Do Not Quench the Spirit! – An Excerpt from Practicing the Power by Sam Storms
In Practicing the Power, pastor and author Sam Storms offers practical steps to understanding and exercising spiritual gifts in a way that remains grounded in the Word and centered in the gospel.
In Today’s excerpt, we learn how we as Christians often quench the Spirit, as well as how we can welcome the Spirit’s work in our churches.
There are numerous metaphors and analogies employed by the biblical authors to describe both the nature and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the three most common being wind, water, and fire. When it comes to wind, one thinks immediately of our Lord’s words to Nicodemus and the mysterious way in which he brings new birth to spiritually dead sinners (John 3:7–8).
When the apostle Paul wanted to describe the Spirit’s work in imparting the new birth or the experience of being born again, he turned to the cleansing properties of water (Titus 3:4–6; see also 1 Corinthians 12:13).
These are precious truths to our hearts, cherished by all believers. No less so is the association of the Spirit with fire (in addition to the text in 1 Thessalonians 5:19–20 from which the chapter title comes, see also Matthew 3:11–12; Acts 2:1–4; 2 Timothy 1:6–7). Whether it is the fire that burns up and consumes the dross of sin in our lives or the fire of power and energy that fuels our efforts to labor for the glory of Christ and the good of his people, the Holy Spirit is a glorious gift, the consummate treasure whom we hold dear.
My aim in this chapter is twofold. First, to issue a warning about the many ways, whether consciously or not, that we quench the flame of his presence. And second, to provide a measure of practical guidance about what we might do to stoke the fire of his power in our personal lives and in the experience of the local church.
Though we’ve spent most of this book talking about ways to welcome and encourage the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit, we also need to be aware that there are many subtle and often unconscious ways in which we quench the presence of the Holy Spirit. I don’t say this as a judgment but as a simple fact of reality. There may be fears in the hearts of our people, or warnings we’ve heard against charismatic excess. It might be the unspoken rules that govern your Sunday morning worship or the principles articulated in our church bylaws. It may be patterns of indwelling sin that are present in your church community. All of these can quench the fire of the Holy Spirit’s work, sometimes snuffing it out altogether.
How serious a problem is this in our churches today? I’ll answer that by pointing you to a statement by Octavius Winslow written in the mid-nineteenth century. Winslow’s words give expression to a truth that all Bible-believing, gospel-centered evangelicals need to hear and heed. He writes:
All that we spiritually know of ourselves, all that we know of God, and of Jesus, and His Word, we owe to the teaching of the Holy Spirit; and all the real light, sanctification, strength and comfort we are made to possess on our way to glory, we must ascribe to Him. . . . Where He is honored, and adoring thoughts of His person, and tender, loving views of His work are cherished, then are experienced, in an enlarged degree, His quickening, enlightening, sanctifying and comforting influence.
Think about what Winslow is saying here. Everything we know of God the Father and of Jesus does not come naturally. We owe everything to the ministry of the Spirit. Everything we understand in God’s Word, whatever degree of insight we gain into the measureless truths it embodies, we must attribute to the ministry of the Spirit. Whatever positive moral change we’ve experienced in life, whatever conformity to Christ we’ve seen develop in our spiritual walk, the Holy Spirit has done that. Whatever strength we receive when our weakness threatens to overwhelm, whatever encouragement we feel at times of despair and doubt, whatever sanctifying influence we sense in our souls, we owe to the third person of the Godhead. “Where He is honored,” says Winslow, “and adoring thoughts of His person, and tender, loving views of His work are cherished,” Christian men and women will experience in “an enlarged degree” the glorious benefits of his work.
The antithesis of honoring the Spirit is quenching him (1 Thessalonians 5:19–20). The antithesis of entertaining adoring thoughts of his person and cherishing his work is quenching him. One can hardly conceive of a more serious sin than that of quenching the Spirit of God!
The language of quenching the Holy Spirit comes straight out of your Bible, not just mine! Paul gave this energetic word of exhortation to the Christians in Thessalonica: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22).
To use Paul’s metaphor here, the Spirit is like a fire whose flame we must be careful not to quench or extinguish. The Holy Spirit wants to intensify the heat of his presence among us, to inflame our hearts and fill us with the warmth of his indwelling power. We don’t want to be a part of the bucket brigade that stands ready to douse his activity with the water of legalism and fear and extrabiblical rules. Obviously, one of the ways we do this is with a flawed theology that claims that his gifts have ceased and been withdrawn.
Sadly, I’ve known people who, as soon as they feel the slightest tinge of warmth from the Spirit’s supernatural work, quickly grab their theological and denominational fire hose and douse his flame! I understand their concerns. They have grown weary of fanatical extremes and unbiblical sensationalism and feel compelled to pull in the reins on the Holy Spirit. They struggle with doubt and are increasingly cynical about the supernatural. The result is that they have become practical cessationists who rarely pray for the sick with expectant faith and rarely make room for the operation of spiritual gifts such as prophecy.
When we look at the Scriptures, there are at least six ways in which people can sin against the Holy Spirit, six specific sins that people can commit. The first one that the New Testament talks about is insulting the Spirit (see Hebrews 10:29). Jesus himself warned us of the second, that there are dire consequences for blaspheming the Spirit (Matthew 12:31). Stephen charged his accusers with resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51–53). And the apostle Paul warned the church in Ephesus about grieving the Spirit (Ephesians 4:29–32). Peter accused Ananias and Sapphira of lying to the Spirit (Acts 5:3). Finally, there is the text we just read where Paul cautions the Thessalonians about the tendency to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22). My reading of these texts leads me to conclude that only non-Christians can commit the first three of these sins, but the latter three are within the power of Christians to commit. And it is with the sixth that we are most concerned in this chapter….