Thank God He has given us the Comforter who gives us peace of mind in the most harrowing situations. The Spirit frees us from the bondage of fear, " For the Spirit which you have now received is not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit through which you can call yourselves children of God, in which we confidently cry, Abba! Father of protection! (Romans 8:15)
As Stephen was being stoned to death, he saw the heavens open and the glory of God shone down. Our spiritual character is refined by suffering and sacrifice. This is not a popular doctrine, but it is completely biblical. In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “We boast to other churches about your endurance and patience in persecution... which is proof that you may be considered deserving of His kingdom." James wrote, “Be joyful when you encounter trials of any kind, because the proving of your faith brings more endurance, steadfastness and patience… When you have stood the test and been approved, you will receive the crown of eternal life which God has promised to those who love Him." "But we can be rest assured that those who persecute God's loved ones will be repaid when Christ returns." Furthermore, "If you are censured and suffer abuse for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, the Spirit of God, is resting upon you..."
Jesus underwent intense suffering through obedience to His Father in order to become the refined sacrifice required of Him. It is clear He expects the same from us. “If anyone wants to be my disciple, let them forget themselves and their own interests and take up their cross and follow me to the death, if necessary. All the apostles wrote much the same message, “Since Christ died and suffered for us, prepare yourselves with the same thought and purpose; to suffer for Him. For whoever has suffered for Christ has finished sinning intentionally and stopped pleasing himself and the world.” This refers to the painful process of disconnecting ourselves from the sin we are so comfortable with.
We do not seem to understand that when we take that step of faith into the blinding light
of God's logic, we are in a far, far better place than we could have ever made for ourselves. Yes, when we dedicate ourselves completely to Jesus, we will be ridiculed by the world. We should have the passion to gladly accept such a thing if it is His will. Praise God for the Comforter!
Gifts of the Spirit
The Bible makes it clear that, through His Spirit, God entrusts us with the talents and spiritual gifts we will need to fulfill His earthly purpose through us as individuals and as members of the body of His church. Not only that, but the Spirit will reveal those talents and spiritual gifts if we ask Him.
I'm going to sidestep the issue of whether or not spiritual gifts are manifested today in the same way they were in the apostolic dispensation. I have dedicated another blog to that topic. Let us just say that God does not always work in instantaneous, miraculous, "larger than life" ways. Nor do we have the right to assume how or when the Spirit will operate. It is He who decides when, where and how He will manifest Himself, because He knows the will of God. This is the reason why some become discouraged and lose faith when God does not move in the way they expect Him to.
It is important to view spiritual gifts in their proper place. In Jesus' ministry, miracles were the identifying mark of the Messiah to come. "If I am not doing the works (of power and grace) of My Father, then do not trust in Me as His Son. But if I am doing them, even though you do not believe Me or have faith in Me, at least believe the works and have faith in what I do, in order that you may come to understand that the Father and I are one." In other words, if the Jews would have opened their minds and hearts just a little, the Spirit would have revealed to them who Jesus was through Old Testament prophecy of the One who was to come in the power of miracles and authority to save souls. Miracles were used to authenticate the apostles as messengers and representatives of Jesus' life and teachings.
Each of us has also been given a gift that God will not take back. This brings upon us a great responsibility to use them, and we will be held accountable for the opportunities we did not take advantage of. We do not receive God's gifts as a reward, for we have done nothing to deserve them. "Now there are varieties of gifts, all of the same Spirit. And there are varieties of service, all of the same Lord Jesus. And there are varieties of working. But it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone."
Spiritual gifts are also used for the physical growth of the church, and there are many biblical instances of the Holy Spirit facilitating evangelism through preaching and prophecy. Some may not recognize their gift(s) at first, but with prayer, the Spirit will reveal it to them at the proper time. Some may even be initially disappointed in a gift they've been given, considering it a lesser gift. But in the assembly, all gifts and their appropriations are divinely appointed and have intrinsically equal importance.
Of course, the greatest gift of all is godly love. It also seems to be the most difficult to achieve and elusive to maintain. This is because it is not us who can achieve it. We cannot feel or extend God's love to the world unless we first receive it from above through the Holy Spirit. As believers, God's love is continually received by us, but we can block it by insisting upon retaining the fruit of our carnal selves. The more we walk in a state of surrender to God and others, the more His love will live in us and flow through us.
The Fruit of the Spirit
Just as the Holy Spirit plants the seed of the gospel in one's heart, then waits for it to spring forth into salvation, He also continues to nourish the emerging plant. The Spirit fully expects the believer to cooperate in his growth. If that believer is willing to surrender to God's desires, the Spirit is able to bring forth spiritual fruit in their lives. Once again, this fruit is nothing we can achieve while owning sinful natures. Otherwise we would call it "the fruit of us".
Jesus told his disciples, “You will know them by their fruits.” What did He mean by that? The quality of one's personality and behavior tells of their relationship with Christ. We can bear good or bad fruit. But we will not consistently bring forth spoiled fruit unless we are in some way controlled by ungodliness. Sadly, some believers allow the cares, riches and pleasures of the world to keep their fruit from maturing. Love, joy, peace of mind, faith, patience, even temper, kindness, benevolence, meekness and self-control is fruit that is identified with a Spirit-changed heart. It is also possible to bear no fruit at all. These are rotting, apathetic, atrophied vines that can affect the entire congregation of unobservant believers. We need to try our best to make sure our works are anchored in the Holy Spirit. We should never take our fruit lightly. “God cuts any branch from the vine that does not bear any (or stops bearing) fruit. But He prunes every branch that bears fruit, so it may bring forth more excellent fruit."
"Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Many believers are familiar with Hebrews 10:25 as the argument for attending church. But there is other scriptural evidence. Many attend church for what they can get out of it, rather than what they can contribute. We must take on the role of the servant as Christ did in order to be great in Heaven. The gifts and talents God has given us prove God has designed His plan to be carried out in unity. "As it is, God Himself has placed and arranged the limbs and organs in the body, each one of them, just as He desired and saw fit, and with their best effectiveness in mind." Keep in mind Christ's body is not just a local congregation of church. It is all true believers.
Fellowship is a simple concept. "If two lie down together, they are warm. But how can one be warm alone?" "If a brother falls, another will lift him up. But woe to him who is alone, and when he falls there is no one to lift him up." In church "we can be mutually strengthened and encouraged and comforted by each other's faith." Christians are not impervious to pains and sorrows. It is often not enough of a relief to talk to a friend or relative for consolation. But the church can offer true spiritual answers and healing.
Alone, we can easily lose sight of the importance of being accountable for our actions. We have the difficult task of trying to gauge our spiritual performance without constructive feedback. But as part of an assembly, we must take responsibility for ourselves and others. We enjoy a balance of giving and receiving that promotes healthy spiritual growth. We find ourselves becoming more compassionate, forgiving, patient and humble, all the while finding our salvation by fulfilling the Royal Law that would have been impossible to do by keeping to ourselves.