‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 36. No Second-Class Believers
2 Cor 4:7 we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2 Cor 4:7,8 (Msg) If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do.
A Right Perspective: In this uncertain area of the coming and experiencing of the Holy Spirit, so often there are fears and criticisms born out of insecurity, and a wrong perspective can thus be held by people on all sides of the discussion. A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit is not morally, ethically, or spiritually superior to someone who has not yet been filled. A person who has not been filled is not a second class citizen or a second class Christian. Samson is often referred to as a carnal charismatic. The Spirit came on him again and again (Judg 13:24, 14:6,19, 15:14) and yet he was a man given over to his own pleasures. The remarkable thing that the Lord shows again and again and again throughout Scripture is that He does not wait for a person to be perfect before He uses them. In fact the truth is that every single person the Spirit comes on (and fills) is imperfect
Earthen Vessels: Look at our starter verse above and the beautiful expression of it in the Message version. If you are a gardener you may have clay or pottery flowerpots. Paul says our lives (all of us!) are like those flowerpots, often rough finished, maybe cracked or chipped, nothing to write home about! BUT, and it is a big but, these pots, these lives, contain the Holy Spirit with all His glory. He is our glory, not anything of us.
Growing Up: Being filled with the Holy Spirit is about being available to God to be empowered to be used by God. The apostles expected every believer to grow up, to mature, and to be available to God to be used by Him. We often use the example of the Jewish family of Jesus’ day, say. The father would often work, if he were a craftsman, from a workshop at home and run his business from there. Imagine a son watching his father working (the girls mostly had the job of growing up, having and raising children, although Prov 31:10-31 shows a much bigger picture than most of us have of such a role). The son is too young to enter into his father’s business but he watches and learns and gradually the father introduces him into some of the work. What is the father’s goal? To bring his son to maturity to eventually take over the business.
Jesus’ Model: What is the model we see with Jesus and his disciples? He modelled doing the will of the Father and then he gave the Twelve the opportunity to do the same (see Mt 10:1-) and when the numbers grew, he got the seventy-two others to do the same (Lk 10:1-), who returned with joy at the wonder of it all (v.17). At the Last Supper Jesus laid out the mandate for future believers: “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12).
What had Jesus been doing? “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:18,19) Note the word says the Spirit empowers this. Without the Spirit we cannot enter into the Father’s work. Jesus later spelled it out, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) You can spiritualize these things (and I think it is legitimate to do so) but the primary meaning has to be literal. Jesus did these things and expects his ‘body’ today to do them, but mostly we don’t. Hence some changes are needed. We need the Spirit, we need to be filled with Him, and we need understanding, so let’s try and bring that.
Body Parts: Paul wrote a whole chapter (1 Cor 12) on the importance of understanding we are each just parts of Jesus’ body today: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) and earlier, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (v.11). On the Day of Pentecost, when the believers were filled and spoke in ‘tongues’ we read, “as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4) In Romans 12 when Paul speaks of gifting, notice the words, “with the faith God has distributed to each of you,” (v.3) and, “different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” (v.6) At the end of 1 Cor 12 Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (v.29,30) a clearly rhetorical question with the obvious answer, “No!” We are the part of the body God equips us to be and that is nothing to do with being good enough but being available and having a heart open to God.
Personal Testimony: Many years ago, I happened to be reading a book that included some comments about dubious American TV evangelists. Without realising it I found myself thinking, “Lord, how could you use such people?” Cutting across my mind flashed the Lord’s answer, “The same reason I use you.” Wow, that felt uncomfortable. What did He mean? Before I could think another thought, the Lord spoke to me: “Son, I use you not because you are right but because you are available.” Wow, that clarified my perspective. You will never be good enough to serve the Lord, but you can open your heart to Him and be available.
Perhaps to make the point even more strongly, I should recount another incident that occurred a few years earlier. We had just become parents for the first time and on this day I crept up to our bedroom where our still fairly young baby was asleep in her cradle and gazed down at her, and it was then I found myself in a conversation with the Lord. You know it is the Lord when the stuff that comes cuts right across your thinking. As I gazed down at my daughter, the Lord spoke into me, “What do you think of her, son?” Instant response: “Lord, she’s wonderful.” Not so obvious question back: “What does she do?” Thoughts. “Er, she cries a lot, messes her nappy (diaper), wants feeding in the middle of the night and wakes us up and…. “ “But what do you think about her?” “Oh, she’s wonderful, Lord!” “But why do you think that?” Instant answer: “Because she’s mine, Lord.” Instant response: “And that’s why I love you, because you are mine.” And I was never the same again. I needed reminding of it again and again but there is the truth, you can’t earn his love, and indeed you often mess up, but He loves us because we are His. End of story! Well, actually no, it’s the beginning of the story.
And Us? The starting point is that He loves you, that’s why He sent Jesus for you (Jn 3:16 – see ‘loved’). He knows you mess us from time to time (see 1 Jn 2:1,2) but He still loves you. As His child, because you surrendered your heart to Him, He has made you a new person (Jn 1:12,13) and His Spirit indwells you. If we grow, with His enabling, there will come a point where we say, “Lord, I want more, I want to be available to you, I want to be used by you,” and that’s where we come to the question of being filled with his Spirit. Yes, you may already be serving him. After I became a Christian and was baptised, I was leading seven Bible studies a week but it was only subsequent to that, that I was filled.
Concluding Testimony: In case it may help someone, may I share what happened to me. In a previous study I shared I was filled with the Spirit (it came about when I felt very needy, shared with my mentor, we prayed and I just got filled with an immense joy that was unexplainable) but later renounced the experience. I taught it but for some reason that is beyond me today, I backed away from it and rejected the ‘second blessing’ idea until a day when the Lord obviously thought it was time for a change. In my office there was a friend, another Christian, who dropped past my desk and just burbled the Lord at me. After he left, I felt distinctly uncomfortable. I happened at lunchtime to call in to a local Christian bookstore where to my surprise I ran across, now working there, a lad I had prayed over for the Spirit several years ago and he just poured the Lord out all over me. I left muttering about frothy Christians. That evening an older fellow youth-leader dropped in to talk about youth work and again just burbled the Lord over me. After he left I prayed, “Lord, I am an idiot. Please forgive me. These three guys today have something I once had and I know what it is. Please forgive me and fill me again.” He did! The power and the presence and the joy of the Lord fell on me – and remained!
So: So, if you are quite comfortable where you are and this is all beyond you, fine. Be blessed where you are. Enjoy Him and enjoy serving Him. If you want more, and you want to be used more, then may we finish with the verse we finished the last study: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:12,13) Ask, believe, receive, and be blessed!