Holy Spirit in Action – in Early Christian Times
Holy Spirit in Christian Times
Jesus and the Early Christian Congregation
Matthew 1:18-20 records how Mary became pregnant with Jesus. “During the time his mother Mary was promised in marriage to Joseph, she was found to be pregnant by holy spirit before they were united. 19 However, Joseph her husband, because he was righteous and did not want to make her a public spectacle, intended to divorce her secretly. 20 But after he had thought these things over, look! Jehovah’s angel appeared to him in a dream, saying: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife home, for that which has been begotten in her is by Holy Spirit”. It identifies for us that the life force of Jesus was transferred from heaven into the womb of Mary by the means of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 3:16 records the baptism of Jesus and the visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit coming upon him, “After being baptized Jesus immediately came up from the water; and, look! the heavens were opened up, and he saw descending like a dove God’s spirit coming upon him.” This was a clear acknowledgment along with the voice from heaven that he was God’s son.
Luke 11:13 is significant as it marked a change. Up until the time of Jesus, God had given or put his Holy Spirit upon selected ones as a clear symbol of his choosing them. Now, please note what Jesus said “Therefore, if YOU, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to YOUR children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!”. Yes, now those genuine-hearted Christians could ask for the Holy Spirit! But what for? The context of this verse, Luke 11:6, indicates it was to do something good to others with it, in Jesus’ illustration to show hospitality to a friend who unexpectedly arrived.
Luke 12:10-12 is also a very important scripture to keep in mind. It states, “And everyone that says a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but he that blasphemes against the holy spirit will not be forgiven it. 11 But when they bring YOU in before public assemblies and government officials and authorities, do not become anxious about how or what YOU will speak in defense or what YOU will say; 12 for the holy spirit will teach YOU in that very hour the things YOU ought to say.”
Firstly, we are warned not to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, which is to slander, or speak evil against. In particular, this would likely involve denying the clear manifestation of the Holy Spirit or its source, such as the Pharisees did about Jesus miracles claiming his power was from Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24).
Secondly, the Greek word translated “teach” is “didasko”, and in this context, means “will cause you to learn from the scriptures”. (This word almost without exception refers to teaching the scriptures when used in the Christian Greek scriptures). The obvious requirement is the importance of knowing the scriptures as opposed to any other writings. (See the parallel account in John 14:26).
The apostles received Holy Spirit after the resurrection of Jesus according to John 20:22, “And after he said this he blew upon them and said to them: “Receive Holy Spirit””. However, it appears that the Holy Spirit given here was to help them keep faithful and keep going for a short while. This was to change shortly.
Holy Spirit becomes manifest as Gifts
What happened not long after was different in application and use to those disciples receiving Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Acts 1:8 says “but YOU will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon YOU, and YOU will be witnesses of me …”. This came true not many days later at Pentecost, according to Acts 2:1-4 “while the day of the [festival of] Pentecost was in progress they were all together at the same place, 2 and suddenly there occurred from heaven a noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting. 3 And tongues as if of fire became visible to them and were distributed about, and one sat upon each one of them, 4 and they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance”.
This account shows that, rather than just power and mental strength to continue, the early Christians were given gifts by means of Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, in the languages of their audiences. The Apostle Peter in his speech to those witnessing this event (in fulfillment of Joel 2:28) told his listeners “Repent, and let each one of YOU be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of YOUR sins, and YOU will receive the free gift of the holy spirit.”.
How did those early Christians not at the gathering at Pentecost receive Holy Spirit? It appears it was only through the Apostles praying and then laying their hands upon them. In fact, it was this limited distribution of Holy Spirit only via the apostles that likely led Simon to try to buy the privilege of giving others Holy Spirit. Acts 8:14-20 tells us “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Sa·marʹi·a had accepted the word of God, they dispatched Peter and John to them; 15 and these went down and prayed for them to get holy spirit. 16 For it had not yet fallen upon any one of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they went laying their hands upon them, and they began to receive holy spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the hands of the apostles the spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying: “Give me also this authority, that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive holy spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought through money to get possession of the free gift of God”.
Acts 9:17 highlights a common feature of the Holy Spirit being poured out. It was by someone who already had been given Holy Spirit, laying on their hands to those worthy to receive it. In this case, it was Saul, soon to become known as the Apostle Paul. ”So An·a·niʹas went off and entered into the house, and he laid his hands upon him and said: “Saul, brother, the Lord, the Jesus that appeared to you on the road over which you were coming, has sent me forth, in order that you may recover sight and be filled with holy spirit.”
An important milestone in the early Congregation is recorded in the account in Acts 11:15-17. That of the pouring out of Holy Spirit upon Cornelius and his household. This quickly led to the acceptance of the first Gentiles into the Christian Congregation. This time the Holy Spirit came directly from heaven because of the importance of what was happening. “But when I started to speak, the holy spirit fell upon them just as it did also upon us in [the] beginning. 16 At this I called to mind the saying of the Lord, how he used to say, ‘John, for his part, baptized with water, but YOU will be baptized in holy spirit.’ 17 If, therefore, God gave the same free gift to them as he also did to us who have believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should be able to hinder God?””.
Gift of Shepherding
Acts 20:28 mentions “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed YOU overseers [literally, to keep an eye on] to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own [Son]”. This needs to be understood in the context of Ephesians 4:11 which reads “And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers”.
It, therefore, seems reasonable to conclude that the “appointments” in the first century were all part of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Adding weight to this understanding, 1 Timothy 4:14 tells us that Timothy was instructed, “Do not be neglecting the gift in you that was given you through a prediction and when the body of older men laid their hands upon you”. The particular gift was not specified, but a little later in his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul reminded him “Never lay your hands hastily upon any man”.
Holy Spirit and non-baptized believers
Acts 18:24-26 contains another fascinating account, that of Apollos. “Now a certain Jew named A·polʹlos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent man, arrived in Ephʹe·sus; and he was well versed in the Scriptures. 25 This [man] had been orally instructed in the way of Jehovah and, as he was aglow with the spirit, he went speaking and teaching with correctness the things about Jesus but being acquainted with only the baptism of John. 26 And this [man] started to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Pris·cilʹla and Aqʹui·la heard him, they took him into their company and expounded the way of God more correctly to him”.
Note that here Apollos was not yet baptized in the water baptism of Jesus, yet he had Holy Spirit and was teaching correctly about Jesus. Apollos’ teaching was based on what? It was the scriptures, which he knew and had been taught, not by any Christian publications purporting to be explaining the scriptures correctly. Furthermore, how was he treated by Priscilla and Aquila? As a fellow Christian, not as an apostate.
Acts 19:1-6 shows that the Apostle Paul came across some who had been taught by Apollos in Ephesus. Note what transpired: “Paul went through the inland parts and came down to Ephʹe·sus, and found some disciples; 2 and he said to them: “Did you receive holy spirit when YOU became believers?” They said to him: “Why, we have never heard whether there is a holy spirit.” 3 And he said: “In what, then, were YOU baptized?” They said: “In John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said: “John baptized with the baptism [in symbol] of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they got baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul laid his hands upon them, the holy spirit came upon them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying”. Once again, the laying on of hands by one who already had Holy Spirit appears to have been necessary for others to receive the gifts such as tongues or prophecy.
How the Holy Spirit worked in the first century
Holy Spirit being upon those first century Christians led to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 3:16 which says “16 Do YOU not know that YOU people are God’s temple, and that the spirit of God dwells in YOU?”. How were they God’s dwelling place (naos)? He answers in the second part of the sentence because they had God’s spirit dwelling in them. (See also 1 Corinthians 6:19).
1 Corinthians 12:1-31 is also a key section in understanding how the Holy Spirit worked in first-century Christians. It helped both back in the first century and now to identify if Holy Spirit was not on someone. Firstly, verse 3 warns us “Therefore I would have YOU know that nobody when speaking by God’s spirit says: “Jesus is accursed!” and nobody can say: “Jesus is Lord!” except by Holy Spirit”.
This raises key questions.
- Do we view and treat Jesus as our Lord?
- Do we acknowledge Jesus as such?
- Do we minimize Jesus’ importance by rarely talking about or mentioning him?
- Do we usually direct almost all attention to his father, Jehovah?
Any adult would rightly be upset if others continually bypassed him or her and always asked his/her father, even though the father had given him/her all authority to act on his behalf. Jesus has the right to be unhappy if we were to do the same. Psalm 2:11-12 reminds us “Serve Jehovah with fear and be joyful with trembling. Kiss the son, that He may not become incensed and YOU may not perish [from] the way”.
Have you ever been asked in the field service by a religious householder: Is Jesus your Lord?
Can you remember the hesitation you likely made before replying? Did you qualify your answer to ensure the primary attention for everything went to Jehovah? It makes one pause for thought.
For a Beneficial Purpose
1 Corinthians 12:4-6 are self-explanatory, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but there is the same spirit; 5 and there are varieties of ministries, and yet there is the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of operations, and yet it is the same God who performs all the operations in all persons”.
A key verse in this whole subject is 1 Corinthians 12:7 which states “But the manifestation of the spirit is given to each one for a beneficial purpose”. The apostle Paul goes on to mention the purpose of the various gifts and that they were all intended to be used to complement one another. This passage leads into his discussion that Love never fails, and that practicing love was far more important than the possession of a gift. Love is a quality we have to work on manifesting. Further, interestingly it is not a gift that is given. Also, love will never fail to be beneficial, while many of those gifts such as tongues or prophesying can cease to be of benefit.
Clearly, then an important question to ask ourselves before praying for Holy Spirit would be: Is our request being made for a beneficial purpose as already defined in the scriptures? It would be inadvisable to use human reasoning to go beyond God’s word and attempt to extrapolate if a particular purpose is beneficial for God and Jesus, or not. For example, would we suggest that it is the same “beneficial purpose” to build or obtain a place of worship for our faith or religion? (See John 4:24-26). On the other hand, to “look after orphans and widows in their tribulation” would likely be for a ”beneficial purpose” as it is part of our clean worship (James 1:27).
1 Corinthians 14:3 confirms that the Holy Spirit was only to be used for a “beneficial purpose” when it says, “he that prophesies [by Holy Spirit] upbuilds and encourages and consoles men by his speech”. 1 Corinthians 14:22 also confirms this saying, “Consequently tongues are for a sign, not to the believers, but to the unbelievers, whereas prophesying is, not for the unbelievers, but for the believers.”
Ephesians 1:13-14 talks of the Holy Spirit being a token in advance. “By means of him also [Christ Jesus], after you believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit which is a token in advance of our inheritance”. What was that inheritance? Something they could understand, “a hope of everlasting life”.
That is what the Apostle Paul explained and expanded on when he wrote to Titus in Titus 3:5-7 that Jesus “saved us … through the making of us new by holy spirit, This spirit he poured out richly upon us through Jesus Christ our saviour, that after being declared righteous by virtue of the undeserved kindness of that one, we might become heirs according to a hope of everlasting life”.
Hebrews 2:4 reminds us again that the beneficial purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit has to be in accordance with God’s will. The Apostle Paul confirmed this when he wrote: “God joined in bearing witness with signs as well as portents and various powerful works and with distributions of holy spirit according to his will”.
We shall finish this review of the Holy Spirit in action with a brief look at 1 Peter 1:1-2. This passage tells us, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the temporary residents scattered about in Ponʹtus, Ga·laʹti·a, Cap·pa·doʹci·a, Asia, and Bi·thynʹi·a, to the ones chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, with sanctification by the spirit, for the purpose of their being obedient and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ:”. This scripture yet again confirms that God’s purpose has to be involved for him to give out Holy Spirit.
- In Christian times,
- the Holy Spirit was used in a wider variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.
- Transfer Jesus’ life force to Mary’s womb
- Identify Jesus as the Messiah
- Identify Jesus as God’s son by miracles
- Bring back to the minds of Christians the truths from God’s word
- Fulfillment of Bible prophecy
- Gifts of Speaking in tongues
- Gifts of prophecy
- Gifts of shepherding and teaching
- Gifts of evangelizing
- Instructions as to where to concentrate preaching efforts
- Acknowledging Jesus as Lord
- Always for a beneficial purpose
- A token in advance of their inheritance
- Directly given at Pentecost to Apostles and first disciples, also to Cornelius and Household
- Otherwise passed on by laying on of hands by someone who already had Holy Spirit
- As in pre-Christian times, it was given according to God’s will and purpose
- the Holy Spirit was used in a wider variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.
- Questions arising that are outside the scope of this review include
- What is God’s will or purpose today?
- Is Holy Spirit given out as gifts by God or Jesus today?
- Does the Holy Spirit identify with Christians today that they are God’s sons?
- If so, how?
- Can we ask for Holy Spirit and if so what for?