Teaching series from 1 Thessalonians

Don't Quench the Spirit!

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

Teaching t22473


Brief review of setting. In this section of his letter (4:1-5:23), Paul describes what it looks like to live the Christian life. 5:16-22 describes distinctively Christian ways to relate to God:

5:16-18 urges us to cultivate a healthy prayer life – and especially expressing frequent gratitude to God (LAST WEEK). This unleashes God’s power to transform our lives.

5:19-22 warns us not to quench God’s Spirit (read 5:19). “Quench” (sbennumi) means to extinguish, as in extinguishing a fire. Many fires are destructive, and need to be quenched. Firemen are professional quenchers of destructive fires. Satan launches destructive “flaming missals” of accusation at Christians (Eph.6:16), which we are to quench by affirming God’s forgiveness.

But others fires are constructive. The fire in your gas furnace provides heat for your home. The fire in your car’s engine provides power to transport you. Quenching these fires is extremely counter-productive. In the same way, God’s Spirit is a good and constructive “fire.” He is a Person who takes up residence in the heart of every person who receives Christ, and His primary role is to ignite within our hearts love for God/Jesus, zeal to be like Christ, and power to do His will (read and explain Phil.2:13). Therefore, the Christian life is not about self-generating these things; it is about not quenching the Spirit’s “fire.”

In what ways can we quench the Spirit? Paul mentions one way in 5:20-22...

Don’t despise prophetic utterances

Read 5:20. One way we can quench the Spirit is to “despise prophetic utterances.” A “prophecy” is not primarily a prediction of the future, but rather a message from God that has pointed personal relevance and application.

Many prophecies occur in a group setting like this one. Acts15:32,35 equates prophesying with preaching—teaching God’s Word in a Spirit-empowered way that personally strengthens and exhorts Christians. Have you ever gone to a Bible study and felt like what was said was meant personally for you (LAST WEEK; “Who told you I was coming?”)? What is this? This is a prophetic utterance.

Many prophecies are one-to-one—one Christian applying God’s truth to another Christian with Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered way. 1 Cor.14 says that non-preacher Christians can prophesy like this to build up others, comfort them, exhort them, and convict them of their need for God (1Cor.14:3,24,25,31). Have you ever had another Christian speak to you with this kind of impact (EXAMPLES)? What is this? This is a prophetic utterance.

When we say that a given church is “on fire” or “alive” vs. “dead” or “lifeless,” one thing we mean is prophetic utterances like the above are pretty common, and that most members are receptive to them.

Paul says we can respond wrongly to prophetic utterances in one of two ways.

One wrong response is to naively accept what is spoken as from God. This is naïve, because people (including Christians) can claim to speak from God when they are speaking from their own imagination or (worse) from selfish greed and even demonic deception. That’s why Paul says 5:21,22 (read). We have to examine carefully the content of every preaching or personal prophecy (1Cor.14:29). How can we do this? Primarily by comparing the content to God’s written Word, the Bible. The Spirit of God will never move a Christian to prophesy something that contradicts the written Word of God. You and I have a responsibility to learn the Word well enough to be able to examine prophetic utterances and “abstain from” them (reject them; lay them aside) if they contradict God’s Word—regardless of how eloquent or forceful or flattering they are.

It is a great tragedy that American Christians, who have no excuse for biblical ignorance (UNPARALLELED ACCESS TO THE BIBLE), so often gulp down false prophecy (e.g., POPULARITY OF HEALTH-WEALTH PREACHERS; “GOD TOLD ME YOU SHOULD MARRY ME”).

But the other wrong response (more common in Xenos) is to quench the Spirit by cynically despising or scorning genuine prophetic utterances. With our minds informed by God’s Word, we are to expect God to speak to us prophetically when we assemble together and as we interact with one another. And if the content of the message squares with God’s Word, we are to “hold it fast” (hold on to it as a treasure), even if it exposes or challenges us. Ask yourself:

“Do I come to Bible studies prayerfully expecting to hear from the living God—or do I just attend on auto-pilot with an inattentive heart?”

“When I’ve heard a certain teaching before, do I listen for fresh personal reminder and/or application—or do I tune out (‘I already know this’)?”

“When a brother/sister exhorts me personally, do I take it before God and ask Him to show me the truth in it—or do I just blow it off as just sociological (‘He’s just a positive person’) or get indignant (‘How dare she correct me!’)?”

This kind of quenching will really hinder your spiritual growth. And when a group gets used to quenching the Spirit this way, they suffer self-inflicted spiritual boredom and/or and become vulnerable to worldly affections. May we never become this kind of church!!!

Don’t mock genuine enthusiasm for God

Another way we can quench the Spirit is by mocking genuine enthusiasm for God. 2Sam.6 narrates a chilling example of this (read 6:12-15). The ark of the covenant represented God’s presence and faithfulness, so David was so filled with gladness that he broke out in a dance. Because he was wearing an ephod (like a hospital smock?), he evidently exposed his back-side. When his wife Michal saw this, she was grossed out and dressed him down (read 6:16,20). “Is that any way for a king to behave? You’re embarrassing me!” But David rejected her rebuke (read 6:21,22). “I was expressing my gladness to God for His amazing goodness to me. I don’t care whether people think I’m cool—I want to praise God, and any godly person will understand this.” God agreed with David, and disciplined Michal for her unrepentant Spirit-quenching attitude (read 6:23).

The Spirit is excited about God’s grace, and He wants to ignite gladness in our hearts that we are so blessed through Christ. When He does this, we should express our gladness to Him—not just when we are alone, but also in the presence of others. Paul often “interrupts” his letters with this kind of spontaneous enthusiasm (e.g., 1Tim.1:17; 6:16; Rom.5:1-5; 11:33-36).

To refuse to do this may reveal sinful fear of what others will think, or misplaced affections (e.g., FOOTBALL GAME). Regardless of the reason, icing others down when they are honestly rejoicing about God is pouring cold water on the Spirit.

Yes, sometimes Christians abuse this freedom. Some fake it to get attention. Some are insensitive to non-Christians who have no category for their expression. Some are genuine and appropriate—they just go on too long. When this happens, we should get up next to them help them express their enthusiasm in more edifying ways while we affirm its basic goodness. But we should be glad to have this problem, because it is way better to have to “cool down a fanatic” than to have to try to “warm up a corpse” (METHODISTS CALLED “ENTHUSIASTS” WAS A SIGN OF THEIR VITALITY)!

So beware of stifling others’ enthusiasm about Jesus! You may be reinforcing your own cold heart and hindering the Spirit from warming you and others up (CT “AMEN’S;” HOME GROUP PRAYER; etc.)! God might give you what you really don’t want—a dead, cold-fish church!

And beware of the effect of chronically unenthusiastic Christians on your soul. SPURGEON: “We shall... find ourselves in danger of deteriorating our zeal by the cold Christian people with whom we come in contact. What terrible wet blankets some (Christians) are!...If these frost-bitten men should happen to be the officers of the church, from whom you naturally expect the warmest sympathy, the result is chilling to the last degree, and all the more if you are young and inexperienced...”

God’s Spirit loves to ignite joy and enthusiasm for God and the things of God. Appreciate the “igniters” and be one yourself. This will deepen your zeal for God and draw others to Him.

Don’t shrink back from scary steps of faith

A third way we can quench the Spirit is by shrinking back from scary steps of faith. God’s Spirit is the Spirit of love—He is regularly urging us to move closer to God’s love, and to extend God’s love to others. He will prompt us to take specific steps in this direction. But His promptings often feel scary because they run contrary to our self-centered and/or self-protective inclinations. EXAMPLES:

The Spirit urges me to speak up about my faith to someone who doesn’t know Christ, but I feel afraid of their criticism or rejection.

The Spirit urges me to confess a sin to someone, but I feel afraid of embarrassment or being judged.

The Spirit urges me to humbly praise or thank someone, but I feel afraid of sounding like a brown-noser.

The Spirit urges me to humbly apologize to someone, but I feel afraid of being perceived as weak, or of losing control.

The Spirit urges me to begin going to a home Bible study, but I feel social anxiety.

The Spirit urges me to address a problem with someone close to me, but I feel afraid of not knowing what to do if they react poorly or unexpectedly.

The Spirit urges me to change some part of our home group to incorporate new members, but I feel afraid of the discomfort or that others will be upset.

What do you do with this tension? You sense the Spirit prompting you to do something that you know is biblical and good—but you also sense real fear and aversion.

There are two common mistakes to avoid. One is to beat yourself up for feeling fear. You aren’t responsible for feeling afraid, and you can’t will that feeling away. The other is to take the counsel of your fear—to obey your fear by shrinking back from the step the Spirit is urging you to take. This is quenching the Spirit. It results in a forfeited opportunity to experience God’s love in and through you. If you chronically shrink back, you can become more and more controlled by your fears (BOA-CONSTRICTOR).

The obvious answer is to take the scary step! Here’s what helps me do this.

I affirm God’s promise that whatever God’s Spirit prompts me to do, He will also help me to do. This is how Paul encourages Timothy (read 2Tim.1:6-8). Timothy was shrinking back from using his spiritual gift (evangelism?) and from taking a stand as a Christian and Paul’s friend. The fire of the Spirit was being quenched, but Paul says he can “fan it into flame” by remembering that God’s Spirit will give him power and love as he steps out.

I try to focus on the one step God is calling me to take instead of on all the things that might happen after that step (“horriblizing”). He promises to meet me there, to give me power and protection to stand there, and direction on where to go from there.

I try to remember past times when I took a similar scary step—and how God came through with His power and love and other blessings.

What scary step of faith is God asking you to take today? Don’t waste time regretting past steps you shrank back from. God already forgives them. Don’t waste time worrying about what scary steps He might ask you to take in the future. You don’t know, and He will be there to help you with whatever it is. Focus on today’s step!

GOSPEL: God’s Spirit is prompting some of you to take the scary step of receiving Christ. It is scary, because friends and/or family members might give you flak, and because Jesus will initiate changes in your life. But I’m here to tell you that it is so worth it to take this scary step! Just on the other side of this step is a whole new life—a life that experiences His love, a life free from that deep loneliness and emptiness, a life with real purpose and real joy. Don’t quench God’s Spirit by obeying these fears—take the step of faith and open the door to Christ. You will never regret this!