Friday, August 16, 2019

Breaking the Heart of the Spirit

Today’s question comes from a steadfast friend of Quest Forums who wants to know,

What does it mean to “grieve the Holy Spirit”? And what are the ramifications of it?

This phrase comes to us from Eph. 4:30, where the Apostle Paul says,

And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption.

Semantics and Syntax

Given my elementary knowledge of Greek, I don’t generally do word studies. This seems like a good opportunity for one, though. If we are to discover what it means to grieve the Spirit, then we might as well start by learning what Paul understood “grieve” to mean.

The Greek word here is lypeo, which is a verbal form of lype, meaning “sorrow.” It is also a root word, so its meaning was always a stable one in Greek. That is a fortunate thing. Oftentimes, their words could have shades of meaning that also evolved with time. Trying to figure that out and apply the various layers to scriptural usage can lead people down the rabbit hole. It is nice not to have to worry about that here. It is straightforward, meaning exactly what we expect. To grieve someone is to make them deeply sad. As Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message, Paul is saying, “Don’t break His heart.”

That simplicity is a good thing because it means we do not have to wonder about its application. The word is easy, which means we can move right on to the sentence. And that starts easy enough. It might sound like minutiae, but understanding this concept means understanding that the sentence starts with the word “and.” Paul is continuing a thought, which he started in Eph. 4:29. He is talking about… well, talk.

Proper Language 

Christians should be recognizable for not only what they say, but also what they do not say. We are not to engage in foul language. That is more than just the use of curse words. Rather, it is the actual act of cursing. The world is marked by selfishness, and one of the best ways to get ahead is by tearing other people down. In the church, however, we are not supposed to look like the world. We are supposed to look like Christ, who “loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). Our behavior is supposed to be selfless, lifting others up.

This is especially important within the church, among fellow believers. We all face the world’s fury and its burdens. Our fellowship should be a place where we gain the strength to carry on. If instead, we are engaged in backbiting and gossip against one another, we are weakened and lose the will to fight the battles that matter.

It would seem, then, that this is what it most means to grieve the Holy Spirit. If we use our words to attack the Lord’s family rather than edify it, then we break God’s heart. As the Apostle James puts it,

With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. (James 3:9–10)

The Role of the Spirit

Not that God’s sorrow is limited to that. Eph. 4:29–30 are part of a larger passage in which Paul explains the moral character that Christians ought to display. We are to avoid deceitful desires (Eph. 4:22), lying (Eph. 4:25), hatred (Eph. 4:26), stealing (Eph. 4:28), sexual immorality, greed, and idolatry (Eph. 5:5). These are examples rather than an exhaustive list of sins, but the point being made is that we are to eliminate from our lives the things that do not reflect the goodness of God.

This is why Paul speaks of sealing and redemption in Eph. 4:30. It is a callback to what he had said in Eph. 1:13–14.

In [Christ] you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory.

In the life of the Christian, the Holy Spirit has a ministry to the past and to the future. At the moment we trust in Christ for salvation, the Spirit enters our hearts. He is God’s seal on our lives, the evidence and unbreakable sign that we belong to the Father. At the same time, His presence looks forward to the future. Because God has declared us to be His own in Christ and has given us His Spirit as proof, we can know that the day is coming when we will be made perfectly whole. This is the “glorious inheritance” of Eph. 1:18.

If the Spirit seals us in the past in order to guarantee our future, then that necessitates His place in the present. He is always with us, both to encourage us to do God’s will and to enable us to experience God’s love.

Gratitude Instead of Grief

But of course, we have a choice. We can live as the Lord desires us to do, and we should desire it, ourselves. With all that we have been rescued from, we should want to act out of gratitude in a way that pleases Him. However, we also still have our old natures while we live in this world. That part of us does not want to please God. It wants to please itself. That causes the war within each of us, the fleshing working against the Spirit and the Spirit working against the flesh (Gal. 5:17).

When we lose those battles, it does the Spirit harm by bringing Him sorrow. Obviously, that harm is not actual damage. Rather, it is disappointment that we have not lived up to our calling and accepted His help. That is our common experience, and it is to our shame. It is not, however, to our defeat.

We grieve the Spirit when we fail Him, but He never fails us. He never leaves us. When we miss the mark and fall into our old, self-destructive patterns, He is still there to pick us back up. He causes us to acknowledge our sins, repent of them, and move forward. The wonder of that should cause us to love Him more and grieve Him less. It is how we keep going every day, experiencing the new life in Christ while putting the old self to death (Col. 3:1–10).

It is a serious fault to break the heart of the Holy Spirit. Our words and actions should reflect Him, not defy Him. It is serious, but it is not hopeless. The hope, after all, does not come from us. We can never be good enough to please God. Knowing that, we remember we have been rescued by Christ when we least deserved it. Relying on His grace when we fall, we must ask Him to pick us back up and help us to walk the path He lights for us. Then the Spirit will smile on us, instead. Everything we do should be aimed at that.

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