To the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote; “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
Later in the same letter, he writes again urging them; “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)
And to the Ephesian believers, Paul wrote that having been filled with the Holy Spirit they were to be those who were; “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)
Expressing thanks to God is a theme woven throughout the New Testament letters. Whether the writer is thanking God for salvation, encouraging believers in prayer or urging them to stand steadfast under trials – gratitude is the consistent thread and exhortation. These verses bring three things into focus for us believers;
1. Believers in Christ Jesus are to have a thankful predisposition, ‘be thankful’ (Colossians 3:15)
Christ-Followers are called to be characterised by thankfulness. Think about that for a moment, is thankfulness your predisposition, your default setting?
Or if you’re honest, do you find living in a state of thanksgiving a continual struggle?
The challenge in this verse is that the imperative is not conditional on something else being present. The context makes being thankful one of the things Christ-Followers are to ‘put-on’ since we are God’s chosen & beloved children (see vs12).
2. Believers in Christ Jesus are to pray prayers filled with thanksgiving continuously (Colossians 4:2)
If you did a quick ‘prayer-audit’ what would characterise your prayers the most? Are your prayers filled continuously with thanksgiving? Or might they be more characterised by complaints & requests for felt needs to be met or circumstances to change? Biblical prayer is filled with thanksgiving; it’s the way into God’s presence, always being grateful for Jesus and our salvation through our faith in Him. Psalm 100 as a helpful reminder as to how we ought to come to God in prayer.
3. Believers in Christ Jesus are to give thanks always and to give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20)
We find it relatively easy to thank God (if we remember to give thanks at all) when something has turned out well, or God has answered something we asked God for. But this passage challenges Christ-Followers to reach another level of thanksgiving entirely. The appeal is to give thanks ‘always’ and ‘for everything’! Those two words make this verse a challenging one.
The context of the passage gives us the key to understanding this verse. The context here is what the life of a Holy Spirit-filled believer will look like. John Stott says the following about Ephesians 5:20;
“The grumbling spirit is not compatible with the Holy Spirit. Grumbling was one of the besetting sins of the people of Israel; they were always ‘murmuring’ against the Lord and against Moses. But the Spirit-filled believer is full not of complaining, but of thanksgiving.” – John Stott
In the coming days of a state of lockdown (in South Africa due to COVID-19) may we be those who filled with the Holy Spirit have a general attitude of thanksgiving and not murmuring.
May our prayers be seasoned with thanksgiving to God because of the enabling power of God’s Spirit, helping us even amid human tragedy on a massive scale – to be still thankful.
One of the main ways God’s Spirit helps us with this is to remind us of our great salvation! We can always thank God the Father for giving us Jesus the ‘indescribable gift’ (2 Corinthians 9:15).
The Holy Spirit also reminds us that Scripture teaches us that regardless of the hardships we endure in this present life, they are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comprehension! (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). And the Holy Spirit fills us with joy and peace so that we may abound in the hope that is eternal and not limited to this short life (Romans 15:13)
- What can you be thankful to God for? Take time to consider this question and begin to express your thanks to God in prayer.
- Ask God to fill you again with the Holy Spirit so that your predisposition will be one of thanksgiving nor murmuring.
- Come to God in prayer starting with thanksgiving and with thanks shot through all your praying.
- Ask God to help you in the coming days that will most likely be incredibly challenging to be still thankful always confident that God is sovereign in all things.
In John 15:1-5 Jesus implores His disciples to ‘abide’ in Him promising them that if they do, He too will ‘abide’ in them and that they will have lives that are fruitful in abundance.
Since ‘abiding’ in Jesus was urged by Jesus, and because it promises much – it is reasonable, therefore to ask how one might be assured that they are genuinely ‘abiding’ in Jesus.
On the one hand, it is good to be assured, and on the other, if one is not truly abiding in Jesus, it would be good to know while something can still be done about it.
The apostle John tells us that we can know that we are abiding in Jesus and He in us because we have the Holy Spirit within us – “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:13).
John says that we know we are in Christ because we have Christ’s Spirit in us! Something tangible has happened to the person who has believed in Jesus. Such a person is not just left with an esoteric memory of a moment when they put their faith in Jesus – they have tangible evidence of God’s Spirit in them!
Similarly, Paul described the Holy Spirit to the Ephesian church as the seal that guarantees our future inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer was an assurance, a guarantee of what was to come. It would not be much of a guarantee if the Holy Spirit’s presence was not tangible to the believer.
I believe that what John is referring to is one of the Holy Spirit’s greatest works within us. The Holy Spirit assures the believer in Jesus that they truly are God’s child and that they have an unshakable future hope!
The apostle Paul said it like this; “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:15-17)
Assurance is one of the major themes in the whole letter of 1 John (see 1 John 2:3, 3:10, 3:19, 3:24, 4:7, 4:13, 4:15, 5:13) and here again, John writes how the Holy Spirit’s work and presence in the life of the believer results in a certainty and a firm belief or assurance;
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” (1 John 4:16)
As a Father, I remember many situations when all I wanted was my children to know that I had the situation under control. I wanted fear and anxiety in them to subside and for peace and security and assurance to fill their minds and hearts, putting them at ease. I hear, in John’s writing, that our Father in Heaven wants the same for all those who have believed – assurance, peace, the absence of fear and worry and anxiety.
We have been loved by God’s perfect selfless love by the King of kings and Lord of lords. So all fear and insecurity have to melt away in the presence of such love and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit who keeps reminding and revealing to us the magnitude and perfection of God’s love for us His beloved children.
Friend, if you have believed in Jesus, you have been granted the right, and the privilege of becoming the child of God and that is what you are (John 1:12 & 1 John 3:1). You have been given the indwelling Holy Spirit to remind you of these truths and to make the love of God real and tangible so that you rest secure in your heavenly Father’s love forever!
So, pray now and ask for the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again with the love of God (Romans 5:5) & to fill you with the assurance that you are God’s beloved child forever.
Gullibility is a liability! Not everything that ‘sounds’ spiritual or deep is Godly or helpful. We live in an age of information overload, the access to options or alternate thought positions has never been easier.
Therefore being able to discern right from wrong, good from evil is an important life skill. The apostle John writes warning believers affectionately; “Beloved, do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4:1) or as the NLT puts it; “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.”
In our day in the name of God, church leaders are sadly often in the news for telling those who follow them to perform all manner of crazy acts, claiming this is what God wants or torturing Scripture to say that what they are teaching is what Scripture commands!
Discernment, therefore, is a vital aspect of faith for all Christ-followers. But how does one discern orthodoxy from heresy?
1. Listen to God’s Holy Spirit!
God’s Holy Spirit will always make much of Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us. So listen to the content and the focus of someone’s teaching and if Jesus is not the BIG IDEA, if anyone, anything is, then tune out! Remember that;
- The Holy Spirit will teach us and will remind us of everything Jesus said. (John 14:26)
- The Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus (John 15:26)
- The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)
- The Holy Spirit will bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14)
Hearing from the Holy Spirit is not for some elite group of Christians. Adam and Eve used to walk and talk with God in the Garden. Now that you have been reconciled to God through Jesus, you too can walk and talk every day with God. This is your joy and your privilege as a believer!
Try this: As you read, or listen to anything/anyone – ask the Holy Spirit to confirm in your Spirit whether this is helpful or unhelpful in your spiritual walk.
2. Use the Weapon of Scripture
One of the primary ways God has put on display His will for our lives is in Holy Scripture. The more you read and internalise Scripture, the better equipped you will be to discern spiritual nonsense from the good stuff.
So, if some teaching doesn’t line up with Scripture – toss it out! Our LORD did this when He was tested in the desert by the devil, and yet Jesus resisted him, Jesus exposed the falsehood through quoting Scripture to the enemy.
So read your Bible daily, commit to that discipline, and it will protect you in ways you cannot begin to imagine. Internalise Scripture, memorise Scripture – doing so is that arming yourself with the sword of the Spirit, taking the sword out of its sheath to protect yourself from enemy attacks (Ephesians 6:17).
3. Be in intentional Christian Community
Being on your own, isolated with your thoughts, leaves one vulnerable to false teaching and potentially being persuaded or lead astray. The people John was writing to had a relationship with the apostle John, and that relationship helped them to remain strong in the face of false teaching as they could ask John for his opinion.
Who are you in intentional Christian Community with? Is the Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit a key aspect of that friendship? In Reconciliation Road Church we urge every believer to be in a TRIO or a COMMUNITY GROUP or to be in both if possible. Why? Because Community protects one, keeps us from the pain of being diverted from the path God has for us.
Do you have an intentional Christian Community? If not, take a step and reach out to some other people.
May we, may you be fortified against gullibility. May you obey the Holy Spirit daily, devote yourself to Scripture daily and may you have an authentic and intentional Christian Community around you to protect you from dangerous spiritual gullibility.
1 Luke 39-80
Growing up in a household where gifts were opened up on the evening of the 24th , I remember experiencing this uncontainable excitement of what was to come. It felt like years had passed before I could finally open up the gifts under the Christmas tree and experience the joy that it brought.
In the same manner, there was great excitement surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God was at work in the hearts of Elizabeth, Mary and John. It was as if the Spirit of God could not contain the excitement. Mary is overcome with joyful praise, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and John leaps for joy in the womb. This wonderful “hoorah!” moment is all under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
What a beautiful example of how we should worship God “in Spirit and in truth!’ These individuals were totally overcome by the Holy Spirit and it was the Holy Spirit within them that was ultimately worshipping God. They were being led by the Spirit.
John 4: 24: ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Phillipians 3:3: ‘..we who worship by the Spirit of God…’
Sometimes we do not know what to say or how to pray but the Holy Spirit within us knows, He is our Helper (John 14:26) and without Him it is impossible to follow God as He enables us to do the will of God so no one might boast.
It is quite remarkable what is being revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. Mary is told in verse 35 that the boy will be called the Son of God and in verse 43 the Holy Spirit gives Elizabeth a revelation of who Jesus is:
Verse 43: ‘And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’
This baby boy has not even been born yet and Elizabeth believes, because of what the Holy Spirit has revealed to her. She believes not because she has seen miracles or heard fancy teachings, but because of the work of the Holy Spirit within her. I thank the Lord for the working of the Holy Spirit in us, so we too are able to believe.
My prayer is that we will allow the Holy Spirit to put Christ at the centre of our Christmas celebrations. That we will not miss him in between family time, cooking and socialising, but that He will once more be celebrated as our biggest gift.
May we burst into praise like Mary, be continuously filled by the Holy Spirit like Elizabeth and leap for joy like John this Christmas!
Let’s re-cap for a moment the story thus far… Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension, ‘wait for the Promise’! Then the promised Holy Spirit came with a remarkable manifestation of joy & power which resulted in a boldness in the disciples that catapulted them onto Jesus’ mandate and mission for their lives.
Peter preaches the first sermon and 3000 people put their faith in Jesus on that first day! The new community formed through the Gospel is a radical one which starts sharing life and possessions and devotes themselves to God in prayer and to one another.
In the days that follow, Peter and John then meet a paralysed man begging at the temple. However, rather than meeting his financial need they decide to give him the very best that they have to give – faith in Jesus! They pray for him and this man crippled for 40yrs is instantly healed in public which creates a crowd and a context for Peter to preach again about who Jesus is and what God did through Jesus on the cross in fulfilment of myriads of Old Testament prophecy.
All the commotion, the big crowds and the multitudes professing faith in Jesus (now about 5000 men so more like 10 000-15 000 women children!) raised the ire of the Jewish religious authorities who subsequently arrest Peter and John.
The next day they are hauled before the council and questioned about under what authority are they acting – Peter full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8) stands up and preaches again proclaiming with razor sharp clarity the Gospel crescendoing with;
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The Jewish council are dumbstruck! They remark at the incredible boldness and clarity of these everyday men, who are unlearned fishermen and yet proclaiming with clarity and boldness regarding the Scriptures. They can’t deny the miracle of the healing of the crippled man standing before their eyes and witnessed by the multitudes. But they want to shut this movement down and so call Peter and John in again and try to intimidate them commanding them to stop speaking about Jesus as if He was Messiah and in authority.
Peter and John boldly refuse to be shut down, and so reply to this command saying effectively; ‘you decide whether we should obey you or obey God! We cannot stop speaking about Jesus and all we have seen and heard!’
The council threatened them again and then had to let them go because the multitude was praising God for this miracle God had done.
It’s so important to hear the assessment of the Jewish council, Peter and John were ordinary men! However they had been ‘with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13) and we know that they were now also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit & full of faith in Jesus. Incredible things are possible if we will walk closely with Jesus in our daily lives, if we will be full of faith in the power of the name of Jesus and if we will be continuously full of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit!
- What’s God saying to YOU through this passage?
- What are you going to PRAY for as a result?
- What do you want to START doing more of?
- Is there anything you feel you need to STOP?
The Holy Spirit has been poured out on those disciples who were waiting and praying as Jesus had commanded them to (Acts 2:1-13), the resultant worship and joy has drawn a crowd of people some of whom are in amazement and some are mocking…
Someone needs to say something! Peter, full of the Holy Spirit stands up and impromptu preaches the first message in the history of the church of Jesus Christ.
He addresses those present, addresses their questions coming from what they have observed (vs15 & 22-24), he draws on OT biblical texts (vs17-21, 25-28 & 34-35) to teach and to convict of sin (vs23) and to motivate them to respond, giving them hope of what God’s response will be (vs38-39).
Many in the crowd are ‘cut to the heart’ (vs37) by listening to Peter’s preaching and as a result they want to respond and so exclaim; “what shall we do then”? (vs37)
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
They asked; “what shall we do?” and Peter’s response is that they should;
- Repent (be contrite & acknowledge your sin before God & then turn from it)
- Receive forgiveness (ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and then receive His forgiveness)
- Receive the Holy Spirit (having been cleansed of sin, be filled with the Holy Spirit and His new life)
- Be baptised in water (make an outward demonstration of the inward step of faith you’ve made)
And then those who did these 4 things, get added to the local church community. The Gospel saves individuals but joins them to a family of faith! There is no such thing as Christianity outside of local church community.
Questions for application
- Have you responded with faith in Jesus to the good news of the Gospel?
- Have you truly received forgiveness and received the in-filling of the Holy Spirit as a believer?
- Have you been baptised in water yet or do you need to still take that step declaring your faith?
- Have you added yourself, joined a local church community as a committed member? What’s stopping you?
Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until ‘the promise of the Father’ (Acts 1:4-5) and so they did. Devoting themselves to prayer together and then suddenly one day, Luke records that there was an experience that was quite unexpected and without precedent.
A sound, a roar came from heaven and was heard in the room they were in. A supernatural unusual breeze entered the room, followed by a physical manifestation of flames of fire that rested on each one of them. Something was happening and they all knew it. How long did it take for someone or all to recollect Jesus’ words and conclude that surely this was the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had spoken of and promised just days before.
The resulting impact of this sound, this wind and these supernatural flames was that everyone there was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in supernatural languages as the Holy Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1-5).
I love it that we had a medical doctor on the scene to describe in detail what was happening! At this point we don’t know what they were saying, but we know that they were saying it rather loudly. So loudly that the sounds emanating from the room gathered a crowd, devout Jewish people from all over the known world (who were dwelling in Jerusalem). And what did they hear? Babbling, craziness?
No, rather these who gathered to the sound of the disciples speaking in tongues exclaimed;
“…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:11-12)
Not everyone was amazed though, some seemingly didn’t hear praise but simply assumed that these disciples, who has been filled with the Holy Spirit, had in fact just probably had too much wine to drink, that had gone to their heads and mocked them. (vs13)
- The big question is the one the devout men asked; “What does this mean?” What did it mean then, what does this mean now for you and for me?
- This was the moment of the fulfilment of OT promises (Joel 2:28-32)
- Jesus is faithful and trustworthy ( John 7:37-39, John 14-16 & Acts 1:4-5)
- The outpouring or in-filling of the Holy Spirit was tangible/experiential
- It is possible to be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ & it’s urged in Scripture (Ephesians 5:18)
- The gift of speaking in tongues was not learnt but a spontaneous initial sign of in-filling by the Spirit
- The content of speaking in tongues (recorded in Acts 2) was worship to God in a multitude of earthly languages
- The impact of the in-filling of the Spirit was joy & merriment that could even be confused with drunkenness
- The impact of the in-filling of the Spirit was unity amongst believers. A united experience of God’s presence and power, a united explosion of worship and a united multi-cultural witness about the glory of God.
Jesus explained at length this anticipated moment, and the ongoing life/help that the Holy Spirit would bring (John 14-16), this life and help is the birthright of every believer in Jesus (Romans 8:9-11).
So, if you have believed in Jesus, this remarkable moment in church history ought not be a mere exception, but a historical account of a move of the Holy Spirit that should provoke you to ask God for His in-filling in your life, in your church.
Lord, would you move again in power, Holy Spirit would you fill your people again with power, provoking extravagant worship and power for mission for the sake of Jesus’ great name and glory!
And if youhave not been filled with the Holy Spirit, or if you feel like you need to be filled again – then simplly pray and ask God the Holy Spirit to fill you now, again and again.