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We Believe in the Holy Spirit
March 1, 1981

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

The story is told of a church who had an annual revival meeting where the same man would respond every year, He’d come forward at the altar call, kneel and pray very audibly, “O Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit.” It would last just a few months until he had backslid, reverted to his old ways and didn't darken the door of the church again till the next revival meeting. This went on year after year until finally one of the fellows got tired of it. So when the man came forward and prayed, “Oh Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit,” a voice in the rear said, “Never mind Lord, he leaks.” Today we look at the Holy Spirit. 

In the sermon series on “We Believe”, we've looked at our belief in God, Jesus Christ and now today, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Our opening hymn and the hymn we've just song were about the Trinity. Last week, we looked at the Trinity—how we know God in three ways: God, the Creator and we know God through the creation, God the Son through the fully human and fully God, Jesus Christ. And now God present with us right here, in your life and in this room, as the Holy Spirit. We know God in three ways as we know water in liquid, solid and steam form. We know other people in their different roles as mother, grandmother, sister, friend. And we know God in certain roles, but yet there's still only one God. 

Today, we look at God present with us as the Holy Spirit. There are two issues in the church today which are confusing us, controversial issues in some ways, issues that disturb us and affect our understanding and our expectations. Because of the confusion over these issues, our expectations often limit the Holy Spirit from working in our lives. We put limitations because of our inadequate understanding, because of our limited expectation. These two areas of concern and conflict in the church is first of all, speaking in tongues, and secondly, a confusion about what is the Holy Spirit actually doing in our lives. What is the Holy Spirit trying to accomplish? 

Let's take that one first and ask the question, “What is the Holy Spirit trying to do?” I believe that the Holy Spirit is not trying to make us spiritual. I think that is a very poor word to describe the process. Our understanding of spiritual is so inadequate. What does spiritual mean to you? When you say, “Oh, isn't he such a spiritual person, or isn't she so spiritual, what do you mean?” I hear people saying that that spiritual person is anemic, insipid, but as exciting as a warm drink of water in hot July, colorless, drab, so holy and religious they've withdrawn from the world, weak. Spiritual means ghostly, not quite real, like ghosts. Nothing is further from the biblical understanding of what the Spirit is and what the Spirit does, than our modern use of this word spiritual. In the Old Testament, Genesis opens with God creating the world. God breathes and brings order into being. The word translated “spirit” is the Hebrew word for “wind” and it doesn't mean a little gentle wind. It means a strong gale. This strong gale blew across the universe and created order. 

In the second chapter of Genesis, God breathed life into Adam and Eve. Again, it's the word translated “spirit” and again, it means “wind”. When God breathed into Adam and Eve, he breathed life and they came into into life. The Spirit brings life. Throughout the Old Testament, the Spirit, the wind overpowered individual people. They spoke in prophetic utterances. Ordinary people like you and me began to preach with clarity, understanding, insight and power. We call them the prophets. It was the Spirit of God overpowering them and giving them an energy of vitality, a power. 

In the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus battles the unclean spirits. God's Spirit overpowers the unclean spirits. People are made well, the deaf hear, the blind see, the emotionally disturbed are healed as God's Spirit overpowers. It is the Spirit that drove Jesus in the wilderness to pray. It's the Spirit that brings people into the kingdom of God. It was the Spirit in the book of Acts on the day of Pentecost when the church was born. And the word used is “wind”. The Spirit came upon the disciples like a mighty wind and appeared above them like tongues of fire. It was a moving, dynamic experience. That's the kind of spirit the Bible talks about. 

This Spirit which brings energy, vitality and power is more adequately translated “spirited”, like a spirited horse. What kind of image do you get when you hear of a spirited horse? One that is energetic, jumping, throwing the rider off. But what about a spiritual horse? What kind of image do you get of a spiritual horse? Dr. Ted Jennings at Pastors’ School last fall gave me this insight into the Spirit. He used the example of the difference between a spirited woman and a spiritual woman. When you think of a spirited woman, what kind of image do you get? A woman who’s wild, reckless, a woman you can't possess and you can't control, a dynamic person. A spiritual woman too often means mousy, a wallflower, wears no makeup and a hairdo that's three fads old. Spirited is what the Bible means, spirit that gives us energy, vitality, and power. 

To what end does the Holy Spirit move in our lives? We are indebted to John Wesley who of all the theologians developed the understanding of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves upon us with a mighty wind to make us God's people. The Holy Spirit moves upon us so we may experience God not just in our heads with what we believe, but experience God in our lives, to make us God's people. The Holy Spirit moves and convinces us of our sin and our separation from God. The Holy Spirit works in us, regenerates us and makes us new people. The Holy Spirit moves in us throughout our lives taking us to perfection, making us perfect, said John Wesley. And the Holy Spirit gives you that witness, that assurance deep down in your heart that you are a child of God, that you belong to God. You can know it. You don't have to think it or hope it. You can know it down in the depth of your being. That's the work of the Holy Spirit. Those ideas will be developed in subsequent sermons. 

Now, what about speaking in tongues? How many of you have ever heard anyone speak in tongues? Raise your hand. A lot of you. I won't ask you if you've done it. Speaking in tongues is an utterance of a language that is seemingly not a language. Speaking in tongues is an utterance of a language that is seemingly not a language until another person equally inspired, interprets it. Or the person who's spoken the tongue interprets it. This phenomenon is associated with the Pentecostal churches, the Assembly of God churches, and in more recent times with what we call the charismatic movement, which is spreading through the denominations, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, where people in prayer begin speaking in tongues. New denominations are growing up called Christian Centers. New churches are growing up as charismatic churches in our day. 

There is confusion about the speaking in tongues. First are those people who speak in tongues and who believe very emphatically that speaking in tongues is a sign that they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and is the only sign. They say that if you do not speak in tongues, you are not filled with the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is the sign of the activity of the Holy Spirit, and so the rest of us are of a lesser species. Other people, and this is sad, so desperately yearn and long to speak in tongues feel there's something wrong with them when they don't, and they feel guilty about it. I know such people who pray in such earnestness and who yearn and long to speak in tongues as evidence of the Holy Spirit, and when it doesn't happen, they feel guilty, and unworthy. 

Now to both of these people, we say, “You are unbiblical, unequivocally unbiblical,” and ironically, many of the people who speak in tongues and say to the rest of us that it's the only sign of the Holy Spirit claim to be literalists in interpreting the Bible. They say they take the Bible literally. I don't know what they do then with the 12th, 13th and 14th chapters of 1 Corinthians. They must rip them out because they do not take them literally. Paul is very clear at this point as to what is the place of speaking in tongues. Read those chapters later. I'll give you a few verses now. Paul is discussing in these three chapters 12,13 and 14, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Evidently, there was a great controversy in the Corinthian Church. Evidently, those who spoke in tongues felt that they were privileged and better than the rest of the people. And so Paul writes these three chapters. 

Paul says the speaking in tongues is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but by no means the only gift and by no means is exclusively the sign of the working of the Spirit. Let me read from chapter 12, beginning with verse four, Paul says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit gives them. There are different ways of serving but the same Lord is served. There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to everyone for their particular service. The spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all. The Spirit gives one person a message full of wisdom, while to another person, the same Spirit gives a message full of knowledge. One and the same Spirit gives faith to one person while to another person he gives the power to heal. The Spirit gives one person the power to work miracles, to another the gift of speaking God's message, and to yet another the ability to tell the difference between gifts that come from the spirit and those that do not. To one person, he gives the ability to speak in strange tongues, and to another he gives the ability to explain what is said. But, it is one and the same Spirit who does all this as he wishes. God gives a different gift to each person.” Isn't that clear? 

Then Paul goes on and says Christ is like a body, a single body with many parts, and all of us with our particular gifts make up Christ's body. Then Paul gives the pecking order in this body, the most important on down beginning with verse 27. “All of you are Christ’s body and each one is a part of it. In the church God has put all in place—in the first place, apostles, in the second place prophets, in the third place teachers, then those who perform miracles, followed by those who are given the power to heal or to help others or to direct them, or to speak in strange tongues. The last one on the list. He says not everyone has the power to work miracles or to heal diseases or to speak in strange tongues. Isn't that clear? Not everyone has the power. Not everyone has the same gifts. 

Then Paul says, “But let me show you a more excellent way.” He then discusses the greatest, the highest gift of the Holy Spirit. It's in chapter 13, the beautiful chapter on love. The love chapter belongs between these two chapters on tongues because love is the highest, the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not speaking in tongues. In fact, he begins chapter 13 by saying, “If I speak in tongues, but have not love, I am like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. It is nothing. If I have prophetic powers and understand everything, but have not love, it’s nothing.” In chapter 14, the first verse, Paul writes, “It is love then that you should strive for. Make love your aim.” That's the greatest of the gifts.

We believe and I think most of the people in our church do not discredit speaking in tongues. We recognize speaking in tongues as a gift of the Spirit and it's a beautiful gift. For those who have experienced it, it must be a very powerful, spirited experience. But, we do not encourage speaking in tongues in public worship because Paul is very clear. In 14:18 Paul says, “I thank God that I speak in strange tongues much more than any of you. But, in church worship, I would rather speak five words that can be understood in order to teach others then speak thousands of words in strange tongues.” We do not encourage speaking in tongues in public worship. Nor do we consider speaking in tongues as the only sign of the activity of the Holy Spirit, but also healing, preaching, teaching and the greatest of all, love. 

God in the Holy Spirit is at work in you not to make you spiritual, but to make you spirited with great energy, power and dynamic. And to make you a more loving person. That's what God is doing. 

And how does God do it? What is the vehicle? Sometimes in the Bible, God's Spirit just overpowers someone. But, as I read the Bible, the most common vehicle is prayer. They were usually in prayer when the Spirit came upon them. Throughout history, it has been through prayer, God visits with power. Do you hunger for more of God in your life? Do you hunger and yearn for more power in your life to cope with the life you've been given? Do you want more energy and vitality? Do you want more love? God through the Holy Spirit answers. God through the Holy Spirit overpowers all who call, all who ask sincerely and earnestly in prayer not for a specific gift, but the prayer, “O God, come. Fill me with your Holy Spirit.”

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris