What does it mean to quench the Holy Spirit? How do we do this, and even more important, how do we avoid doing it? While there may be more than this, I want to look at five ways in which we quench the Spirit’s work.
First, we quench the Spirit whenever we diminish his personality and speak of him as if he were only an abstract power or a source of divine energy. Gordon Fee refers to the struggle one of his students had with understanding the personhood of the Spirit: “God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me,” said the student, “and God the Son I can quite understand; but the Holy Spirit is a gray, oblong blur.”
This can be easily overcome by a brief consideration of how the New Testament consistently describes the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is portrayed as having all the qualities of a personal being. The Spirit also performs all the functions of a personal being. He talks, testifies, can be sinned against (Matthew 12:31), lied to (Acts 5:3), tested/tempted (Acts 5:9), and insulted (Hebrews 10:29). The Spirit enters into relationship with other persons (2 Corinthians 13:14), and can encourage (Acts 9:31), strengthen (Ephesians 3:16), and teach them (Luke 12:12; John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13).
Second, we quench the Spirit whenever we neglect or overlook, or worse still deny, some feature of his multifaceted ministry. A good many folk actually think it unbiblical to think much of the Spirit. They aren’t being blasphemous in this regard but are simply trying to honor what they believe is the point of what Jesus said in John 16:13–15. The Spirit is supremely Christocentric. Any ministry today, any teaching, vision, mission, or otherwise that elevates the Spirit above the Son, is decidedly unbiblical.
This is a healthy reminder for many in the charismatic movement who have severed the person and work of the Spirit from the person and work of the Son. Those who make experiencing the Spirit an end in itself have failed to grasp the goal for which the Spirit has come.
However, we must be careful to avoid the error of reductionism, as if the whole of the Spirit’s ministry can be reduced to Christology, as if the Spirit does nothing but glorify Christ.
Third, we quench the Spirit whenever we suppress or legislate against his work of imparting spiritual gifts and ministering to the church through them. “Sam, are you saying that the doctrine of cessationism is a quenching of the Spirit?” I don’t believe cessationists consciously intend to quench the Spirit, but yes, cessationism as a theology quenches the Spirit. Despite good intentions, the practical effect is that the Spirit is quenched.
As I look at the American church today, I see that it is in a desperate state. We need all the help we can get! We need the full range of the Spirit’s marvelous and miraculous activity. We desperately need the energizing and empowering manifestation of the Spirit as outlined by Paul in Romans 12:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:7–10; 12:27–31; and Ephesians 4:11. That is one of the reasons why I’ve written this book and why I believe every church needs to operate in the fullness of the spiritual gifts.
Fourth, we quench the Spirit whenever we create an inviolable and sanctimonious structure in our corporate gatherings and worship services and in our small groups that does not permit spontaneity or the special leading of the Spirit in how we pray, preach, and praise.
Consider how we quench the Spirit in our small group gatherings. It happens when we create an atmosphere of fear and control. People are hesitant and disinclined to speak up or contribute because they are terrified of being judged and put to shame. They are afraid to be honest, to talk about the things they are struggling with, the doubts they have, the sins they need to confess. There is a lack of transparency and grace.
Also consider some of the parameters you place on what is permitted and what is not in corporate gatherings. Could it be that we quench the Spirit’s work either by denying the possibility that he might move upon us in this way or by so rigidly structuring our services that there is virtually no time allowed for God’s sovereign interruption of our liturgy?
Fifth, and finally, we quench the Spirit whenever we despise prophetic utterances. We now come to the primary point of Paul’s comments in 1 Thessalonians 5. Take a look at that passage and observe the parallel between verses 19 and 20. Paul’s exhortation in verse 19 is that we not quench the Spirit, and then what comes next? It immediately connects with our response to prophecy in verse 20. While his exhortation to avoid quenching the spirit undoubtedly has application to the exercise of other spiritual gifts in the church, its first and primary reference is to the gift of prophecy.
Undoubtedly the prophetic gift had been abused in Thessalonica, prompting some to call for its elimination altogether. But let’s not miss the force of what Paul is saying here. Simply put, it doesn’t matter how badly people may have abused this gift. It is a sin to despise prophecy. This is a divine command. Don’t treat prophecy with contempt; don’t treat it as if it were unimportant; don’t trivialize it. In other words, there is a real, live baby in that murky, distasteful bath water. So be careful that when you throw out the latter you don’t dispense with the former!
How to Use This Book
If you long to see God’s Spirit move in your church, and aren’t sure why that isn’t happening or where to begin, this guidebook book is for you.
Through Practicing the Power, pastors, elders, and church members will learn to minister God’s grace in the power of the Holy Spirit. They will understand what changes are needed to see God move in supernatural power and to guard against excess and abuse of the spiritual gifts.
But won’t pursuing miraculous gifts of the Spirit always lead to fanatical excess and splitting the church?
No. Practicing the Power will help you navigate potential pitfalls, giving you practical steps to understanding and exercising spiritual gifts in a way that remains grounded in the word and centered in the gospel.
Pick up copies of Practicing the Power for your church today.