In the last several days we have seen that as we practice discernment and work to keep the peace within the church, we are commanded and empowered by grace to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything. And when we are doing these things we are doing the will of God! Added to that yesterday we learned that we must not quench the Spirit of God. Instead we are to be filled with the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, and never grieve the Spirit.
But what exactly is it that we do when we quench the Spirit? What chokes off the work of the Spirit? It is not as if men could overpower God and in some way stifle the power of the Holy Spirit, is it? No. Of course not. God is all powerful. But as God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His written Word, what we will learn today will show us that our attitude and view of the Word of God and preaching bears directly on what it means to quench the Spirit.
As we are commanded, “Do not quench the Spirit” we read in the next verses, “Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thess. 5:20-22) And here is the key: To quench the Spirit is to despise prophecies and embrace unsound doctrine! Sounds simple, and at first you might wonder how this verse says that, but let’s look at it for a moment.
Do Not Despise Prophecies: The command, following the injunction against quenching the Spirit, tells us that if we are not to quench the Spirit then we must not despise prophecies. So what are prophecies? Here in this usage the term prophecies refers directly to the preaching of the Word of God. It is the task of the minister of the gospel to preach the Word, in season and out of season. The pastor-teacher is to use the Word, explained and expounded, in order to equip the church for service to God and to one another. He also rebukes sin, challenges the vain philosophies of his day, and encourages sinners to obey the gospel, repent, and believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls.
Preaching is the tool that God uses to convert sinners (1 Cor 1:21), convict us of sin (Titus 1:9), set the standards of holiness for the church (Romans 16:25), and to teach us what He expects of us! Preaching is vital and necessary to the life of the church and the spread of the gospel around the world. No wonder preaching is under attack. People would rather have short, simplistic, pep rally sermons than a good meal at the Table, feeding on the solid food of the Word of God. No wonder so-called churches are trying to replace preaching with mystical ritualistic distractions. No wonder – for the devil has always HATED the Word, especially as it is preached with power!
But if we despise the preaching of the Word, if we refuse to listen, to obey, to hear and do what is preached, and if we mock preachers and hate the preaching of the Word of God then we quench the Spirit. We reject and neglect the very tool He uses to convict us of sin and call us to new life. We choke off the work of the Spirit when we fight against the Word – though trust me, He is able to overcome our attempts and even bring back sermons to our minds word for word – even though we may have heard them many years ago! Why? Because it is the preaching of the Word of God, and His Word NEVER returns void but always accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent out.
Abstain from Every Form of Evil: And here we have the second part of what we must do in order to not quench the Spirit. Not only must we refuse to despise the preaching of the Word but we must also cling to sound doctrine and reject unsound doctrine. You see, this verse is often taken and mis-interpreted. Too many legalists, and too many who would have us believe that living the Christian life is all about a set of extra Biblical rules and regulations have often quoted this verse and preached that we must avoid every appearance of evil. I have heard this taken to all sorts of extremes. Usually it is applied by saying that as a Christian we must never do anything that another person might think is sinful. Well I have a simple solution for us then. We need to all live alone in a cave in the woods. Because I guarantee there will be things I do with a completely clear conscience that someone else will think is a sin!
The best example I can think of happened at a youth Bible study that I was teaching. After the Bible study we had snacks and cokes (sodas or pop for those of you not from Texas). And a few of the guys had brought some IBC root beer. Have you seen IBC? Or better yet, have you tasted IBC root beer? Wonderful stuff! And to protect the flavor, IBC’s trademark is that it comes in a dark bottle. In fact, real beer comes in dark bottles too. And one person at the Bible study took offense and was truly upset that these boys would drink IBC root beer – because as she so loudly proclaimed, they were not avoiding every appearance of evil because someone might see them with a dark bottle and think that they were a couple of home schooled 13 and 14 year old boys sitting in a Bible study and drinking (gasp) BEER!
Beyond all the other discussions we could have now…. 🙂
The truth is that this is a misapplication of the verse! For we are told not to despise the preaching of the Word, but to test all things. Why do we test all things when it comes to preaching? So that we might “hold fast what is good”, that is, hold on to and affirm with our lives sound doctrine as it is preached to us. And it is not enough just to affirm sound doctrine and good Biblical preaching, for the text continues, telling us that in order to not quench the Spirit we must not despise the preaching of the Word, but should hold fast to good doctrine, and “abstain from every form of evil.”
In context then this is referring directly to the preaching of unsound doctrine! Remember that “evil” means that which causes harm. And what can harm us more than unsound doctrine? So if we want to quench the Spirit in His work then all we have to do is despise the preaching of the Word, hate sound doctrine, and embrace unsound and false doctrine! To do so is to try and stop the Spirit from doing what He does.
Of course we will fail, for no man can stop the Holy Spirit. But nevertheless, we should not ever put ourselves in the position of working to quench the Spirit, working against Him by advancing unsound doctrine. We should indeed be like the Bereans. We should try every word we hear preached and hold it up to the Word of God to make sure that those who teach us are rightly handling the Word of God. If they are, then we should hear and do what they preach. For to despise the preaching of the Word is to fight the Holy Spirit. And that is one battle we are sure never to win.
Do you hear unsound doctrine? Remember – abstain from every form of evil!