And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
- This is essential given Paul’s question. There’s been a significant shift from John the Baptist to Jesus, from pre-resurrection to post-resurrection, from pre-Pentecost to post-Pentecost.
John’s baptism was the “baptism of repentance.” He pointed people to Jesus as the Lamb of God. There were people who had heard, believed, and followed John’s message, but they had not yet heard about Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit.
I know this is obvious, but it’s helpful for us to remember that all news traveled by word of mouth in those days. They weren’t walking around with smart phones giving them notifications regarding Jesus’ every move. Maybe they’d missed some of the news… or maybe some had misunderstood something in John’s baptism. They were well-intentioned followers, but they needed further teaching and understanding.
As soon as they understood what Paul was saying, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And “when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
What can we learn from this example of people being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit?
First, let me say that I need to do more study and research on the different baptisms throughout the pages of Scripture. But in the meantime…
What do we know about role the Holy Spirit plays in salvation and sanctification?
- The Holy Spirit draws us to Christ.
- The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see.
- The Holy Spirit opens our mind and heart to believe.
- The Holy Spirit gives us faith (confident trust) in Jesus.
- Salvation and Sanctification
- The Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us.
- The Holy Spirit indwells us.
- The Holy Spirit forms Christ in us.
- The Holy Spirit empowers Christ through us.
- The Holy Spirit unifies us as His Church.
What does it look for us to grow in the fullness of the Holy Spirit?
- What happens immediately?
- What happens progressively?
- Forgiveness is immediate; but freedom is progressive.
- Salvation is immediate; but sanctification is progressive.
- Receiving gifts is immediate; most of the time, growing in our gifts is progressive.
In this example, “the Holy Spirit came on them and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” This was not the case in my life. I believe all of us receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation, but I’ve received different gifts throughout my spiritual journey. I’ve seen the Holy Spirit working in significant ways throughout my journey, but I’ve seen more, believed more, and experienced more over the past 10 years.
Unfortunately, a lot of believers have divided themselves into two primary categories: those who have a little of the Holy Spirit and those who have a lot of the Holy Spirit. Think about that statement from God’s perspective. It’s absurd. It goes against everything we know about God. He’s a good God who gives good gifts. He didn’t give some people more and some people less of the Comforter, Counselor, and Helper. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a formula; you either receive Him or not.
Since the Holy Spirit is a person, we need to relate to the Holy Spirit relationally and grow in that relationship over time. Frequently in Scripture, God tells us what to do, but He rarely tells us how to do it. I think that’s mostly true with the Holy Spirit as well.
Here’s what we’re told to do:
1 Corinthians 14:1
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
1 Corinthians 14:5
Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
(Notice the strength of Paul’s desire; it doesn’t come across as optional.)
1 Corinthians 14:12
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
(Notice the direction of the Spirit and gifts: “to excel in building up the church.”)
Many of you may be wondering why this has become an emphasis in my life and ministry. It’s because I want to “strive to excel in building up the church.” Here’s a quick reminder: You are the church. I’ve learned through experience that when we don’t prioritize and emphasize our spiritual gifts, we accidentally create casual and convenient people and churches.
I don’t claim to know how everything works, but I do know we should emphasize what God’s Word emphasizes. I don’t want to under-emphasize the Holy Spirit and nor do I want to over-emphasize the Holy Spirit. I want the Holy Spirit to be everything God intends the Holy Spirit to be in and through my life and church.
I love the way Scriptures provide passionate pursuit, but also give definition and direction regarding the purpose and context of the gifts. For example…
1 Corinthians 14:18
I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.
The fact that Paul can say this at all, the fact that he can say it as a matter which he can thank God for, and the fact that he can say it without fear of contradiction to some who are quite taken by this, must be taken seriously. Paul is affirming their gifts in the strongest of terms, but he does so in order to reorder their thinking about what was going on in the assembly.
He continues by highlighting the importance of knowing the definition, purpose, and context:
1 Corinthians 14:19-20
Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
Here’s my bottom line for today:
Let’s strive for the balanced approach presented in 1 Corinthians 12-14 as we learn how to grow in our relationship with the Holy Spirit and continuously ask for more understanding and power in the use of our spiritual gifts.