For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Lord is the Spirit
The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the church.
"And being together, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which he said to them, ‘you heard of from me’. For John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:4).
At the beginning of the book of Acts there is a historic development: the Lord is raised up to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, while the disciples remain on earth to begin the task of building the church. So what the Lord says here is of great importance, because it has to do with what must happen in order for the church to be built.
Therefore, the Lord warns them not to do anything until a fundamental event occurs: "And being assembled together, he told them...'. Not, he advised them but he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, not to start anything yet.
Remember that the Lord had said earlier: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature ... you will be my witnesses ... Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." But here He says , 'Before you start anything, you must wait, because you cannot go and do it on your own. You have to wait for the Holy Spirit to come, the promise of the Father, and then you must go '.
First, wait for "the promise of the Father, which, he told them, you have heard from me. For John truly baptized with water...". And then he explains what will happen: "...but you shall be baptized...". The Greek word 'baptize' means to cover something with water or to completely submerge it. Then: 'Just as you were immersed by John in the Jordan River, so shall you be immersed in the Holy Spirit." That is the figure. Everything will start from here.
He said that he had promised this before. Look at John 14:15: "If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray to the Father - remember that he spoke of the promise of the Father - and He shall give you another Comforter". This is a very important expression of the Lord. If he says "another", it is because there is already "one".
The Greek word translated Comforter here is parakletos . As well as comforter, it also means one that is placed alongside another to lift up, to encourage, to exhort, to defend and one who acts as a lawyer. All this is the meaning of parakletos . And that parakletos was first of all the Lord Jesus Christ.
He was with his disciples, He kept them, He protected them, defended them, spoke in their defense. When they were discouraged, He lifted them up; when they were weak, He strengthened them; when they were confused, He clarified their doubts; when they had questions, He answered them; when they got it wrong, He corrected them.
But now he tells them, 'I am going'. He adds: "But because I have said these things, sorrow has filled your heart, but I tell you the truth...". The Lord is the truth. 'Trust me,' is what the Lord is asking: " It is expedient that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come; but if I depart, I will send him." Another Counsellor to be with us forever. Another would come to do what the Lord Jesus did, and to be the same as the Lord was for His disciples.
Sometimes we have a theologically correct idea of the Holy Spirit; but in our practical experience of church, both individual and corporate, what do we know about Him? Is He for us really the same parakletos as the Lord was for His disciples? Or do we think: "What a pity that the Lord is not with us"?
The inescapable need for the anointing
To better understand this point, let's read Exodus 40. The entire chapter describes the moment when the tabernacle was erected. Moses prepared all the materials, curtains, furniture, the ark, the table with the showbread, the candlestick, the altar, and all that was needed to put up the tent. When everything was ready, then he set up the tabernacle.
As we know, the tabernacle is a figure of the house of God, which in the New Testament is the church. So what was the first thing that took place? Verse 9 : "And you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle, and all that is in it; and you shall sanctify it and all its utensils, and it shall be holy " . Before the tabernacle entered into service, it had to be anointed. "And all that is in it". The emphasis is on the word 'all'. Not only is the anointing of the tabernacle in general, but also of everything inside it.
Moses must anoint the tabernacle not only in general, but each utensil individually . "Anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils; and you shall sanctify the altar and it shall be the most holy altar. Also you shall anoint the laver and its base, and sanctify it". That is, all the elements here that typify the life of the church had to be anointed first, before they could function. Without anointing, objects do not serve; only through the anointing will they be useful for the Lord.
The anointing oil is a figure of the Holy Spirit. So what does it mean that everything should be anointed? Everything must be covered by the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, before beginning to function as it should.
When the Holy Spirit comes, everything is immersed in Him. Of course, they are not material objects like in the Old Covenant, where everything was a type and figure. What is anointed is the spiritual house, the sons and daughters of God.
Being immersed in the Holy Spirit means disappearing. That is to say, it is the Holy Spirit who takes control of everything; we are still there, but entirely subordinate to the Spirit. The church is a spiritual organism. It is not something produced by the human soul. It is not about what comes from the soul. We are spiritual when the Holy Spirit has control of everything. We stop being spiritual when the Spirit ceases to be the one who directs things in the church.
The teaching of Acts
And what is it that determines whether the Spirit of God is present, or, on the contrary, is absent from our church life? In the book of Acts we can find an answer to this question. In Chapter 2 we have the coming of the Holy Spirit who descends on the brothers, and at that time the church on earth was born. The brothers were gathered together praying, but they were not really church until the time when the Holy Spirit descended.
We can gather brothers together and create a congregation; but that, by itself, is not the church. No, it is not until the coming of the Spirit amalgamates us and constitutes us as the church, because this is a work that only He can do. The life of the body which is the mark of the church, can only be produced by the Holy Spirit of God.
Where human initiative has taken the place of the Spirit, there is no guide, nor is there fellowship in the Spirit; therefore, there is no church in real terms. Of course, everyone, if he is born of God, belongs to the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ; but we are talking in practical and real terms.
In Acts 1, the Lord tells the brothers that the Comforter will come. And when the Holy Spirit came, at least they were already somehow prepared to understand the working of the Spirit, since it was the same as what the Lord Jesus Christ had done while He was with them. The difference was that before, the Lord was outside of them, as a person in flesh and blood who they talked to, and, therefore, He had limitations.
For example, when Jesus was with Peter, John and James on the mountain, it is clear that He wasn’t with Bartholomew nor with Thomas and the others. There was a physical limitation; They could not all be in the same intimacy in the same fellowship. If He was in Galilee, He was not in Samaria; if He was in Samaria, He was not in Judea.
But now that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in all the children of God, the Lord Jesus Christ is wherever there is a child of God, and that's the big difference, and that's better. Therefore, it was desirable that the Lord depart. The Lord could now be multiplied by many as were members of his Body, through the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, who should direct all things in the church? Only the Spirit and none other than the Spirit. Therefore, we need our knowledge of and relationship with the Holy Spirit to be real. And so we must learn some lessons.
The Holy Spirit is God Himself
"But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?"? (Acts 5:1-3).
Peter does not say, "to lie to the Lord Jesus Christ" but "...to lie to the Holy Spirit". We can draw at least two things from this passage. First, the Holy Spirit is not simply a force, an influence which acts behind the things of the church, in a secondary inadvertent manner, but He is a clearly distinguishable person. You cannot lie to an influence, you cannot lie to the wind or electricity, but you can indeed lie to a person.
The second thing is that He is not only a person but also the divine person who is in the church today. The Son of God, in person, is today at the right hand of the Father, and the Father in person, is in heaven. We say that the Lord is with us, and that God is with us, but it is the Spirit of God who is actually living in us. And because God is one, the Son of God and the Father are here too.
Therefore, if you lie, if you try to deceive God in the church, you lie to the Holy Spirit in person. Do we dare to speak like that today? Sometimes we don’t have such a clear perception as the first church had on the presence of the person of the Holy Spirit.
We know what it means, "The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before Him." If God is here, let not man speak, but God; let not man act, but God; let not man govern, but God, because His Spirit is here. That is what happened in Acts. The Spirit acted, and Ananias and Sapphira died there and then for lying to the Holy Spirit.
The essential requirement for service
In Acts 6: 1 we see the first difficulty faced by the church in Jerusalem. There is nothing romantic about church life. The churches are real, and they have many problems, but these serve for the manifestation of grace, wisdom, love and the patience of Jesus Christ.
"In those days, as the number of the disciples grew, the Greeks began to murmur against the Hebrews...". The brothers murmured and the reason was that, when food was distributed, the Jews of Greek origin, born outside of Judea and considered as second class, were discriminated against.
But let us pay attention to the solution given by the apostles to the problem: "Then the twelve called together the multitude of the disciples, and said , It is not right that we should leave the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, look for seven men from among yourselves..." (Acts 6:2-3).
What was the task? To distribute the food. Humanly speaking, that kind of task is easy; It is something anyone can do. But we are talking about the Church of Jesus Christ. Something that is not human, but something divine, and in the church everything must be under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. So who is going to serve at the tables?
"Therefore brothers, choose from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this work"(Acts 6:3). To serve at the tables, to distribute the food, we must have a good testimony. And even more, we must be "filled with the Holy Spirit. In the church of the Lord, even to hammer in a nail, you have to be filled with the Spirit; because the church must be anointed by Him from the tent to the pegs.
When we appoint people to church tasks who are not filled with the Holy Spirit, the church descends from its spiritual condition. For even serving at tables requires spiritual discernment, and for this we must be filled with the Holy Spirit. The brothers were negligent and gave some more and others less, because they were full of prejudice. And the only one who can remove the prejudices from our heart is the Spirit, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
This is the second principle that we find in the book of Acts. In the church all things have to be done by men and women filled with the Holy Spirit. And note the result. Verse 7: "And the word of the Lord...". That is, something that seemed unimportant, being spiritually accomplished by men filled with the Spirit, brought enormous consequences: "...and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem" .
Often the life and growth of the church are paralyzed because, in some aspects that we consider unimportant we have neglected the presence of the Spirit of God.
The Spirit leads the church
In chapter 10 of the book of Acts we find the story of how the Lord opened the door to the Gentiles that they might come to faith. Remember that Peter had gone to Joppa, a port city, and there he was staying at the house of Simon the tanner; and while he was praying on the roof of the house, there appeared to him the vision of a canvas full of animals considered unclean by the Jews, and Peter was told: "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy" .
"And while Peter was perplexed in himself about the vision which he had seen, behold the men who were sent by Cornelius, having asked for Simon’s house, arrived at the door. And they called out and asked whether Simon who was called Peter was staying there. And while Peter reflected on the vision, the Spirit said to him, Behold, three men are looking for you" (Acts 10:17-19).
We have here a first important mention: "...the Spirit said to him" . The text might have said: 'the Lord told Him , 'but it tells us explicitly, "the Spirit said…" . Reading through the book of Acts, we see that this is the normal way in which the brothers were governed. Sometimes it says: "The Lord appeared in a vision and told him...". But most of the time it is, "the Spirit said ...". That is, the voice of the Spirit speaking in the heart is the voice of the Lord.
Scripture states, "the Spirit said," to emphasize that it is the person of the Spirit which is acting in this situation. And note how the Spirit speaks in the first person. Verse 20: "Arise, therefore, go down and do not hesitate to go with them, because I have sent them". Do you see? The Spirit assumes all authority. It is not simply something acting as an influence, but someone who takes first-person authority. "I sent' . He speaks with the authority of God, because the Holy Spirit is God, and God cannot but speak in such a way.
The Holy Spirit possesses all the attributes and prerogatives of God. He cannot be considered to occupy an inferior place to God. If we do not esteem the Spirit as He should be, He cannot work amongst us. If we do not honor Him as He deserves, recognizing His divine authority, He won’t be able to act in the church. If we do not recognize that he is God, he cannot act as God, and if God does not act in such a way then he does not act in any way at all, because God only acts when He is recognized as such. That's why Peter did not argue. It was God. And he obeyed.
Here is a key that shows us how to walk in the Spirit. Peter could not understand what was being asked of him. His religious upbringing told him it was absolutely improper. It went against everything he understood - even his concept of church, because for him the church until then only consisted of Jews and in practice was nothing more than a Jewish sect. But, thank God, that was not what the Spirit had in mind.
But Peter was a man subject to the Spirit; and although He did not understand how far the purpose of God was reaching, he was guided by the Spirit and as a result, that day the church doors opened to the Gentiles, not on Peter’s initiative, but on the initiative of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit however, did know everything that needed to be done to happen and it was His work to bring the Gentiles and unite them to the body, which is the church. Because the same Spirit who operated in Peter to open the door to the Gentiles without being understood, is the same Spirit that one day revealed to Paul the mystery that was hidden throughout the ages in God, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Sometimes we lose sight of the way in which things happened. Jesus taught many wonderful things, but the revelation of the eternal mystery of God came by the Holy Spirit to the apostles and prophets. And that same Spirit revealed long afterwards to Paul the significance of this event in the house of Cornelius, where He acted in his own divine sovereignty, taking charge of the church and leading it forward.
The Spirit establishes ministries
"Now there were in the church that was at Antioch, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch, and Saul. They were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said..." (Acts 13:1-2).
Here's something interesting. The Lord Jesus had established twelve whom he called apostles during His ministry on earth. Those apostles were in Jerusalem, and that was something that the Lord did. But now the Lord had gone up to heaven, and He was at the right hand of God the Father.
But watch what happens here in Antioch, a Gentile church. The brothers appointed as teachers and prophets are all Jews; but most of the brothers were Gentiles. We see the Spirit action here, once again, working even against the prejudices of many. But here's something much more extraordinary still. The Holy Spirit tells them: "Separate Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (v. 3).
The Spirit himself takes the initiative and appoints two apostles, in addition to the twelve that the Lord had appointed. And these, later on, were recognized by the apostles in Jerusalem as true apostles of the Lord (Galatians 1:17, 2: 9.), who recognized the sovereign work of the Spirit of God in Antioch. But the Spirit did not consult anyone. He acted with divine authority, and sent these new apostles, because He already had everything prepared. As a result of this, all the gentile churches were going to emerge, with men sent, anointed and governed by the Spirit.
Sent by the Spirit
Later, when we read about Paul’s travels, he says, "We wanted to enter that province, but the Holy Spirit forbade it. Then we wanted to go to the other and the Holy Spirit would not let us." That is, in the work of God, if someone is sent by the Spirit, they must walk by the Spirit, because it is the Spirit who builds the church.
In addition, when establishing elders in the new churches, they sought men who were filled with the Spirit. Because everything that is done in the church must be done under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
We must therefore ask whether today it is the Spirit who guides us. The decisions that the elders are taking in the affairs of the church, did the Spirit command them? What the church-workers are doing today, did the Spirit send them? Brothers and sisters who serve in any service: is the Spirit leading us to meet the needs of the brothers? Or is it rather the action of our own soul, emotions, or interests?
Is it the Spirit who governs everything in the church, or is it us? That makes all the difference. There came a tragic day for the church, at the end of the first century. Men took the place of the Spirit and the Spirit could no longer continue to govern the church. Hierarchies appeared in the church, to direct and give orders. On that day, the Holy Spirit ceased to be the Lord of the church, and He withdrew.
Thank God for ministers and all those who serve. But the One who should govern, who knows everything, is the Holy Spirit. If we separate ourselves from Him, we shall forget the essence of everything because the divine plans and their fulfilment are in the Spirit. All the fullness of Christ is in the Spirit. That’s why we need to be men and women who are filled with the Holy Spirit.