in the lives of the believing–not just at the hands of the apostles.

Jesus’ own words clarify what we see as we survey the life of the believing community pictured in the New Testament. He told his followers that “signs would follow” those who believe (Mark 16:15-18). And Mark tells us that Jesus was good to his word, noting that “the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed” (16:20).

I’ve been thinking (and blogging) on what it means to live anchored in the Word of God, committed to the glory of God, delighted in Jesus, and engaged in a life that overflows with evidence of the Spirit’s presence. It seems to me that there is a great deal of wrestling in the larger community of followers of Jesus as to just what to do with “signs” of the Spirit.

Some insist that there were things that happened back in “the early days” that just aren’t supposed to happen any more. Others insist that exactly what happened to a few in those opening moments of the life of the church is supposed to happen in the same identical way for every follower of Jesus today. Although the proponents are at opposite ends of the spectrum, both groups seem to be insistent that they have rightly concluded exactly how the sovereign Spirit of God can carry out his intentions in our lives. I am reluctant to agree with either group.

Let me touch on some my reservations about the “back in the ‘early days’ only” group first.

It seems to me that the community of faith described in the New Testament was filled with people through whom Jesus extended his life and ministry in a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence and power. There was variety and spontaneity and freedom and life coupled with responsibility and edification and sound Bible-anchored teaching. But there was something–a manifest, demonstrative presence–that characterized those followers of Jesus. (Evident in passages like Mark 16:15-20; Acts 2:41-43; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Galatians 3:5.)

Once the idea is raised that there might rightly be “signs” of the Spirit in the midst of the community of the believing, a challenge is often raised,  drawing on what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

Is Paul denigrating signs (works of the Spirit evident in the lives of the believing)? Some insist this is the case. However, there are a few reasons that this argument falls short.

1. Paul insisted that he proclaimed the Gospel in conjunction with a ministry that includes miraculous signs. In his letter to the Romans (a letter he wrote while in Corinth!), Paul explained:

For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15:18-19)

2. Paul affirmed, in his subsequent letter to the Corinthians, that his preaching of the Gospel included an active ministry of signs, wonders and miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12). It is unlikely that Paul was dismissing, in total, a ministry that included signs and miracles in 1 Corinthians only to defend his own ministry as one that included signs and miracles in 2 Corinthians.

3. If the argument is made that because Jews “seek for signs” then we the believing community should never exercise a ministry of miraculous signs, we would also have to conclude that since Greeks “seek for wisdom” then the believing community should never exercise wisdom in proclaiming the Gospel. But no one concludes that Paul is denigrating all wisdom–only wisdom wrongly approached by the Greeks. So, Paul is not dismissing all signs, only that approach to signs adopted by the Jews who were opponents to the Gospel. In the context of 1 Corinthians, Paul makes it clear that there is a place for appropriate Godly wisdom. It would seem reasonable hat there would also be a place for appropriate Godly signs.

So what can we conclude?

In 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 Paul cannot be insisting that signs and wisdom are wholly inappropriate or invalid. He is arguing that the Jewish perspective on signs is a wrong and the Greek pursuit of wisdom is misguided. Signs for signs’ sake and wisdom for wisdom’s sake will not save; the Gospel cannot be bartered for on our terms. The Gospel alone saves. So Paul is resisting a certain perspective on signs and a certain view of wisdom. And with that, we could all agree.

What I cannot agree with is that 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 means that followers of Jesus are misguided if they anticipate that God will glorify his Son Jesus by extending his hand, by the Spirit, through the saints, to bring about a ministry that includes signs and wonders and miracles. (See the prayer of the church in Acts 2:39-41 and God’s answer to that prayer for a healthy paradigm touching on these issues.)

Nearly every day–at least every week–I face needs in my own life and I hear of needs in the lives of friends and acquaintances that just can’t be met with “natural resources.” What I mean is that the normal human “resources” are just not sufficient for addressing, meeting, and resolving needs like . . .

A marriage that is on the brink of destruction

A friend who is trapped in a habit of sin that is destroying life

An acquaintance with such physical suffering that death looks very much better

A fellow follower of Jesus who cannot see the way clear to handle the demands of life, family, work

The needs are physical, emotional, mental, bodily, spiritual, relational. They are profound. And if I really listen to the cries that rise from the lips of the afflicted, they are in need of more than pat answers, simplistic affirmations, and clichéd “hang-in-there’s.”

Looking through the Gospels, it is so very clear that these profound needs were constantly before Jesus. And time and again he spoke, and touched, and acted, and moved, and listened . . . and addressed the needs, lifted the burdens, changed lives. He offered something that was so much more than just “human resources.”

Tucked into Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians about their stumblings over spiritual gifts, we find some broad-brush thoughts about what is supposed to happen when the community of the believing meet.

If therefore the whole church should assemble together and . . . all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:24-26)

Without resolving the specifics about tongues or prophecy or interpretation, it is still possible to glean some beneficial insight from Paul’s thoughts.

Apparently, when the believing community showed up and met together, Paul anticipated that the Spirit would show up and minister through them to others. However you resolve the issues of tongues and prophecy, what cannot be easily dismissed is Paul’s expectation that the Spirit would show up, God would be evidentially present, when the community of the believing met.

I like that. I long for that. When I meet with other followers of Jesus–in large groups or small gatherings–I really don’t just want us to be there. The needs are too great. The challenges are so far beyond us. I really want the living God, because of Jesus and through the Spirit, to meet with us, to change us, to meet needs, to put himself on display.

I want to experience what it is like to be drawn to fall on my face and declare with certainty that it was not just us who meet together . . . but that God himself showed up and made himself known.

I was talking with a friend who is an investment counselor. He helped me understand that a big part of what he does is help manage people’s expectations. People have certain expectations about what should or could or ought to happen in the stock market, with their investments, with their savings. Some expectations might be reasonable, some are not. Helping people honestly own their expectations and then bring those expectations in line with reality is part of his job.

That conversation spilled over into thinking about our lives as followers of Jesus. And we began to think out loud about the expectations that we have–and do not have–for the “Christian life.” Having come to understand the truth that is found in Jesus, what kinds of expectations do we have for what that life with Jesus will look like?

And we began to think out loud, looking into the book of Acts. What about the expectations the earliest “Christians” might have had about the life they entered into?

The first “converts”–post-resurrection–came at Pentecost. Not even two months after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The events are recorded for us in Acts 1-2. (Which you might want to read, because I’m not going to post both chapters. ) The essence of what happens is as follows.

Jesus has instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem because he has a “gift” for them. Although he has explained that he is leaving the planet, he has also explained that his departure will mean that he will send “the promise of the Father” to them.

Those who heard this explanation prayerfully wait in Jerusalem. They anticipate some gift from the Father. And they associate this gift with the Spirit because of what Jesus has told them. Exactly what it will be like, they don’t know. But they expect some encounter with the Spirit.

On Pentecost, the 120 who are gathered together are introduced into a vibrant, experientially-real, fresh dimension of life with the Spirit of God. Consistent with Old Testament prophecies, they receive “power from on high” just as Jesus had promised.

What happened to the 120 generated a little commotion in the city as visitors to Jerusalem, there for the feast, overheard some of what was happening in the gathering of the 120. The crowd is puzzled and abuzz.

Peter gets the attention of the crowd and begins to explain. Going back to Old Testament prophecies, Peter tells the crowd that what has happened is a fulfillment of God’s promises.

Peter points out that this fulfillment of a “poured out” Spirit is part of what the Messiah (Israel’s promised deliverer) was to inaugurate. Jesus, Peter declares, is this Messiah. He was crucified, he was buried, he was raised, he ascended to the right hand of the Father, he received the gift of the Spirit, and he has poured out this gift on all the “bond servants” of God. And, Peter says, this is what has happened that has attracted such attention.

And those who are listening are cut to heart. The Spirit is working on them, even as he is working through the 120. And those who are listening cry out for help. They want to know, from Peter, what they should do.

Peter explains. If they understand that Jesus is the Messiah and that he has come to solve their sin problem through his death and resurrection and that he is the ascended Lord of all, then there is an appropriate response to that understanding. He says that they should “repent” (that means, “change your mind”). They should change their minds about how they have been thinking about Jesus. And they should “be baptized” (that means, “publicly identify yourself with Jesus”). They should not stand aloof or distant from Jesus and the community that shares life with him.

And then Peter says this intriguing thing:

“And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

What is so intriguing to me about this is what Peter does, and does not, say about coming to put one’s trust in Jesus–seen in the repentance and baptism. If Peter had responded to the crowd the way that many Christians in our day and age talk about the Gospel, he would have invited people to put their faith in Jesus and then he would have said:

“And you will one day get to go to heaven. For having your sins forgiven is the big point and it is for you and for you children and for all who are far off, and being forgiven means that you will get into heaven one day.”

Now there is truth in that. I am not denying that. Peter did mention the forgiveness of sins in speaking of Jesus (in Acts 2:38). But Peter’s expectation–and the expectation he stirred in the minds and hearts of his hearers–was not that responding to Jesus merely meant that eternity future would be changed. Peter’s expectation was not simply that one day those who responded to the message would get to go to heaven. Peter’s expectation–and the expectation he stirred in the minds and hearts of his hearers–was that responding to Jesus would mean that from that very day forward their every day life would be radically altered because the Spirit of God would show up in a manifest way in their lives.

Peter doesn’t even mention “going to heaven when you die.” They wouldn’t have thought that was what the Christian life was all about. For these earliest Christians, the “Christian life” was wrapped up in a Spirit-enabled, experientially-real, present-day-life-altering encounter with the living Jesus.

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