When the EKG initiative was still in the dreaming and planning stage, I was privileged to be in a meeting with Dr. Morris Chapman as he presented the emphasis to several agency heads. While there was a genuine level of excitement about refocusing our denomination on the advance of God's Kingdom, there was one area of concern. No one wanted the title Empowering Kingdom Growth to suggest that any denomination could do anything to "empower" churches or individuals. Everyone agreed that the "empowering" for growth was the sovereign work of God through the Holy Spirit. Thus, this month we turn our attention to the work of the Spirit.
My focus intentionally will be somewhat narrow since other articles in this and future issues of SBC LIFE will deal with the various aspects of the ministry of the Spirit. Nonetheless, it is important that we provide some context for the work of the Spirit and the advance of the Kingdom.
A Prayer and a Promise
The ministry of the Spirit does not begin with the birth of the church. The triune God is eternal, and thus the Spirit has been at work on earth since the beginning of time. He is mentioned as early as Genesis 1:2 as He hovers over the chaotic waters bringing life and order. The Spirit was at work giving life, inspiration, and power to man. We see His activity in the lives of judges, prophets, and leaders.
When Moses was confronted with the awesome and burdensome task of caring for the complaints of all Israel, God instructed him to select seventy leaders from among the people. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it alone (Numbers 11:17, NASB here and throughout). There were two men, Eldad and Medad, who were absent when the Spirit was given but they too began to prophesy. This prompted a young man to report this activity to Moses. Joshua wanted to forbid them because he was zealous to undergird Moses' leadership. Moses responds, Oh, that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them! (Numbers 11:29).
Joel promised that a day would come when God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions (Joel 2:28). Peter declared that this promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 11:17).
Jesus, the First Kingdom Man
The Gospels present Jesus as one who is empowered by the Spirit. Mark tells us that the Spirit came upon Jesus at His baptism (1:9-11). It was the Spirit that enabled Him to defeat the "strong man" and thus offer deliverance to those who are in bondage. Throughout the Gospels, some of the onlookers want to attribute Jesus' power to Satan. Jesus asserts that such a conclusion is absurd; that would be Satan casting out Satan. His supernatural power was the work of the Spirit and to attribute the work of the Spirit to Satan is to commit blasphemy against the Spirit (Mark 3:20-30).
A central truth concerning the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom in the Gospels is that Jesus has the authority to baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). The reception of the Spirit by Jesus and the subsequent ability to impart the Spirit to His followers is a key aspect of John the Baptist's testimony as recorded by John. And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit'" (John 1:32-33).
The Holy Spirit is the agent of a new beginning in regards to Kingdom activity on planet earth. The same Spirit who was at work in creation is now at work in the creation of a community of Kingdom agents on earth who will be empowered to continue and complete the Kingdom activity of the Son. Before His departure, Jesus comforted and reassured His disciples with the promise of the Spirit. He told them that it was to their advantage that He depart earth and return to His Father. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you (John 16:7).
Acts and the Birth of the Kingdom Community
The Book of Acts could rightly be titled "the acts of the Holy Spirit." The account begins with a critical linking of the resurrection, the Spirit, and the Kingdom. Luke tells us that Christ presented many infallible proofs concerning His resurrection and was speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). They had been commanded not to depart from Jerusalem until the promise of the Father had been completed. For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (Acts 1:5).
The emphasis in the book of Acts is that the Holy Spirit will provide the power necessary to complete the Great Commission. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (1:8). We must interpret the Pentecost event with this prologue in mind. We can become so absorbed in trying to sort out the various signs (the wind, the tongues of fire, and the miraculous languages) that we miss the central thrust of the passage. The message of the Kingdom is for all nations, and the church is empowered to accomplish this mission. (For more detail, see chapters 6-8 in Eternal Impact).
The emphasis on the Holy Spirit and the empowering for proclamation of the Gospel does not end with this spectacular event-on the contrary, it only begins. We are surprised by the bold preaching of Peter who had recently denied the Lord three times. When Peter and John are taken before the Sanhedrin, we are specifically told that Peter's powerful defense of the Gospel is the result of his being filled with the Holy Spirit (4:8). When the audience witnesses the boldness of Peter and John they recognize they had been with Jesus (4:13). Peter and John leave here and join their companions who were assembled in prayer. After the report is given they returned to prayer. And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness (4:31).
Paul and the Early Church
Space will not allow us to take an in-depth look at the role of the Spirit in the life of the church. Suffice it to say that Paul's letters are filled with the ministry of the Holy Spirit to and through the church. He speaks of His work in proclamation, salvation, justification, and edification of the church just to mention a few. However, a central role of the Spirit in the Pauline writing has to do with His ministry of producing His fruit and His gifts in the lives of believers.
It is important to notice that gifts and graces of the Spirit are uniquely bound together in the Pauline discussion of the early church. For example, the great love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 provides the redefinition of the spiritual man and the controlling element for pursuing and using the gifts discussed in chapter 14. The discussion following the gift list in Romans 12:6-8 and the introduction to the gift discussion in Ephesians 4:1-6 point to necessity of grace-empowered character for the proper functioning of gifts for the advance of the Kingdom.
In other words, the fruit of the Spirit enables uniquely gifted members to live in unity. It is this unity of the Spirit that provides the foundation for the effective Kingdom ministry of the church. The gifts of the Spirit are not given for our amusement or the amazement of our friends but to enable the church to fulfill the task of completing the Acts 1:8 imperative. This singular truth should put an end to every excuse offered by every believer and every church. The Holy Spirit has provided everything necessary for successful Kingdom activity.
I am challenged by Paul's testimony that God raised Jesus from the dead, placed all things under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things for the church. Why, you ask? So that the church would be the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23). "Fullness" translates the same word that Paul uses in Philippians 1:19 to describe Christ as possessing the "fullness" of God. Have you ever wondered how the church is enabled to display the fullness of God in the world in which we live?
You are the answer! You are God's gift to the church enabling it to accomplish its Kingdom work and display His fullness. In Ephesians 4:7-11, Paul links the ascension of Christ to His present activity of filling all things which He accomplishes by presenting gifted persons to the church. You are gifted by the Spirit and thus vital to your church's Kingdom effectiveness.
Editor's note: If you want to learn more about your gifts for Kingdom activity, consider the new EKG study entitled You Are Gifted, published by B&H.