Waiting Watchfully For God's Workings

December 17, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
First Thessalonians 5:16-24

1. There is something that God wants for us. It is not that we just be "good" or "righteous." It is not just that we live in a diligent way. In today's second recitation of the scriptures the following words were read aloud. "Rejoice always. Pray without stopping. Give thanks come what may. These very deeds are what God wants for us in Christ Jesus," (verses sixteen through eighteen). That's right. This is what God wants [us to do].

2. We might understand it if we consider parents and children. Does the parent want that when a child looks enquiringly into the facial expressions of a parent, that the child try harder than anything to become his or her parent's favorite? Do the parents want their child to be unhappy and just diligent? A child might be praised on an excellent level by everyone, however, they may never utter a word with their parents, or ever remember their parents. Does a parent want his or her child to become like that? Does a parent want his or her child to become a constant complainer even if the child may never do anything bad? Of course, relationships between parents and children are [just] human and it is [very well] possible that all kinds of twists and turns and strains may arise between them. However, one does not naturally expect a parent to want his or her child to become like that. That is ever more so true when it comes to God who is our true father. What God, who is our parent, wants for his children is that we rejoice always, pray without stopping, and live thankfully come what may.

3. But now, God doesn't just want only that. He is actually at work in us so that the children of God might be able to live that way. The spirit of God lives in us and is at work in us. Our faith life is tantamount to the placing of ourselves into the work of the Holy Spirit. We are led by the church that we might participate in these workings of the spirit of God.

Do Not Put Out The Fire Of The Holy Spirit

4. But, just after that Paul speaks as follows. "Do not put out the fire of the 'spirit.'" (The adding of the quotation marks means that this stands for the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.) This is a literal translation of "Do not put out the 'spirit,'" but the word "put out" is a word with the meaning of "extinguish a fire," so it is given this free translation [with the word "fire" added]. The workings of the Holy Spirit are given the metaphor of "fire." It is possible for a human being to extinguish [or to quench] the fire of the Holy Spirit. When you think about it, you ought to be surprised at it. Since he's God, God ought to be able to not let people keep extinguishing [the Spirit]. Doesn't it seem right [to you] that God should be able to go about his business all on his own not paying attention to the intentions of humanity and not being influenced by what people do?

5. However, it seems that God does not will such at thing by any shape or form, which means that God holds humankind up to that degree of respect. God puts a value on what we do. He has granted us permission that we do things with a free will. He even grants permission that this very matter [of our free will be able] to hinder the work of God and to extinguish the fire of the Holy Spirit. We can either put out or not put out the fire of the Holy Spirit.

6. Thus, there have been times when the Holy Spirit did end up getting quenched. But, that is different from saying on a general level that "It looks as if the fire is put out." As we've already seen, the working of the Holy Spirit has been compared to fire. But, as we also know quite well, human passion is also comparable to fire. Human passion looks just like a fire burning. And it is easier to understand a human burning [with passion]. The church or people burning with passion and zeal look like they are working with more vim and vigor. Therefore, despite the fact that the fire of the Holy Spirit has gotten quenched, it has been possible at times for human fires to burn hard making a lot of noise [in the process].

7. Sometimes even now the church gets lost as "as a place where people do what people can for people." The only thing that happens at a church is what the people are able to do. What [some] are experiencing in their every day faith lives is just what people can do. Christians just expect what humans can do. Mostly they have attitudes like, "Let's live in a Christian way," "Let's live with Christian values," "Let's value Christian morals," "Let's practice the Christian kind of love." Even though just a human fire is burning as described above and even though all there is is people doing what people can do for people, the church still looks on fire just like ever.

8. But, the difference of whether it is the fire of the Holy Spirit burning, or if it is just the fire of human beings burning is clearly manifested. When only a human fire burns, what often occurs there is pride, division, judgmentalism. When people just burn it up giving it all they got to the max, then the pride and the boasting spirit of " I am doing it. I did it," will arise there. And wherever there is pride, then division and condemnation of one another will also surely take place.

9. When it is the fire of the Holy Spirit burning and not the fire of human beings, it is obvious that these things won't be [there] because when the workings of God are happening, when God is doing it, there shouldn't be any room for people to be proud of themselves. When everyone recognizes that the work of God is progressing [because of God] then everyone will give thanks to God together and everyone will worship God. And division and judgmentalism should not take place where [people] worship God together.

10. Thus, the powerful work of God must be manifested in the church and not the work of humankind. The miraculous work of God must be manifested in our daily faith lives. The work of our true father, who wants more than anything that his children live with happiness and thanksgiving, must be manifested. That God himself would work using me and using other people -- This kind of work by God [is what] we must be expecting and waiting and hoping for. Our eyes must be turned in that direction. Our life is not a stage where we are the leading actor, but it must become the stage where God is the leading actor and where the Holy Spirit is active. Therefore, Paul says, "Do not put out the fire of the 'spirit.'" That's true; do not put out the fire of the Holy Spirit [of God].

11. So, what should we do then? With that then, let's stop to look at the next set of words. -- "Do not make light of prophecy." It is not insignificant that this statement follows right after the exhortation of "Do not put out the fire of the 'spirit.'" Paul is saying that because in his other epistles he speaks of "prophecy" as a gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, as the work of the Holy Spirit.

12. "Prophecy" is not merely defined as to predict the future. When you consider the Japanese word for "prophecy," as we write "to take care of the word, to be custodians of the message" in [Kanji characters], this is the speaking and caring for the word of God. The word of God is spoken. The word of God is heard. That is not what humans can do, but is the miraculous doings of God himself. It all comes from the work of the Holy Spirit. When you think about it, that's the way it should be.

13. But, as I've said [a few minutes] ago, the work of God is not done unrelatedly to human beings. Even though God may be trying to speak, it is possible that the people "are not listening." When one refuses to hear, no matter how much God wants to speak, God's message will not reach that person. Therefore, the will on the human side regarding "being willing to hear" and "listening carefully" does become of some importance. Therefore, Paul states, "Do not make light of prophecy." For, a person can either be respectful or disrespectful towards the hearing of the word of God.

14. As Paul laid it out line by line and wrote it here, he closely ties together the act of whether a person is being disrespectful or respectful when listening to the word of God to the act of whether or not one quenches the fire of the Holy Spirit. The act of hearing the word of God is but the same as taking God as "your master" and yourself as "his subject." It is when you put yourself in the position of a follower, a person who obeys and not trying to make God obey you with you as the the master. Whenever people become masters, when the person becomes the center focus, then only a human work has appeared in the church. The faith life will turn into just an effort and an endurance of labor by human beings. A human fire, though it is burning, will turn into something which will extinguish the fire of the Holy Spirit. [Such] is the inevitable conclusion.

15. Yet, it is certainly a problem whenever only a human work has appeared, whenever the focus goes only on human passion, enthusiasm and effort, and one is no longer seeking or expecting the work of the Holy Spirit, but a huge problem exists on the opposite extreme as well. To be brief, what also could happen is that even though there is a concern and a seeking for the Holy Spirit to work, you end up connecting anything and everything to the work of the Holy Spirit, taking it all as acts for God to do.

16. As a fact, among the epistles which Paul had written, the epistles to the disciples of Thessalonica belong to the early period. The Thessalonian church which was the destination address [of these epistles] was born in hardly no time. When we read chapter seventeen of The Acts Of The Apostles, the length of time that Paul and Silas had stayed in Thessalonica was just under four weeks long. When the church foundation was barely even laid, [a city wide] riot ensued and so Paul and Silas were forced to depart and had left behind believers in the early period at Thessalonica. In short, the church at Thessalonica had been born, but then the next second later it lost its leadership. Paul wrote a letter to that church.

17. The majority of the Thessalonian believers were Gentile Christians. In other words, [these] people had become Christians after having been living in a world completely unrelated to the scriptures. Therefore, there must have been a lot of things that they had been familiar with so far, that they thought they were supposed to do as per social expectations, but that actually were customs in disagreement with the gospel. Therefore, there was also a lot of potential for them to take their religious customs which they had been familiar with so far and their many different ideas still unchanged into the church with them. That being the case then, what also was happening was that they were confusing their various superstitions, and even their sorceries and magical incantations, with the work of the Holy Spirit. Even though these kinds of things were the work of defiled spirits, they were thinking them to be the doings of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, all the same. Therefore, Paul says to them, "Scrutinize everything, value the good things. Put a distance between yourselves and all manner of evil things."

18. We have to scrutinize everything. For that reason, the exhortation to "Do not make light of prophecy" has great significance. Even in the work of the Holy Spirit, in particular, even in the work of the Holy Spirit where the word is spoken and heard, we must be respectful to start with. For, unless there is a careful listening to God's voice, we will not be able to tell the difference between the good that we must observe to do and the bad that we must keep at a distance from ourselves. To start with, we must earnestly seek and expectantly wait for this very special event indeed, that of God speaking to us.

19. When God truly speaks to us, the good is indeed kept preserved by his word. Also, when God truly speaks, in accordance with his word, that which does not come from the Holy Spirit will be rejected, and that which ought to be reformed will be reformed. When God truly speaks, in accordance with his word, each practice of the faith will also be regularly reformed and adjusted in its course, along with having escaped from degeneration or deterioration. We must not despise prophecy. We must seek for the Word of God.

20. In this way then, by being a church that does not put out the fire of the Holy Spirit, that does not make light of prophecy, that keeps the good and rejects the bad by scrutinizing everything, and so by being in [the church], the practical faith life is formed, in which we always rejoice, pray without stopping, and give thanks in all things. In this way, what God wants for us in Christ Jesus will come to pass. Let us seek and wait with expectancy for the deeds and the doings of God our true father.