The Spreading Flame

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Bruce Green

By Bruce Green
Teaching Minister at 10th Street Church of Christ
in Opelika

Fire pits are enjoying quite a bit of popularity these days. They seem to be everywhere.  Aside from the aesthetics of a fire (which are substantial), there are few things more physically pleasing than the warm comfort it provides when we are cold. Our Father created our bodies in such a way that that our core temperature needs to hover around 98 degrees. Five or ten degrees lower and we’ll experience severe chills and even convulsions; lower than that and we die. Heat is a good thing that is necessary to life and fire supplies that need.

Paul told the Christians at Thessalonica not to “quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Other translations offer “stifle,” “extinguish” or “restrain.” The International Standard Version has, “Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire.” The explanation usually offered for this text is that it has reference to remaining sensitive to God’s word as Paul goes on to say, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt,” (v. 20). The Spirit was trying to light a fire through prophecies, and they were putting it out by their indifference (or worse) to the word. They weren’t to be passive, but were to “test them” (i.e., the prophecies), holding on to what was good and rejecting anything that was spurious (v. 21-22). 

That’s a solid understanding as far as it goes, I’m just not sure that it goes far enough. It seems likely that what Paul says before v. 19 is also in view. There he writes, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (16-18). “Do not quench the Spirit” would then be a bridge to serve as a conclusion to v. 16-18 as well as an introduction to v. 20-22 if we were to read it this way. The Spirit is working in us to produce a joyful life, a prayerful spirit and a thankful heart. To not work with Him in these things is to “put out the Spirit’s fire.” 

This exhortation seems to pick up the thread of 1:5-10, where he speaks of how the gospel came to them not merely in words but “also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction . . . you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (v. 5-6). Take a look at what he tells the disciples at Ephesus in 5:15-20 and see if that doesn’t sound like something in the same neighborhood of what he is saying here.

Where does this lead us? It takes us out of the first century and into the twenty-first century. Applying the text to prophetic utterances in the early church is fine and we can make some sort of present day application to our reception of God’s word, but I think this understanding goes further. Living with joy, prayer and gratitude is our cooperative response to the Spirit’s work within us. This puts glory in the “ordinary.” The Spirit wasn’t just concerned with producing prophetic utterances in the first century, He was concerned with producing Christ-like lives that radiated with the Spirit’s fruit.

We live in a world that can be cold and dark at times. Headlines, sound bytes, and news feeds are often dominated by bad news that can be depressing if we choose to dwell on it. But disciples have the choice of saying, “Look what the world is coming to” or “Look Who has come into the world.” We can curse the darkness or light candles. 

May we burn as part of the spreading flame for Jesus that refuses to be extinguished!

You can find more of Bruce’s writings at his website: a-taste-of-grace-with-bruce-green.com

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