Friday, November 25, 2005

Grieving the Holy Spirit

In Ephesians 4:30, Paul admonishes us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. But what is it meant by grieve, and why are we urged so strongly against engaging in this behavior towards the Holy Spirit? You know, the dictionary is quite handy when it comes to discerning the most accurate meaning of a word. So I looked up the definition and this is what it says: 'grief' is distress caused by loss or disappointment, which often leads to intense sorrow. Ok, well intense anguish and pain is not what we consciously want to cause anyone, let alone the Holy Spirit. But is it possible that while caught up in difficult circumstances over which we feel we have no control that we might revert to our old way of behaving?

The scripture says that we are like the children of Israel, in that the proclivity of our human nature is the same. Let's look at their story as recorded in Exodus 17, for clues as to the way in which they grieved God. According to verse 1, the children of Israel journeyed according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched their tents in Rephidim, were there was no water for the people to drink. Now just consider, how would you behave if you arrived home after having a long day dealing with traffic, and were hot, tired, and thirsty. Just imagine, the only thing on your mind after such a trip home, is a glass of cool, refreshing water. Walking into your kitchen, you turn on the faucet, only to discover that your water has been turned off. Not to worry you think, "I can get water from the water dispenser on the fridge door.' So with glass in hand you approach the fridge, push the lever, and out comes brown liquid. Uugh! The water dispenser is not working. Disappointed, but not terribly discouraged, you opt for juice or milk instead. Opening the fridge, you remember you meant to go to the store but didn't and now you have nothing to drink. If you can imagine how you would feel, and what you would say to yourself in the recesses of your mind, then you have an understanding of how the children of Israel are likely to have felt. So, what did they do? Why, they silently accused Moses of course. And when, after sharing their private thoughts and feelings with one another, they found that they all felt the same, they murmured and complained loudly. Their discontent finally reached its zenith, in accusing Moses of taking them into the wilderness to kill them with thirst, and steal their goods (Exodus 17:2, 3). The Lord was displeased, but told Moses, take this rod that you used to smite the river (the Red Sea) and go to the rock in Horeb. Smite the rock there and water shall come out of it, so the people may drink (Exodus 17: 5, 6).

This is what is written in verse 7: "And he (Moses) called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, 'is the Lord among us, or not?'" Guess what Massah and Meribah mean? According to the reference in the margin, they mean -- respectively -- contention and chiding or strife. Now, if this lesson is not enough -- remember that the children of Israel had experienced a miraculous deliverance from Egypt. They did not suffer the plagues, the Egyptians did. They did not suffer drowning in the Red Sea, it was parted for them, not so for their enemies -- the Egyptians who drowned. In addition, God even went before them by day in a cloudy pillar, and protected them by night with a fiery pillar. So they had ample evidence that God not only could but also would provide for them, if they trusted Him. But what did they do? Instead of choosing to trust, they looked at and magnified their difficulties until they were led to murmur, complain and tempt God. Is it possible we are guilty too of tempting God?

Now you would think the Israelites had learned a lesson in trust, but it was not so. A repeat performance is found in Numbers chapter 20. The people are again without water while in Kadesh, and again they chide Moses (Miriam has died) and accuse him of bringing (us, the people) 'of the Lord out into the wilderness so that we and our cattle should die here.' So they did not learn, and Moses and Aaron were led to sin because of their tempting. This is what the Lord had to saying Hebrews chapter 3.

Hebrews 3:7 Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear His voice,
Hebrews 3:8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
Hebrews 3:9 When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years.
Hebrews 3:10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known My ways.
Hebrews 3:12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief ...

As we can see from the above texts, God not only feels deep anguish, disappointment and intense sorrow, but also suffers greatly because of the hardness of His children's hearts. So what was it that grieved God? Well according to scripture, it was the unbelief of the people (see Heb. 3:6, 8, 12, 15, 19; 4:2, 3, 6, 7 & 14). Our choice not to believe God's word -- not to trust in Him for the fulfillment of His promises to us is so painful to Him that He is grieved beyond what we can comprehend. And while we cannot understand the depth and magnitude of His sorrow, we can understand this, if we who are finite can experience such intense sorrow, how much greater must His sorrow be, since He Himself is immeasurably greater than we?

Now that we have looked at what the children of Israel were doing that caused the Holy Spirit (the Godhead) pain, now let's look at Paul's exhortations to the Ephesians to prevent them from falling into the same trap. According to Paul, after having accepted Christ, they were as God's children, to receive the Spirit's wisdom, revelation and acknowledgment of Christ (Eph. 1:17); and were not to defile their body, which is God's dwelling place (Eph. 2:22). Furthermore, they were to nourish and cherish the members of the church, and not disrupt its unity (Eph. 5:29, 30), by returning to the life of the old man (Eph. 5:3-8). The old man naturally indulges in lying, resentment, thieving, and corrupt speech (Eph. 5:3, 4). Why would someone who had received the Holy Spirit engage in the behavior of the old man, when he or she had such power at hand to overcome? It is because of unbelief.

This thanksgiving season, let us be willing to follow Paul's admonishment in Ephesians 4:30 that we ... grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, for He's sealed us unto the day when we shall at last receive redemption in full. In other words, let's allow the Holy Spirit to remind us with Psalms -- of His goodness and mercy which endure forever (Ps. 107:1); through hymns and spiritual songs -- of His steadfast love and kindness, so that we may give thanks to God always, for all things, with a melody in our hearts (Ephesians 5:19, 20).

We're wishing you all a Happy Thanks Giving folks -- and while you are being thankful and grateful today, if the Holy Spirit convicts you of unbelief, respond as did the father in Mark 9:24, who cried out with tears, and said, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." You'll be glad you did.

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